Today's Story by Varun Warrier

They shall ask him how he found the beached whale, and how he ran back into the village to call the elders who had just finished their dinner.

Appu and the whale

On the sea shore is something big. It looks like a rock, grey but slippery, covered in a pellucid layer of fine golden sand. It heaves, this rock, up and down, softly, slowly, till the sun slips silently into the sea, dipping the world into a vast pool of blackness. Only the silent ‘shush, shush’ of the waves fill the air. The night is new, the sky is empty and it is all perfectly still.

On the seashore there are tiny flecks of light swaying up and down. They get smaller and smaller, till they are dots, swarming around the strange grey rock. Some burn yellow, some burn white. In the halo of these pinpricks you can see the strange grey rock heaving up and down, a bit more slow and bit more soft.

The night is no longer silent. There are wild cries in the air. The sleeping gulls are woken up, and they circle the air cawing at this unearthly disturbance. The sea swells angrily, frothing into giant eddies and splashing on the strange grey rock. There is running, up and down on the beach; tonight you see the pinpricks growing bigger and smaller, as they swing up and down to a mysterious, new rhythm, tomorrow, the beach will be dotted in footprints, half erased by the waves and the wind. Strong, limber men and women have come down from the village, carrying kerosene lanterns, and long coir ropes.  The youngest kids are asleep, dreaming their great dreams, unaware of this new hullabaloo in their world. The older ones who heard their parents steal into the night sit on the tall rocks, staring intently into the pools of pale light on the dark beach.  They all sit in silent wonder. Only Appu is there with the others on the seashore, his lantern faster and friskier than the rest, running continuously up from the head of the rock all the way till where the tail disappears into the sea.

Tomorrow, when they awake late in the day, they shall ask Appu again how he found it. They shall ask him what he was doing by the beach, alone under the twinkling sky. They shall ask him how he found the beached whale, and how he ran back into the village to call the elders who had just finished their dinner. Then he’ll tell them about it all. He’ll tell them of the sea at night and the strange whispers of the waves when they lap up on the sandy shores. He’ll tell them of the luminescent jellyfish, gliding in the moonlit waters. He’ll tell them of the song that the whale sang, muffled in the wind and sand.Then, they’ll look at him and laugh, for everyone knows that whales don’t sing and the waves can’t whisper.

In the night-air is a song, a song that fishermen sing on their boats far in the sea. It is a song of the land, distant and longed for, and of the women and kids who wait on the sandy shore for the boats to return. Tonight, the song has been woven into the strong choir ropes. They sing as they slide the ropes around the whale, working the chords into a net of sorts, their sweaty torsos glimmering in the lantern lights. They sing as they heave and push, men and women, slipping on the wet, dark sand.   Some of them go back and get their long, narrow boats and row them out into the sea. There, in the swaying lights of the rickety boats, they pull the whale again.

They heave and they pull till the eastern sky turns pink. Then, quietly, in the early light of a new day, the whale slips into the sea and swims away. The kerosene lamps are stuffed out, the boats pulled in, and the men and the women take their sleepy kids and walk home. Only Appu lingers, arms covering his eyes from the morning sun, looking at where the sea disappears into the sky.

In the vast depths of a sea is a whale that is swimming with its pack.  It sings of a song that is both happy and sad, a song of a faraway place and a faraway boy.  And when the pack travels from sea to sea, in cold waters unknown to man, the whale shall hope to meet this boy just once more.


Varun Warrier lives in Bangalore, India. His work has been published in Pyrta Journal and in university magazines.