Coming around the bend at Walkeshwar, he sees Marine Drive open out before him, its lights glinting off the water. Like a woman admiring her new necklace in a glass. At the other end of its lazy crescent the towers of Nariman Point rise like columns of some star-labelled histogram, impossibly close, and the red glow of the Air India centaur tightens its bow towards the invisible West. The nearness is deceptive, though. This is a city of concavities, of points that have learned to keep their distance, of a future that curves away. The traffic of the years passes swiftly here, but even so the road proves longer than you expect.
And so he drives on: past the aborted flight of three neon birds winging their way off the beach in some grotesque advertisement for the fundamentals of gravity and escape; past the iron-barred gates of Wilson college, its courtyard dusty with summer daydreams; past the battered facade of Crystal and the long line of cars standing outside Bachelors; past the footbridge and along the railway track to the Aquarium, across from which he has seen the waves on wild days fling themselves across the road in suicidal missions, while crowds danced on the parapet, their trousers rolled up around their knees; past the cricket grounds and the flyover; past the long stretch of salt-speckled houses battered by sea-wind, their old-world charm punctuated by gyms and ice cream parlours, by the ship-like stateliness of the Marine Plaza and the alien intrusion of some new hotel that he vaguely remembers being built; past the curving windows of Not Just Jazz, its windows agleam like the deck of some beached ferry; past the last hurrah of the houses to arrive finally at the feet of the towers he once thought were the tallest in the world (told so by a friend in school and not knowing better) but that now seem as ignorant and mortal as giants out of some fairy tale; the tang of the sea breeze through the unrollable windows of his black and yellow Padmini taxi mingling with the smell of horse-shit as he tells the driver, right here is fine, thank you, yes just here, on the side, that's fine, STOP.
He pays the taxi, feeling again the small surprise of not having to haggle or argue over the fare (he lives in Manhattan now, but cannot shake the Delhi reflex that makes him ask the cab driver "How much?" and wait tensely for the answer), walks past the gap-toothed ranks of the parked cars out to where the land ends, not sure what he is looking for.
This is not really land's end, of course - somewhere, in the far reaches of Colaba and Cuffe Parade the land goes on, life continues, opportunity stretches away. This is only a comma, a punctuation mark in the earth's calligraphy. And yet from this point there is no road forward, no path across the sea gleaming like wet tarmac. Only this spine of black rocks disappearing into the water as though the city were some giant reptile clawing its way out of the depths. Or slinking back in. The sea is calm tonight, its subdued lapping no match for the tremendous roar of the metropolis stretching away behind him. And among the boulders the couples he tries not to stare at are holding hands, lost in a memory of the sunset, not trusting themselves to speak. Knowing that from here there is nowhere left to go.
[Reading Vikram Chandra - I'm on page 380 of Sacred Games - always does this to me: makes me nostalgic about Bombay. Ah, well].