The morning weather, I remember, was particularly pleasant that day. I was walking down the side street, picking up lilies and lilacs from the shoreline of my fantasies, heading towards the City Hall for a public engagement when it happened. I tripped and fell. Face down.
“Oh! Oh! Oh! Is that really you, Mr. D?” I hear a delicate feminine voice exclaim in my ears. “Is that really YOU?!” She repeats before I lift myself up from the ground with the dignity found in gentlemen of certain social standing after falling flat on their faces in public places.
“Oh My God! I must be dreaming!” The delicate voice coos again. I try to focus on the origin of the sound while brushing off dust and invisible particles of embarrassment from my clothes. Discreetly, of course. A knee-length black skirt comes into view followed by a black top without collar or sleeves. Two tiny eyes sparkle at me from a rather demure young face. I am reminded of a cat that has spotted a rodent on a hungry day.
She gushes forth, bringing in an intoxicating aroma which I deem is how money smells when it transforms into little bottles of perfume. “Oh, but it IS you! I can’t believe this, Mr. D. I’m a big fan of your work.” My right palm is grabbed at, and finds itself tucked neatly between her two tiny hands. Tiny they might be but they sure were strong if one can judge such things simply by the vigorous shaking my right arm was being subjected to. I admire her pale green nail polish for a moment before the shaking gets more enthusiastic and breaks the spell. What was that she just said?
”A big fan?!” It is my time to exclaim.
”Oh, C’mon, Mr. D. I’ve seen your pictures! Hundreds of them. And I know it’s you. But if you are going to pretend it’s not you just to discourage this meeting I can understand. I’d be heartbroken though.” She’s still pumping my hand – with the kind of generous vitality ‘big fans’ display on bumping in to the object of their adoration on pleasant mornings. I like her face. It’s quite symmetrical and all. But her child-like enthusiasm and girlish charm fascinate me more. And, of course, the look in her eyes — Ah! The kind that makes toils of the worst sort seem worthwhile.
”I want you to know this.” Her quaint voice, trembling with ricocheting emotions reaches out again and beats against my ear drums while they are still buzzing from the headlong fall. “You are a genius, Mr. D. A genius! I have read all your books. Every one of them! “
I remain silent. Not because I want to discourage her or dampen her enthusiasm. When your brain feels like it has been sandbagged out of its secure place and little bells are ceaselessly ringing in your ears and you have just found yourself in a horizontal position on the road while vertical is what decent folks must strive for, it isn’t quite right to expect instant or sane answers. Upstanding citizenry finds a surreptitious silence befalling their very beings on such occasions.
”Where are you off to, Mr. D? Would you please, please have a cup of coffee with me? I mean, this is pure destiny. Or how could I have just bumped into you on a side street? Please, Mr. D. Spare five minutes for me. For destiny!”
I figure sitting down is definitely a good idea. A coffee is sure to help me regain my composure and feel myself again. And five minutes is something I can definitely spare. “Of course, Miss…? Mrs.?” I fumble with grace.
”Oh, I’m so sorry I forgot to introduce myself. I’m so clumsy, Mr. D. It’s Miss. Miss Be.” Suddenly as if waking up from a trance she lets go of my hand, takes a step back leaving a civilized distance between us and offers me a shy smile. “If possible I’d like to get a picture taken with you. If you will allow me, that is.”
I smile reassuringly at the thought of a chair and coffee. My body and soul badly need immediate life support like a patient suffering from serious malnutrition needs IV fluids. “Shall we go and get coffee then?” The question is more in the manner of a pleasantry for I am already leading her into a small cafeteria nearby.
”You are such a gentleman, Mr. D. Such a wonderful human being. Is it true what the newspapers say, Mr. D? About all those barbaric things they did to you while being a war prisoner? Did they really hang you by your thumbs? But, hell, what is more important. You fought for our country. Were you writing back then too? When you were a soldier? Will you show me the bullet wound on your legs? I mean, it’s OK if you don’t want to. I’m so sorry if I’m talking too much. I’m just so excited, Mr. D. To actually see you in flesh and blood.”
”Here we are, Miss. Be! It’s coffee time.” I hold the door open for her as we enter the cafeteria. I can sense her excitement breaking the usual banks of her feminine reserve and flooding the five minutes now before us like an avalanche. Between drinking coffee and her excitement, will I get time to regain composure, I wonder.
We take our seats near the glass panel overlooking the street and ask for coffee. My legs are relieved as my body weight finds firm ground on my hind-side.
”How did it feel to spend six years in a Tibetan monastery, Mr. D? I mean, cut off from the rest of the world. Away from everything you have grown up with and have known? Family, friends… I can’t think of being away from my home for more than a week. Not even on a holiday, Mr. D. That was when you climbed Mount Everest, isn’t it? While in the monastery? Was it the war that made you choose to become a monk? All the blood and gore, killing and dying? Is that it? It is understandable, you know. War can really scar the human soul. Especially a sensitive soul like your’s. It is understandable.”
The coffee arrives. I eye it longingly before succumbing to gentlemanly behavior and address my companion, “Well, Miss Be…” Before I can say any more a large, well-clad young man comes rushing through the cafeteria door, a searching glance running across the length and breadth of the place, and finds what it was looking for in the person sitting across me.
”Be!” The stranger exclaims and comes across to our table in short, swift strides. “There you are, my dear! I have been looking all over for you. You got me worried, you know.” The look of pure relief on his face changes to straying suspicion as his consciousness finally divines my physical presence at the table. “Who are YOU?” His voice changes from the gentle to the guttural in seconds. I sense the menace behind it but thankfully it is well harnessed for the time being. Or so I tell myself.
”This is Mr. D, Pi! Mr. D! The war veteran, a true patriot, a monk, the conqueror of Mount Everest, and the greatest writer in the world today! Not to say, a perfect gentleman too!” She looks at me demurely. I gulp hard a generous dollop of saliva. The man Miss Be was referring to as Pi looks at me for a long moment, then looks at Miss Be. “Will you excuse us for a moment, my dear? I and Mr. D need to have a short talk. You stay right here and finish your coffee. I’ll be back to get you real quick. OK, honey?” She nods in affirmative, and then giggling a bit adds, “While at it you can ask for his autograph, Pi!” Pi motions me to follow him and walks towards the counter – that’s as far one can go from the table I was sitting at while still being inside the cafeteria.
”Who are you?” He asks facing me. He is taller than me, I notice, at least by a couple of inches. “Well, I’m…” I fumble again, this time without much grace. A rather big man towering over you with his hands on his hips – a particularly aggressive posture – is not a conducive sight for quick thinking in sedate souls.
“Anyway it doesn’t matter. I am just glad I found Be.” He gives a quick sideways glance at the girl sipping coffee and a loving smile spreads over his rather non-genial face. “I am just so glad she is safe. You know, she is not quite right in her head. Persistent flights of fantasy, the doctor says. She imagines things, you know. We don’t let her out alone usually. But once in a while she gives us – me and my mom – the slip. I hope she wasn’t any trouble to you. Once again, thank you very much. Now I will take her home.” His voice is gentle again. I find great comfort in that.
“Mmm… by the way, about Mr. D…” I bring myself to speak but Pi is already at the coffee table helping his sister up.
”How was it to walk on the Moon, Mr. D?! Did the President give you medal for that?” Miss Be asks as they pass me by the counter. Pi gently but firmly guides her out of the cafeteria. “Mr. D? Will you write to me sometime?” She stands at the door for a hesitant second then walks out with Pi into their private world. There is a faint trace of mockery in her voice. Or is it amusement? Or maybe I am just imagining things. I stand at the counter undecided between the untouched coffee and a compulsively growing thought – Where can I find Mr. D?