Monday, February 20, 2006

the parable of the prodigal son

The prodigal son returns to the city which is closest to being his own, the city where Amar Akbar and Anthony first met, a city whose every spore releases the aroma and odour of the memories of times past, a city full of places, events, occurrences that were interwined with our life, and yet the inhabitants of the city walk on, blissfully unaware of the intimacy of our connections, even of our existence. What matters most to us can mean nothing to others. It is absurd, and it is the truth.


Anyway, the last few years of the prodigal son in the city were sent in wilful hermitry, in misanthropic solitude, in quiet anonymity. He was not the beautiful people who lived and laughed in the city, he was one of the quiet dull people who watched and who the beautiful people could contrast their appearance and laughter with. So when he returns, he does not have the warmth of old friendships, the laughter of cheerful companions, there is no joie de vivre to be discovered or rediscovered. What we never had, how could we get back?


Instead, the prodigal son does what he does, and observes the people on the streets. The first people he recognises from before are not those that you would have met on your return to the old city - your dearest friends, your beautiful loves, your family and your relatives, no, the people he recognises are as follows:

1. the crazy homeless man. he used to be a criminal before he gave up and decided to live on the street. at the time of departure, he had become a genuine city celebrity, interviewed by the papers, and familiar to all who lived or worked in the city. this time, he is still there, lying almost completed naked on the pavement, either dead or taking a siesta in the sun. everyone walks around him. he is the holy cow of the city. he moves and does as he likes, everyone else moves around him.

2. the flute playing busker. there was a story that he was once a physics or chemistry professor before he gave it all up, took a vow of silence, and earned his living playing the flute on street corners. he looks the same, he may in fact be wearing the same clothes. he is old, he is certainly old enough to have had, and lost, a completely different life before taking this one. one wishes to say that he plays hauntingly beautiful music, but sadly at least to this ear it was rather forgettable stuff.

3. the awkward waiter at the cheap restaurant. Ah this place has so many memories! Even the hermit has dined here, first in pre-hermit days with friends and loves and other more confused relationships, and afterwards with himself. Always the food has been delicious and inexpensive, and always serving has been this odd waiter - not particularly articulate, or bright, or young - but seemingly humble and hard working, always quick to take your order and wipe the table clean and generally do your bidding. he is a rare european waiter in a desi eatery, but he seems to belong. and he must feel the same way, he has been working here for years.

4. the guy filling shelves at the supermarket. he is familiar but not familiar. i know i know him, but i can't remember who he is or how. I now think he is one of Anthony's friends, once a fellow-student at university, but if i remember correctly, foiled by the evils of double entry book keeping. Damn paccioli! He is handsome, and he looks so dignified - his grey hair are starting to appear, he is dressed impeccably, but at the end of the day, packing shelves is the general preserve of unskilled immigrants who don't speak english and annoying teenagers working for pocket money, so i can't help feeling a little sorry to see him there. we exchange a few words, but it is hard when i can't really remember him. i wish him luck and go on my way. i must talk to anthony about this.

5. the violent-crazy economics lecturer. he was a legend at our university, but not in a good way like Ayesha* - the most beautiful woman in university, more like that weird maths lecturer who was dating Ayesha, known as the bastard lecturer dating the most beautiful woman in university. He used to be short-tempered, and famously once punched another colleague lecturer in the nose during an argument. He drove a convertible, and always had a lean and hungry look about him - he would have done well as a villain in a Shakespearean play. He was shopping at the supermarket and seemed to be giving me a rather intense stare which made me want to run away. But I reasoned he couldn't really know who I was and I must be imagining it. Then I ran away.

*name changed