Tomun was an unusual man. Despite his enthralling anecdotes, no one knew where he came from. His battered passport was the only thing that stood out amongst his bare minimum possessions. He looked to be about 70, but you wouldn’t have guessed so from his demeanor. His frail hands had more might than the office-goers at the start of the week. Every day you could see him heading to the port with a brown rucksack slung over his shoulder. He was no outsider to the townsfolk; greeting everyone with a smile and a vigorous salutation.
“I’ve been piecing this boat together for many years now.” he had once told me, beaming at a white standard size sailing yacht. It looked just as weather beaten as its owner. The sides were rusted and had lost its original allure; the rudder could fall off at any moment; the sails had gashes on them.
“Piecing a boat? You mean you are refurbishing this dilapidated thing? To what end, Tomun?” I had asked in reply.
He looked at the setting sun and just laughed. My brow furrowed at the thought of this old man working on a project of such magnitude. But I let it slide, assuming that he’d probably give it up half way. We were close enough that we ate a meal together every day. He spoke a lot, but nothing substantial about his birthplace or his family. From his stories, I got the idea that all of his journeys had been rewarding in terms of fixing the yacht. He’d go on and on about a neighbour, or a niece twice removed, who had helped him acquire a pulpit or a shiny new boom that would go well with his boat.
Sometimes, I’d get late to our meetups. But Tomun wouldn’t say a thing. He’d brush off my apology, as if he had all the time in the world. Even though I allowed the bustle of life to get to me, I made sure that I hung out with him. I assumed he enjoyed spending time with me.
“You know, Agatha is almost ready.” he told me, matter of factly on one such afternoon. Tomun had named his boat Agatha, after the renowned author.
“Are you sure? It doesn’t look like it.”
“Oh absolutely! A small paint job, a small touch up and we’re good to go.” he said sifting through the vegetables on his plate. Tomun wasn’t a foodie; he barely ate anything. Occasionally, his pallor would bring out the deep-set wrinkles so starkly, that it would scare me. I’d urge him to eat more, but it was a futile attempt.
“Maybe you should get Agatha checked by a professional, before you take it out.”
“There’s no need for that. I feel it. Agatha is just as ready as I am.”
“It’s always better to be safe than sorry.”
At that, he guffawed. Even though I missed the joke, I prodded further. “Why don’t you get a family member to come down here, and help you?”
“I don’t want to trouble anyone, dear. I’ll get by just as I have been doing.”
“I’m sure it won’t be a trouble. Where do they stay? Anywhere close?” I knew that Tomun lived alone in a condo that was closest to the beach. He worked on small errands for his livelihood. He wasn’t poor; he was basic.
“Here, there, everywhere.” he sighed. “But, you! You tell me how your search for a job is going.” I had told Tomun that I wanted to pay my own way to college.
“It’s not easy. They’re all asking for references I don’t have and can’t get.”
“Keep trying. I’m sure something will work out for you.” he said, patting my hand.
We were done with our meal; I got up to pay the bill, but he wouldn’t hear of it. After much insistence and beseeching, Tomun had his way. When he opened the rucksack, to fetch the wallet, his passport fell out. It looked brand new, with crisp pages.
“Are you going somewhere?”
“Aren’t we all?” he said with a wink. Before I could say anything else, he was walking out the door. With a final, “See you tomorrow!” he was gone.
The next few days were much the same. Job interviews, college application prep, quality time with family etc. A week later, when I heard on the news that there was a storm headed our way, I had a sinking feeling in my gut. I hurried over to our haunt, hoping to see Tomun early. I waited eagerly for my watch to show 8PM. But as the time passed, there was no sign of Tomun. I asked at the counter, and they handed me a brown envelope, saying that Tomun had come by early in the day to leave this for me.
I had never ripped through anything as fast as I did that envelope. Inside, there was a signed check that I barely noticed. A long ruled page bore his handwriting. I knew what goodbyes looked like.
I reckon you would’ve come to realize what I’ve done. I apologize for not doing this directly. If I had tried, I wouldn’t have been able to leave. You see, people are inclined to believe that destiny makes them. But I choose to live my life differently. I make my own day and I sleep at night knowing that my life is of my own making.
Tomun had left. The thought was enough to send shards piercing through my heart. Unconsciously, I had begun walking to the port. Letter in hand, my legs were leading the way.
This must come as a surprise to you. But believe me child, I had never planned to sink my toes in a land for long. I am sorry for not making my intentions clear. People who look for stability want nothing to do with a 75 year old making the rounds of the world. I do not know if we will meet again, but with some help from me, I hope you would attempt to pave your own path. I’ve left you what little I had managed to save. In case everything doesn’t line up nicely, go to the inn on Seventy Fourth Street and give them my name. They’ll come up with something for you.
The time that I’ve known you was enough to show me that if I waited for my future, I would get slim pickings. I hope you gain some courage from my words and take matters into your own hands. Tomorrow is a stranger on the road; we haven’t met yet, but we know of each other’s existence. Why concern yourself with a stranger who has nothing to do with you as of now? In the quest for a safe tomorrow, why dampen the joys of today? I can’t be rooted to one place, just as I can’t be one person. I am all that I have seen and been through. I don’t know for how long or how far Agatha would keep me company. But I sure hope she’d see me through to the end of the world. Whatever it may be, I am certain that I would be happy. As I wish you would be, too.
K, don’t wait. Wherever tomorrow is, you’ll have your chance encounter. But I hope that you’d set about making the best of your today. You only get one try.
The skies were downcast and the port was barren. Having heard about the storm, people would have settled in for the day, with a hot coffee and blankets. I couldn’t make myself leave. I looked at the horizon long and hard, hoping to see a tiny sailboat. There was no sign of anything. That was the last time I heard from Tomun. This man, who had been like a grandfather to me, walked with his life clenched in his feeble fists. There was so much I could have learned from him.
The townsfolk were sad to hear about him. But within a fortnight, they’d all moved on.
Now, every time I pass by the port, I keep an eye out for Agatha. Alas! Just like my tomorrow, Tomun has become a stranger. I could keep looking for them, but they would only show their face when it’s time.