Monday, April 14, 2008

Five Jared's Visit Scenes

1. Jared's lips curled as he stared at the brown-gray smear and seeped-in grime on his pillow at our budget guest house in Bombay.

"Gross," he said, inching away from his bed.

"What?" I said, flopping down on my own nasty pillow and allowing any number of invisible disease agents to commence exploration of my body. "They have pillow cases."

"That don't look washed."


Jared went to the dresser and took out a short-sleeve blue polo shirt he'd worn all day and had hung up to air out. He brought it to the bed and placed it delicately over his pillow, smiling proudly at this new line of defense.

"I'd rather sleep on a shirt soaked in Sandrew sweat than that," he said, pointing at his filthy pillow.

2. Jared and Aliyah were in a rolling race.

It had been a skittishly-played, back-and-forth game of backgammon -- a new favorite hobby of ours that we picked up after Sawyer asked Locke on a recent episode of Lost to play backgammon and Aliyah said, "Backgammon is fun."

Now, weeks later, in the final game of our round robin tournament, Aliyah and Jared were pinning all to chance. No opportunities to bounce opposing pieces to the bar remained. It was all about who got the highest rolls.

The stakes were high. The loser would have to yell curses -- "May you have 1,000 daughters!" -- at disagreeable autorickshaw drivers for the rest of the week.

Aliyah shut her eyes and blew on the dice. 1 and 2. She shook her head.

Jared rolled. 4 and 6.

"Uh oh," I said from the sidelines.

Aliyah rolled again: 3 and 1. Jared: 3 and 6. He was, by now, almost assured a victory.

Aliyah looked up at our ceiling and held the dice like an offering.

"God!" she cried. "If you exist! I need doubles! If you exist, give me doubles!"

Taking a deep breath, Aliyah rolled. 1 and 2.

"Damn it," she yelled.

"I knew it," clucked the peanut gallery.

3. The slowly roasting chicken outside the Iranian-Lebanese restaurant on Colaba Causeway had been tempting me for days. The joint didn't appear from the outside to be the paragon of class or cleanliness, but on our last day in Bombay I convinced Jared that we should eat lunch there.

Our all-smiles waiter steered me toward the chicken shwarma platter, and Jar opted for the easier-on-his-stomach Mushroom Mania sandwich. The food arrived quickly, and I went to town slapping together sandwich rolls full of chicken, french fries, pickled beets and creamy garlic sauce.

It was about halfway through lunch that I picked up a purple stick of pickled beet and saw something brown at its tip. I looked closer. A dead cockroach. Nearly an inch long. Buried in a plate of raw vegetables I'd been devouring. In India.

After our requisite "Yuck"s and "Gross"s, I politely signaled the waiter, who apologized sheepishly and replaced the offending beet dish.

Then I ate everything else on my plate, not to mention everything Jared left on his.

The bill came, and it did not, as many Indian restaurants do, include a compulsory tip. As we waited for our still-all-smiles waiter to bring change, we debated a gratuity.

"Are you kidding?" Jared said. "No. No. No. In America, you would eat for free."


The waiter brought our change. And then he didn't leave. At first he pretended to tidy up our table, but then he dropped this pretense and just hovered.

I took every rupee out of the leather bill book and put them in my wallet.

I stood up and looked at our still-hovering-but-no-longer-all-smiles waiter. He nearly snarled and narrowed his eyes with unmitigated disgust.

I paused, hurt, before quickly remembering that I too had been aggrieved.

"You served me a dead bug," I said to the waiter who had served me a dead bug.

He continued to look at me with more revulsion than I had shown at the sight of the cockroach in my lunch.

4. The monk looked like Hayden Christensen.

Jared was busy haggling with a t-shirt vendor on Colaba Causeway in Bombay when a white skinned monk in orange robes who had white paint smeared where a unibrow bridge might otherwise have been tapped me on the shoulder.

"Are you Canadian or American?" said the Buddhist Anakin Skywalker.

"American," I said.

The gora monk smiled and handed me a small brochure for a tour led by monks that included stops at a house shaped like a shoe and a vegetarian restaurant that serves some sort of holy seaweed.

"No thanks," I said, studying Anakin evermore skeptically. "Where are you from, anyway?"

"Canada," said the Canadian monk.

I narrowed my eyes and gave his orange robes a slow and obvious appraisal.

"You sure don't look Canadian."

Anakin shrugged. "I've lived in India for almost a year," he said.

"So have I," I laughed. "But I don't look like you."

5. "How many fingers do you have?" Jared said to the old woman who looked like an old man who was violently hacking apart coconuts with a frightening machete in front of ZanziBar -- our preferred beachfront watering hole in Goa.

The old woman let Jared's provocation pass -- possibly because she spoke no English -- and eventually overcharged him for no fewer than three coconuts. One to snack on, and two stuffed with straws through which coconut milk could be sucked.

Jared returned to our table, red-faced and giggling, and immediately ordered a shot of rum. The waiter quickly brought him a not-quite-clean glass with at least two ounces of noxious liquor in it.

Jared looked at the rum in his glass and then looked at the coconut, which had only a small hole on top, and which appeared very nearly full.

"Now," Jared said, "the question is, how do I get this" -- and he held up the rum -- "in here" -- he pointed to the coconut.

I love to pontificate, particularly when solicited, so I was very quick to reply. But Jared was faster.

No sooner had he smacked a tipsy period on his last sentence had Jared upended the glass of rum into his coconut. It was as if instead of asking how he might best transfer one of the liquids into a second container, he had simply said, "Now I am going to hastily transfer one of these liquids into a second container."

Half of the dark rum either missed the small hole entirely (and sloshed onto the table and Jared's lap) or quickly caused the coconut's liquid content to exceed capacity (thus spilling onto the table and Jared's lap).

"Oh man," Jared said. "My leg is covered in rum."

Then he took a sip from his coconut and smiled.

"Pretty good though," he said.

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