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Yes, you made your own amusements then
Going to the pictures

Robin Williamson, The Incredible String Band, "Way Back in the 1960s," The 5,000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion, 1967


"Yo, dudes," hollered his hairiness, "What the fuck are you doing up at this ungodly hour?"

"Never known you when we weren't," countered Blackie happily. "You were sacked out in a bus last time we saw ya."

"Must be fuckin' artificial energy," retorted the little man, wearily dumping his pack in the dust.

"Yeah, right, one or the other."

"Lucky fuckers. Any room in the old caravanserai?"

Whitey observed the pair of them batting words across the driveway, apparently by reflex and certainly without more than incidental meaning, rather like dogs nuzzling each other and circling to sniff each other's butts. He was glad to see Skipper, he accepted, and Blackie was more, and that was all right. Why, he didn't wonder. Presumably he was succumbing to the lure of the somewhat familiar in the midst of the forever strange.

Blackie and Whitey had thought about the little Yank they had met in the night once or twice, incidental curiosity, nothing more, but it was enough to keep his image catalogued where their brains could fetch it without any bother, the way you know your friends. In such mysterious ways had intimacy developed in absence. Somewhere in that bus they had offered up a thread to Clotho, who went on silently spinning in the dark, till the measurement of Lachesis matured and, yes, Atropos approached with her scissors to cut the cloth to fit. And soon they would wear the coat.

"Yusufi," called Whitey practically, "Got a room?"

The innkeeper strode out to inspect the new arrival and nodded solemnly.

"After two hours," he announced.

"Cool," said Skip, "How you been, man?" Which elicited another generous little inclination of the turban. "Any chance of breakfast? Can I dump my bag in the office? Through here, right? Great, man, great. Just put it on one side, no sweat."

Yusufi remembered the little prick now. He was harmless, almost entertaining. Besides, he knew those two, and his money was good. Bowing to inferior force, he accepted the bag, and ushered the others over towards the dining area.

"Oh, man, stupidest fucking thing, I took the overnight bus from Peshawar. Do not do that unless you are totally desperate, man, there's no sleep, no view, no music, no one awake to score from at the border, trying to do the whole thing on just some crummy Temple Balls – you had them, right? – very fucking pretty, Nepali government seal and everything, piss-weak and pourable, you got anything decent?"

"Pourable?" laughed Blackie. "What you saying, lad?"

"Down the drain, man. Oh, shit, I need tea, I need hash, I need food, I need a bath, I need sleep, I need a good fuck, I need everything and it's my birthday, almost – day after tomorrow – they got a word for that in Nepali, like mañana but one better – and no-one to bake me a cake."

Skip the Beard contrived to look so sorry for himself that everyone laughed. The boy brought tea and apple turnovers. Blackie did the honors on the appetizer. Whitey reached into his coat pocket and extracted half a dozen pills.

"Billy Cotton?"

Skipper looked puzzled. "I wish you fucking Limeys spoke English," he complained.

"Wakey-wakey," threw in Blackie by way of explanation. "He's on telly. Catch-phrase."

"Amphetamine Billy, eh? Well, most kind I'm sure. Damn! Where the fuck d'ya get these? These are Swiss, aren't they? You got a connection?"

Whitey nodded and they lost the evidence.

Not that he needed the encouragement, but with it Skip the Beard was truly launched and over the next couple of hours entertained all (not to mention Sun-Dry the newly-named washerwoman, to whom he offered a most unlikely quantity of soiled garments of indeterminate original hues), with a compelling patchwork of tales that encompassed doctoral studies in Varanasi (complete with orthographic digressions ranging as far afield as the disappearing bee sound in Modern Greek, hence the strange but ubiquitous word mpeatleV meaning Fab Four but spelt em-pee not bee), and meditation camps in the lower Himalaya (complete with theology from Tibet and the fluvial geography of Central Asia, comparing and contrasting the combined flow of the Brahmaputra, Indus and Ganges with that of the mighty Mississippi–Missouri), and railway lines of gauges many and various (with speculations as to why the Indian ones were built by the British but not of standard gauges, if anything of width 56.5 inches – and no better in metric at 143.5 centimeters – deserves the term standard anyway), and on and on and on till Whitey almost regretted supplying the fuel and even Blackie was ready to retire and leave the little fellow sitting and talking to the wall, as responsive an audience as he seemed to require anyway.

Still, they liked the cheerful little sod.

"He's nuts," approved Blackie that afternoon up in the aerie.

"Yeh," smiled his mate.

"We should get him a birthday present. Why not? Surprise the little bastard. Whaddya think?"

Whitey nodded. Sure, why not.

"Ah but what do you give to the man who has nothing?"

"What'd he want?"

"Yeah, that's right," enthused Blackie, "He told us didn't he. Tea, check; hash, check; food, check; bath, well, shower, check; sleep, right now, check; ... oh, shit."

Whitey, who had never paid as much attention as his partner to these verbal pirouettes, failed to follow and Blackie had to clarify:

"He needs a good fuck."

Whitey looked up and caught Blackie's eye. They were never far out of sync.

"Gita," they smiled in harmony.

"I bet she fucking would if we asked her," added Blackie, unnecessarily.
The cloth the Fates were weaving for them was beginning to reveal its shape. The threads were spun long and straight, stretching back to the unsuspecting souls and on to eternity, where they would be entangled and wound around and around like silken twine till the fabric's strength was as the strength of ten for its heart was pure and its aim was true and it was well formed. The cloth was becoming a noose.

"Gotta get t'her," pointed out Whitey, in a little interjection with massive consequences of guilt and horror to come. He proved his complicity with that simple observation, and when he finally looked back, he was too clear to deny it. Their alliance covered everything, they never said but always believed; they might have admitted as much in the privacy of the bedroom interrogation chamber, with a single candle pouring its light unbearably through their eyelids and into their brains, and the truth serum of love agonizing through their veins. But they were wrong. It is an axiom of torture that you cannot make a victim reveal what he does not know, and they did not understand the exquisite truth that becomes a lifeline in disaster but a poison forever before that time. Had Whitey left this lark entirely to Blackie, he would have been taking out insurance against pain and paying the cost in commitment – he would have been spared some of the burden of guilt, but the moment he paid the premium he would have lost in his soul the absolute partnership he believed he had earned and needed and wanted and found. No, he couldn't have done that, he was too much the idealist, but that is not to say he couldn't look back afterwards and wish not to be himself. Poor man, he was wrong to hope for such a thing, and crippled later perhaps by the desire, but at the time, like a gambler on a streak, he drew his hand and never questioned the thought of playing it.

"Yeah," ruminated Blackie, "We figured she'd just come here when she got off work."


"Well, that's the point, innit. Tomorrow sometime, probably late afternoon, anywhere from two to six she thought."


"And Skip's gonna be here, right? I mean, we can always keep him here, that's easy, but no way can we stop him being here."


"So if we wanna get to Gita 'fore she gets here, we better go hang out 't t'Inter, yeah?"


"Three be safe, she won't come early."

Which settled it. Further planning was considered superfluous until her consent was obtained. Mild fantasies were briefly bandied about, concerning large red ribbons and other small decorations, but mostly the imaginations were left on their own to develop. The hour, it was thought, would produce the plan.

And so it was that, the following afternoon, Blackie and Whitey once more shimmered through the reality gates that guarded the jet set from the incoherent assault of camel dung. The sun shone equally on both sides of the divide, half way down the sky, and the clocks all read three (more or less) but the calendar in the street, Blackie explained, was pretty certain the year was 1390 and the one inside was distinctly confused, oscillating unpredictably between the fourteenth century and the twentieth, or the eleventh, or fifty-first, or occasionally the fifty-eighth, (all according to dynastic or religious preference) or even perhaps the first: a case could be made for calling the year 24, to correspond nicely both with those present and with the atomic era itself ... in which perforce everyone around was living, whether they knew it or not.*

With such idle banter, Blackie was preparing to pass the idle hour of waiting. They checked with the desk clerk, dressed in black, who (probably) informed them that the Danish flight crew was not back yet but expected momentarily (he might have been merely being polite and saying what he hoped they wanted to hear), so they turned as by instinct for the watering hole. After all, the afternoon could profitably be spent in taste-tests of such imported brews as were available. Whitey, half listening to the garbled speculations on Hindu and Jewish and Buddhist and Confucian and heaven knew what methods of telling the year, walked softly through the open door and halfway to the bar before stopping abruptly in his tracks.

Blackie bumped right into Whitey's back and began to complain until he saw what Whitey had just seen, and quit, paralyzed. Sitting on a stool by the bar was a blast from the past, looking puzzled and getting himself outside of a long and fairly cool lager.

Rodge the Enforcer.

*At that moment, which Blackie and Whitey usually thought of as early June 1970, the year was, in increasing order, 19 by the British Regnal system of dating, 24 Atomic, 178 French Revolutionary, 1091 Nepali (Newar), 1390 Muslim, 1892 Indian (Saka), 1970 Christian, 2028 Indian (Vikrama), 2281 Grecian (Seleucidae), 2630 Japanese, 2718 Babylonian, 2723 Roman, 5072 Indian (Kaliyuga), 5084 Mayan, 5730 Jewish, and 7479 by the Byzantine reckoning.

If some of these seem somewhat conjectural, the reader raised in the Christian world would do well to recall that the "anno domini" method is inaccurate, since Jesus is thought to have been born a few years (perhaps seven) B.C.E.; it was devised by the modest but brilliant Dionysius Exiguus (Dionysius the Little) in the sixth century, by his reckoning, and popularized by the Venerable Bede a couple of centuries later.

We do not, of course, have to be limited to annual cycles. The Chinese cycles (of sixty years) had by then been running for about 4247 years (since 227 7 B.C.E.). The Hindus take an even broader view of such matters for some purposes and use a cycle of 4,320,000 years, more or less, which means we are still stuck in nought or is it one and even as a species may never see a cycleversary. Pity that, it should be a heck of a party.