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"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

Lisa and Phil , a short story from India.

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, as he often did. When at long last 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’’.

Benaulim Beach Goa India.

Lisa and Phil , a short story from India.

A few hours thereafter we rose for lunch and set off for the local beach bar. Settling down at a free table, facing the waves, I spotted a blonde girl lying under a nearby parasol. She had her head in a book, a glass of beer and a plate of calamari set before her. Straining to pick out the title, I realised she was working her way through Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. The very novel I’d finished myself just the day before. ‘‘Brilliant isn’t it?’’ I exclaimed, as she looked up. And that’s how I met Lisa.

Lisa and Phil, a short story from India.

The Secret History a novel 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 first morning bus, you ok with an early start?’’

“Absolutely!’’ she confirmed, and it was as simple as that.

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. 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’’.

Blue and white buildings Panjim.

Lisa and Phil, a short story from India.

Panjim (also known as Panaji) turned out to be livelier than expected. It was a compact city with scattered markets and endless streams of scooters darting expertly between the smoky traffic. Woefully ill prepared, we decided to simplify things by checking into one of the hotels on the main road, just across from The Mandovi River.

To this day I can’t for the life of me recall the hotel’s name. What’s more, an entire evening of online research left me none the wiser. Its blue and white facade had been so distinctive. But of course Panjim was a city stuffed full of blue and white buildings. 

Lisa and Phil, a short story from India.

Panjim Promenade Mandovi River Goa.

The Mandovi River, Panjim. 

Venturing out into the humid evening, we went straight for dinner and beers at a nearby restaurant. Afterwards, we took a stroll along the crumbly riverside promenade. Out on The Mandovi 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 not?’’ I replied, blissfully ignorant of why 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 stern 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 ear drums might implode.

Leighton Travels travel reports short stories.

‘‘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.

So we just sat staring wistfully 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.

Lisa and Phil, a short story from India.

Short story Goa 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 returned to manic laughing.

10 Rupee note India.

The next day Lisa and I explored the city on foot and were thoroughly charmed by what we saw. Framed by a skyline of terraced hills, we wandered through Panjim’s quaint cobbled streets and tree-lined avenues. Many of the buildings carried a Portuguese flavour. Some of these were grand, colourful villas with iron-railed balconies and red-tiled roofs. I recall taking lots of photos, but lord only knows what happened to them. 

At one point we arrived at a large primary school overlooking a spacious roundabout 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

Lisa and Phil, a short story from India.

Breaking for lunch at a café, I did a bit of reading from some complimentary second hand guide books. “Apparently there’s a colossal night market in the town of Vagator” I told Lisa. “Oh, I’ve heard good things about Vagator “ chipped in a tall hairy Englishman sat at a nearby table. “Oh, sorry, I don’t want to impose on your romantic lunch’’ he said earnestly. This got us sniggering. ‘‘You’re not imposing and this is not romantic’’ grinned Lisa. ‘‘I see’’ the man replied, removing his Indiana Jones hat, running his hand through his bushy hair.

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 had enough of those to keep him occupied for several months.

“Best way ever to get over a divorce”. “Plus, you know, I’m finding myself’’ he drawled, sarcastically. ‘‘Maybe you can find yourself at Vagator Night Market’’ suggested 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 make while we were travel mates. For some, these quips would’ve been baffling. But I’d grown up with Top Cat on TV, so it was always a fun time with Phil. 

Lisa and Phil, a short story from India.

Benny the Ball Top Cat.

Benny The Ball.

Lisa, Phil and I decided to make a proper field trip out of Vagator. We booked rooms at Jolly Jolly Roma, a guesthouse within walking distance of the market. Hailing a taxi from central Panaji, the journey should have taken an uncomplicated forty minutes. However, once again our driver didn’t know where he was going and before long he’d gotten us completely lost. 

Crawling hesitantly down yet another ambiguous country road, we rumbled to a stop outside a decrepit looking building with greyed-out windows. As our driver performed a clumsy u-turn, I caught sight of some graffiti sprayed onto one of the building’s walls: What Do You Think of Love? I simply couldn’t believe it! I mean what were the odds? Had Romeo from Delhi embarked on a cross country trip spreading the good word of Leighton following our conversation at The Red Fort?

Jolly Jolly Roma Guesthouse Vagator Goa India April 2004

With Lisa and Phil at Jolly Jolly Roma Guesthouse.

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

Keen to unveil the delights of Vagator Night Market, we left early to get there for opening time. Then ended up staying the whole night. With the three of us promptly wandering 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.

Lisa and Phil, a short story from India.

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. He was gorging on a bowl of calamari, 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, began 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. Much to our surprise Phil announced he would join us, 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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39 Comments

  • 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
  • Little Miss Traveller

    More compelling reading Leighton. I really must take a trip to India one of these days. Great work!

    January 25, 2022 - 1:01 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for keeping up with the series Marion, hope you are doing well. Can’t believe January is already drawing to a close.

      January 25, 2022 - 1:05 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    Ahhh, the memories of youth. I hate that when you recall a hotel or place, but can neither remember, nor Google the name for total recall, but that is what makes memories so great. Looks like quite the adventure Leighton. Thanks for the ongoing tale. Allan

    January 25, 2022 - 1:55 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      You’re right Allan, having the solid info lost to the passing of time does add an extra layer of romance and nostalgia to a place. Appreciate you keeping up with the series, Thursday is the last installment.

      January 25, 2022 - 2:02 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    You sure met a bunch of interesting characters on your trip. This was definitely a different side of Panajim than we saw! Maggie

    January 25, 2022 - 4:37 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      What we’re your standout memories of Panjim Maggie?

      January 25, 2022 - 5:00 pm Reply
      • Monkey's Tale

        The architecture probably the most, but it was also quite clean, and beef (not buffalo) was on the menu. It seemed like we had traveled to another country other than India. Also, strange that in south Goa I actually wore a bikini and wasn’t fully clothed on the beach!

        January 25, 2022 - 5:26 pm
      • Leighton

        I agree that in many ways Panjim doesn’t feel like India. Its Portuguese flavour carries a lot of charm and yeah, probably the cleanest city I saw in the entire country.

        January 25, 2022 - 5:33 pm
      • Monkey's Tale

        But unlike you we didn’t pick up on a whim and travel with strangers to another city! Oh to be young again😊

        January 25, 2022 - 5:39 pm
      • Leighton

        Word, Maggie. I’m way too introverted these days to do something like that again ha ha.

        January 25, 2022 - 5:40 pm
  • grandmisadventures

    You really have met such a great variety of people on this trip through India! Although I must say that Lisa was pretty brave to take off with you on a trip and share a hotel room when she had just met you. Did you keep in touch with the people you met and traveled with?

    January 25, 2022 - 7:40 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha Lisa was fearless. Yeah I have kept in touch with both of them. In late 2015 I caught up with Lisa on the Malaysian island of Pilau Sibu. Phil I saw in May 2019 at a cafe in Tooting Bec, London. It was a lot of fun reliving those old adventures.

      January 25, 2022 - 8:08 pm Reply
      • grandmisadventures

        I bet that was a very fun and lively reunion! 🙂

        January 25, 2022 - 8:47 pm
  • Christie

    Another funny and interesting story, Leighton! Always fun to remember the glory of the youth, with no care of the world, and looking for new adventures🙂

    January 25, 2022 - 10:03 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Christie, they were innocent times, to say the least. I hope you are well and that 2022 is going to be a great year for you.

      January 25, 2022 - 10:05 pm Reply
      • Christie

        All is well here, we hope for the best! Same to you🙂

        January 26, 2022 - 3:26 am
  • WanderingCanadians

    The adventure continues! It’s always nice to meet people while travelling and to have someone with you to share in on the memories with.

    January 25, 2022 - 11:52 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for keeping up with the series, last chapter out on Thursday.

      January 26, 2022 - 12:26 am Reply
  • salsaworldtraveler

    Thanks for brining back memories. Top Cat was one of my favorites as well. Although I’d forgotten many of the standard lines. the theme song came back instantly. Your ability to meet people and make friends is a great skill and leads to great subjects for your spellbinding stories.

    January 26, 2022 - 4:10 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks John, though admittedly that ability has dramatically faded as I’ve gotten older. Top Cat was brilliant, I’m guessing there must be a few episodes knocking around on YouTube.

      January 26, 2022 - 8:20 am Reply
  • Rebecca

    It’s really the people whom you meet on your travels that make it memorable. Lisa and Phil seem to have been great company, and it was great you got to stretch your legs and go somewhere independently from Allan, even if for just a bit! Can’t wait to see the next installment of your India trip!

    January 26, 2022 - 4:12 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Rebecca, I do feel very nostalgic thinking back to those innocent times. When I was a much more social creature, open and wide-eyed if you will to making friends and seeing how that shaped the journey. The next one will be the last, thanks for coming along for the ride.

      January 26, 2022 - 8:23 am Reply
  • NattyTravels

    Another great story Leighton!

    January 26, 2022 - 8:51 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for visiting Natty, stay warm!

      January 26, 2022 - 8:52 am Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    I remember Top Cat – a group of our girls always sang the song from the top of our lungs on the school grounds! You met really great travel buddies on your trip in India … ah, to be young and adventurous, hey! And I was wondering … after all these years, do you still have the stuff you bought at the Night Market?

    January 26, 2022 - 5:18 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I’m delighted that at least two readers know about Top Cat. Lisa and Phil were (and are) great company and we’ll always have those shared experiences to look back on. You know, I believe I do have a trinket or two from Vagator Night Market boxed up in Scotland in what’s left of my earthly possessions. Later in the year, when we go up to Scotland, I’ll have to remind myself what’s actually in there.

      January 26, 2022 - 5:28 pm Reply
  • Toonsarah

    Somehow WP seemed to have forgotten that I was following you and I’ve only just cottoned on. I’m glad to have rediscovered you in time to read this. Quite apart from being an engaging tale of your time in Goa it’s also a fun reminder of Top Cat which I used to love 😂

    January 26, 2022 - 6:45 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      No worries, I know a few bloggers (including myself for a time last year) who have had Reader Gremlins. Glad you liked the story and to have another Top Cat fan in the comment thread.

      January 26, 2022 - 7:12 pm Reply
  • Memo

    You always seem to meet such fascinating people. Wish I was as open to talking to strangers. Hate to think of the good times I passed up. The stuff that we impulse buy can reveal so much about us.. Did the wooden elephant survive the trip? Too bad you can’t find more photos to go with your interesting story.

    January 31, 2022 - 5:24 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I used to collect Asian elephant souvenirs. Had plenty of wooden beasts and a really nice marble one from Agra that got damaged when my naughty cat Bill jumped up onto the shelf it lived on and sent it crashing to the floor. Yes indeed, such few photos from my India trip in general. Which made it challenging to put some of these stories together.

      January 31, 2022 - 6:09 pm Reply
  • jasonlikestotravel

    Always reading enjoy your stories, you have a great way of writing. It also has me itching to be anywhere other than at work haha. It’s great that you had a few strangers up for making the journey with you 🙂

    February 2, 2022 - 3:38 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Work sucks, but such is life. Even with our privileged status as digital nomads we still feel bitter about the hours of the day we lose to teaching ha ha. By the way, we are in the north of England now. Where are you based?

      February 2, 2022 - 3:46 pm Reply
      • jasonlikestotravel

        Indeed, can’t complain too much. It’s a very quiet work day anyway hence catching up on some blog reading.

        That’s great to hear! I’m down in Peterborough and we’re pretty well connected with pretty much everywhere North of us haha.
        Hopefully our paths cross at some point 🙂

        February 2, 2022 - 3:49 pm
      • Leighton

        Oh cool, we are in the village of Tean in Staffordshire until the end of April. Using it as a base, so who knows, maybe we will swing by and have a look.

        February 2, 2022 - 3:54 pm
      • jasonlikestotravel

        Do let me know if you do, I’ll happily give you the grand tour haha.

        It did occur to me just after I hit ‘send’ that coincidentally QPR are up in Peterborough this weekend.

        February 2, 2022 - 3:59 pm
      • Leighton

        That’s right! I was looking into going with my brother but it sold out pretty quickly. In any case I’ll be doing a few weeks in London next month and already have tickets for the home games against Hull and Blackpool. Touch wood, but I can almost smell the possibility of promotion.

        February 2, 2022 - 4:01 pm
      • jasonlikestotravel

        That’s a shame it sold out.
        Things do seem to be going well though, fingers crossed promotion happens for you!

        February 2, 2022 - 4:05 pm

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