For some reason I quite like this story, but it was not that easy to get it published. It did in the end; 34th Parallel published it in October of 2007. The story contains a couple of cinematic references.
Massoud took another deep puff before he passed the pipe over to me.
“Ah,” he exhaled and the fragrant smoke lingered for a while suspended in air before it dispersed in various directions and disappeared into thin air. “How fragile life really is. Don’t you think?”
The opium was slowly enshrouding my mind, but his words still rang clear and made perfect sense to me. “Fragile like a newborn’s bottom.”
“Well,” he chuckled. “I was thinking along crystal vases or hyacinths. Does crystal break easily? I’m not too sure on that.”
I leaned against the wall, while I readjusted the large soft pillow beneath me for extra comfort. “All I know is that porcelain is the best and sturdiest kind. Made in China.”
“But that is slightly beyond the point.” He raised his two fingers in the air. The waiter was about ten meters away from us at the counter and was idly immersed in a magazine, but every now and then he would look up at us, the only two clients in his small café. He acknowledged the order with a hearty smile and told us “two teas coming up right away”.
“The point is …” Massoud resumed his argument, “the point is that our life seems rather … pointless.” He chuckled at his own spontaneous wit. “No, I shall continue to elaborate. What I mean by that is that you may have everything working out for you. I mean you can have women, success, money, you know a kind of stability in it all. So you see everything is going well. You are so happy that nothing you believe can shatter your confidence. Your head is high up in the clouds, on Cloud Nine and you even seem somewhat defiant because the taste of success is on your palate, the tip of your tongue. It’s like the newborn which is used to the sweet taste of honey and fresh milk. So you become a little defiant and in a way seem to challenge your own destiny. You indeed start looking for some trouble and say, Come on, bring it on. Give me your best shot. I’m not scared, not scared at all.”
The waiter brought us two glasses of hot tea, which he deposed on the ground next to us with a large piece of sugar cube beside it. I looked at the wonderful reddish substance that felt so good on the dry throat as it made its way down to my intestines.
“And what you don’t know, however, that all you have been given or you think you have achieved is nothing but a loan.”
I bit off a chunk of the sugar lump that added some sweetness to the bitter taste. His words slowly entered my mind and I began to digest them at a comfortable pace.
Massoud, my friend, has always been a river in flood, his thoughts rattle and squeak as he covers pastures and travels through tunnels and over bridges.
“But then it surprises you and catches you off-guard. Your confidence disappears suddenly in a haze. You get sick, you get cancer or AIDS, and all your fames and riches will not buy you an extra minute in this life.”
I regretted for a minute that I had introduced Bob Dylan to his intellectual world. Ideas grew and blossomed like giant trees in the fertile analytical mind of my friend Massoud.
“But,” he continued in what had turned out to be a mixture of monologue and lecture with a touch of self-analysis “the point is… what I’m trying to make clear that in all your happiness, no matter how everything is working out for you, as you are climbing up the ladder to the stars of personal success, all this time, from day one, unbeknownst to you, or maybe you are at least conscious of it on a subconscious level, you have the finger of death pointing at you at all times!”
I imagined the crooked bony finger raised up in the air asking for “two more teas” and remembered an image I had seen in a movie once where two troubled teenagers found a giant hand of a statue inside a body of water, which was then fished out and transported in a helicopter silently blessing the whole town and the two teenagers who stood aghast watching it as it waved to them way up in the sky similar to the statue of Jesus in the opening credits of Fellini’s “Dolce Vita”.
“But the Hand of God shall guide us,” I retorted.
Massoud looked at me in surprise, his mouth slightly open and he was silent for a while. He signalled me to hand over the pipe and after he inhaled once again, he responded, “Yes, you may be right. Yet the Hand of God contains the Finger of Death. Just look at Adam.”
“Adam was an asshole,” I mumbled indifferently.
“Well, believe it or not, in many ways, he is the prototype of us. Not in the sense of original sin and other things that they shove down our throats. He was indeed one of His preferred creations. You see, Adam had a privileged status. He was not an angel, but a creation or an Idea if you will. In fact, a divine Idea. So he was imbued and lectured on the heavenly ways. He had access to the gardens and to food and even to a beautiful woman, a companion, although their sense of pleasure back then and up there fell short of the carnal or physical sensations we know today. But in other words, he had it all! Nothing seemed to lack in his world except consciousness.”
I imagined how beautiful Eve walked around the green blooming pastures of Heaven, her long golden hair flowing around her gleaming naked body in the sun. She sat down at the rushing brook and watched and listened to the multi-coloured birds flying from tree to tree her heart untainted by love and lust.
“He was not conscious. He had the breath, the spirit, but his life lacked a grounding effect. It lacked earth and dust. It lacked the balanced way; it lacked the darker recesses. You cannot truly smile if you have not known hardship and pain. That’s what Adam lacked and he hoped to find it in the sweet tasting yet forbidden fruit.”
I was aware that the heavenly fruit may not have been an apple; it must have been a mango or papaya. I much preferred mangoes, especially when they are still unripe and have a solid texture and a sweet-sour taste.
Massoud had another puff and his eyes grew hazy and dreamy. He did not talk for another while and seemed to give his intellectual cravings a backseat for now. Maybe he was imagining the shape of the heavenly fruit or the curves of wonderful and delicious Eve.