Ocean Eyes

I’m sitting on a raft.

It’s a plastic raft- It’s made of a number of buoyant plastic cuboids strung together somehow.

The raft bobs gently atop the water.

The night’s air is entrancingly tranquil.

The raft bobs gently atop the water.

I’m listening to Billie Eilish’s “Ocean Eyes”.

I’ve got these Motorola Bluetooth headphones I bought online over the winter with the appreciable student-internship money that came in over the holidays.

December was chill. Very chill. I think I discovered Imogen Heap in December. Through Spotify.

It was a very stimulating experience- Having the atmospheric electrification of her robotic music reverberate through the dimly-lit room while I sat at my computer, doing some data-processing internship work against the backdrop of downtown San Francisco’s shimmering night-time skyline.

I think I bought the headphones from some site an Indian classmate told me about. I had never heard of the site before. They had some pretty solid deals.

I like the headphones. Rather than go over my head from ear to ear, they go around the back of my head. I find that really appealing, because other headphones leave this like cuboidal crater across the top of my head whenever I take them off. Because they compress the hair.

The Motorola headphones are cool.

The raft bobs gently atop the water.

I’m listening to Billie Eilish’s “Ocean Eyes”.

At this point in time, I don’t know Billie Eilish by name. She’s one of the artists whose cool songs Spotify recently recommended for me. Or put together in a playlist. Something like that.

“Ocean Eyes” by Billie Eilish.

Along with “Slip” by Elliot Moss.

Haha. I also really like that one. I really like it.

At this point in time, I’m aware of these artists more by the enigmatic communal identity given them by their general genre, than by their names.

The raft bobs gently atop the water.

I’m falling in love.

I don’t know it yet though. I don’t know it yet.

I was at this seminar earlier. At the Nervana HQ. Nervana is this Deep Learning library I recently learnt about. They held a seminar to publicize their library and familiarize people with its workings.

I don’t know anything about Deep Learning. I just know I’m very interested in it.

I got to the seminar late. Everyone was seated and listening intently to what some Indian guy was saying. That was when I walked into the room. I strolled in and found a seat for myself at the back.

“I’m going to make you late for your seminar.”

It was something of a concerned whisper.

An anxious wisp of a voice that floated its way out of an entanglement of smudged lipstick and sensual gasps and intertwined limbs and an unhooked brassiere.

“Don’t worry, the seminar isn’t all that important.”

The intertwined limbs kept at whatever it was they were doing, relatively uninterrupted.

I’m falling in love.

I don’t know it yet though.

I don’t know it yet.

The people at the seminar probably saw me stride regally across the room, looking very esteemed and cool and untroubled and confident.

What they probably didn’t know was that my otherworldly chill and dreamy tranquility at the time, came from engagement in a completely different kind of activity. I new next to nothing about the technical topics being discussed in the room.

General view from the floating plastic raft

The raft bobs gently atop the water.

“Ocean Eyes” by Billie Eilish keeps playing.

I don’t know how much time passes before I get off the raft. Maybe an hour. Maybe more. I get off, and on to the small pier leading back to the road.

I keep walking along the bay.

At some point I come across this guy. He’s standing right in front of the railings by the sidewalk. He’s facing the water.

I think he’s fishing.

Yes. Yes, he’s fishing.

He’s got this fishing rod in his hands.

Somehow, we begin to converse.

He is from the Dominican Republic.

I think.

Some Latin American country.

We talk about general things for a bit.

He works construction in the US.

At some point he tells me about his girlfriend:

He used to have a girlfriend. Back in his country of origin.

They lost touch when he moved to the US for work.

Her mother never liked him.

Hated him actually. For some reason.

Hated him so much that she prevented him from ever knowing he had a daughter.

Something like that.

His girlfriend was pregnant at the time he moved to the US.

But he never got to know.

He just recently found out.

He reunited with his girlfriend the year before. They spent the holidays together somewhere in Latin America.

He shows me pictures and videos.

His daughter is like six years old.

Or seven.

Or eight even, I don’t know.

I’m shocked he could have been deprived of news of her existence for that long.

He smiles as he scrolls through the pictures, his face gleaming with immense fondness for the both of them. He says he’s planning towards having them join him in the US.

We keep talking.

At some point he asks for my story.

What’s your own story?” He asks, curious.

I tell him I’m studying in the US on a scholarship.

He seems very wowed. Very very wowed. Immensely impressed.

We keep talking.

At some point I try my hand at his fishing rod.

I’ve never done anything of the sort before.

He gives me some instructions: Do this, do this, after that do this and do this…

He lists like seven different steps.

I find myself repeating the steps after him, but I know only like the first one actually made it into my head.

I swing the rod to send the bait and hook thing into the water.

There is an unnerving “CRACK!” somewhere along the equipment.

I think I just broke something.

I begin to apologize profusely.

“Oh my God I’m so sorry, that was so clumsy of me I’m so sorry I hope it’s not something so serious”

He says there’s no problem. That I shouldn’t worry about it.

His reaction gives me some relief.

We keep talking.

At some point he asks where I was headed.

I point in the general direction to the right.

He says okay.

He says okay, but that I shouldn’t go too much further down that path.

He says there’s a very dangerous area there- Third street.

Says the place is very unsafe, especially at night. I should avoid it at all costs.

I thank him for his concern.

We keep talking.

A number of weeks later, I’ll find myself skateboarding down the infamous Third Street.

At night.

I never planned it- I was just skateboarding along the bay, and then somehow I found myself there.

As I cruise down the sidewalk on my skateboard, I’ll take my time to observe the people I come across. They’re all black. They look like the sorts of people you’ll come across walking through the Tenderloin district- the sorts of people the Terderloin is kinda known for, but they don’t look particularly menacing.

Some of them look vaguely sketchy- not exactly the type you’d think of walking up to and striking up a conversation with.

I don’t know- Maybe they look particularly unnerving precisely because of the pronounced warning of the Latin American fishing guy.

I don’t know.

Thoughts of getting some fast food at a road-side restaurant will cross my mind.

I’ll be concerned about the time. It’ll be pretty late.

Usually I’m out at midnight in San Francisco and don’t feel uneasy at all.

But this is Third Street.

I’ve only ever heard one thing about this place. And that, is that I should not do exactly what I’m doing right now.

I won’t buy food.

I’ll skateboard down Third Street some more.

I’ll come across a MUNI stop.

Ah, a train goes back towards the Ferry building from here.

I’ll wait at the stop- skateboard in hand. Wondering what my fate will be, surrounded by all of the suspicious Third street people.

The train will take forever to come.

Image: View of Downtown San Francisco’s shimmering night-time skyline from one of the dorm room windows.