The Bid of Farewell


9:38 pm, the exact time I arrived at Velana International Airport, the main international airport in Maldives, and greeted the place with my irritable discomposure. My loose, frizzy dark hair carelessly fluttered in the wind as I descended the vehicle. Already aggravated by my groggy state of mind and lack of sleep, the constant slap of my own hair to my face only added fuel to the fire  of impatience.

The airport was thick with desires. Tourists and individuals – returning from various countries and staying faithful to their country of origin – headed wherever they had to be. Long strands of individuals simply wanting to surpass a test of purpose without difficulty. The scene being played out was in dim lighting, with the actors robotic and the lines monotonous. Some had exhaustion painted delicately under their eyes, discomfort engraved onto their awkward jerks of movements. Others had fear emerging through their clammy hands and nervously sputtered words, myself included. I was with my family of four alongside my aunt, my mother’s sister, and paternal grandparents. I missed my grandparents a lot. Before this trip, we barely spent any time together and even when we did, the time could never be described  as fulfilling. I stared at them in admiration, pondering over the stories they passed onto me; all the hardships they went through, yet their affection for each other never wavered, never even faltering. 

The realisation that this would be the last time I would see both of them together, had not occurred to me then. 

On the other side of the airport we exited from, individuals were seen next to stands with different images of activities sprawled across them, explaining all kinds of must-see experiences in this native country. An attempt to lull tourists with a deceitful melody, in my opinion. Like the mythological stories of mermaids luring pirates to their untimely death. The eager desires of these people were way too easy to read – to head out to the area that was more open and flushed with  opportunity; the side that held the promise of adventure. I noted that in contrast, the size of Changi Airport in Singapore was drastically larger, the temperature there definitely much colder as well.

It would have been 12:38 am in Singapore by now, the time zones preventing that from happening, of course. That’s the only perk I love about taking air travel – the time zones. They just manage to give me an incredibly satisfying and elevating feeling once I register that in a way, I’ve essentially cheated time.

Being in another country, in another region really, felt different, to say the least. I was taking in that distinct atmosphere that consisted of the unmistakably unfamiliar language being thrown around. That fear of being at a place you have never been before, combined with a somewhat misplaced feeling, – that you definitely do not belong here – slightly evident to those native to the area. The unknown surroundings made me feel self-conscious of being foreign and all the more spatially aware of how I behaved.

The 1190 islands that approximately make up the Maldives are not home to mountains or rivers. Located south-west of Sri Lanka and India in the Indian Ocean, these islands are merely two meters above sea level, making them the world’s lowest country in elevation. This would unfortunately allow the easy erasure of such a spectacular retreat. In fact, back in 2004, a tsunami violently devoured two-thirds of the country. As a result, the country, often excluded from world maps due to its minute islands, had over 20 islands additionally and permanently erased from the map.

The difference between climate change then and now is the underestimated amount of damage caused to the environment and the amount of time it would take. The world has been undergoing a climate change of historic proportion, with sea levels rising at an increasingly rapid pace. The threat that the Maldives will be completely submerged in 30 years, currently still prevails.

In this understatement of a sanctuary, I realised the effortless dismissal of climate change. Even then as I embedded my footprints on the rough, earthly sand, it reminded me of how everything we do leaves an impact on the environment, yet how easily concern for the matter is disregarded – seen with the imprints eventually being washed away by the upcoming tide, vanishing completely. Nothing is ever permanent. Indeed, all the sand that was around me was a clear representation of all the lost, wasted time from broken hourglasses. It would only be a matter of time before we can no longer encapsulate such allure of this native country. My aunt, Aima Concepcion Reyes, mentioned, “People will only truly regret not appreciating and putting enough effort into caring for Maldives once this place is gone.”

In my curious wonderment, my eyes caught hold of a continuous motion to my right. Mesmerised, my gaze was instantly transfixed on the mediocre, medium-sized waves taking place. Though, when seen as a whole altogether, these powerful, cascading curls of deep navy blue mingled with tinges of white foam produced upon the breaking waves. The projection seemed to draw me in more and more as seconds went by. The weather conditions were balmy, not too humid, with just the right force and amount of wind blowing. The kind of weather you would expect nothing less from heaven on earth.

It occurred to me that this could be due to negative ions. Negatively charged ions are most prevalent in natural places and particularly around moving water. Believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin, once they reach our bloodstream, they help to alleviate depression, relieve stress, and boost our daytime energy. The fact seemed to prove itself true…at the moment. I could not help but notice how easily the water moved, simply passing me by. The way the wind would fool the water by convincing it to move a certain way, only for it to realise this trick and move an entirely different direction later on in the day, the vicious cycle constantly repeating. This  feeling could only be explained as content. The Maldives was one of the only places you would be able to witness these elements teasing each other and portraying their play with such magnificent technique.

Three days into our five-day trip, my mood started to dampen. It was like a soaked towel was placed over my head and wrung, an attempt to finally wake me up from this unbelievably perfect trip. And it did: with the death of my paternal grandfather, Cesar Javier. 

After a day of praying and mourning in silence, I finally asked his wife, my paternal grandmother Procerfina Javier, how she felt. The look she mustered was of sincere solemnity. I had been expecting to get an answer like ‘lonely’ or ‘incomplete’ in hopes to elaborate on grief, but was instead enlightened and caught off guard when she mentioned his death in an optimistic manner. “He chose paradise as his place of death.” 

The line imprinted something in me that I will never forget – to always choose to look at the bright side of things, turning a pessimistic situation into a sanguine one. I was impressed by the way she chose to answer my question. Grandpa’s death could either be looked at as a pity that he was not able to appreciate the Maldives to its full extent, or that he fell in love with the place and finally chose to stay there for the eternities to come. I chose the latter. I suppose it’s just a shame that it may no longer be a paradise the world can see. 

Viroya Hannah Renee Reyes (Class of 2022) is a Film student from the second batch of Literary Arts students (2017 – 2020). From her four years of writing in SOTA, she found flash fiction and creative non-fiction most enjoyable.