Life and birth of Patrick Gustav – Asher Ben

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Author      : Asher Ben
Company : Infosys
Email        : asherisfine@gmail.com

                                                                     Life and birth of Patrick Gustav

 

The wooden name board hanging outside had faint shades of paints, faded marks here and there. Aroma of seafood from the beachside café wafted in the cool breeze and set the name board into a soft swing. Creaking cries of the rusted hinges sounded like slurp and munches of appreciation. A sparrow came flying from nowhere and perched on the name board enjoying the free swing momentarily; and as if tranced by the aroma, it flew away. Patrick Gustavo was sitting on a cane rocking chair, watching the name board; amazed at how humanly the name board seemed; almost enacting his thoughts. From his seafront balcony he had often spent hours just looking at the busy Goan beach- the holidaying family, inseparable honeymooners, persistent hawkers, shady deals behind the coconut groves, the first kisses under the beach umbrella; yet he was captured by the waves lapping the beach. It seemed like layers peeling away to bring out a new life.

 

‘Gustavo Villa’ was picture perfect for a resort. Build in the early 19th century, it had a Portuguese architectural touch. It was two storied with opulent colonial teak furniture and a lavish lawn. The seafront balcony on the first floor gave a clear view of the beach that extended towards the right, and the bustling merchant street on its left.  The property had not escaped the notice of real estate developer. Several discussions were held. Later, Patrick and his sons decided that they would rather convert it into a museum after Patrick leaves for his heavenly abode. However, those ideas perished as soon as the last of his sons died a few years back. Now, it was just him. Patrick Olman Gustavo.

 

They say when a son dies, a man looses his dreams. Gustavo never had any dreams it was just sons, 12 names was what he clearly remembered. His wife had died at the age of 42 while in labour. The baby miraculously survived. That was 40 years ago.

 

A few days following the death of Derrick Olman Gustavo, Patrick felt a strange energy. Folds of skin that had once outlined the corners of his eyes now seemed to have smoothened. There was strength, his sagging skin was tightening and his stooping frame was much more erect. Frequently, he mouthed words of appreciation for himself in front of the mirror; sometimes singing loud, thumping the floor and marching around. Mrs. Annie, the old maid at the house thought her master was turning into a recluse and she left. Without a word; without collecting her pay check.

 

Soon the neighbourhood talk was that the last of the living Olman was a nutcase, speculations flew high that he was practising sorcery. Anyways, people usually kept away. When Gustavo went on evening strolls, everyone he met had utmost respect; respect born out of fear; fear of sorcery. Gustavo’s new found sense of fashion fed on this fear. He worked oversized floral shirts with bagging jeans and grew long hair. But, behind those dark shades that he wore, those eyes were still old. Everything but his eyes seemed to age.

 

One day a migrant boy came to the villa to deliver a parcel from the nearby joint. Since the maid left, it was Patrick who answered the door. While making the payment, Patrick gave the boy a candy out of affection. In between his words of gratitude, the boy looked at Gustavo, their eyes met for a flash second. Weirdest looking eyes, deep sockets that had a dark circular patches around and a skin that was pale white. It looked like a crescent moon. The boy thought it glistened, he screamed and ran for his life. Those eyes scared the living soul out of him. Next day, Patrick bought himself a new pair of shades and he spotted them all the time; even to his bed.

 

Every passing day added new stories around Patrick Olman and Gustavo Villa. The life outside the walls of Gustavo Villa was merry; night life extended to early mornings. But, nobody dared venture near Gustavo Villa after dusk. Patrick tried several times to be social; to win attention; and even hosting parties. But the numbers were few and those who turned up were mostly those who had some hidden agenda around the Villa. Soon, he was abandoned, just a ghostly figure who for some reason lives on. Patrick thought nobody would even visit him for his funeral, so he built himself a casket and started sleeping in it. He would play the gramophone and turn the TV to maximum volume just to surround himself with some human voice. Between all this, he continued to grow younger and healthier.

 

The cool breeze suddenly stopped and the sparrow returned to the name board. Patrick looked again at the creaking name board. His eye sight was far better now and he had stopped using the glasses.

 

“So what’s cooking today,” he murmured, looking at the sparrow. The responses were what he made out of the creaking noises as the bird played on.

 

“Fish curry in coconut milk! You little scoundrel! … Did you pick the bones from the left over or did the cook throw you a piece?” he turned the chair, amused by the antics of the bird.

 

“You and me, we have a deal you know that? I let you swing and you get me all news from the city…. ”

 

The sparrow chirped and jumped several times until it was unsettled by the sudden onset of a strong breeze. It flew up and made one last attempt to perch on the name board. Moments later it flew away chirping loud and complaining. Patrick watched as people on the beach ran for cover; a slight drizzle had started.

 

The wind brought a few droplets that landed on his face. Patrick stood up from his chair and with a swift tug at the ropes, he brought down the bamboo curtains on the side of the balcony facing the sea. He then turned to his left to bring down the curtains on the side facing the street.

 

A lady was standing next to the gate, someone in her early 30’s but strangely dressed for her age. She wore a brown skirt that extended beyond her knees, a matching brown coat with a white satin shirt inside and a brown hat.

 

“What kind of a dress is that?’ he thought, “Not even the age old grannies would wear that.”

 

She looked straight at Patrick and seemed to have read his thoughts. She took off her hat, brought it to her chest and slightly bends her knees in courtesy. His mom used to do that every time she saw a priest at the church. Patrick raised a hand and waved in acknowledgment.

 

“How can I help you”, Patrick shouted from the top of his balcony.

“I am looking for Patrick Gustavo…. Patrick Olman Gustavo… Would you know where I can find him? I am lost; I can’t find a name board of Gustavo Villa”

 

Rain was picking up volume and intensity and the downpour was turning noisier. Patrick gestured to the lady to wait and that he would come down. On his way down, he picked up an umbrella from his living room and he ran the flight of stairs. At the door, he turned the wooden latch and rushed into the courtyard. To his surprise the skies had cleared and the warm afternoon sun had returned; spreading its smile. A cool breeze kicked in and blades of grass on the lawn adorned with tiny droplets danced with enthusiasm. Patrick placed the umbrella on the brass coffee table in the lawn and walked towards the gate.

 

“I am Patrick Olman Gustavo, and you have reached the right house.” She flashed a quick glance at the old nameplate and pointed at it questioningly,

“Oh really, the namepla …”

 

“That is very old. No one seems to know how to redo that etch… Are you here for a specific reason … Wait a minute,” he knew who she was, “Are you one of those executives sent to check if I am selling this villa…You think you can charm me into selling this?… You can go tell your boss to get lost OK?” Patrick pulled up his trousers by the sides and tucked in his shirt all around, he proceeded to fold the sleeves almost threateningly.

 

“I beg your pardon. Sir, I am just here to meet Mr. Patrick. Are you his son?” she quizzed innocently almost petrified.

 

Patrick didn’t reply immediately, he examined her expressions for a while.

 

“Well lady. This house can pamper the ego of only one Patrick Olman Gustavo and that’s me,” he spit on the ground and wiped the corner of his mouth on his collar in a display of aversion for real estate agents, but his voice had toned down several units rejoiced in the fact that his age was less apparent even to visitors. There was a sudden softness to his action with rolling sleeves; almost gentlemanly.

 

“You look way too young Sir. Apologies,” She paused and took a deep breath. “I am here to hand you a lottery amount that is due to you”. She pulled up the suitcase in her left hand and bought it up to her waist and tapped it with her other hand.

 

“This suitcase here has the money that your father had won in a lottery and deposited in our bank in a 99 year fixed deposit scheme. It matured last week and I was assigned to find you and hand it over to you.”

 

“And… what would be the amount?” Patrick didn’t lower his guard he was still sure that this was some trick.

 

“I don’t know Sir,” she was nervously working the seam of the hat in her right hand.

“It has to be a…a cheque. It was issued the day your father deposited the lottery with the bank….the cheque doesn’t have an expiry date. I wouldn’t know the amount…nobody knows what would be the amount, you will have to come to the bank, check that account and…. you have just one cheque that’s inside this briefcase”

 

That was quite possible, Patrick thought. Peter Gustavo his father was a frugal and he invested every paisa he generated from his business of spice trade in multiple horizontals. He never lived a rich life; just the basics, but he did leave Patrick a fortune. It was possible that his father never bothered to tell anyone about the lottery either, Patrick thought.

 

He wanted to ease down the tension his aggression had caused.

“Hmm, would you care for a coffee?”

“Thank you sir.”

“Does that mean a yes or a no?” he asked sternly to induce an answer

“Ye…Yes…Would it trouble you if I said yes?”

“Of course it will, I don’t serve coffee to my guests at the gate. Come on in.”

She smiled.

 

They moved towards the lawn. Patrick pulled one of the brass chair around the coffee table. He took the umbrella on the table and wiped the chair off the raindrops. He then motioned to her to sit down.

 

“I will be back in a minute. Ms…”

“It’s Brianne.”

“Lovely name you have  … Brianne”

 

He hurried back to the porch and disappeared behind the doors. Brianne spread her gaze across the lawn and inhaled in deep breaths. She took out her miniature makeup kit from her shoulder bag and proceeded with patching her makeup. Her heart was pounding; Patrick Gustavo was way too aggressive for an old man. She had to keep her cool for the job ahead was tougher.

 

Patrick returned with a coffee tray and 2 cups. Over the next 2 hour, they discussed the formalities at bank and that slowly turned to his life at the villa. In between, the Olman discovered that he was not an Old man after all. He worked his way with words and his charms. By dusk they were chatting and chirping like age old friends.

 

“Do you know the best place in Goa to watch sunset, Brianne?”

“No.”

“Come with me.”

He took her into his villa and they emerged on his balcony. The view was spectacular. The setting sun cast a rainbow across the horizon; paper kites danced, intertwined and then moved away. A distant trail of seagulls pierced the rainbow like cupid’s arrow. Patrick was nervous and he only knew why.

 

Few months of courtship and Patrick proposed Brianne. It was a private affair at the villa and Patrick played the dual role of the groom and the priest. He didn’t want to invite anyone and she didn’t have anyone to invite; much to his delight. Patrick had long forgotten that he was a widower and that he was probably the age of Brianne’s grandfather. He looked way too young for anyone to believe that and he almost convinced himself that he wasn’t. And for Brianne, she already knew he was old, and she never seemed to care; not in her words nor in her affection for him. The case of the suitcase and the cheque was forgotten, Patrick had enough money to last generations and besides who would talk about money when it was all coming home.

 

On the night of their marriage, Brianne asked him what he wished the most all the while during these years. Patrick took her hands in his hand and said,

 

“I wished for a companion as lively as you. God has blessed me now; I have everything except probably my age, I wish my youth would remain so I can love you for a longer time and live to see our kids grow.”

 

Brianne took off his shades and looked deep in his eyes, those same pair of eyes that had scared the small boy, they looked young with makeup. She said,” I wanted to hear that. My life is blessed, that I could complete you.”

 

They went to bed together and for the first time in many years, Gustavo villa didn’t play anything loud. The casket he slept in was moved to his first wife’s bedroom in ground floor.

 

Gustavo woke up with a light headache. He sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed his eyes and slipped into his chappals. He got up and drew the curtains; the first rays of sun had spread a silvery blanket all over the sea. The crest and troughs moved unevenly like a family on bed wrestling for the blanket. He basked in the glory of his new found poetry for life. He turned around and saw the outlines of his wife sleeping; she was turned away from him. He looked back at the beach and then back to her. Flashes of times to come, kids, Sunday masses, gala lunches, school, match making, marriage all crisscrossed his mind. He couldn’t recollect when he was so happy before. But as he moved closer to her, he felt a sudden lapse of focus, intermittent winking of eyesight and wooziness. He steadied himself against the butt of the wooden cot. In that instant of desperation, he reached out to her but could only manage to get a loose grip of the lip of the blanket overflowing her torso, before he crashed down at the rear end of the bed. Vivid colorful images appeared before him in rapid successions and floated before his eyes. As they came into focus, they grew in size and flared up. Those images were familiar; they were chapters from his life. It continued until there was nothing left just darkness and a sharp hiss in his ears.

 

Disoriented, he continued to stare at a reflection in the dressing table mirror in front of him. As he tried to regain focus he kept wondering who it is; the reflection in the mirror; until some sense prevailed and he recognized ‘Patrick Olman Gustavo.’ Everything beyond the name remained a question. He patted on either side of his head, in an attempt to clear his thoughts. The room, décor, clothes he was wearing were all too obvious except he had no sense of belonging for any. In the mirror, he was looking at a stranger whom he knew as Patrick Olman Gustavo, a man in his early thirties with eyes brimming with youth. He steadied himself up onto his feet; dusted and then frisked his over-sized clothes, then almost mechanically moved towards the suitcase, the only thing that he knew, the only thing he cared for, more than himself. Even the exposed, ghastly, dried up anatomy in female clothes evoked nothing more than an inhuman insipidity, almost a predatory rejection for the remains of a prey half eaten. Inside the suitcase, there was a diary neatly packed in a plain cloth and along with a folded paper.

 

On the left end of the vintage diary, a long thin rope emerged on either ends and ran in multiple folds over the diary before ending in a knot. Patrick untied the knot, felt the leather cover and flipped it. The pages were crisp and thick with inscriptions that had multiple dialects, written one line after another; they were names, with a number at the end. Strangely he could read all of them. As he turned the pages hurriedly, strange unrelated memories came rushing in. He could assign names on the page to faces that appeared in those memories; young vibrant faces followed by images of their mummified remains. The names ran across numerous pages. The last name recorded was Brianne Ann Geoffrey and the number across the name was missing. Hypnotically, he took a pen from the holder on the table and wrote 2015 at the end of the name, then on the next line he wrote Patrick Olman Gustavo and folded the diary, knotted the rope and packed it back into the suitcase. He then drew the paper, unfolded it and read

 

Cries of the sun, curse of its immortality,

Lifeless life, bereft of novelty.

Sorrow that is strange, for a man always seek,

Fruit of youth and wealth, both rich and meek.

                       

                        Man prayed, “I wish for a life of eternal youth,

                        Time should wait for my death.          

                        I will decide when I will die,

                        When I feel, only then, will I say goodbye”                            

In time, god grew weary,

Of the numerous prayers and offertory.

Lowly attempts at bribing the almighty,

Bribes for a “curse”, a burden on society.

 

                        God replied, “What you seek is against my grace,

                        I wait anxiously for your return; to embrace.

                        Yet you harbour desires so worldly,

                        World; where I sent you for a short journey.”

 

Man didn’t detest from his attempts,

Of painful infliction and self-contempt.

All in the name of pleasing “the one”

For a boon to conquer death in the run.

 

                        A day arrived when doom descended,

                        God granted eternity, for that’s what man wanted.

                        And that he may never die and be stopped

                        And return to god’s grace, as man hoped.

 

God Thundered, “Agelessly you will wander,

Youth and wealth, but no memories of your own to ponder.

Until you wish to die; and that day will come!

You must find another soul, who is ready to become,

A walking dead, who rejoices in youth

Until that day, let this be your truth.

 

 

The next day, Patrick left for an early walk carrying only the suitcase in his hand. By the afternoon the little bird was back on the name board. It played for a while, then it flew up to the balcony, there Patrick’s chair was softly rocking; facing the sea.

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