AN: I'm writing this because come on: the sheer amount of wasted character potential in this narrative is staggering. They had a bajillion avenues to go for Jason Bourne and they wasted it a little, in my humble opinion.
I come from a globe-trotting family, so that of course spilled into the story in the form of places we've been.
At five am, sun just beginning its upward trek, the beach should have been deserted. Sandy dunes led from the water up to a stone ledge separating the beach from the road. Foamy waves were quiet today, if cold.
Tarun darted through traffic, the early morning mopeds delivering breakfast to wealthy business men. He sweat even in a kangaroo jacket and crisp morning air, the backpack whumping against his chest where he clutched it with shaking arms. Though small for eight years old, he was a fantastic runner.
And the beach was deserted. It looked the complete opposite of tourist season, empty and undisturbed. This wasn't a tourist-y beach anyway, far into the slum district.
So then why was there a white man sitting on the terracotta ledge?
The man's eyes were fixed on sand at his feet. His clothes were dark and ripped, a reddish patch near his back. Bruised circles ringed his eyes, matching the lips' pale contour. He had the very definition of a "button" nose. Though tall and muscled to amazing proportions, the set of those features was kind.
Tarun gathered his courage. "Hola! What brings you here?"
The man jerked around at Tarun's higher voice. He ceased strangling his fingers in his lap to raise both brows. Something about the tense line of his shoulders curved, relaxed, when he saw Tarun was only a boy.
He replied back in perfect Spanish:
"I don't know. I just hopped a train and…ended up here."
Tarun eyed the gringo up and down. "You took a train to Bolivia?"
The man glanced around. "Is that where I am?"
Terracotta was cold under Tarun's shorts when he sat down beside the man. Tarun leaned in. Automatically, the stranger mirrored the conspirator's posture.
"Are you running away from home too?" Tarun whispered.
It was Tarun's first good look at the man's eyes. Those sea grey irises lit up, a spark jumping from match to kindling. It erupted into a furnace blaze. Tarun loved the sight instantly. He felt lighter all over just looking at it.
Despite the delighted amusement in this man's eyes, his reply was terribly serious. "Something like that. Yes…yes that's exactly what I'm doing."
"Why are you running away?"
"I could ask you the same thing."
Tarun crossed his arms, leaning a little on the gringo for warmth. "I asked you first."
The man studied Tarun for a minute. It made him feel very small, like this man understood things he did not. Like he held a whole sea inside his heart.
A dark, dark sea.
"Your name." The man tapped Tarun's monogrammed backpack. "It's not Spanish."
Tarun blinked at the abrupt subject change, then sighed. "We moved here from Calcutta."
"India?" The man's mouth swung open. "You moved from India to Bolivia? Talk about a world away."
Tarun nodded. "Baba took a job in the city last spring. He's an engineer for the government."
"You're awfully far from the city now, kid."
Tarun's head whipped up, surprised to hear Hindi in this foreign place. Like colour in a black and white movie. The man gazed steadily back at him. A secret, fond smile was tucked in the corner of his lips.
"I lived in India." The man's face fell. "Sometimes I miss it too, kid."
"I'm Tarun." He sounded it out, nice and slow. He followed the man's lead and kept speaking in Hindi. "Tah-roon. And I find beaches are the same all over the world. Feels like India here."
"Nice to meet you, Tarun." The man shook his tiny brown hand. Callouses rubbed Tarun's palm. They were warm, comforting. "My name is Jas—David. My name is David."
"We are both far from where we came from, then," said Tarun.
David's eyes softened, like shutters blocking out midday sunlight. Trying to create shadows and hide. It made Tarun's breath catch.
"Yes…and I'm very glad I am."
"Me too! Mama is making me go to a new school and I hate it. So I ran away."
"Perhaps she is only doing what is best for her son. Mothers are like that." A strange droop occurred on the very outskirts of David's lips, so fast Tarun almost missed it. "Or so I've heard."
"No!" Tarun shook his head, unwilling to concede his point. "My friends are all at the village school! Why must I change and go to prep school with th-their fancy uniforms?"
"Better job prospects when you graduate, for one."
Tarun humphed. "That is over a decade away."
David bowed his head in agreement. He hummed in the back of his throat and shifted. Only then did Tarun realize he still held the man's right hand. It dwarfed his smaller one. Smooth against scarred. Clean against filthy. Tarun enjoyed the feeling and swung their arms.
David glanced down, eyes widening. His hand began to quiver around Tarun's.
"What's wrong?" asked Tarun.
The gringo exhaled forcefully through his nose. Suddenly his pale complexion didn't look to be just from the cold.
"Sorry it's just…" David started to pull his hand away, saw Tarun's expression, and then unwound a little. He squeezed the fingers with his huge ones. "I…haven't been this close to a child since…"
Tarun felt frightened, but not of David. No, it was the haunted flare in the man's eyes that scared him. He'd seen that look in the eyes of Indian soldiers and screaming hospital patients.
"Are you hungry?" he asked, breathless, because that's what his mother always said.
David let out a laugh as tiny as Tarun's hand, but it was real. "Starved."
Tarun dug through his backpack with his free hand. He flipped through the socks, flashlight, and race car toys to a sealed bag at the bottom.
David laughed again, though Tarun didn't see what was funny. "Packing the essentials, huh?"
With a flourish, Tarun produced a bag of Animals Crackers. The American brand was expensive, proving their family's wealth in the ability to find them alone. Sometimes Mama had to have them shipped.
"Why, thank you." David tore open the red foil and held it out to Tarun. Together they munched on hippos and zebras and watched the waves.
Tarun took his parrot cracker and bobbed him up in the air, like it was flying over the waves. He chirped in the back of his throat. David watched him and ate another zebra. Their hands continued to swing.
"Sometimes I wish I could fly away," said Tarun.
David nodded. "Me too. All the time."
Tarun held the parrot aloft one more time before it swan dived into his mouth. He wanted to ask David why he was running away but thought he knew the answer anyway. Those shadow eyes gave it away.
The pair gobbled up Tarun's crackers just as the sun finished its flight into the sky. Not a cloud in sight. David looked like he could eat ten more bags. He had that hungry collarbone homeless people in the slums did.
"Oh," said Tarun, peeking into the empty bag. "That was all the food for my new life. And I'm still hungry."
David's eyes did that bright sparking again. This time even his lips couldn't fight a broad smile.
He stood from the ledge and shuffled across the beach. Tarun slung his backpack over his shoulder, letting this bizarre American tug him along.
"I know a place where you can always get breakfast," said David.
"Yeah?" Tarun skipped in anticipation. Then he saw mischief lurking in the crinkled eyes and deflated. "Oh. I suppose Mama will be worried now, David-ji?"
"Haa. Your mother just wants you to have the best life possible. You should take her up on the offer."
Tarun rested his cheek on David's forearm. A calloused hand reached down to brush Tarun's bangs away from his forehead. It was something so like what Baba would do that Tarun leaned into it.
The hand stuttered to a stop and disappeared.
"How far are we from your home, little Tarun?" asked David, his voice tight.
Tarun took the lead, pleased to see that David enjoyed the market's colourful Quechua wares just as much as he always did: the baskets hanging from tarps, alpaca wool ponchos, spicy lamb sauce, and painted pinwheels. It was an explosion of colours, just like the parrot.
Maybe they had flown away after all.
They walked for almost thirty minutes. Until traffic congested the roadways and tarp shacks gave way to opulent gardens and in-ground pools, palatial homes by Bolivia's standards.
"Tarun! My son!"
Tarun finally let go of David's hand to run up the steps of his concrete home. Mama held out her arms, in her slippers and best sari.
She swooped Tarun up in her bangle-covered arms. Mother and son kissed each other's faces.
"Don't you ever worry me like that again, Tarun. You were gone for hours. Baba is out looking for you as we speak!"
"I'm sorry," said Tarun and meant it.
"Oh! Thank you so much!" Mama pulled away to shake David's hand. "You brought him home to us!"
David, so calm and confident on the beach, looked like a little boy himself for a moment. He flapped his lips before sound came out. After clasping both palms together, he dipped into a slight bow. "It was no trouble at all, shrimati."
Mama's eyes bugged. She froze, gaping at this white man and his flawless Hindi.
"David isn't really a gringo," Tarun whispered to his mother. "Not inside."
Mama swatted Tarun for his 'impertinence' while David pretended he wasn't close to laughing. Suddenly the air felt clear, easy to breathe, and Tarun wondered why he'd ever thought running would solve things. He dropped his bag onto the floor.
"But you must come in! I just put on a pot of chai." Mama too honed in on David's visible ribs and waxy complexion. "Please. It's the least I can do."
"I'm not sure if…You don't have to…"
David tried to fight it. He really did.
Tarun giggled behind his hands, legs swinging around Mama's hips, while Mama shooed David into the kitchen. He sank onto a chair at the table, cheeks red.
"Or perhaps you would prefer hemp tea?" asked Mama. "And you really must try some of my naan. I just baked it!"
Mama had that look in her eye, like she'd just adopted a child. She didn't ask about the blood on the back of David's shirt or the white peekaboo of bandages. She only shoved plate after plate in front of him and patted his cheek and insisted he wear her husband's slippers in the house.
And thus Tarun found himself sitting next to his new friend while they wolfed down lentils and bread.
"From one run away to another…" David winked at Tarun. "Family is hard to come by. Keep them close."
Tarun nodded and this time, he understood perfectly.
Written in 2018.