Last week, I was on a vacation in Goa. I was staying in the old quarters of Panaji known as Fontainhas. This area is situated between Altinho and Ourem creeks. It mirrors the Portuguese influence through its architecture, narrow winding streets and picturesque buildings in beautiful hues of pastel colors. Most bungalows in this area are more than 150 years old.
In 1984, UNESCO recognized Fontainhas as a Heritage Zone.
I had rented a room at a guest house that was nearly 250 years old.
It was late in the evening and the sun was about to set. I was strolling outside the guest house planning to go for a quiet dinner at the nearby boutique restaurant Viva Panaji. Just then I saw an old man standing at the gate of a bungalow bang opposite the guest house.
The old man waved at me and smiled. He said “Frank Briganza (owner of my guest house) tells me that you are the new guest from Mumbai. And you are globe trotter I was told”. The old man seemed very keen to converse and learn more about me. So we spoke. Indeed, I have been a globe trotter and have visited more than sixty countries across the world. My friends say that I am a good story teller.
“You know something?” The old man said. “My son Larry loves to travel and go to places around the world. He would love to meet you an listen to your travel stories. Why don’t you come up and have a chat with him? He has been in bed for last 10 years due to a paralytic stroke. It’s the evenings that he gets very lonely and depressed. Perhaps your stories will cheer him up. Have a cup of tea with us”
I couldn’t refuse his invitation.
We went up to the first floor using a wooden staircase. The staircase was dimly lit and made squeaky sounds as we climbed up the steps. We reached the drawing room on the first floor that had chandeliers, a long table, large windows with glass and antique furniture.
I noticed that all the furniture was three legged –I thought this was a bit odd. Three has been an unlucky number for me.
I also noticed an unusual carpet on the floor. Unusual because it had a face of a dog at the center. For a while, I thought the dog looked at me moving his eyes. I also heard the old man whisper “Tommy, he is our guest. Keep shut”.
“Be comfortable my friend” said the old man “I will get you some tea”.
I nodded and sat on a cane chair. The old man went inside the kitchen.
I inspected the drawing room in the meanwhile. The room was spacious. There was a cute library shelf and a tall cupboard displaying glasses of wine. The room had a wall with several sign boards such as, “do not spit”, “please keep silence”, “no smoking”. There was nothing special in these sign boards to display. The boards in a drawing room were certainly out of place – I thought. One sign board was in Portuguese.
The old man came back in five minutes with a tray carrying two cups of tea and some biscuits.
He noticed me staring at this unusual wall. “Larry used to collect all kinds of sign boards as a hobby” The old man said. He continued “you must be wondering about that sign board in Portuguese. It is one of Larry’s favorite. It means ”goods once taken are not returned”
This signboard sounded rather strange to me. Generally, in the shops you see the board “ goods once sold are not taken back”. I was a bit puzzled what this Portuguese board was trying to convey.
The old man served me tea.
For a while, I thought that he had three hands – with one hand he was holding the tea pot and with other he was holding the cup. And he probably used a third hand simultaneously to put biscuits in the plate from the glass jar.
I must be hallucinating now. The sunset, that queer atmosphere, the mystic carpet with the dog and the three legged furniture had perhaps made me very nervous. Besides that Portuguese sign board ”goods once taken are not returned” sounded rather ire to me.
We had some tea. The old man asked me about my profession and family. He said that he retired as a pastor from a Church. Larry’s mother passed away right after he was born. The old man took care of Larry. Unfortunately, when he was 25 year old, Larry suffered from a paralytic stroke and could not walk. He always wanted to be a sailor and wander around the world but now he is mostly bed ridden and confined to the house.
I felt sorry for Larry.
“Oh, let me take you to Larry’s room” The old man said.
Larry’s room was small. It had a roll top desk with a cuckoo clock on the wall. Larry was perhaps expecting a visitor. The old man introduced us, and we said hello. I noticed a scar on Larry’s cheek. Must be some accident I said to myself.
I sat on a stool next to his bed. I told him about myself. The old man added that I am a globe trotter.
“Uncle, I would really love to listen to your travel experiences “Larry requested me. His voice was deep. He had an intense gaze as he looked into my eyes.
I described Larry about my travels. The exciting road journey between Casablanca to Rabat, the boat trip between Ho Chi Minh to Vung Tau, the stay at the penguin islands near Melbourne, the rainforests of Brazil and the glittering snow peaks of Himalayas from Dalhousie. I must have done a good narrative because I saw Larry excited and was listening to me attentively without any interruption. He was perhaps imagining that he was in my place and was seeing the world through my eyes. His intense gaze and attention made me a bit uncomfortable.
I saw that the old man was happy that I met Larry.
“Where is your next travel Uncle?” Larry asked as I was about to leave. “Well next month I will be in Austria and in another three months later a travel to China is due”. I did not want to get in further details.
Larry was impressed. “I am so jealous Uncle. Wish I could come along” he sounded serious.
I could understand his feelings.
The old man walked me down to the gate. The dog on the carpet moved his eyes noticing me leave the house.
You made Larry so happy today Mr. The old man said while opening the gate.
I crossed the street and reached my room in the guest house. I went to the bathroom for a shower and looked into the mirror
I saw Larry’s face instead of mine. What happened? Was I hallucinating again?
I went close to the mirror to see my (or Larry’s?) face.
I noticed that scar.
I thought of running back to the old man for the explanation and ask back my face.
Then I remembered the significance of the Portuguese sign board
“ goods once taken are not returned”
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And friends – Don’t get scared. Its all imagination
Wow! That was really scary!! But I enjoyed it! Thanks!
Gripping story Sir! Enjoyed reading it.