Story and Artwork by Sandshoe
When Experience in a Limbo Haze* appeared in this august blog, some of the flattering words used in comments were “rambling” “layered” “amble” “frolic” and “amusing”. I referred at its end to the numerologist. Big M commented he looked forward to another instalment so where we pick up the story…
The numerologist was at the bus stop with his worldly shopping bags and bags of books, but not so laden to not seem freer in his concerns and with his replies than might be expected on a hot day. He seems to swing with the bags as if his fragile torso cannot resist the motion once that has begun. He is a repatriate who lived in India he has told me and wishes to translate and publish the Adelaide telephone directories as volumes of numerological significance and similarly, a key of a town street map and its addresses where he lived in India. We part at the street corner after a short walk of ritual when we disembark from our bus journey to the outer suburbs.
I did become dangerously involved. That seemed inevitable with great clutched handfuls of sentences tugging it appeared in his breast as well as mine (overlooking numbers). We shared the newspaper and documents when we met at the stop and rode the bus together like the aged social gypsy renegades we knew we appeared in our mis-shapen skins weathered by lives lived in the open. One thing was neither of us had the tell-tale evidence of excessive alcohol use so many did we greeted in that poor place and we trudged with our distinctive canvas bags and our exposed feet in sandals to catch the bus with the regularity of children going to school
When we walked together past the pub one day, patrons pointed as well as waved kindly acknowledgment. A cascade of the results of spiritual abuse showed in our eyes. Yet nobody could look keener about destination. Our eyes stayed averted from the entrance platform’s quashed blackened blobs of chewing gum extruded and spat out of the mouths of travellers and passers-by in some year past and added to, some of the originators I reckoned likely statistically missing from official summations about suburban population and housing growth. Deceased. Moved away. No longer travelling by public transport through the Transit Station.
He, Amin, travelled into the city where he would sit in ‘the cafe’ with the people who went into the city to sit with him there and I to ‘the centre’ where I could sit with the local people who came to that place to sit with me there so here was common interest. People heard us. People travelled to hear us.
Whenever I recall he bought me a pen I remember I hate it that Parker changed their pens to a universal filler and the pen is redundant. That’s the sort of thing the modern world does.
He began to give me photocopies then of articles about women writers like Kate Chopin.
“Here” he said with the greatest of urgency reaching into a calico bag of the many slung in one hand for the purpose of setting the other hand free, “I got this for you.”
Wads of sheaves of paper perfectly marked according to their page numbers and with a bibliographic reference on the final page were thrust into my hands with the expressionistic gesture of a friend. I barely knew him. I gave him a copy of Wordsworths text on the imagination. He mildly scampered on the spot in the process of transfer to me in return of one by Frances Power Cobbe and that was possibly frustration looking back with the hindsight of my own ageing at myself and the tableau we made. There was about him a contradiction posed by a sense of tranquility overlaid on urgency much was to be done. The planes juxtaposed uncomfortably. My movements were rapid and patience I knew I had in bucketfuls. Closer scutiny showed our detail
Page borders of newspapers he picked up from bus and train seats were filled with finely written numbers from which lines were drawn to circled words.
He may have thought he found an ally. He said he needed one and smiled a non-threatening smile of peaceful unity, however shocking whatever he had to say. He was converting every text as far as every text could be into numerological translation and rather like I imagine a one-person Gutenberg Project volunteer who believes without them we cannot convert to digital translation all the books in the English language and lives bent on seclusion to the purpose hurried. Nobody would casually know a sideways stoic’s shuffle to catch a bus laden with the weights of bags filled with books and documents on one hand and groceries on the other as languorous pendulum (sometimes to the ground) could be hury.
Numerological translation cannot seem on inspection like anybody bearing its responsibilities can be hurried. Ahmin to the eye of a passer-by performed every life movement with the same grace and at the same pace. I knew him just that much more.
In his residential unit’s living room Ahmin stacked freshly bought books higher in numerically marked and ordered cardboard boxes. Newspapers made a raised border around the empty inner floor of the one private room of the flat whereas he slept on the floor of his kitchen on a mat alongside a modest collection of personal survival items. Random numbers apparently were signifiers he searched for and between different pages in different books by different authors he understood their universal meaning.
He was a teacher. Being one grew out of circumstance that embarrassed Ahmin. Where he lived in India people came to ask for his teachings even though he declared he had none. He humbly waved his hand towards himself in slight reference and said because of the way he looked. Numerology was a by-product. He was informed by the philosophical search for the numbers of the universe. His face suffused with a tender-pink flush. All that was left was for someone to copy the key he had written on the cover of each newspaper and book and do the calculations.
He gathered the universe. The work would require a scribe to complete when he was gone. He uttered ‘gone’ as if the inevitability was an ascension of no return
I knew he believed he had been a presence for years before his choosing his place of maternity and birth.
I knew the contradiction. Tears and years before when I was a neighbour in a community where I shared mugs of tea and coffee at kitchen tables with visitors and vice versa I might otherwise have forgotten in some part were ever equally part of my life with its own different signifiers (however many since proven false) I was informed by a woman her unborn had searched for her and chose her. She was special and her picky child was an old soul.
He was moody and agitated over a cup of tea he had made, having made one for me with apologies he had no milk, but that you didn’t rightfully drink tea with milk and slumped. He sat on the floor in the way of someone long accustomed to living on linoleum and others sat in chairs that in his home he had especially collected for them from the sides of roads, outside houses, from friends’ verandahs and their rubbish collections.
We shared an understanding of rubbish collection. Collecting useful rubbish suited our mutual ends I can see in the retrospect of continuing experience (of rubbish) and acknowledging the expensive garnishee of philosophy behind our non-contributory gestures to economic pedals we did not want to push for them to go round and drive the industrial Big Wheel. Our educations had cost us dearly, mine in the corridors of uncertain power where the work was mundane in a position as an middle manager and his in the slums of India he had been discarded out of eventually and sent home. We ought to have developed into the greatest of friends. We were equally marginalised. We equally claimed we had no answers. We were searchers
We equally stood to gain from having an ally.
He bought me a cup. I could write he brought me a cup or gave me, but that would take from the meaning of the stated relationship between the cup handed to me and a cup he bought for himself I assume out of sentiment from the same shop display and batch order. I see the cups in an aisle. Two for $2.00. Two for four. Two, anyway, selected together.
“I bought a cup and I bought one for you too. They’re the same.”
The cup, a slender mug, had the word ‘COFFEE’ stencilled into its decoration and did not match in my thinking the persona of the gift giver. I understood the pen. My response to the cup remains an awkward misfit to the meaning of gift. I said pragmatically ‘Thank you’ and stood up from the round table in the living room end of the unit’s kitchen utility and living area where I eventually hosted meetings shared with a select group of aged writers and walked with it past the overhang of kitchen display joinery to the sink at the kitchen utility end where I washed it and returned with it. I filled it with coffee from the freshly assembled pyrex jug of the brew that inspired when I had placed it on the table the transfer to me of the gift. I continued backwards and forwards for the relief of movement it gave me as I had begun getting cups from the collection I had previously assembled from where I could buy them for little expenditure. I poured an allocation of coffee into each. The writers sat uncharacteristically silent and watched me.
I think they were admiring not critical. They had the giving to me of the gift to reflect on and maybe, as I had adopted for focus, its design and decoration. I wonder can compressing so much information show what happened detail by detail and result of the later experience of time
Thinking on the gift I remembered in a reflective moment I had an ageing ghetto blaster with an adequate radio that could replace a radio Ahmin had announced in a tone of despair was broken. The radio plays on ABC Radio National were his greatest source of solace and the classical music programs. We were able to talk a little about classical music. I carried the machine up the hill to where he lived and we transferred the wire aerial he had attached to the defunct and abandoned radio he had listened to for the previous 15 years since his return from India he told me as we set up the replacement. He felt the loss of the radio keenly. He converted the sense of loss to an adoration of joy at the first utterance of sound when we had completed the installation. We sat round the ghetto blaster (as much as any two people can sit round anything on a chair and linoleum) and lent forward in silent appreciation of radio. We unusually were able to listen to a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor played by Rachmaninoff himself. He made at its end tea as he often did on a spirit stove.
Ahmin held his head and grimaced in the middle of one meeting. He insisted he felt no pain, but that the sensation was terrible and he rocked holding his head. I gestured to the other writers they stand and each took their coffee and gathered on the lawn at the back door. I imagined the residents of the neighbouring units alarmed by an aged coven of strangers. I was able to move the table out of the range of the rocking man whose appearance was ashen
Nothing would pacify him. Nothing would alleviate the symptoms other than he would be better for the company. He stroked his lobes with his lengthy bony fingers. No, he refused an ambulance. I reconvened the meeting. Would it be better I asked if he saw a conventional doctor. He vouchsafed he saw a Chinese herbalist and the compound he was taking had little effect on the condition he exposed for the first time. For months he suffered these sensations in his head and he craned his neck with his eyes closed indicative of anxiety and now a sense of betrayal. I was reminded how deeply he had appeared hurt when he reflected he was deported from India as an overstayer after residence there for approaching 40 years.
Is the viewpoint a glimpse of the vivid complexity of a wildflower placed under a book for preservation? How can we understand something anew we did not ever completely know. I may have been collecting perfect specimens. I believed I had damaged one if not more than Ahmin. Ahmin was distraught. I suggested strongly he attend at the hospital. He was more like a wilted hothouse bloom that ought to have shed pure light for its adoration. He finally told me. He had a problem once with a doctor that was one of the main reasons he had gone to India when he was a young man to escape the society of who he was raised and where he was raised, certainly from his transfer to a position as a clerk (yet he hadn’t minded his job as a clerk, he had said). His delivery of his compelling news was simple and directed. He had vowed he would die never having attended at another office of a doctor trained in Western medicine. I was only silent considering the issue insofar as it affected my vulnerable status as hostess and responsible for the group first. He never meant to stay in India. That was what happened. He returned once and left feelings of discomfort again.
He subsided meekly with his hands with their long fingernails clasped in his lap. I knew the pose and saw it more and more frequently as the weeks went on alternating with head shaking and declamation against his needing the attention of a doctor if anybody shared their inevitable thought. His slender frame seemed to have shrunk inside his simple cotton trousers and the shirts he wore with plain collarless round necks hung loose, crumpled where their opening was buttoned in an attempt when the air was chill to stave off that influence. We met on the bus. He wore a light cardigan now that was grey and hung neatly on his bowed shoulders. I asked him his destination. He had a small calico bag slung over one shoulder and none of the usual paraphenalia of books and documents he travelled with to my knowledge in any direction.
Ahmin had a sister. He was on his way to stay with her. I knew of her and met her one summer on a train journey between the suburb I was staying at for a holiday and another I was visiting. The University where Ahmin was sometimes a guest speaker was closed on a holiday break that time and he was taking his sister with him to a celebratory meeting of the Society for Krishna Consciousness. She was a surprising woman with an open charm and countenance. We are only people when the day moves its round for wherever we seek our knowledge and our ambitions, pretensions. I was pleased he was in family charge and ill at ease and uncomfortable seeing him this time, alone on his journey and frailer than he had ever looked. I said I was pleased he was welcomed into the home of his loving sister for his soujourn. Would he stay long.
He had sold and given away all his belongings. He looked downcast. He was going to live with her and her husband. I felt the sense of betrayal again and as I had so many times in associations with confidantes who I disappointed. I knew that my urging Ahmin to go to the hospital to seek medical advice was the undoing of his trust. He had told me he would never be released and shrunk from me in fear. Here when we met again he looked at me with the caution of a man who supposed I would betray him eventually. We greeted each other, mutually cautious and both curious and farewelled each other with a sense of gentle wistfulness. Where was the other going we had both asked. I was visiting my daughter. Her garden was thriving and she and I had long agreed I would visit her and select some cuttings for my newly struck herb garden.
I fulfilled long anticipated travel plans the next spring and left my unit in the care of my daughter with instructions for her knowledge of who might visit me, who was friend and our relationship. Ahmin did not visit and he had not left a forwarding address so that when I returned in the middle of the intense heat of summer when the Adelaide plains turn harsh and brown I felt among a listed review of my contacts and friends a strong pang of loss to consider he was gone from the place he lived and where for my part was pleasure in the simple experience we had shared cups of tea. I hoped we might meet at a central point of engagement or on a journey on a bus or a train, but we never have.