“The Beaches of a Landlocked City” by S. D. Bose

Swapnil Dhruv Bose is an undergraduate student of English Literature at Presidency University, Kolkata. In his spare time, he grows disillusioned and writes about it. He is a film columnist at Far Out Magazine, UK. His works have been featured or are forthcoming in literary journals like Into The Void, The Decadent Review, Lucky Jefferson, Misery Tourism and Asterism.

Artwork by Kirill Gatavan

The Beaches of a Landlocked City

After twenty years of living in cities that always recoiled from the cold, slathering touch of oceans, I spotted a beach from the window of an old bus. In my country, it is almost customary for trucks to dump anachronistic amounts of sand in front of construction sites. You can always find stray dogs sleeping on these sand dunes within seconds of their formation. They must really hate the cement and the unceasing footsteps of the thousands who walk along with a finger on their wrists, desperately searching for a pulse.

The children who live in makeshift fortresses around the sky-scrapers of the panopticon also scramble to these ephemeral mountains. They bury their heads under the cascading surfaces of their newly conquered territories to escape the unforgiving glares of  disinterested passers-by. Violent winds whistle through the metallic skeletons of unfinished buildings and prise the roofs off their “DIY houses” with predatory fingers. When it rains, the dysfunctional sewage system rebels against this desert of whispered dreams. The islands full of shipwrecked dogs and children rise up from this black ocean. They wave to each other from across the street and pretend that each construction site is a kingdom of their own. For a second, it becomes easier to forget that they cannot see the stars anymore.

They must think of the cars and buses stuck on these water-logged roads as ships because their wheels struggled to remain visible. I still remember how one of the children became tired of the wet sand that stuck to his body. He retreated to the top of an abandoned concrete tower and surveyed the static traffic like a disheartened sailor. The freedom of the vast seas had been reduced to a claustrophobic absurdity.

Even the traffic lights ceased to mean anything anymore in a world where everyone was contemplating whether to swim or to stare at their phones a little longer. 

Within a few hours, the intransigent reality of this whimsical microcosm starts leaking through the fissures. Every year, the government promises the city plaster and paint to help us forget about the fading colours of lost decades. The next day, thousands of political posters can be found on every wall. Sometimes, they enter your homes to slap their agenda on your television screens or on any paintings you might have of flowers, mountains or your family. For some reason, they leave your face alone. I guess they don’t want to make it too obvious. When it rains, the adhesive washes away and all the promises come crashing down.

Used syringes, cigarette ends and the unpublished legacies of anonymous poets wash up on the shores of these innumerable islands. The army of tiny Robinson Crusoes check the debris for traces of drugs, always licking their fingers clean. The dogs chew on the illegible poetry to hush their severe pangs of hunger. Public Service Announcements crawl through the rusty throats of ancient loudspeakers. They always urge everyone to carry their documents of identification with them in times like these. I fold mine into paper boats and send convoys to the different feudal provinces. They never make it to their destinations.

By evening, the sewers usually decide to get back to work again and our defiant neo-ocean is coaxed back into the cisterns of our redundant toilets. It swallows its pride, grabs all the propaganda it can and disappears for a few days. The discordant blaring of car horns and the angry threats of disillusioned drivers shake the damp foundations of our comatose souls.

Nothing can be heard over the sonorous clanking of our meaningless gyrations. We rotate back to life.The inhabitants of those islands are always the last ones to wake up. The children lie on the beaches for as long as they can before the construction workers come back to drive them away. The dogs leave when they see the roadside shops surface again. Maybe they want to enquire about Atlantis or maybe they just want a few biscuits from the clumsy hands of anxious students who have lost count of their nerve disorders.

When it rains, the children do not have to think about what comes after but the heaps of sand are just heaps of sand now. It becomes impossible to pretend otherwise. At night, you can see clumps of unenthusiastic bodies shuffling in the dark. These are the nameless children who lost their ersatz paradise. They refuse to navigate with the help of anything other than the pockets of water that still exist as silent witnesses of their rule. One by one, they file into their hollow houses. Their parents immediately instruct them to close their eyes and ask them to take no notice of the absent ceilings or the poor drainage.

They float around in there until the sun comes up. If it rains again, they spill out.

From the Editor:

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