Here, there is no breeze, the clouds are too gray, and the air is too salty. I can taste it as it condenses on my lips, and like acid, it stings. No doubt the damn factories along the coastline are to blame. They should be shut down and forced to pay to fix the damage they have done. They shouldn’t be allowed to carry on polluting our lives. But nobody really cares about that anymore, do they? Why would they? More smoke means more production, and more production means an easier, happier, more comfortable life. That’s all anyone ever wants nowadays. To live in the lap of luxury. How perfect for them. Maybe I am too old to understand, but something tells me even my younger self wouldn’t have found much sense in that kind of attitude.
I have walked too far down the beach, enough that a new wave laps over my bare feet. The water looks filthy, slimy. It should be a clear blue, but with the oil rig fifty miles off the coast, it’s no wonder that when the wave recedes, my toes are painted black. The beautiful ocean-side, that twinkling-sparkling vista I once used to admire, is nothing like it used to be. I put my flip-flops back on and hobble away from the incoming tide, my cane giving me unstable footing in the clumpy sand.
The remains of a thousand poisoned fish and squid have washed up on the beach to my right. I sniff a little and then inhale. I shouldn’t have done either. I double-over and cough wildly into my hand, almost throwing up. The stench is so pungent and nauseating that I could pass out. The hair in my nostrils shrivels up and a sharp pain shoots through my skull. I pinch my nose close and use just my mouth to breathe, veering away from these poor dead creatures. Nobody has even bothered to tidy up this place and that hasn’t stopped people from coming here to swim, tan, and sport their way to their graves. How is this possible? How is this beach still so popular despite being so toxic? And why doesn’t anyone care?
There are a couple of women to my left, and they’re frolicking about the place playing volleyball, topless. Don’t they have any sense of decency? Where’s their shame? There are children here, for God’s sake. I can’t even look in that direction. What are they thinking? What in the world… it’s unbelievable. I shake my head in disapproval at them, but nobody likes to pay attention to an old man limping around these days, do they?
As I am forced to look away, along the promenade I notice a gang of thugs have just started accosting a young boy in glasses and a sweater vest. Before long, they are kicking him to the ground and turning his pockets inside out in search of his wallet. The boy doesn’t give it up willingly and has to have his teeth smashed in before he lets go of it. He is left to bleed over the pavement with bruises and broken spectacles as the thugs cheer and march away with their winnings. And in spite of all this, no one around him seems to have any concern for his well-being. People simply go about their business, drinking beer, openly kissing each other, and freely peeing in the sand anywhere they like, like nothing has happened, like an innocent boy wasn’t just beaten to a pulp two inches from them. Damn them. What kind of days are these, when we don’t care about our fellow man? I would have helped him if I wasn’t so slow and weak. The thugs probably wouldn’t have seen me as a threat. I’d have just been an old fool shoved to the ground, receiving another hernia, and my cane would have made a good weapon to beat the boy with. So despicable.
I hear loud laughter and search in that direction, spotting two men further down the beach, their pants rolled up to their knees, arms around each other. After a brief hug, the taller one gets on his knees and pulls out a ring from his pocket, proposing to the shorter one. They say something inaudible to each other, and a few seconds later they are embracing again and kissing passionately. Tearful. Happy. Elated. This is their engagement. I stare wide-eyed, open-mouthed at them, wondering how they can ever be so pleased with themselves when it’s clear they’re on the wrong path. It’s so unnatural I can’t even wrap my mind around it. I almost… pity them. Almost.
Sighing, I turn away and try to forget about them. As I do, I notice another couple lying on beach mats, but while there’s nothing wrong with who they are, there is everything wrong with that they’re doing: they have made the beach their bedroom. I gasp loudly, failing to conceal my shock, my heart jolting. They are wearing appropriate swimwear, but the girl is lying on top of the man, straddling him, and starts moving up and down, their mid-sections grinding against one another. What are they doing? It’s so ridiculous, maybe more so than the two engaged men, and I’m embarrassed, my face red hot, even though I don’t know any of these people. My three legs start shaking wildly. What in the world is going on here? I don’t know what to say, where to look. I don’t know if I want to even look at anyone or anything anymore.
Everyone is enjoying themselves, blissfully ignorant, lost in their own self-satisfied moments. They show no sense, no respect. They don’t even give a damn about last year’s three-hundred foot tidal wave that killed a hundred people on this beach and destroyed their shacks and homes and forced them to start their lives from scratch. It’s almost like the past doesn’t matter to these heartless people who only care about themselves, their freedom, their happiness. I wish I hadn’t come this way for my daily walk. I should have stuck to my usual street-route. At least then I wouldn’t have seen what the world has come to.
Is this what we’ve become? Is it too late to change? Are we already doomed? Or does nothing here make sense to my withered brain when it in fact should? Am I not seeing things how they’re meant to be seen? Is all this selfishness considered the new status quo? Is this the new normal now? Well, whatever it is, I don’t like it.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this is our end.
© Amaan Khan, April 12, 2018.