Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Ash-Scram, Part 2 of 3

Part one may be read by clicking on this sentence.

Part 2:

I was welcomed into the house by the sinewy, kind-eyed Yakaru, who led me to a large room with a fireplace, enormous windows, two generous beds and the smell of wood everywhere.

It was a far, far cry from the kitchen floor of the busted-up flat I’d lived in at the Ashram, and the room was mine for the ridiculous sum of 10 American dollars a night including food and the use of a washer and dryer.

I immediately saw my new digs were maintained impeccably; windows expertly painted, raising and lowering in perfect silence, heavy, finely oiled doors with gleaming glass knobs, furniture of the highest quality and placed just so. It felt as though the room was my official welcome to England, and a first-class welcome it was.

Famished and filthy, I took my biggest English carrot into the shower with me and rinsed the last of India down the drain while I munched under the warm water. I wrapped my room towel around me, threw my entire wardrobe in the laundry, and waited for---what? It was 3 in the afternoon and no one was home except Yakaru.

I padded into my room, closed the door and wrote in my journal, “I miss you, Valeria.”

I got a surge of mojo from the shower and clean clothes and decided to walk the streets to see if I could scratch a farthing making music. I threw back the shoulders, walked to the Crouch End tube, pulled out my box and sang for an hour, mostly Sun Records stuff like early Elvis, Jerry Lee, Perkins. A few stopped to look and in 60 minutes I had 22 new pounds in my case. English money can be heavy. Indian rupees are always filthy and beat-up.

I headed back home without a key.


"Hi, I'm staying here."
"Yakaru knows."

The door closed, and swung back open in about 5 minutes.

"Come in, then," said Yakaru's wife, as though addressing a deliveryman.

People started arriving home from their jobs at around 6, going about their business. None seemed impressed or curious about their new visitor. The housepeople were so quick and so comfortable with each other that they all melted into one blap of “stranger with an English accent”, and I couldn't process each as individuals yet except for two 17-year old girls who looked right past me.

Dinner was prepared. I offered help and was given the job of chopping vegetables and putting them in bowls. I really didn’t want to do anything but figured I ought to, and when the meal was on the table, I ate surrounded by strangers who talked among themselves, with only the most fleeting logistical interest in yours truly. An enormous, bearded, leather-clad biker-looking guy turned to me and blew his entire image with “’Would you pahss the buttah, please?”

Energized by food, I accepted an invitation to attend a party with three dinnermates. We pushed into a car, drove to a club, parked and the others took off into a crowd of about 100 people dancing to house music, leaving me to wander, looking for a sign of welcome warmth, of tenderness, fun, understanding, humor and intelligence. Instead I found attractive people with emotionally constipated faces and perpetual cigarettes parked in their mouths, and I felt as lost as I had when I first arrived in Bombay. I was also clobbered by a new wave of fatigue and could barely stand.

Annoyed by the noise, the people and the smoke, I found one of my housemates and told him I’d be on my way, and he graciously found someone to drive me. Deposited back at the house, I took a hot shower, rinsing the club smell off me, and went to my room.

As I climbed beneath the cool, fresh-smelling sheets, I began to feel better. It was the first time I’d been truly dry and clean after months of humid, filthy India. I let down my mask, the mask I’d needed to deal with customs, to arrange logistics, rides and lodging, to postpone deep feelings of any kind, letting go of my friends and all my adventures in India and to produce some kind of pleasing personality to stranger after English stranger.

Now, alone with the silver moon bathing me through my window, I felt flush in the wake of what I’d done, where I’d carried myself to in these last months, busting out of a Manhattan shell and taking a chance halfway around the world. What would happen to me tomorrow? I had no idea, but for now, I had a beautiful bed in a beautiful house, I was as clean as a baby, and I’d found my own North Star once again. Even if there was no one else in the world who was soft and gentle in the world at that moment, I would be soft and gentle with Mr. Swami Gyan Shunyam, taking him away from loud fools and parking him in bed where he belonged.

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