To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already three parts dead.
Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals, 1929
Cedar and Annie wandered inland, past the palms and onto the road. Anyone with the sense of a retarded donkey was enjoying a siesta; no one at all was in a hurry. The bus from Panjim wheezed past, half empty at this end of the route, and dropped off half a dozen sweaty exotics and a few locals with string bags of groceries and tired expressions. The driver, the conductor and the engineer squatted on their haunches for a cigarette. They passed it between them like a joint, sticking it between the second and third finger of their left hand and puffing through the curled forefinger. The conductor was the bag man; the driver held the wheel; the engineer was about thirteen and mostly along for insurance, so when the bus was satisfactorily oversold he was reduced to riding on the roof, but the kid knew his stuff he fixed the contraption every time it broke. It must have been genius. Given a decent machine shop and a few uninterrupted weeks he'd have made an Indian the first man on Mars, if it wasn't for the forms. What forms? Quite. How could he fill out the proper forms if they haven't been written yet? Not that he could read them anyway. Stick to fixing internal combustion engines, lad, it's a solid career and you won't regret it.
The five-minute walk to the café took a solid half-hour of strenuous effort. They coagulated, panting, on the benches. The power was on for the blenders, but no one else was there except a pile of ripe fruit and the kid who was stuck with the mid-afternoon shift. He looked about five and was really about eight. He was flipping desultorily through a pile of cartoon novels in Hindi and in English, neither of which he read or spoke.
"Merry Christmas," they greeted him solemnly. The kid looked at them with a small smile and wagged his head pleasantly as he waited for their order.
"Do mango, baba," ordered Cedar decisively.
"No," Annie interrupted. "Ek mango, ek papaya." It was most important to keep these things straight.
"Ek mango, ek papaya, okay." The boy set to work, dicing fruit and tossing it into the blenders with the casual expertise of a practiced chef. He poured the results into glasses and carried them over to the table. "Char rupee." He put the bills into the tin moneybox and went back to his comics.
They sat, staring vacantly out at the street. The place had no walls on the three outer sides, just posts holding up a corrugated iron roof over four wooden tables and pairs of benches. Behind the counter, there was a half wall and a curtain that closed off a room where the kid's father was snoozing. He was in his early twenties and looked thirty. Mom was away somewhere with the little ones. The five of them lived behind the store. It was beginning to look like they could get an extra wage-earner. After this season, the boy would be able to handle all the day-to-day operations. If the tourist business kept picking up, dad could probably find something regular in one of the restaurants, he was good with customers. They had a transistor radio. Life was looking up.
Annie leaned across the table and touched Cedar's hand.
"I'm sorry about the trips."
"Thanks." He looked in her eyes. "It's OK, you know."
She smiled and took his hand, gently. She didn't really know but she was more than willing to fake it. It was not a time for inquisition, it was a time for empathy.
"Yeah. So what."
"So nothing. I'm just glad you're here." As she said it, she realized it was true. Strange undercurrent: She also realized all of a sudden that it was not always true but she didn't usually think about it, she just accepted his presence as a given in a palatable gestalt, an irritation, a constraint, a help, a comfort.
"Yeah, me too." Cedar sipped and looked away, as though unwilling to believe his own truth.
"Yeah." She waited a moment before continuing. "And I know what you mean, I think. I like to trip every six months or so, just to take stock, kind of, to find out where I'm at."
"And to have fun too." Balancing was an irritating habit of his, pointing out the other side of anything. Annie was fair-minded enough to admit he was right, though, especially then since she was feeling friendly. It was sort of pleasant that he keep a perspective.
"Oh yeah, it's fun too, all right."
"You feeling anything?" Enquiring minds want to know. Scientists, journalists, gossips, confessors, people perhaps.
She squinted into the distance. "Yeah, some. It's kinda nice. No tigers jumping out of the trees, just a little coming and going and taking a peek at it all."
"Hey, Yankee, Merry Xmas."
"Guten Abend, Herr Klaus," ventured Cedar in foreign. Annie kept quiet. She had seen this guy around, and Cedar had spoken of him, but the German had never acknowledged her existence and didn't seem to be making much of an exception right now. She suspected he fancied her and had her tabbed as Cedar's property, which was flattering and insulting in fluctuating proportion. She sat back to watch. It was a good time to be an audience.
"No, no, no, it's not yet evening. It is no matter, it is not important. How you doing? You have smoke? Hey, baba, ek chai. Tea you want? You are OK? You look kind of ..."
The German casually filled the place, as always. He swung around another bench and parked himself and his little Nepali bag onto it. His black beard curled into his chest hair and seemed to dissolve out of focus. If you told him he looked like Jim Morrison in his late or alcoholic junkie phase, he would usually have taken it as a compliment. Cedar found him intimidating and amusing both, in small doses.
"We are ... kind of ... here, you want a cig or a jay?"
"On the day of Christmas, I would turn down reefer? Bom shankar."
It was only a baby joint, sized to fit in a cigarette pack, and he inhaled about a third of it in a gulp. They each got a solid toke and passed it back as he blew smoke clear across the street. The kid laid the tea down, shaking his head tentatively and muttering "No ganja," and retreated towards the back.
"Hey baba, ganja good, bom."
The rest of the joint disappeared soon enough between the three of them, which made the others feel slightly relieved, on top of slightly guilty, not to mention slightly stoned. It was never quite clear where to draw the line in Baga and the operative rule of common sense was to avoid obvious confrontations and embarrassment. But then common sense never was, especially where Klaus was concerned.
"You guys, you are going to Anjuna tonight?"
Plural, eh, noticed Annie. So I do exist. Well, that's a relief.
"Maybe, why? What's happening?" Cedar was vague where Annie was silent.
"Man, you didn't hear about the full moon party? Christmas, it's gonna be bigger yet."
"Full moon was, what, two, three days ago? What gives?"
"Ja, day before yesterday. Big party. Rock'n' roll, man, they got the Who's fucking sound system, they got guys flying in from America, I hear John Lennon's gonna be there tonight."
"Ah, bullshit, man, c'mon."
"That's what I hear in the bazaar, man. They say Yoko don't dig it but she said John should come and do it, get it together on the beach. Maybe Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, I don't know, I just say what I hear. Come on over, be a gas, man."
He tossed his head back to flip the hair out of his eyes, drained his tea and wiped his hands on his yellow pajama pants.
"Good deal, man, thanks for the toke. See you tonight, huh?"
He threw a coin in the general direction of the kid, who caught it neatly, and shambled onto the street. Annie began to giggle.
"Hello, world. Was he over the top or am I further gone than I thought?"
"Fifty-fifty. Both. Who knows?" Cedar was fading back into fantasy after the effort of keeping up with Klaus.
"Let's go over to Anjuna tonight." The social director at work.
"Sure, why not. How do we get there?"
"There's a path, we can walk. Juanita was telling me yesterday. She said there'd be a party, too, but she didn't say anything about any rock stars."
"Figures. Hey, we'll make 'em up."
"Yeah, if we got some better drugs we could hallucinate them."
"Right! Go fly out of windows, like what's-his-name's kid."
"Art Linkletter, right. If I were his daughter, I'd probably take the long dive too."
"Sure you would. C'mon, you wanna do a Brian Jones?"
"Get loaded and go for a swim."
They tumbled laughing into the street, dazzled by the cortical sunlight. The mid-day sleepers were heading outside and the serious sunburn artists were coming back from the beach. In both directions, the crowd was slow and ready to smile. The palms shimmered and gentled a supple beat like maracas softly shaken and mixed very low, the backdrop for an acoustic twelve-string and perhaps a mandolin or a country fiddle, lonesome but deeply content.