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Sirenland Stories: Moving On by Madhushree Ghosh

21.05.2015. Le Sirenuse

The second of a series of short texts written by some of the participants at the 2015 Sirenland writer's workshop. The only requirement: that they should be inspired by some aspect of Positano or the surrounding region.

This place is beautiful. Almost like where you and I come from. Not India, but similar to the one you and I called home for twelve years. America’s Finest City. Only the beach here has wishing stones, not the pure sand in our city. Wishing stones that one can hold and with that hold, clutch at the hope that the wish comes true. Stones that have stories buried in the wisps of white string that runs through the black volcanic grain. This place is beautiful.

It has been 375 days since you left me. 214 days passed before you talked to me. Your first words that October were, have you moved on? Which to a typical American means, or so I think, did you find love elsewhere? To me, a transplant from a landlocked Delhi, an immigrant with no home, an immigrant with two cities she calls home, it means, have you moved on, are you dead yet? Have I moved on?

I sit in the back of the van with two of my friends, friends I call my family. In the seat in front of us, a few other writers, some new to Positano, just like me, crane their necks at each turn. The Italian drives us through the inviting, warm villages, past leathered skin and impossibly crease-faced locals who wave at us and say words to which we yell back Grazie! Grazie! as if we understand. The driver tells us Steinbeck loved this place. So, we nod, yes, as writers, we should love this place too.

Even though I haven’t told you that I moved back to America’s Finest City, you find out. You stop by my office a week before I leave for the Amalfi Coast. You stand against my Acura, as if you own it, like you did me for eighteen years. I can find you wherever you are, your eyes say. Your words tell me how much I have changed, and how dare I not have a discussion with you before I filed for divorce? How dare I delete your name from LinkedIn, and I should know, you will find me, no matter how I block you from my world? You ask me why I don’t want you to know where I live. And after eighteen years of us together, is this how I want to end it? Oh, and how much I have changed, how much!

The driver hugs the curve with the wheels touching the edges. We squeal in delight, like we are seven-year olds. My friend asks our fellow writers how long they have been writing. As always, and as writers are prone to say, they say, oh, we’ve been writing forever. We were writers in our mothers’ wombs. I don’t say anything, I am not a writer, I am a scientist; I am not American, I am; I am not Indian, I am; I am a writer, I am.

The water rises blue below each curve. The trees, and then their surprising lemons rise from the sides of the rocky crags, like Christmas ornaments. But it’s April, four months after the three kings of Orient traveled fields and fountain, bearing gifts they traversed afar. This isn’t Christmas, and yet the place radiates warmth, inviting me, it’s festival time.

There’s an island in the distance. I curse myself for not researching the place, so I know everything. That’s what I usually do, me, the planner. This time, I experience it the same moment I see it. It’s a first. It has been twenty-four hours since I left the west coast to get to Positano.

Those who are returning, tell me what this place is. They tell me the hotel is out of the world. They tell me, once you come here, you’ll keep coming back. They tell me that island on the horizon is uninhabited for most of the year, what a shame. They talk about writing, about how lawyers are writers in disguise. I am a scientist. I am not a writer in disguise. I am a fraud.

This is my first trip to Europe without you. Last time, you and I explored Prague together. Walked on cobblestone paths, ate too many pastries, and I watched you drink too many beers. Have I moved on?

We head up one turn, the van stops. My friend nudges me, look the hotel, look, Le Sirenuse! The dark red, almost rust walls greet me like I’m back in India, the land of color. The doors open, inviting—pulling the ocean inside. There’s an ease with which Le Sirenuse exists, it draws me in, like a long-lost friend, now family.

I smile at the staff who speak better English than the meager Italian I can muster. Agata, the beautiful girl with flashing brown eyes, guides me to my room, laughs with me when I struggle with the key. She lets me be, welcome to Le Sirenuse, she says, and opens the door to the patio.

She leaves. I walk outside, tired, grimy from the travel, bones protesting. The evening sunlight slants softly on the scalloped church roof, glittering. The ocean sparkles, diamonds skimming the blue. The uninhabited island, or so they say, sits quietly, dark, waiting. The homes across the hotel, flush against the rock face, greet me, hello, they whisper, their bright walls shimmer, hello, welcome!

The glass door swings softly behind me, you’re home, it whispers. Le Sirenuse sighs, content. My heart beats slower, my brain calms, after 375 days, I smile, and close my eyes. I open them again, the view remains, for me, just for me. This is the first of the many trips to Positano, I tell myself. The first of many. I inhale the crisp breeze, I promise: tomorrow I will head to the beach, look for some wishing stones. The first of many trips without you. Have I moved on?

Madhushree Ghosh’s work has been published or featured as a finalist in Del Sol Review, Zoetrope: All Story, Glimmer Train, Steel Toe Review, Cerebration, American Short Fiction, D&O Magazine, The San Diego Jewish Times, Nirvana Woman and others. An Oakley Hall Fiction scholar, her award-winning one-act plays have been performed three years consecutively at The San Diego Actors’ Alliance Festival. A molecular biologist by profession, Madhushree is currently working on her memoir, 214 Days of Silence, and a collection of essays, "Chittaranjan Park Tales".

Picture: © Roberto Salomone

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