The following is an essay that I wrote in response to an Indie Ink challenge (my first!!!) from Greg Perry: “On vacation, first time visiting a new place. Nobody here should know you, yet at lunch you overhear your name in a conversation at the next table …” I don’t write fiction, so I am not sure if this fits the normal scheme. But here it is.
To read my challenge read Jan’s post who did a marvelous job on a tough challenge: Question of Territory
Vacation of a lifetime
“Is that him?” I heard from the corner of my eye.
The spoon was still in my mouth. Savoring the last of my sauteed silence, I tried to figure out who had found out I was here. The exotic spring sauce that glazed my appetizer had nothing to do with the burning sensation in my eyes. Her eyes were so bright that it hurt to see her.
Disturbed from a lunch that was about to ensue one of the finest lulls of my life, I felt like walking up to her and retorting, “No! I really died yesterday. What you are really seeing is my body double.” But, perhaps because of the silent conditioning, I was neither as abrupt nor sarcastic.
Encouraged by my silence, and assuming I remembered our forgotten relationship, she walked right up to me and said, “Is that you?”
I had never seen her before. But she was sounding more and more familiar. I heard her question this time. I will never forget what happened after this because it commenced the vacation of my lifetime.
What is a vacation anyway?
Is it meant to be in a quaint town that I reach by a boat, where the roads are paved of stone. Where there is just one cafe, one restaurant, one hotel, one grocery store, and one main road. Where there are no cars, no computers, no mobile phones, and no egos. Where Time Square lights are a distant memory. Where I can talk to my solitude for hours during walks without saying a word and being surrounded by people who were strangers once. I could spend 1 or 2 days here, but not any more than that. Tweets would then call me back … not those of exotic birds on the island.
Or is it meant to be on a California hill top where we have set up a camp in the summer. Every day we take a new trail exploring plump quails and yellow-painted mustard flowers. The family is around us; kids running around; friends laughing. Stories are told in the dark around campfires while the art of roasting marshmallows imported from Egypt is perfected. And stars are counted laying on the grass waiting for the neighborhood rooster to call in the morning. Even if I had enough supplies of my allergy pills, that would only work out for a month or two. But then I would need to get back to “real life.”
Having thought this through, I was not happy with vacation for a few days, weeks or month. I wanted a lifetime of vacation. I wanted a permanent getaway from my quotidian servitude. I did not want a period of sunshine in-between the rains, but a never ending summer where happiness would be controlled like an AC from a wall-mounted control panel. I wanted to be able to turn a knob to Spring and in my wild ecstasy make mud pies by the lake and pick daffodils in the shade of delight and carelessness.
I have in the past chosen to ignore the song that asks me the identity question. Instead I have focused on tasks that are so near and dear to me. I have in the past piled these tasks on my back one by one, day after day. And I have in past only gotten ready for that fateful day that my donkey-self would collapse on the weight it was carrying.
I know that then I would return to vacation: being carelessly subordinated to the wishes of the universe around us. I know that then I would be One without option. “You don’t have to die to be free,” said the angel smiling at me.
I recall when I used to work in a laboratory to help my company make a better glucose meter. Researchers working in a lab would try to invent new meters for diabetics to check their blood glucose levels. They would play with blood in test tubes, add different quantities of glucose in it, shake it vigorously, test the glucose in climate-controlled chambers. And experiment would be done and data would be analyzed time and again. One day we would hope to make life better for diabetics. And one day we would die and someone else will make an even meter glucose meter.
All it takes is a teacher of this simple know-how to interrupt our pig-like gorging with an irritating question, “Is it you?” And we get back to our senses. We start to vibrate a song that defines us. We start to realize that we are singing of freedom like the caged bird. In such a way, the teacher teaches the student to live forever in vacation.
I was used to singing songs to the world. That day my song sang to me. She held my hand, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Is that you?” When I tried to answer that question more thoughtfully, I felt the noose of time that was strangling me to death lost its grip. Completely. True vacation, I realized, was free from the fruits of labor. And true vacation sang because it does not have any chains of place or time tying it down.
So I, who thought he knew the path of peace through secluded meditation, was transformed. I, who had believed that silence would come from sitting quietly for hours, who had believed I would be cleaned by cleaning, that I would be wise with knowledge and rich with gold, was woken up from this dream and put in blissful vacation even before death.
I was put in a vacation that is not dissociated from time, place, or this world. It does not grows old like Tithonus when I sing; singing grants me youth along with afore-promised immortality. I have opened my heart to the song that teaches me; and her blinding vision does not hurt me anymore. I am no longer a donkey working for a living. I am a free bird singing for living.