I trail my eyes over the spans to my left, held up by six visible pillars, and then linger for a second where both ends of the bridge disappear into a mass of green trees. For a moment I imagine I’m watching a tree bridge held up at both ends by dark green, leafy pillars. I count fourteen pigeons keep pace with us. Time goes still as the behemoth rattles over the bridge against the placid backdrop of the Zuari, only the metal girders flashing past in quick succession confirm our progress across the waist of the Zuari before she flares out into buxom curves, distancing Marmagoa (also spelled Mormugao) taluka from Tiswadi along the contours of an open mouth; the Marmagoa bay. To the south of the bay lies Marmagoa taluka. The city of Vasco sits on its lower lip. From Velsao where I visited Philip’s place sometime ago one can see planes take off and land at Dabolim airport.
We pass over the Sancoale creek that abuts Sancoale, a small village before Chicalim on the way to Vasco. From the time I first heard Sancoale pronounced ‘Saanq-Oooaal’ as a kid, I hung on to the notion that the sea must have spoken the name using a conch, rolling its tongue to be heard over the lapping waves – ‘Saanq-Oooal’. This was way before I visited Sancoale. It still evokes the feel of a faraway place; somewhere you will never visit but never stop imagining what it must be like to be there either. Eventually I did visit it three times. On one of the trips, Jaggu and I rode the long afternoon from the hinterland, lugging cameras and heading to wherever our fancy took us, even if it meant free-riding sixty kilometers in the blazing Goan Sun. Any place was good enough if it promised memorable photographs, a rustic wayside inn to stop for a pao-bhaji and empty roads to free-ride with the wind in the teeth. And Sancoale in that one image of the whitewashed façade of the Our Lady of Health church, only its front wall now survives the fire of 1834 and the vagaries of age ever since, standing against a deep blue sky, almost defiant in its centuries-old ruins, and marked by refugee-like barrenness of overhanging branches of a nearby tree, stands fixed in my memory like a rusted spear tip in fluorescent blue jelly.
A narrow canoe lay anchored to a wooden peg driven into the ground among the mangroves. Broken footwear, pieces of nylon ropes, runaway fishing-net floaters and sundry little debris lay washed up in small laterite rocks piled up on the sides, fashioned to hold back incoming tides. They had met their ‘reefs’ and reduced to debris they now spoke of fishermen and fishing. I wondered if the footwear belonged to a dead man, and whether he had died of drowning, and whether he had drowned from being pushed out at sea. Somehow I felt that such an end seemed likely in the setting the ruins commanded. There was every likelihood the flotsam might have resulted from a fate as innocuous as someone casting away their worn footwear let alone a sinister end in the middle of the sea, but I was not prepared to concede that possibility; believing instead in the forlornness of the landscape abutting the sea and the dark promise it held for an unsuspecting victim. A black dog regarded us nervously as we took in the silence, and contemplated our strangely disquieting setting. In such places, noises cease to be noises, instead they voice the silence of the departed, and the rage of those whom time left behind.
On our way out we passed a low laterite wall fencing off the property. A jamun tree grew over the other side of the wall, and some of its branches reached over the laterite wall where we had parked the bike. Three kids, not older than nine years, were busy collecting jamuns. Two of them stood beneath the tree, holding awkwardly an oversized fishing net to prevent fleshy jamuns from squashing to the ground as they fell. The third was up in the tree, shaking jamuns loose. I picked up some jamuns where they had fallen to the ground on our side of the wall, and brushing off the soil against the seat of my pants I popped them into the mouth. Then I stuck my tongue out to see if it had changed to the colour of the jamuns – inky violet, like I used to do growing up. It had, to the colour of Camel Ink. Old habits die hard.
The setting sun lit up in a shade of gold the fishing net and the two boys straining to hold up its ends. I paused to take their pictures before kicking the bike to life, and entrusting the ruins to the remains of the day, we rode away into the sunset.