Part II - Samskaras
William Walks West
It's 98 degrees, and William’s face is cold. He rubs his hands together and places them on his face.
Today the tides are the highest this month. The moon turns full as it swings around the earth, opposite the sun, pulling a peaking tidal bulge with it. The extreme east winds push the swells into the dunes capturing the beach debris with it. Plastic garbage cans occasionally surfacing in the breakers, logs, bottles and sea grasses, creating a scene that makes William uncomfortable. The lifeguard stands are surrounded by water. This morning there’s no shoreline to walk. The water funnels through the drifts down the sandy pathway to the parking lot. The sunrise tricking the eyes with orange reflections on the moving ground.
William’s highway is giving up on him. Frustrated and confused, he follows the ankle-deep streams out into the parking lot. He looks at the sidewalk, measures his foot against it and decides it’s close enough to ankle high. So, he steps up and begins to walk on the narrow cement path.
On this hot summer morning, deep underneath his coat, he finds his walkie-talkie. It’s still wet and caked with sand.
“Take the walk?” he asks, holding it to his ear.
William looks to the rising sun, then west. He is shivering when he should be shedding. His feet feel cold on the hot concrete. Things are feeling opposite these days. William suddenly thinks of the young surfer.
“Is her,” William declares holding the button down.
William is worried, but he has signs. The winds blow strong out of the east. William knows the wind. The wind is not his friend, but he listens. The sea oats point west with each gust.
“Is West,” he says, surprising himself with the word.
“West!” excited to say it again, watching the leaning sea oats.
William turns a corner and sees a street sign. “Beach Blvd,” it says. He looks down at the sandy sidewalk and begins a slow squat. Every muscle in his long slender legs feeling the stretch. Looking at the surface thoughtfully, he scans the sidewalk, tenderly grazing it with his gentle fingers. There is electricity in this ground. From his walkie-talkie, a burst of static.
"Is West," he says.
He straightens, unwavering in the high winds. His orange shadow is long in the morning sun. Content in this narrow territory, he begins his ankle-high trek across the city, checking the “Beach Blvd” street signs every few miles.
“Take the walk. Is serious," he says.
Reaching the intracoastal waterway bridge, he takes a momentary pause, breathes deeply to summon the courage. Making his way to the top in long strides, he looks out over the marshes, then the road ahead. Heat waves radiating from the asphalt distort the lane line. Shades of New Orleans come and go in the dithering air. In the mirage, William sees a skyline, but Place St. Charles is a month’s walk away. The winds are picking up. He squints and scans, and the illusion is gone. A strong gust, out of the east, blows his cap off. He catches it before it touches the ground. It is at that moment he remembers Katrina.
One single day before landfall, WWL-TV has a Special Bulletin.
“Neighborhoods are scrambling to evacuate while some are refusing to leave,” the anchor says, “This is a serious storm,” The anchor presses his earpiece. “The evacuation is now mandatory. It’s serious,” he announces.
William is pissed. A New Orleans walking-tour guide doesn’t need this shit. “Serious, yes,” he’s thinking. Raising Claira alone is hard as it is. He picks up his walkie-talkie and calls dispatch, but there is no one listening. He looks for Claira who is at a weekend slumber party. A good father would have had the phone number and certainly the address, he’s thinking. William walks for days, searching, calling her name, seeking shelter where he can.
William reaches out to anyone listening in the white noise with his walkie-talkie. He is too late. Ahead is the Florida Avenue Bridge, its towers, blue, cutting the gray NOLA sky. This is not the walking-tour he imagined today. Soon William finds Claira face down, lifeless, in ankle-deep water. Just ankle-deep. That is when William begins his longest ever walking tour. Following the persistent east wind that took Claira, he walks until he reaches the sea.
The memories come and go like the heat waves on Beach Boulevard. He pockets his cap. His long jatas, wrapped in a bundle atop his head, see the sun for the first time in weeks. He’s feeling his clearest in years and is certain about his walk.
“Downtown, 15 Miles", the sign says. In his clarity, William calculates five hours for this walking tour. William fills his lungs and presses the talk button.
“West,” he says.
Miles away, on the west side of town, Lieutenant Sharon Holmquist’s radio echoes the words.