"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Lisa and Phil – a short story from India.

Jolly Jolly Roma Guesthouse Vagator Goa India April 2004

In March 2004 I was 25 years old. With not a care in the world, no particular place to be and zero commitments to speak of, I packed up a rucksack and headed off to India. The future lay sparkling and I thought it would last forever.

‘I was thinking of going to Panjim’’ I said, slurping on a fruit shake. ‘‘You know, just to mix things up. I think I’m getting a bit twitchy’’. Allan and I had been in the Goan village of Benaulim for around ten days. Actually it may have been longer, I’d lost count. Our stay had been the ultimate chill out, just what the doctor ordered. But now I’d finished my book, swam as much as I could swim and put away enough sleep for a lifetime. I really had to get away for a night or two for a change of scenery. Above all, I just needed to do something.

‘‘Wanna come?’’ I asked. Allan was scribbling away in his secret notebook and when he looked up at me with one of his placid smiles I already knew the answer. ‘‘Think I’ll pass’’ he said, turning back to his journal. ‘‘Honestly, I could stay here indefinitely’’. Burying my feet in the sand, inch by inch, we lay on the beach some more until I could hold out no longer. ‘‘Lunch!’’ I announced suddenly, to which Allan looked up, smiled a different smile and this time it was a resounding ‘‘yes!’’

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We were picking out a table at the local beach bar when I spotted a blonde girl with her head in a book. A glass of beer and a plate of calamari set before her. She was reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, the very novel I’d finished myself just the day before. ‘‘Brilliant isn’t it?’’ I exclaimed. And that’s how I met Lisa.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

I’d be up for coming to Panjim if that’s ok’’ she said, her lilting Scottish accent somehow already familiar. Allan had retreated back to Rosario’s, hence it was just the two of us. We were both nursing beers, the early evening light fading as the sun sank into the pink-orange horizon. “Of course!’’ I replied. ‘‘I was gonna get the morning bus, you ok with an early start?’’ “Absolutely!’’ she confirmed and it was as simple as that.

Lisa and Phil, a short story from India.

The journey to Goa’s capital took a merciful ninety minutes. This was by far the shortest bus trip I took throughout my Indian travels. Along the way Lisa told me her story. About how she was on a gap year before university and that she’d been ‘‘packed off’’ to India by her encouraging father. ‘‘He said it would be good for me!’’ she laughed, ‘‘and I guess it has’’. Before landing in Goa, Lisa had been to Mumbai, Delhi and the Himalayan town of Shimla. As we closed in on our destination, I wondered how Panjim would compare. Consequently, it dawned on me that I had no idea what there was to see and do. In fact, I’d done zero research, which meant the first order of business was to find a place to stay!

‘‘Our hotel! The Bourne Supremacy! Panjim! Matt Damon!’’

Panjim turned out to be livelier than expected. It was a small but compact town with sprawling markets, a few bulging shopping malls and endless scooters darting expertly between the smoky traffic. Woefully ill prepared, we decided to simplify things by checking into a hotel on one of the main roads, just across from The Mandovi River. To this day I can’t for the life of me recall the hotel’s name. Which is a real pity, because I’ll never forget the jaw-dropping moment its blue and white façade flashed across my TV screen during the dazzling car chase sequence at the beginning of The Bourne Supremacy. As a result, I was straight onto Facebook messaging Lisa. ‘‘Our hotel! The Bourne Supremacy! Panjim! Matt Damon!’’

Panjim Promenade Mandovi River Goa.

Panjim Promenade at The Mandovi River, Goa.

Venturing out into the Panjim evening, Lisa and I went straight for dinner and beers at a nearby restaurant. Afterward, we took a stroll along the crumbly riverside promenade. Out on the water a number of boats chugged by, casting neon reflections across the water. ‘‘Yes please, river cruise for you!’’ announced an advancing tout. But rather than wave him off, Lisa and I found ourselves exchanging glances. ‘‘Shall we?’’ she grinned. ‘‘Sure, why the hell not?’’ I replied, blissfully ignorant of why the hell not. 

Mr. Tout gleefully wrote out our tickets and a short while later we boarded a sizeable boat kitted out in dark-stained wood and gaudy neon. There were no more than a dozen passengers onboard. Instead of sitting inside with a miserable looking family, we escaped onto the outside deck to breathe in the cool night air. Soon we were whizzing away from the city and had just gotten comfortable when the stereo exploded into life. The music, for want of a better word, was some disco-trance monstrosity played at such a blistering volume I felt my earlobes might implode.

Lisa and Phil, a short story from India.

‘‘This is bloody awful!’’ I shouted, at a dismayed Lisa. ‘‘What??’’ she yelled back. ‘‘I SAID… THIS. IS. AWFUL’’. “I can’t hear you!!!’’ she bellowed, with an exaggerated shrug. The beats were so vociferous they rendered any other activity pointless. Therefore we just sat there staring back at the city lights waiting for it all to end. At some point I caught sight of a young Indian boy, who appeared to work on the boat in some capacity. Screaming directly into his ear, I asked if he could turn the music down. Smiling at me benignly, he shook his head, confirming that no, he could not.

Short story Goa India

Lisa and Phil, a short story from India.

Back on dry land, Lisa and I had been reduced to laughing hyenas, our ears ringing as we searched for a night shop to buy some much-needed alcohol. ‘‘What the hell was that?!?’’ she asked, giggling in disbelief. ‘‘I don’t know’’ I chuckled, wondering how many brain cells I’d lost, ‘‘I just don’t know’’.

By the time we got back to the hotel we’d armed ourselves with a bottle of gin and a pack of playing cards. Still reeling from the boat debacle, there was plenty of laughter and joshing, though the atmosphere swiftly descended into awkwardness once bedtime came. Scrambling under the blankets in our PJs, we comically stationed ourselves at opposite ends of the bed, a continent-sized gulf between us. And there we lay in uncomfortable silence until one of us finally cracked a joke and we were back to laughing.

Lisa and Phil, a short story from India.

The next day Lisa and I explored the city on foot and I was thoroughly charmed by what I saw. Framed by a skyline of terraced hills, we wandered through Panjim’s quaint cobbled streets and tree-lined avenues, many of the buildings carrying a Portuguese flavour. Some of these were grand, colourful villas with iron-railed balconies and red-tiled roofs.

Later on we stumbled upon a large, picturesque square home to a sixteenth century baroque church. We also came upon a sizeable primary school on another, smaller square. Spotting us from above, a group of excitable schoolboys came skipping down the stone steps to greet us and pose for a photograph. ‘‘London cool!’’ cooed one of the boys, kissing the 20p coin I’d given him. ‘‘But Panjim very boring!’’ hissed another, face screwed up, thumbs down. 

School kids Panjim Goa India April 2004

Panjim school kids.

Breaking for lunch at a café, I did a bit of Lonely Planet reading and we made plans to visit the nearby town of Vagator, home to a colossal night market. In the cafe we got chatting to Phil, an Englishman who was curious about the market and wanted to know more. ‘‘Sorry, I didn’t want to impose on your romantic lunch’’ he said earnestly. Lisa and I found ourselves sniggering again. ‘‘You’re not imposing and this is not romantic’’ she countered. ‘‘I see’’ he said, removing his Indiana Jones hat and running a hand through his bushy hair.

‘‘Yup, it’s all about finding myself’’ he drawled sarcastically.

With a devious sense of humour and an eccentricity that meant you never quite knew what he was gonna say next, Phil turned out to be great company. Moreover, he was a nature enthusiast with a talent for photographing flowers and plants. Luckily for him India had enough of those to keep him occupied for several months, an extended break he’d treated himself to following his recent divorce. 

‘‘Yup, it’s all about finding myself’’ he drawled sarcastically. ‘‘Maybe you can find yourself at Vagator Night Market’’ quipped Lisa, ‘‘fancy coming?’’ ‘‘Sure thing T.C.!’’ he squealed, in his best Benny the Ball impression. It was the first of many Top Cat references Phil would knock out during our time together.

Benny the Ball Top Cat.

Benny The Ball.

Lisa, Phil and I decided to make a proper field trip out of Vagator, booking rooms at Jolly Jolly Roma, a guesthouse within walking distance of the market. Hailing a taxi, the journey should have taken an uncomplicated forty minutes, but our driver clearly didn’t know where he was going. Having made a few failed attempts to find our guesthouse, we eventually realised he’d gotten us lost.

Crawling hesitantly down yet another ambiguous country road, we rumbled to a stop outside a decrepit looking building with greyed-out windows and a huge Swastika painted onto one of its walls. ‘‘What???” I exclaimed, the only word I could muster. ‘‘Oh my god!’’ echoed Lisa with a snicker. ‘‘Err… NO!’’ confirmed Phil in genuine horror. And then we were off again, in search of our promised jolliness. It wasn’t until later that we learned about the swastika being an ancient Hindu symbol that actually means prosperity and good luck. 

Lisa and Phil, a short story from India.

“Well, it’s all quite lovely!’’ observed Phil, camera in hand, bending over a sprouting bush of wild yellow flowers. At last we’d checked into Jolly Jolly Roma and were now chilling out in its pretty garden, working through a tasty brunch.

Jolly Jolly Roma Guesthouse Vagator Goa India April 2004

Jolly Jolly Roma Guesthose – Vagator, Goa.

Keen to unveil the delights of the night market, the three of us left early to get there for opening time and ended up staying the whole night. Having wandered off in different directions, I found myself quickly swallowed up by its vast, labyrinthine network of stalls, food courts and makeshift tent-bars. It was certainly a sight to behold, a giddy assault on the senses that enchanted me so much I succumbed to several impulse purchases along the way.

Vagator Night Market Goa India April 2004

Vagator Night Market, Goa.

Three T-shirts, a wooden elephant and a hand-woven rug later, I bumped into Phil at a seafood joint, beer in hand, feet up on a chair, a mad doctor grin on his face. ‘‘Dr. Phil’’ I nodded, dumping my bags down on the table. ‘‘Officer Dibble!” he cried, “pull up a chair!’’

Officer Dibble Top Cat.

Officer Dibble.

We all returned to Panjim the next morning and, after breakfast, started shaping up for the return leg to Benaulim. I was looking forward to seeing Allan again and cobbling together the next leg of our adventure. Without hesitation Lisa decided to join me, while much to our surprise Phil announced he was up for it too, keen to experience the relaxing Goan beach oasis we’d both raved about. While Lisa and I took the bus directly, Phil had already planned a day trip somewhere and would be catching up with us in a day or two. He was in fine spirits when we dropped him off at the bus station, an infectious ball of energy as he danced down the platform kicking his legs and singing at the top of his lungs.

‘‘Top Cat, da da da da da… the most effectual Top cat, da da da da da… the indisputable leader of the gang! He’s the boss, he’s the VIP he’s the championship… he’s the most tip-top… Top Cat!!!”

‘Lisa & Phil’ is the eleventh chapter of my short story series Incidents In India.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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  • Mary Phillips

    Whenever I see that we have another Leighton story in our inbox it’s the first thing I read. This one did not disappoint, Leighton. Fun reading.

    June 21, 2015 - 9:46 pm Reply
    • leightonliterature

      Mary, your continued support is a source of inspiration, thanks.

      June 21, 2015 - 10:27 pm Reply

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