Billy the Kid is saying, “Yeah, so the governor of Karnagapully is on the street, when suddenly, he sees a monkey, right? A big monkey. A monkey king! And there’s not supposed to be any monkeys here, this is Kerala after all. Maybe they don’t like the water.” I take my seat at the seva table for morning vegetable chopping. Nobody noticed that I missed yesterday. Or anyone who did says nothing. There’s the old German woman. I don’t know her name, but she’s thin and unforgiving as a scale, near as I can tell. Even she is very busy not listening to Billy. Must be a Libra.
I’m still filing away as much of my dream as I can. It’s hard, with Billy not quite shouting at this new comer. Guy looks a lot like me. I wonder what his name is. I know Billy doesn’t care, but you’re not really supposed to talk during seva. (I wonder if that word is the Sanskrit root of “service”... I remember Wells editing that documentary a few years back and the Indian guy asked him if some minor alteration to it would be okay and he says, “Sounds good!” and the guy says, “No, English,” and Wells says, “Sounds good...” and the man argues “In English!” and this goes on until they reboot their mental computers and actually listen to each other) I chuckle.
“Anyway, the magistrate is eating a banana, strolling leisurely along. -- They stroll leisurely a lot here. It’s part of the culture. I can grok it. -- And King Monkey -- I named him Rafiki --” Billy the Kid was a meth addict before he found Amma in LA. The way he tells it he got a big score of heroin, sold it all, and got enough money together to live comfortably here for the rest of his life and can’t imagine a better fate. The only thing I know for sure about Billy is he’s a good kid and a compulsive liar. His name probably isn’t really Billy and his birth certificate definitely doesn’t list his last name as the Kid the way his passport does.
“Rafiki comes up to him, like this:” Billy does some of the most startling crazy eyes I’ve ever seen. Then he sneers. His teeth show. The thing about the meth is probably true, though. He’s only got five teeth in the front of his mouth. The two on top he filed down to points. “And the mayor is all puffing out his chest right back -- typical scared dominant primate behavior -- and you know what Diddy Kong does?” Billy’s smiling viciously. He’s only been here the past four months, doing yoga with us most days. Can’t sit still for the qi gong. Solomon doesn’t even try.
He jumps up suddenly and grabs one of the tomatoes the guy he’s talking to has set aside for cutting, he does a small roar as he crushes it in his fingers, red gopping out it. “Rips his dick right off. Right off! And I got the whole thing on Youtube!” For an eighteen year old the Kid’s got a lot of gadgets. “Him ordering a cop to kill it quick, in English, cuz the cop doesn’t speak Hindi and the cop doesn’t want to kill a monkey especially since they’re so rare here,” he does an absolutely perfect Hindi accent, “‘That monkey’s life is not worth as much as my scrotum,’ Man, I got a million hits! But then they took it down for being disturbing.”
“That video is not worth as much as my scrotum,” I break my morning silence to say in my ever-improving Indian dialect. Totally worth it. Billy looks at me and busts out laughing.
“Rama! Lord Rama! Welcome to the morning! We missed you yesterday you lazy bastard. I was all worried you were really sick and I almost went and ripped off an Indian guy’s scrotum for you.”
“But it wouldn’t be worth as much as my scrotum.” I retort in that roller coaster voice. Some of the people are looking very intently not as us. The old German woman is looking just as intently directly at us. Her English is perfect, I know. Like everything else about her.
“Hey, Yury, this is Sri Sri Ramadupa, yogi extraordinaire. He once had a bet with the Buddha that he could fly to the edge of the universe. He grabbed one of the stones there to prove he did it. He comes back and the Buddha holds up his hand,” Billy holds up his hand, flipping the bird, “he’s missing this finger. Says he needs it for driving. Rama trades it back to him for... what did you trade the Buddha’s finger for again, Dupa?” He has a slight convulsion, “Om Namah Shivayah! Can’t remember!”
Best to calm him down, “Knowledge of Eternity,” I say slow and sagely. “Clever old bastard claps me on the face with one hand. I go deaf and I have to trade him my scrotum for my hearing back.” Billy calms down. The old German woman gives me a look that reminds me of my Babtsya when she heard something she did not want to. “Hey, Billy, it’s cutting time. This is a practice, too. Gotta feel each vegetable screaming silently as you cut it and identify with that. Three, two, one!”
Indians do not form lines for food. They form centipedes. If your pelvis is not firmly tucked against the glutes of the man ahead of you, someone else’s will be and he might not smell as good, I remind myself, chest and back clutched like a rock between a couple of Indian men. It’s all about defeating the ego I remind myself. The women’s line is not nearly as vicious.
“Ho, Yury!” I cheer, sitting down with my delicious slush and goop. Bhajans in an hour, then sleep. Right now: talking. “Good seeing you again. How long you going to be staying in the Ashram?” No one else has come yet. We’re practically alone in the Westerner side of the cafeteria.
“I’ll be here a few days. I’m heading up to Hampi for a while. Thought I’d come pay my respects to Amma first.”
“Yeah.” He smiles. “God, I love monkeys. Quite a story Billy told today.”
“Which one?” Billy tells stories the way most people breathe.
“I meant all of them as a cohesive whole. I’m part of that new frontier in literature: Life is a story.” There’s this sardonic air to his words. “Always been jealous of kids like him. Oh, to be able to lie constantly and never feel a bit of shame!”
“How old are you?”
“Twenty-five.” He checks himself, “No: twenty-four. You?”
“Same. How long have you known about Amma?”
“I’m still not sure I do. Met her for the first time in 2008, though. Here, actually. On my birthday.”
“Weird. I met her on mine in 2009. I was supposed to leave the day before that, too. Bloody glad I didn’t.” I wink my eyebrows, “You cry at Darshan?”
He laughs, “No. My brain just shut off. You got a familiar way of talking, where you from?”
“I’ve been around a bit, but born and raised in Cleveland, and yourself?”
“Same same! Huh. July 26th, 1988 to June 2nd, 2008. That’s when I went abroad. Did you know that with just a college degree people will give you more money than you deserve just to teach English?”
That’s my birthday! “Hey, that’s my bag exactly. Graduated Cleveland State in 2010 with a degree in Creative Writing. Went to Korea and taught there a year. Then Viet Nam. Now I’m doing privates here for some students at the university.”
“Korea? What part? I just finished up a year with EPIK in Jeju.”
“No shit? I was in Jeju! Hagwons though.”
There’s a ripple of surprise across his calm countenance. “Must have been right before I got there. You teach Jejusi or Seogwipo side?”
“Up in Jejusi.”
“Oh? I work in Kimnyeong. Man, your Hagwon shaft you? I’ve heard some stories.”
“No. I managed to get one of the good ones. Money came on time and they didn’t even fire me before I got my bonus. Wish I could say as much for Nam.” My mind does a somersault. “Far out, man. What does it mean? We’re practically twins. Your name, ‘Yury,’ is that Ukrainian?”
“Most people guess Russian.” He cocks his head to the side, surprised.
“You must be from Parma then! Mojete hovoryu po Ukrayinitz?” I ask, knowing my accent is horrible.
“Tak!” The word dances out of his mouth. “Я тільки що приїхав з Києва”
“You just came from Kiev?” I’m only guessing.
“The birthplace of Rus!” He’s about as excited as I am.
“Man, my parents never taught me Ukrainian. My dad told me once he heard a guy about his age in the Royalton library correcting his kid to speak in Ukrainian, but pronouncing everything wrong. He decided not to be that guy. Let shame get in his way and it only hurt me.”
“Heh. I think my dad might have been that guy.” Some cloud comes raining over him. “Died when I was fourteen. Mama, Tato, down in a plane home-bound from Ukraine.”
“Om Namah Shivayah.” I say sadly as Hilde sits down with us.
“Om Namah Shivayah.” She replies. “Who is this handsome man?” Her accent is very German. Like Frau in Austin Powers.
“Yury, meet Hilde. Hilde, meet Yury. He and I are from the same city, born in the same year, and our families are both Ukrainian. What are the odds, would you say?”
“I would say praise Amma! How long have you known each other?”
Yury says, “We just met. I am on my way up to Hampi on the twenty-first. Would you like to come?” He smiles roguishly at her. I, on the other hand, am a celibate monk.
“Oh, I am working with Ramadupa. He is a prophet you know!”
“I am not a prophet. I’ve just seen the future,” I protest.
“How can you tell the future from the past?” Yury asks, oddly.
Solomon sits down. “The past is less predictable.” He points out and it takes me a second to get that one. “You’re Yury, right? From Angkor Wat?”
“You know him?” I ask. Hilde is devouring a tofu burger. Long blond hair, sharp blue eyes. Red little nose.
“Sure, sure. I know everyone.” He states Britishly.
“Then you’d know he’s from Cleveland, not Angkor Wat.” I jibe.
Exasperation, “We met at Angkor Wat.”