There they are. Chattering, chuckling, jostling, throwing sofa pillows at one another. More pillows scattered about. A rainbow of colors strewn on the wood floor of this sun drenched living room of a charming spacious high ceiling top floor apartment in a prewar building.
“Dude, I’m so frickin’ high, man,” Ron now blurts.
“Me too, bro, feeling good, feeling alright,” Mike says. “Jimmy, you good?”
“Yeah, man.” Jimmy smiles.
“Sammy, you doing okay, bro?”
Sammy nods, his head bowed as if in prayer, in a meditative state, a beatific look on his face. “Doing alright, man. In the universal mind just now before you butt in,” he says.
“Universal mind? What the fuck, Sammy? What are you, Jim?”
They all laugh.
“Yeah, Mike, we are riders on the storm, breaking on through to the other side,” Sammy responds.
“That is deep, man,” Rooney says.
“Deep, my ass,” Mike laughs.
“Mike, leave Sammy alone, man. You know he’s a poet. Even his speech rhymes. And you know how they are, always thinking and coming up with shit, always seeing things others don’t. Who knows, maybe there really is this fucking universal mind shit,” Joey remarks.
“Yeah, dude, leave him alone,” Jane says.
“Let him be,” Karen adds. “He’s our conscience, our eyes and ears.”
“Yeah, but you guys are high out of your freaking minds,” Mike rejoins.
“Look who’s talking, mister bloodshot eyes.”
“Did anybody ask you for your opinion, miss poet lover?”
Yes, Sammy sees things others do not. He is a caulbearer. On the day of his birth the doctor told his mother he was delivered with the veil covering his face. “He is a special child, gifted. I wanted you to know,” she said. Thus came into the world, Samuel, shortened to Sammy. There at the hospital his mother marveled at the sage look on his face, his calm demeanor. He grew up an unusual child, perceptive, precocious. He had what his pediatric psychologist called “imaginary friends”, with whom he played, and a unique mind. He never lost his childhood sensibilities, its sense of wonder, way of being. His gifted sight endured. Saw things others did not. He made connection where others had not thought or cared to look. Often felt he was in a space where all of existence coexisted. An absolute realm where worlds invisible to men abound, things yet to manifest are revealed. He graduated high school early. In college he excelled at both the sciences and the arts, double majored in Mathematics and Physics, minored in English Language and Literature, graduated top of his Ivy League class. He leaned toward the arts, wanted a literary career and planned to do graduate work in Creative Writing. His father was not pleased, thought his interest in the arts should be a pastime, not a choice of career. Thought for a career he needed to study something practical and marketable. His preference for him was Law. Become an attorney like him and like his mother, both of them high powered litigators and equity partners at a prestigious corporate law firm they founded with other law school friends of theirs. Thought he should continue the legal tradition of the family. His mother was supportive of his artistic bent, his literary ambition, but gave in to the wishes of her husband. She was herself a closet novelist who had abandoned Literature for Law at the insistent behest of her father, a founding attorney of a renowned law firm. So it was Sammy appeased his parents, his father, really, by studying something practical and marketable. Not Law. He obtained a dual Ph.D. in Mathematics and Physics. However, his interest in the Arts endured. Philosophy, Literature and Poetry remained his vocation. On which he was able to concentrate, devote his time, without the need to use his doctorate to teach, or do scientific research for corporations. He was able to immerse himself in literary pursuits, existential issues, contemplation of ideas and writing. Made possible by the saddest event of his life, which he had never gotten over, fully recovered from, and which heightened his interest in existential, epistemological and ontological issues: the untimely death of his parents. In a car crash while returning from their summer home in Maine to their townhouse in New York City the year of his finishing graduate school. He did not travel back to New York with them because he wanted to stay behind to “witness the waning glory of summer from the serenity of this place” and to “work on some job applications,” he had told Karen. His parents had left Maine earlier than usual that summer because they wanted to spend time with some of their friends back in New York before the summer was over, and also to begin preparing for an upcoming mediation and possible trial that fall of a huge exposure, multiparty litigation they had been working on for their biggest client, a multi-national corporation. An only child, he was the sole beneficiary of their estate. Heavy of heart, he sold the townhouse, his childhood home, full of memories, pleasant and otherwise, and bought an apartment, his current home, on the top floor of a high rise building. Its wide, floor-to-ceiling living room windows face East and West, “daily witnessing,” he once commented, “the cosmic play of Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, opposing characters in the enchanted drama of life, the moon their periodic union.” Here he spends time with his close friends, Karen being the closest among them. The rest of his inheritance and the money remaining from sale of the townhouse he invested wisely, with the help of his uncle, the brother of his mother, an investment banker. He supports various charities, scientific and literary organizations. He writes much but publishes little. Prefers to write at his own pace, on what he likes, the subjects he cares about. Carefully chooses where he publishes his work. For which he prefers local magazines, independent literary journals, and academic journals. Besides literature and writing he likes radio. While an undergraduate he was and loved being a deejay at the radio station of his alma mater. The station was his source for all kinds of music and knowledge from all over the world. It nourished him intellectually and emotionally. He had continued to listen to the station since his undergrad days and is now one of its patrons. He rekindled his deejay relationship with the station. He initially sat in only as a “guest” who discussed music, his time there as an undergrad, and presented a “playlist” of music he liked and would like to share with the “audience”. He later became a guest deejay at the station. His love of being on radio was thus renewed. He wanted to “harness the great opportunity of being on radio to develop an audience”. Create a show “that would play music from all over the world and say something new and meaningful about our contemporary world”. He had a “burning” idea on how to proceed, and over time became a radio personality. His radio show showcases artists, interviews public figures, discusses books, ideas and social issues, and promotes causes he cares about. It attracts a huge following: from the older to the younger generation, the so-called baby boomers to generation Z. Many among generation Z “love his show” because of “the cool music he plays”, because of “the cool bands and people he interviews”. They “love him” because “he’s so creative, so smart and so hot”, because “he cares about people and the planet”, and because of “his one world, one love philosophy” approach to social issues. Many among the older generation applaud his “innovative work”, commend his “inclusive worldview”, praise him for “being a champion of progressive causes”, but say he is “somewhat green behind the ears”, say he lacks a “true understanding of the ways of the world, of the inner workings of power, of cunning global processes, the all too real invisible, mercantile, hand still controlling global commerce, the life of the majority of the peoples of the world”. Say he is “overly pink” in his “politics and outlook on life”, insist he needs “a jolting dose of realism”. Such is his influence he is solicited by businesses, organizations and politicians for his vast audience. None of whom would ever have guessed his holy endowment of being a caulbearer, with its attendant otherworldly sensibilities and gift of sight, which benefits from his ability to meditate. He was first introduced to meditation by a college friend, a foreign student from Nepal, with whom he once backpacked through Asia. He meditates anywhere and everywhere every opportunity he gets to do so.
Here he is now, Sammy, sitting with his head bowed, eyes closed, as if in prayer, in a meditative state. Karen moves closer to him. “You okay?” she squeezes his shoulder. He nods and smiles at her.
“Roll some more joints, man. And open another Bordeaux,” Mike says to Jimmy.
“Burgundy for me. Chardonnay for the ladies,” Sammy says.
“You mean babes.”
“Hey, that’s sexist. What makes you think we don’t want a red,” Jane says.
“Because he knows you don’t, bitch.”
“Don’t bitch me, dick.”
“Shut up, pussycat.”
“You heard the poet, Jimmy. Thick blood for the guys, thin one for the poet, piss for the babes,” Mike says.
“We are vampires.”
“You mean blood drinkers.”
“Don’t forget the piss drinkers.”
“And we fuck like animals. Up against the wall, back entry, Dracula bite on the neck.”
“Yes, we do. Hickies are us.”
“Shut up, you guys,” Karen and Jane say in unison.
“Bring some Doritos, too.”
“Somebody’s got the munchies.”
“Shut up, dick.”
“Okay, Doritos lady.”
Laughter all around.
“Dude, what’s this fucking ass music, man? We need some real music,” Joey now says.
“Bro, this is Miles Davis, In A Silent Way. Good stuff,” Sammy says.
“Nah, man. Not today. Play Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon.”
“We are in New York City, bro. This is Miles’s turf. And this music is cool. Listen.”
“Nah. What we need is some tripping ass music.”
“You can trip to this, bro. In A Silent Way is a trippy tune.”
“Nah. More like Pink Floyd or Jimi genius ass Hendrix or Hope Sandoval. Yeah, Hope.” He nods. “I love me Hope.” He smiles; dimples deep. Karen and Jane roll their eyes at him. “That’s the kind of music to trip to. Not this droning stuff.”
“OK. We do Hope after this, and Jimi and Miles, different Miles.”
They sit smoking and drinking. Their cheeks sucked in, lips puckered as they pull on the new joints, passing them back and forth among themselves, coughing, giggling, clouds of smoke drifting about them. Their heads titled backward as they sip thick, thin, and pissy wines from long legged, big bellied and narrow mouthed goblets. Miles droning on in a silent way, then mourning Gondwana, hailing Zimbabwe. Jimi in purple haze revealing himself a voodoo child. Hope in liquid lady hypnotic, her satellite queued up waiting.
“This is really good shit.”
“Yeah, man, from Ghana with love, courtesy of my buddy, Boateng. The real deal, no doubt. Straight from the soil, produced by nature herself, none of that West Coast experimentation shit.”
Out the door of the living room they go now, through the wide hallway, into the elevator, and out the front door downstairs on to the street, the wide street flanked by rows of townhouses, prewar apartment buildings. They squint at the shimmering sunlight. “Phew,” they exclaim at the intense heat. Down the street to the entrance of the subway station they go and down the flight of stairs to the station below. They wriggle through the turnstiles and down another staircase to the platform further below.
A rumble is now barreling through the subway tunnel toward Sammy and his friends waiting on the crowded platform, swooshing past them, groaning to a gradual stop. They crowd into a subway car. The train now crawls out of the station, speeds down the tunnel. Some of the passengers sit reading books, newspapers, staring at the glossy screens of their cellphones, tablets and laptops. Others sit bobbing their heads to the music playing through their lean and sleek, humongous and gaudy headphones. Still others are engaged in conversations, calm here, animated there, gesticulating with their hands. A thin girl with big bright eyes, smelling of incense, of aromatic oil, sits squeezed in between two hefty men sleeping through the smooth, speedy ride, their mouths open. Across from the girl Sammy sits eyes closed.
The train now screeches, groans to an abrupt stop, the suddenness of it reeling the passengers, startling them. They look at one another for reassurance and then quickly avert their eyes. Darkness all around outside the car of the train stalled in the tunnel. Utter silence. The overhead lights in the car now go out. Darkness inside and outside the car; the only lights those emanating from the cellphones, tablets and laptops of the passengers, glowing here and there, flashlights in the dark, ghostly. Sammy now feels cold, not from the air conditioner but deep inside him. He feels eerie vibes all around him. Sees now blood red mist emerging from the cellphones and the other electronic devices of the passengers, combining into a mass of red cloud, on the surface of which, like a screen, now appear a man and a woman. He notices their hands and feet are shackled, holes here and there on their ill-fitting clothing, kinky their wooly hair. They appear to be in the middle of a long tunnel, standing in a car of a freight train. Behind them outside the tunnel: total darkness. In front of them outside the tunnel: intense radiant light. There are others on the train. They sit crouched on the floor, their heads resting face down on their arms crossed on top of their knees. The woman is short, voluptuous, her eyes kind. She gazes at Sammy from the screen, sighs. The man glowers at Sammy, mimics spitting in his flushed pink face, his sandy hair. The woman reproaches the man with her eyes. The man, tall, statuesque, fire in his eyes, continues to glower at Sammy. He now hobbles to a corner, one wobbly leg after another, the chains around his wrists and ankles clanking, sits down beside one of the squatted others. He gazes from the screen at the thin girl with big bright eyes sitting between the two open mouthed men sleeping through the ride. The girl is wearing a violet colored tee-shirt, white skinny jeans and white sneakers and reading a book the front cover of which reads: Stars of the New Curfew, and open to a page titled: “What the Tapster Saw”. Wound round her neck: black, red and white necklace of beads; inscribed in white lettering on the front of her tee-shirt: “Ifá Yorùbá Society”. She feels his energy seeking her attention and closes her book. The man now begins to sob, his shoulders trembling. The girl smiles at him with her eyes, tells him without words: “Peace be unto you, my brother, peace be unto you.” Sammy saw their interaction and heard the girl’s unspoken words. The girl looks at Sammy sitting across from her, tells him: “Blessed is the poetic of heart, the veil bearer, for he has the inner eye.” Sammy understood her wordless remark. The woman moves about, her gait clumsy, the chains around her ankles jangling. She now smiles at Sammy, tells him silently, “It never really ended. Never did.” She shakes her head from side to side. “Look at the others, the new ones soon to join us on our train, this train without wheels, this train to nowhere.”
Other people now appear on the screen. Women and men, old and young, holes in their sun bleached clothing, in their shoes, their blistered feet bleeding. Their faces gaunt, their cheekbones proud, hope dark in their alert eyes, their wooly hair disheveled. They are running from their homes, through their villages, fleeing toward the jungle. A boy among them stops; his dog whimpers by his side. He smiles at Sammy, shows him his arms dripping blood at the elbows from where the remainders have been hacked off. He motions with his chin at his dog, the white coat of which is stained blood red. Sammy wonders who the boy is. “Je m’appelle Patrice. Je suis Africain, et …” the boy begins to say without words in response to Sammy’s mental inquiry, but pauses as he feels Sammy’s quivering high vibration, perceives his imminent mental struggle to understand him. “D’accord. Je parle un peu Anglais,” he says. “I be Patrice, African … soldiers, gangs, guns … bang, bang, bang … crack, crack, crack,” he gestures at his dog. “Machetes, yelling, yelling, shouting, shouting: put hands for table; chop, chop hands like meat.” He looks down at his arms. “Fire, angry fire, we run … Ma soeur soldiers carry go, crying, and I no see again. Mon père et ma mère in heaven now.” He looks searchingly at Sammy. “Understand, oui?” Sammy did not respond, just stares at him. He continues. “Big, big motor dig big, big holes for ground, take the mud inside like cement. Comprends, yes?” He again looks searchingly at Sammy. “Kivu. Katanga.” Sammy continues to stare at him. A woman now runs past Patrice, stops, holds out her bowl to Sammy, tilts it toward him so he sees the few grains in it, barely a handful. Strapped onto her side is an infant, his eyes dazed. She points at her chest with her left fingertips, says, “Elonga”; points at her son, “Alongi.” She looks into Sammy’s eyes. “Aidez nous s’il vous plait.”
They all now disappear with the red mist back into the cellphones and the other electronic devices of the passengers, as if suddenly disturbed by an invisible force. The overhead lights in the car flicker back on. The reason for their hasty departure appears. He walks into Sammy’s car from the car behind it, through the connecting door. The passengers become agitated seeing him. His fair hair matted, his pink skin ashy, his dark eyes deep set and bright, his clothing dirty and torn, sulfuric the stench of him. His eyes glow from within themselves and stare into the core of your being. The passengers squirm in their seats, avoid eye contact with him, with one another, pretend all is well.
“Good afternoon. Can anybody help me? I’m trying to get something to eat. Ten cents, five cents, thank you,” he says to some of the passengers; to one, then the other, his hand held out in front of him holding a tin can. His voice is sonorous, charming; his gaze is intense, with which he catches your attention, his bright lunar eyes hunting souls. They avoid his eyes, gaze in their books, newspapers, at the screens of their phones, electronic devices. Silence. He moves on, reaches the girl sitting squeezed in between the men sleeping open mouthed, licks his lips at her youthfulness, wrinkles his nose at her pungent sage scent. He and the girl stare at each other. The girl now sees his eyes darken. They continue staring at each other, his darkened eyes luminous. The girl flinches not, maintains her gaze. He now blinks and breaks his gaze, looks away, gives her a subtle bob of his head, moves on. Sammy comprehends their fleeting interaction.
“Good afternoon. Can anybody help me? I’m trying to get something to eat. Ten cents, five cents, thank you.” The sound of coins now being dropped into his alms can by some of the passengers, avoiding his charged eyes, stirs others to look at him again from behind. His dirty frock, swollen pink legs, feet in a pair of plastic grocery bags, shoved into a patched pair of sandals. He moves on, exits the car through its connecting door to the front car, his frock billowing in the open space between the cars.
The train now shudders, jolting Sammy awake. It huffs and puffs, picks up speed, barrels down the tunnel. It screeches now to a stop at the next station. Some of the passengers get out of the car, among them Sammy and his friends. The girl smiles at Sammy on his way out, tells him with her big bright eyes, “As you can see, things are not what they seem, and there is much to scream about. You have a story to tell, a song to sing. Do not forget them. Be their champion.”
“Weird, man, what I saw in there. All these people,” Sammy now says to Joey.
“Dude, are you listening to me? I’m telling you I saw things in there, terrible things.”
“What terrible things? Where?” Joey asks.
“On the train, all these people …”
“I hear you, bro, but let’s talk about it after the movie.”
“Forget the movie, man. I saw things in there, serious things.”
“I believe you, buddy, but let’s talk about it later.”
“Forget you. Karen, wait, I have to tell you something.”
Sammy walks toward Karen, dazed with vision of them. He recalls some of the criticism of him lacking a real knowledge of how the world works. Irritated with himself, his brow furrowed, upset at his pathetic knowledge of Africa beyond its music and the bogus history of the place taught in schools and propagated by the media. He rubs the tip of his nose with the knuckle of his left forefinger, runs the flat of his hand through his thick hair. He had always wanted to see Africa, the only continent left for him to visit. He recalls his plan some years back to hug the eastern coast of the continent, which he never followed through on. He had planned to visit Cape Town, Maputo, Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Mombasa, ending in Cairo, and come back another time to do the western coast, from Cape Town up to Tangier. He walks toward Karen besieged by doubt. Did he just witness all that? What did he see, exactly? Could all he saw be true? His brow creased, he runs his palm through his hair some more, rubs the bridge of his nose. He recalls the girl on the train, her words: “You have a story to tell, a song to sing. Do not forget them. Be their champion.”
As Sammy is now walking toward Karen, who is ahead of him talking with Jane, he again sees Patrice and his dog, Elonga and Alongi. They are gazing at him from a blood red screen above a sleek white battery electric car on the street. “Take the mud inside like cement … Comprends, yes? Understand, oui?” Patrice says to him. “Aidez nous, s’il vous plait,” Elonga adds. They now both shout in unison, “CONGO. CONGO.”
* This story is dedicated to the memory of Ayò George – untimely from earth departed; travel well.
© 2023 Ségun Ògúntólá