‘IT IS GOING to be a superb holiday,’ thought Raymond. His mother, Mathilda Aguair, a novelist who wrote love stories, had booked a holiday cottage in a remote village in Goa. The tiny cottage, one among many, was a simple single-storied structure with whitewashed walls, wrought iron balconies and a red-tiled roof. It was perched on top of a cliff that overlooked the Arabian Sea. The cliff the cottage sat upon was part of a series of cliffs that formed a crescent, facing outwards into a cove with dark blue water and placid waves. A broad strip of gleaming white sand shimmered at the bottom. A narrow path led down to the beach, which was dotted with boulders at both ends making it look like a huge smile with teeth missing in between. Of course, you had to see it from the top to get this view. Besides, smack bang in the middle of the cove was an outcropping of rocks; actually one huge boulder ringed by smaller ones. Raymond thought it would be good fun to swim out to it and play being a pirate marooned on a desert island.
A seven year-old boy, Raymond was tall for his age with slim arms that peeped out of his white tee shirt and strong legs that extended out of his navy blue shorts. A quiet, imaginative child, Raymond had three passions that dominated his growing mind: math, chocolates and swimming. Rugby could have been the fourth but Nature, while bestowing on him a lithe, agile looking body somehow drew the line at gifting him coordination. His arms, legs, heart and mind seemed to be in the right place. Only the ball somehow evaded his grasp, ending up bouncing off his chest, stomach or thighs into the waiting clutches of the other team. That’s when Raymond the Boy transformed into Raymond the Windmill, and nothing, human or inanimate was safe from being toppled over. However, when Raymond got into a swimming pool, a sea change took place. He was like a seal, perkily bobbing on the surface as he dog paddled smoothly. He was like a shark as he cut through the water with deft lunges. He was completely in his element and had the makings of a champion swimmer. Which is why he reckoned it was going to be a superb holiday. The school swimming competition was a few months away and Raymond was looking forward to winning all the gold medals he was eligible for. Eager to go for a swim, he pushed himself off the railing that bordered the cliff’s edge and hurried into the cottage, tripped over a suitcase lying at the entrance and smashed into a table, sending a china vase and a terracotta statue hurtling to their doom.
RAYMOND LAZILY FLOATED on his back as his mother kept an eye on him from below the brim of an enormous straw hat. She was sitting on a plastic chair placed at the edge of the water. Satisfied that everything was safe and tickety-boo, Matilda turned her attention to the pad in her lap and began making notes. Raymond flipped over and effortlessly changed from a seal to a shark. He freestyled all the way to the island and hauled himself up. The island was around 10 metres away from shore. He stood on a boulder and called out to his mother.
She waved back and shouted, ‘Ray, be careful now. We don’t want any incidents.’
‘Okay, mom,’ he yelled.
Raymond walked around to the other side of the island. Shielding his eyes from the sun, he gazed into the distance when he saw something that made him start. It was a little girl with fair skin and long blonde hair. She was in the sea, treading water with her hair spread around her head. She stared at him for an instant. Then she arched her body halfway out of the water, dived underneath, and in a flash she disappeared. Raymond blinked, rubbed his eyes, and opened them. There was not a trace of the girl. Almost a minute went by when suddenly she surfaced a good distance away. Again, she repeated the dive, and the last Raymond saw of her was her head, gleaming like gold as she passed the rocks at the far end and disappeared behind the cliff.
Raymond stood stock still for a few minutes looking intently in the direction the girl had disappeared. When she showed no sign of reappearing, he scratched his head and wondered if he had imagined it all. Shrugging his shoulders, he turned around, lowered himself into the water and swam to shore.
RAYMOND DID not like girls. He thought they were a complete waste of time. There were many reasons why he thought girls were useless. To begin with they were, well, girls, which made them different from boys. They played with dolls, which when you come to think of it, were smaller girls and just as stupid. They talked funny, they dressed funny, they played funny, and worst of all, if you hit them, Mummy got very cross and made you apologise. They spoke in squeaky voices, giggled at the slightest opportunity and goggled at him, which always made him feel like an exhibit in a zoo.
It’s not that he knew many girls. There were a couple in his building, then there were school pals Akash and Bunty’s sisters and, of course, his loathsome cousins Dinky and Pinky. These many, he felt, was more than enough. It must be noted that Raymond went to an all boy’s school, and being an only child, his real interaction with girls began and ended with Dinky and Pinky. He found them real dumb since neither of them could even divide 99 by 9. When they came home he was forced to share his chocolates, which they greedily gulped in huge bites. They even fed their stupid, dumb dolls with it. They hated sports and refused to get into any activity that made them sweat, hot or wet. Swimming came at the top of their ‘Not-To-Do’ list. They must have been guilty of more heinous crimes like loving mushrooms and broccoli but Raymond did not even want to think about it.
The fact is he thought very little of girls unless they were in his presence. Yet, that night as he went to sleep the last thought on his mind before he drifted off was of a golden haired girl swimming like a sea goddess in the deep, blue sea.
THE NEXT MORNING, was the same as the first. Only this time Matilda sat below the shade of a palm tree, a crab having nipped her toe yesterday. Raymond was doing lengths up and down the water when he saw something gleaming from the corner of his eye. He turned around and saw the little girl. She was in the water near the island, holding fast to a rock. Ignoring a lifetime’s policy of studiously avoiding girls, Raymond struck out and soon was abreast of her. She looked at him, a put a finger to her lips. Raymond noticed they were as pink as candy just as her enormous eyes were as blue as the water around them.
Raymond did just that. He breathed calmly and stayed afloat with the minimum of leg movement. The girl seems to be looking for something. She swam around the rocks and Raymond quietly followed. Then in a clear voice in an accent that Raymond had never heard, declared, ‘Cedric’s not here.’
‘Who’s Cedric?’ asked Raymond.
‘Oh no one, just an old friend of mine,’ she replied. ‘I’m Monique, what’s your name?’
‘Do you live here?’
‘No. I’m here on a holiday with my mother. We live up there,’ said Raymond, indicating his head in the direction of the cliffs.
‘How do you up there?’
‘Er, we’re staying there in a cottage at the top.’
“Where do you stay?’
‘Me? Oh, I live far, far away from here,’ she said solemnly. ‘I’ve lost something precious and I’ve swum for miles and miles looking for it.’
Raymond was perplexed. He, too, could swim for miles and miles, whatever that distance meant, in a swimming pool. But to swim that distance in the sea, all the way from a far away land, in search of something precious, seemed to be something out of a storybook.
‘Big liar! No one can swim for so long. At least, no one I know,’ he admitted. ‘And especially not girls.’
‘Who said I’m a girl?’
“I’m a mermaid,’ she said sweetly, diving below the water and disappearing once again.
‘MOM, WOULD YOU believe I saw a mermaid today?’
‘Yes, Raymond, and I met a ruggedly handsome matador called Enrique but between you and me, that’s just bull.’
It was night and they were having dinner. Matilda was in a jocular mood, having complete more than fifty pages of notes for a love story set in Spain. She heaped a huge serving of pasta on Raymond’s plate and began to ladle sauce over it.
‘Really mom, I’m not kidding.’
Matilda helped herself to some pasta, and replied, ‘Yes dear, the next time you’ll meet bring her home. I wonder, though, how will she climb up the cliff?’
‘It’s maddening to have a mother who is a writer,’ thought Raymond. She’s always in her own world.
After the meal was over, Raymond went outside to look at the cove. It was a clear, moonlit night. There wasn’t a hint of breeze in the air and even the fronds of the palm trees were still. Munching on a large bar of dark chocolate, Raymond stared wistfully at the island. Was it his imagination or did he see something move over there? He narrowed his eyes peering intently, and saw something slide into the sea and vanish out of sight, leaving behind a large ripple.
Monique? Monster? Both thoughts frightened Raymond. With a shiver he returned to the cottage.
NEXT MORNING, Raymond quickly ate his breakfast and nipped out of the cottage. He carefully made his way down the path and stood on the beach. The water was still and calm. He slipped into the water and swiftly swam towards the island. He walked to and fro, and round and round the big black boulder. Presently, he heard a soft cooing sound. It was Monique. She waved a hand inviting him into the water. He waved back and refused by shaking his head. Instead he made his way to a rock on the edge and sat on it. She swam up to it and playfully splashed water on him.
‘So, did you tell anybody about me?’ she asked.
‘My mother but she did not believe me,’ he replied.
‘Good. No one else?’
‘There’s no one living with us. The only other person is a caretaker and he’s deaf. Yesterday, mother asked him to bring a towel and he brought a bowl.’
Monique laughed, and Raymond joined her.
‘Do you believe I’m a mermaid?’
‘I don’t know. Aren’t mermaids supposed to have scales and a tail instead of legs?’
‘That we do. But since I’m a little mermaid, I don’t have scales yet. Do you want to see my tail?
‘Don’t be scared. I won’t hurt you.’
‘I’m not scared,’ said Raymond, jumping into the water. Monique backed away and went underwater. Raymond took a deep breath and plunged, too. He opened his eyes and saw a dim form in front of him. It was Monique. She hung there in the water, at rest like a fish. He kicked his legs and went towards her. She moved quickly, flashing past him. Something large and flat and green hit him in the face. Raymond ran out of breath and surfaced with a gasp. He paddled about sucking in air as Monique’s golden head slowly emerged out of the water.
‘I… I… saw your tail,’ he said breathlessly.
‘I told you, didn’t I?’ she said mischievously.
It was too fantastic to be true. Monique was a real live mermaid. Raymond was astounded. And when he saw Monique’s eyes open wide and point behind him, he saw something even more marvelous.
‘Cedric,’ whispered Monique.
Raymond goggled. His eyes bulged like Pinky’s and Dinky’s. From atop a rock, staring back at him with large shiny, black eyes was a crab. A crab with a red shell crisscrossed with white streaks. A crab with pincers the size of garden shears. A crab as large as a baby’s bathtub. A crab simply so big and so magnificent, it had to be the king of crabs.
Raymond felt faint. The world swayed around him and he would have sunk had Monique not wrapped her arms around him. With a powerful thrust of her tail, she bore him towards a rock. Cedric the Crab scuttled away into the water.
When Raymond recovered, he clambered on to the rock.
‘Where’s Cedric?’ he asked.
‘He’s gone. Cedric is very shy with strangers,’ she replied. ‘Are you like that, too? Shy.’
‘Only around girls.’
‘But you don’t seem so with me?
Raymond pondered on her statement for a while before replying.
‘Yes, but you’re not a girl, you’re a mermaid,’ he said with relief.
MONIQUE MADE RAYMOND enter into a pact with her: To not tell anyone about her or Cedric.
‘Not even your mother,’ she said, pointing at Matilda who sat in her now usual place under the palm trees, busy at work.
‘Most people are crazy, mad, you see,’ she said, her voice rising. ‘If they catch me, they’ll lock me in a tank in a museum. As an exhibition. All kinds of horrible experiments will be done on me. They will label me as a freak of nature and my life will become a circus.’
Raymond was horrified.
‘And poor Cedric, I don’t know how he’ll end up,’ she continued, twisting a ring on her finger.
They both were floating in the water near the island. Raymond pledged eternal silence and Monique calmed down. To change the subject, he pointed at her ring.
‘That’s a nice ring. But it’s not as nice as my Power Rangers ring.’
‘Oh, you don’t know but this ring has magical powers.’
She swam close to him and held her hand in front of his face. The ring was a chunky silver band with a big lapis lazuli embedded in it. The face of the bright blue stone had an etching of a man’s face. He wore a crown and had a trident in his hand.
‘That’s Neptune, the God of the Sea. I had lost it while taking a bath and the currents carried it here. Cedric helped me find it.’
As if on cue, Cedric appeared on the scene. He scurried across the big boulder, paused, waved a pincer in their direction and left.
‘What kind of power does your ring have?’
‘Let’s say you’ve lost something you love. You rub the stone twice and hold it to your forehead. Sooner, or later, Neptune will return it to you.’
‘HELLO LADDIE, is this the way to the beach?’
Raymond had company. An elderly British gentleman who introduced himself as Colonel. He was a retired army officer and had actually served in the Indian Army as a sixteen-year old soldier. He was around 75 years old now but was as fit as a fiddle. He marched down the path with a duffel bag in his hand. Raymond trailed behind, listening to him talk.
‘Saw you chaps get your freedom, you know. Was a part of the show and all that. Viceroy Mountbatten, Gandhi, Nehru… what a time, what a time!’
Raymond did not have a clue about whom the Colonel was referring to. He kept his eyes on the ground and walked right into the Colonel. They had almost reached the end of the path and the Colonel had stopped to admire the scenery, which was when Raymond bumped into him. The Colonel stumbled, and dropped his bag. The bag rolled down the path spilling its contents. Out tumbled a mask with a tube, a mesh bag, a belt with a knife fastened to it, and some huge black rubbery object that lay half within the bag.
‘Clumsy little wretch,’ said the Colonel in a peevish tone. Raymond offered to help but was told to ‘cease and desist’ with an irascible wave of the hand. He passed the Colonel, muttered an apology, ran straight into the water, and headed towards the island.
Monique was already there, treading water as usual.
‘Who’s that man?’ she asked.
‘Don’t know,’ he said. ‘I think he’s staying in one of the cottages.’
Together they looked at the Colonel pull off his bush shirt, pants and sandals. He began to apply sun block lotion to his face and back. He pulled the mask over his head and rested it on his forehead. He was strapping on a belt, when Monique said, ‘Oh look, Cedric is here.’
Raymond took his eyes off the Colonel. Cedric seems to be in a friendly mood. Normally he made a brief appearance before scampering away. But today, he seemed to be playing a game of hide-and-seek. He would dart behind a rock and reappear at another end. Briefly, he would sway from side to side before doing another vanishing act. It was very comical and they laughed animatedly at Cedric’s antics. While waiting for Cedric to reveal himself, Raymond stole a glance at the beach. The Colonel was nowhere to be seen. Just then, Cedric came into sight. He scuttled over the large boulder, pausing for a second, pincers waving in agitation. As he was about to dart forward, a huge mesh bag fell over Cedric, trapping him. The Colonel scurried into view, dentures clacking with delight.
‘By Jove,’ he exclaimed, picking up the mesh bag in which Cedric futilely fought to get out of. He tightened the drawstring with shaking hands.
‘A prize specimen, eh?’ he asked, shaking the bag at the pair.
It was this act that shook Raymond and Monique out of their shock. In two giant strokes, Raymond made it to a rock and flew ashore. Seeing the look on his face, the Colonel stepped back and put out a restraining hand. Raymond bent to pick a stone when Monique hurtled past him. Raymond, still stooping, froze as Monique fell flat on her face. She lay writhing at the Colonel’s feet, her body a crumpled heap. Tears sprang into Raymond’s eyes, blurring his vision. Yet, even through the curtain of tears, Raymond could clearly see his mermaid friend had legs. Slim, strong legs, and feet, too. Feet that were encased in emerald green flippers.
The Colonel seized the moment and escaped with his booty.
RAYMOND CROUCHED BESIDE Monique, his mind in a daze. Monique groaned and rolled over. Blood seeped out of cuts on her elbows and knees. Her face was ashen and her eyes looked glazed.
‘You’re not a mermaid,’ screamed Raymond. ‘You’re not a mermaid.’
Raymond voice brought Monique out of her stupor. She reached a hand down to her feet and unclasped her flippers.
‘Sorry, Raymond,’ she said in a quiet voice. ‘I was playing a trick on you.’
She slowly got to her feet, brushing her arms, oblivious to the bloody bruises.
‘Cedric!’ she exclaimed. ‘Raymond, where is that horrid man? Where did he go?’
Raymond mutely pointed towards the shore. The Colonel was halfway up the path.
‘We must rescue Cedric, Raymond. C’mon.’ Taking Raymond’s hand, she flung him into the water. With a neat dive, she surfaced ahead of him. Now in the grip of a terrible surge of hatred, Raymond gave chase. He swam with all his might; with all the speed his rage could muster. The shark in him emerged and he shot through the water like a torpedo. But even then he was no match for the fake mermaid. Monique was out of the water, and running up the path as Raymond put his feet down and waded through the shallow water on to the beach.
THE COLONEL AND MANI the caretaker were deep in conversation when Raymond joined Monique at the kitchen door. The mesh bag lay on a counter at the far end, near the sink. It moved as Cedric struggled within. It would have been easy to run in and pick the bag but there was no way they could escape since the Colonel would block them.
In a loud voice, the Colonel made a demand.
‘Give me a pot,’ said the Colonel.
‘What?’ asked Mani.
‘I said, pot,’ shouted the Colonel.
‘What cot? Cot not here. Cot in bedroom,’ said a puzzled Mani.
With an oath the Colonel glanced around the kitchen. His eyes fell on a large pot. With a rapid stride he got to it. He thrust the pot in Mani’s hands.
‘Pani, jaldi,’ said the Colonel.
‘Mani? Me Mani,’ said Mani beaming.
‘Money? Why should I give you any bloody money?’
‘No money, no. Me Mani, yes?
With another oath, the Colonel grabbed the pot from Mani’s hands and placed it below the tap in the sink. He let the water run. When the pot was full, he lifted it and turned to Mani whose face was twisted with confusion. The Englishman clearly seemed mad and Mani who was an old man of the Colonel’s age had seen enough of mad dogs and Englishmen in his youth as an army mess cook.
‘Gas?’ asked the Colonel.
‘Ah, gas,’ said Mani with relief. Finally the Colonel was making sense.
‘Too much gas,’ agreed Mani, rubbing his stomach. ‘You gas also?’ he asked in alarm as the Colonel’s face went red and swelled up. The Colonel, shaking with anger removed one hand away from the pot. Unable to bear the weight, his other hand gave way. The pot tilted and water spilled all over the floor. The Colonel took a step forward and slipped right into Mani’s arms. They both fell to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs.
Sensing an opportunity, Monique darted into the kitchen and raced to Cedric. She grabbed the bag and jumped over the prone Colonel who reached out a hand and caught her foot, sending her sprawling. The bag lay between them. They reached it at the same time. One end was bunched up in the Colonel’s big fist, the other in Monique’s small hands. The Colonel easily dragged the bag and Monique towards him. Monique hooked her fingers like talons into the fabric of the bag and pulled with all her strength. It worked. The mesh ripped open and Cedric was free.
But the Colonel was not going to give up so easily. He got on to all fours and chased the giant crab into a corner. Monique sprang after him. Without a thought, the Colonel grabbed a pincer as Monique got a hand on the other. A malicious grin stole into the Colonel’s mouth. He gave a little tug and Monique was about to do the same when she realized his game. She let go of Cedric’s pincer. Forlornly she saw it slide slowly out of her hand. The Colonel gave her a smack with his free hand sending her reeling into the wall. That’s when Cedric struck with the free pincer. The Colonel let go of him and hollered. The bitten thumb was as red and swollen as his face. All thoughts of a magnificent lunch and a trophy shell left the Colonel’s mind. All that remained was a desire to smash the crab into smithereens. He bore down on the scurrying crab with a frying pan in his hands and murder in his eyes.
Mani had seen that look before. Back then he was powerless to intervene, and would have paid with his life if he had then done what he did now. At this moment, all he stood to lose was his job.
‘Inqualab Zindabad!’ screamed Mani, smartly giving the Colonel a tremendous whack with a rolling pin across the buttocks. The Colonel stopped in his tracks and trumpeted like a wounded elephant. Raymond who was standing at the door with mouth agape got galvanized into action. Scooping Cedric into the mesh bag, he ran away from the kitchen with the Colonel hot in chase.
Raymond ran with Cedric held against his chest like a rugby ball. He ran like a seraph, terror giving his feet wings. He gracefully dodged around palm trees and confidently hurdled shrubs, a circular masala grinding stone and a sleeping dog. He ran and ran till he could run no more. Alas! He had run in the wrong direction. In front of him was the edge of a cliff that dropped ten metres straight into the sea below. He turned around but it was too late. The Colonel was walking slowly towards him with arms outstretched. It did not even occur to Raymond that as a last resort all he had to do was to fling Cedric into the sea. He stood his ground and vowed that the Colonel would have to do his worst to prise Cedric from his grasp. The Colonel stepped right up to Raymond looming over him like a mountain.
‘Give me the crab, boy,’ he said in a quiet, menacing voice.
Raymond resolutely shook his head in the negative. The Colonel lunged at Raymond who took a step behind and tripped over a stone. The bag flew out of Raymond’s hands; his arms clutched at empty air, trying to gain some balance. The bag blossomed open and Cedric soared into the air, his pincers and legs moving like scissors. The Colonel bent forward and cupped his large hands. The crab was well within his grasp now. Suddenly he was aware of something hitting his legs with the force of an artillery shell. Raymond had tackled him with the ferocity of a professional linebacker. The Colonel sank to his knees as Raymond flew over him and caught Cedric. And together they went, pincer-in-palm, over the edge of the cliff into the sea.
MATILDA BUSTLED INTO Raymond’s room bearing a bowl of hot soup on a tray. She put it on a small table that was placed over Raymond’s legs.
‘Here,’ she said to Monique. ‘Make sure he finishes all of it.’
Raymond sat up in the bed, and Monique tucked a pillow behind him.
‘Do you need any help?’ she asked.
Raymond took a spoonful of soup, blew on it before putting it into his mouth. Normally, half the soup ended up on his shirtfront. Somehow, it seemed, the incident with the Colonel had corrected his hand-eye coordination. Monique sat quietly as Raymond finished having his soup without spilling a drop.
‘Let me see your scrapbook once again,’ said Raymond.
Monique reached into her satchel and removed a bulging scrapbook. Silently Raymond flipped it open. The first page had a newspaper cutting stuck on it. All the words were in French so he looked at the picture. It showed Monique climbing out of a sea. A banner in the background read ‘Welcome To Dover, Little Mermaid.’
Monique Moreau a.k.a. The Little Mermaid was a champion swimmer who had swum the English Channel at the tender age of seven. She was a national heroine in France, and more so, in her native place, Brittany. Her father Frederic Moreau was a marine biologist whose hobby was scuba diving. On holiday in Goa, they were staying with friends in a villa just behind the cliffs. As a daily habit, Monique swam at least five miles to keep in shape. She was going to join the French junior national swimming team, and one day she wanted to represent her country at the Olympics. Her second biggest passion after swimming was writing. She had showed Raymond her diary where she had jotted notes about their encounters. She said she was going to write a story about it. Of course, it was all in French so he could not make head or tail of it. The title she had in mind was ‘A Boy, A Crab And A Mermaid.’ But after their adventure with the Colonel, she has another one in mind: ‘My Best Friend Is A Hero Called Ray.’
It was Monique who had fished him out of the sea when he fell into it with Cedric. She had arrived on the scene just as Raymond toppled over the edge. She had plunged straight as an arrow into the murky waters but could not spot Raymond. She frantically dived again and again till on her next attempt, Cedric had appeared alongside, guiding her to where Raymond lay unconscious at the bottom. Fortunately, the sea wasn’t too deep at that point. Once she pulled Raymond to the surface, it was child’s play for her to tow him to land. It also turned out that Monique had done a basic lifeguard course. She had learnt her lessons well for she expertly gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while pumping the seawater out of his lungs and stomach.
By then Mani the caretaker had raised the alarm. Raymond lay coughing in Monique’s lap when Matilda found them. Quickly they took him to a hospital in the vicinity where the doctor assured Matilda that Raymond was well out of harm’s reach.
The Colonel had disappeared. When asked for a description, Monique told the police to look for an old man with a bandage on his thumb. Mani the caretaker added that they could also look for a welt on his bottom.
‘So when are you leaving?’ asked Raymond.
‘We’re flying to Mumbai in the evening, and then home,’ she replied.
‘Monique, your father is here,’ said Matilda, entering the room with Mr. Moreau.
Hi Raymond, how are you today?’ said Mr. Moreau.
‘Fine,’ said Raymond.
‘Good, good, have you said goodbye to Raymond, Monique?’
‘Not yet, papa.’
‘I wanted to give you my Neptune ring but I have lost it. I think it fell off that day,’ she told Raymond.
‘Maybe Cedric will find it once again for you,’ said Raymond with a laugh.
Monique leaned over and gave him a kiss. Raymond blushed and his face went as red a tomato, a fire engine, a crab called Cedric.
‘Look at your face,’ exclaimed Monique. ‘It looks red like Cedric.’
With that she gave him another kiss and said, ‘This is for Cedric. Tell him I said au revoir if you meet him.’
‘Au revoir?’ asked Raymond.
‘It means till we meet again in French,’ replied Monique.
SOON RAYMOND was up and about. He swam to the island every day but it felt different. And no matter how long he waited, Cedric never appeared. Obviously the near death encounter had frightened him. You don’t become the oldest living crab on earth by attracting attention.
Raymond rubbed his tummy. For the past few days he had been feeling a strange sensation at the bottom of his stomach. Somehow, it got worse whenever he was on the island. Matilda had noticed Raymond moping about the place with a long face. She understood that he was missing Monique. She was also understanding enough to not tell Raymond since it would confuse him even further. So she cut short their holiday and told Raymond that they were leaving for Mumbai today. As she thought, the news cheered him up somewhat.
‘Mom, can you come to the beach with me?
‘Sure darling, let’s go.’
Raymond got into the water and swam towards the island. He sat on a rock and prayed for Cedric to come. He also prayed to Neptune since the God of the Sea must be Cedric’s god. To his joy and amazement, Cedric emerged out of the water and scuttled close to him.
‘Hi Cedric,’ he said.
Cedric waved a pincer at him.
‘Monique said bye-bye. Some day she will come to meet you again.’
Cedric’s came closer to him, his pincers swaying to and fro. Raymond reached out a hand and Cedric caught it. They sat together like that, once again, pincer-in-palm. That’s when Raymond noticed something different about Cedric. He had not grown bigger. And he didn’t look poor in health. But there was something about his colour that had changed. That’s when it fell into place. Or rather into Raymond palm. What he had noticed was a splash of blue in the red carapace. That splash of blue was now in his hand. It was a thick silver band with the face of a Sea God. Monique’s ring! It must have got lodged in his pincer when the Colonel and Monique were playing tug-of-war with him.
Raymond rubbed Neptune’s face twice and raised the ring to his forehead. As if like magic he sensed Monique’s presence. When he closed his eyes, he could see her long blonde hair and hear her joyous laughter. Now his mind was flooded with four passions. Math, chocolate, swimming and Monique. The funny sensation in his stomach disappeared, as did Cedric, slowly sinking out of sight with a final wave of his pincers. Raymond returned the gesture and slipped the ring on to the third finger of his right hand. It fit perfectly.
‘Au revoir, Monique,’ he whispered softly.