Archive for Open Hearts

Black Van

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , on April 21, 2012 by javedbabar

Zoe asked Smuel, “Do you like driving around all day?”

He said, “Sure, but it depends on the day.” He checked his mirror and pulled out from behind a tractor, overtook it, and pulled in again. “That, for example, was an easy manoeuvre. It’s always a pleasure driving on the Lucerne Valley Road. But when I go to Strattus – or God forbid, the City – it’s not much fun.”

“Why is that?”

“Traffic mainly, but also parking, pollution, tempers, and wasted time. I really don’t like driving there.”

Soon they were at Open Hearts seniors daycare centre. Smuel dropped Zoe at the kitchen entrance and helped her unload produce and supplies. He enjoyed their weekly shopping trip together. She was a real nice lady, that Zoe, and a damn good cook too. Her cooked lunch was his main meal of the day. It was healthy, fresh, and free. If he didn’t fill up here he had only junk food to look forward to on his way home. As he was about to leave he said, “And do you like working in the kitchen all day?”

“The same as you, it depends on the day. I’ve worked at pubs, diners, restaurants, hotels, and at all kinds of events, but making meals here is quite a task. God help me with Irene’s vegan diet, James’s mainly liquids, Gemma’s organic food, Albert’s wish to eat local, and Mr. Amin’s dharmic requirements. I wish that manna would come down from heaven and that would be the end of it, or maybe we should just cut a deal with Pizza Hut.”

“But you love cooking,” said Smuel. “I’ve seen you. It’s what you were born to do.”

“You’re right,” said Zoe. “But sometimes I wonder if I should do something different. You know, have a total change. Go somewhere new and do something new. But my Tom likes it here. He says, ‘I was born here, I live here, and I will die here.’ So I guess that’s that.”

Smuel had held office jobs for twenty years, but then one day his life changed. His wife had an affair with his boss and left him. He wondered what the point of it all was – commuting daily, working for that swine, and killing himself with stress. The girls were grown up and he could be free now. He took his share of money from the house sale and came to Lucerne, where he was able to buy a condo outright, so all he needed to cover were daily expenses. The driver’s job at Open Hearts was not well paid but it paid enough, and he could use the minibus for personal errands. No more office jobs. Just the open road. What could be better?

He’d grown to love the old people too. “Clients” they called them in official language. His first pick up daily was the manager, Mr. Amin. What a funny guy he was, he’d been a diplomat in India, but you’d never know it. He treated people with great respect, as if they were diplomats themselves. He had a strange way of dealing with problems though. He’d call you into his office in the middle of the day. If you’ve got bad news then tell a man in the morning and give him the day to deal with it, thought Smuel, or at the end of the day so he can go home and mull it over. Not slap bang in the middle of the day!

He recalled being in trouble for not completing James’s paperwork. The guy’s a stroke victim – doesn’t move much, and doesn’t say a word – so what is there to write down about him? “James did nothing” and “James said nothing”? Ridiculous. It was just as stupid as office work. Mr. Amin said that he also didn’t like paperwork but The Authority required it, so would Smuel please ensure that it was completed daily. Smuel had of course said yes, but stewed that afternoon, driving around in his hot vehicle. Telling him in the morning would have been better. Or the evening.

He really liked Irene. She wasn’t a big talker, but was clearly a big thinker. Some of the things she said were so deep that he’d think about them for days after. When she told him about the Two Laws of the Universe – those of Attraction and Karma – he’d viewed his life in quite a different light. It was true that he had wished for and somehow manifested a life of beauty in the Lucerne Valley, and a life of ease driving around in the sunshine, and that maybe he had earned all this in a previous life through meritorious actions. He wondered if he really had lived before? Would he live again?

Smuel was less keen on constantly knitting, grumpy ex-math teacher Gemma, though she had her moments – such as getting drunk at the Christmas party and performing a slow “knit-tease”. Thank God Mr. Amin had stopped her unravelling her clothes before she’d revealed too much wrinkly thigh.

Albert, however, was always fun. This ex-cowboy quipped constantly and dispensed range wisdom. His impressions of Chinese Cowboy “Yee-Ha” and Indian Cowboy “Ride’em Singh” were hilarious, though of course he wasn’t allowed to perform them at the centre because they “infringed politically correct protocols”.

Smuel drove the seniors to and from their homes, to various physical and mental doctors, on shopping trips to Squashy’s malls, and daytrips to lakes and waterfalls. The black minivan was perfect for these outings, though the Centre should paint it a different colour. It wasn’t cheerful. Mr. Amin said they couldn’t do that as renting it out for funerals supplemented the Centre’s income. Well why not paint it white and rent it for weddings?

He couldn’t help wondering if Zoe would like to leave the kitchen one day and hit the road with him. Not only to do something new, somewhere new – but with someone new? Why not ride a white van today together, rather than await tomorrow’s black van which you only rode alone?

Mid-Life Crisis

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , on April 20, 2012 by javedbabar

The handsome man walked into the lounge. Everybody looked up and even those looking up already looked higher. He wore a shiny blue shirt and khaki trousers, seeming both casual and smart. His golden hair didn’t seem real at first, so bright was its shine. “He should be sheriff here,” said ex-cowboy Albert.

This filmic scene was ruined by the presence of a film crew. Their big cameras and furry microphones were ugly, and cracks showing above their low-slung jeans were unseemly. Mr. Amin, the manager of Open Hearts seniors daycare centre felt like buying them belts. “Is everything ok?” he asked the director.

“Yes thank you,” she said. “Everybody did well in the rehearsal. We’ll be ready for the shoot soon.”

Mr. Amin was proud of everyone at the centre today – his “clients”. All were washed and brushed and dressed smartly. He said to the director, “Who is this guy, really?” Everybody knew of course, but they wanted confirmation.

“As we told you, Mr. Amin, Daniel is having a mid-life crisis and seeking direction for his life. He is looking at a range of charitable organizations with whom to engage in voluntary work.”

“But what will he do for a real job?” said Mr. Amin. “I mean to earn money? Or doesn’t he need to do that?”

The director cocked an eyebrow. “Mr. Amin, you know that we’re not going there. I’ve told you the official story. Whether or not you believe it is up to you.”

Well at least he’d tried. A few minutes later the cameras were ready to roll. “And action!” called the director.

Albert ran across the frame pretending to ride a horse. “How’s that?” he said.

“Cut!” shouted the director, and gave him the look.

“Sorry,” he said, and sat down again.

They tried again. “And action!”

Daniel approached Mr. Amin and extended a hand. He said, “Thank you so much for letting me visit your centre. I hope to gain a better understanding of your work.”

“You are most welcome,” said Mr.Amin. Why were they shooting from behind, he wondered? There must be a cinematic reason for it. “We are delighted to have you here. Please think of yourself as a family member every day that you visit. This is a place of Open Hearts.”

“Okay, cut!” Called the director. “Very good, Mr. Amin. Perfect. You’re a pro. Who’s next?” She checked her call sheet. “Gemma?”

Gemma was unrecognizable today, her usual sack dress replaced by a blue skirt-suit. She wore a pearl necklace and earrings, and more amazingly – she also wore a smile. She usually sat in her corner, knitting miserably and casting mean remarks. Today she was the model of decorum, and said to Daniel on film, “This is a really lovely place.”

Clients looked at each other in shock – was she really saying that? “I look forward to coming here each morning. I was a math teacher for thirty years so am used to institutions. But this place feels like home.” Her smile was sickening.

“Okay, cut!” called the director. “Thank you Gemma. Now it’s… Irene.”

Irene was her usual sweet, kind self. She told Daniel how much she loved the centre. The food was fresh, staff were friendly, and there was stimulating company, all things she’d said on the official questionnaire. “Okay, cut!” called the director. “Nice work, Irene. Let’s take thirty minutes for lunch. Is this a good time for that, Mr. Amin?”

“Yes yes, lunch will be served in a moment. Please be seated at this table.” The director took a seat. She was pleased with the way the shoot was going. It was formulaic – nice people saying nice things – but that was the nature of these programmes.

Mr. Amin went into the kitchen and asked the cook Zoe to dish up. The film crew heard her clattering plates, and then a big slap and clang indicated that she’d dropped a substantial part of the meal. There was cursing and shouting. Mr. Amin realized that she had not really gotten over the food complaints on the recent questionnaire. She was even grumpier now that she’d spilled the lamb stew. Mr. Amin called for assistance. Daniel ran right over to the kitchen and helped clean up, as the camera crew did hand-held filming. Mr. Amin was embarrassed and said to the director, “I’m very sorry, but lunch will be delayed. Shall we continue filming now, and eat later?”

“Not to worry. Let’s skip lunch today. Who’s next… Zoe?”

“I don’t think that Zoe is ready. How about someone else?”

The director indicated ex-cowboy Albert. Oh no, thought Mr. Amin.

The director called, “And action!”

“Very pleased to meet you,” said Daniel, extending a hand.

“You’re saying that now,” said Albert. “I bet you won’t be saying that later!” Albert made fun of Daniel’s “girl’s hands and sissy blonde hair”. He asked him if he’d ever done a real day’s work in his life, and reminded him that “nobody ever drowned in his own sweat.” He asked him for investment advice, and then said it was bullshit, because “the quickest way to double your money is to fold it over, and put it back in your pocket.” He asked about motivation during his mid-life crisis. Daniel told him about affirmations and meditation. Albert said that was also bullshit, and if he was “feeling down”, then he should “saddle up.” He gave him some good advice for life, “Don’t squat with your spurs on.” He also said that he felt sorry for Daniel because “Life is hard, but it’s harder when you’re stupid.”

Mr. Amin saw that Daniel was crying. Damn that Albert! This guy was having a mid-life crisis, and he’d upset him on film.  Damn that Zoe too, ruining lunch! But then he remembered that Daniel wasn’t having a crisis. He was a millionaire entrepreneur wanting to give something back to the community, seeking worthy causes to fund. Mr. Amin saw that Daniel’s tears were accompanied by laughter. He was having a blast here.

The next week Open Hearts seniors daycare centre received a $25,000 donation.

Master Plan

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2012 by javedbabar

Mr. Amin was away for a month, having gone to visit his family in India. Open Hearts seniors daycare centre obviously couldn’t run itself, so The Authority had sent a temporary replacement, forty years younger than most of the clients, and sixty years younger than James. Everybody loved Mr. Amin, but a change would be refreshing, especially this smart girl up to date with all the latest developments. They awaited Shazeen Simoninian with enthusiasm.

Her arrival at the Centre was unforgettable. Sharp fragments of light flashed through the lounge. Her silver sports car’s reflections illuminated everyone present, and seemed to form a bright fabric clinging to the roof. A little tune played when she locked the car doors. “Beethoven’s Fifth,” said Gemma, knitting.

“Sure it wasn’t his sixth?” said Albert. “Or maybe his fifth-and-a-half? I’ve heard its one of his better ones.” Gemma shook her head.

Both lounge doors swung open – people usually opened only one – and a silver-suited woman of medium height and slim build appeared. There was a heady waft of jasmine and pomegranates. “She’s Persian,” said Gemma. “You can tell by the features.”

“Good morning everybody,” said Shazeen Simoninian. “I’ll be running this Centre for the next month while Mr. Amin is away. We didn’t get the chance to perform a formal handover. Would someone please show me the Master Plan.”

People stared blankly. Ex-cowboy Albert said quietly, “Yez, de Master Plan. Maybe she iz German.”

She pointed to him. “You, what did you say?”

“That your name is Persian. Am I right?”

“That’s very presumptuous of you to say that. We live in a multi-cultural society. My name is Canadian. Now can you please answer my question about the Master Plan.”

“Er… this place sort of runs itself, Mizz. Mr. Amin has a hands-off approach to management.” He looked around and raised his eyebrows. “Isn’t that right?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Shazeen Simoninian. “No institution runs itself. I’ll need to see the Work Schedules and Food Plans, Exercise Policies, Conversation Structures, Dispute Resolution Frameworks, and everything else required by The Authority. Now where will I find those?”

Nobody spoke. “You, in the blue uniform. Where will I find them?”

Zoe, the cook, couldn’t help smirking. She said, “In Mr. Amin’s head I think.”

“What do you mean by that?” Shazeen Simoninian looked around to ensure equal eye contact with everyone present. “You mean that none of the daily procedures are documented? You just make them up as you go along?”

“Pretty much,” said Albert. “It’s really not that hard. You just see what the day brings you, see what needs doing, and do it.”

“Sir, what’s your name? Albert? Okay Albert, from your attire I gather that you’re a cowboy of some sort. Am I correct? I thought so. Your duties would include, I imagine, riding horses and moving cows.”

“That’s pretty much it, Ms. Simoninian. You seem to know the job pretty well. Which ranch did you work at? Or are you a rustler? You can tell me, I promise I won’t tell the Sheriff. Most of the…”

“That’s enough Albert. My point is that you are a cowboy and I am a professionally trained facility manager. We don’t ‘just see what the day brings’. We bring things to the day. We don’t just ‘see what needs doing’. We do what is planned. That is why I have asked for the Master Plan. It provides the essential rhythm of every facility. Now if we don’t have one here, my first job is to create one.” She left them alone for the rest of the day.

The next morning began with the Seniors Song, composed by Shazeen Simoninian. “It is vital to share our vision daily,” she said, passing out song sheets. The song began:

“We arise each morn with the gift of life,

As an ex-husband or as an ex-wife,

We sit neither alone nor bearing strife,

For today our Hearts are Open to life.”

Albert didn’t sing, just shook his head. Then Shazeen Simoninian announced the 28-day menu rotation. On Tuesday when there was an unexpected cold snap, they ate fair-trade salads rather than the harvest stew suggested by Zoe. No external food was allowed, as Shazeen Simoninian said “it could be unhygienic.”

Albert said, “I’ve been unhygienic all my life. That’s how I…” He stopped when given a vicious look by the acting facility manager.

They were made to watch one hour of TV daily for “asymmetric socialisation,” and were discouraged from wearing brightly coloured clothes as they “created disharmony” within the “decor-neutral” facility scheme. They were allowed only one toilet visit per hour, and if they needed more than this, Shazeen Simoninian suggested adult diapers or urinary catheters. All talk of religion, sex, and politics was banned in case other people were offended. And of course Albert was not allowed to tell jokes as these could lead to over-excitement and heart attacks. The centre was suffocated by jasmine and pomegranates.

Mr. Amin was shocked when he returned from India. The vibrant seniors community he had nurtured now seemed like a mortuary. He unbuttoned his yellow shirt, put down the pakoras he’d brought for everyone, switched off the TV, and threw on a Bollywood CD. When the guitars and sitars started up he called out, “Everybody, I’m back! Let’s do some dirty dancing!” Then realizing that his stomach was unsettled he ran to the toilet, but didn’t have time to close the door. His holy vibrations resounded around the centre. They blew out Shazeen Simoninian’s heavy fragrance and returned the Centre to life.

World Food Council

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , on April 18, 2012 by javedbabar

“May I have a word please, Zoe?” said Mr. Amin. His impish smile had won over many during his political career as Minister of Culture for Northern India, and continued to do so now in the not-for-profit sector of Canadia. It was only that smile, he believed, that had kept Open Hearts seniors daycare centre open. So many times when it was on the brink of closure, bank managers and provincial officials had been charmed by it. It wasn’t just his smile though. It was a million smiles gathered together from every senior that came here and was entertained, fed, and listened to, and whose children and grandchildren slept better knowing that Ma, Pa, Grandma, or Grandpa looked forward to their day ahead. Mr. Amin said, “Which delicious items are you making for us today?”

Zoe said, “We’re having East Indian today, especially for you, Mr. Amin. Tarka dal, mutter chawal, roast chicken for carnivores, and saag aloo for vegetarians, plus some salad, pickle, and sweet.” She didn’t have time to stop working. She whisked gram flour, chopped coriander, and wiped down surfaces as she spoke.

“Mmm… That sounds delicious,” said Mr. Amin, licking his top lip. “What’s the sweet today?”

“It’s halwa with flaked almonds. It’s the first time I’m making it here. I hope it turns out ok.”

Mr. Amin said, “I’m sure that it will. When are you taking your break, Zoe?”

“I don’t usually take it,” she said, peeling onions and squeezing out tomato paste. “I don’t have time. I work straight through.”

“You never take it?”

She nodded.

“Ok, please come and see me when you’ve finished cooking?”

She was about to ask something, but he beat her to it. “Yes, after you’ve done the preparation, but before serving.”

She came to his office at 11.30am. Mr. Amin knew that there was never a good time for these conversations, but it was best to have them in the middle of the day. That way the victim wasn’t shocked immediately upon arrival at work, but also didn’t hear about it just before going home. They had half a day without the knowledge, then half a day to deal with it. He called this his “Half-and-Half” approach to human relations.

He said, “Zoe, do you recall the questionnaire last week? Yes, we asked for clients’ views on how we ran the centre. One of the questions concerned the food we provide. Did you know that? Good.” It was going well so far and he gave her a winning smile. She smiled back. Maybe he’d smiled too much though, so he followed it with a frown, and Zoe frowned too. That was better. “Well as you know, you can never please everybody, however hard you try. Some people always complain. That’s not a reflection on you. Not at all. But we should at least be aware of their opinions, and maybe we can make small changes to please them. Things that are easy for us to do, and will make them happy. Yes, yes, I’m about to tell you.”

He specified the complaints: “cold food”, “boring food”, “flavourless food”, “stale food”, “disgusting food”, “ugly food”, “horrible food”, “food that produces nightmares”, “food that gives you diarrhoea”, and “food that makes you constipated”. Mr. Amin felt that there was little merit in these complaints. These Seniors were going through a process of transition – written about in the Indian scriptures – with one life stage changing to another. Their Childhood and Householder days were long gone, and now they were disempowered Elders. Their opinions counted for little, even in their own homes. The questionnaire had provided them with an opportunity to flex their muscles, and show some authority. At least on paper they could still be boss.

Poor Zoe was shocked. “What will happen now?” she said. “Will I lose my job? Will you bring in prepared food instead?”

“No, no, of course we won’t,” said Mr. Amin.

Her eyes flashed. He’d never noticed the amber. “Who said these things?” she said with anger. “Was it lots of people or just one person? I’m sure it wasn’t Irene, or James, or Albert, or Smuel. They appreciate my food. I bet it was that miserable Gemma – doing her knitting and talking about math. What use is that to her now? Counting down the days till she dies?”

He said, “Zoe, I know that you’re upset by this, but that’s enough. I can’t tell you who said what. Don’t take it personally. Let’s think what small things we can do together.” He left it there, as it was time for Zoe to serve lunch. He saw her slopping food out to clients. Her scowl alone would give them indigestion. Mr. Amin’s Half-and-Half approach wasn’t perfect he knew. They had a further conversation after lunch, and his smile worked wonders. Zoe was a sensible woman who knew that every job had hurdles to overcome. She now accepted the situation, and said that she would do the best she could with the time, budget, and resources available. In his view she performed miracles already with the $2 per person per day ingredients budget.

That evening Mr. Amin called an influential old friend in India. He told him how Zoe marinated food at home so it would taste better for the clients, that she shared her secret family recipes, sometimes added her own special ingredients, was often too busy to eat, and went without food when people wanted seconds.

His friend agreed that her daily good actions superseded her annoyance at the clients. It was clear that she filled her food with love. The next week a registered package for Zoe arrived from India. It was a certificate of merit from The Karmic World Slow Food Council. Mr. Amin framed the certificate and displayed in the kitchen. It was easy for him to do, and made her happy.

Nice Views

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience, World Myths with tags , , , , , , on April 17, 2012 by javedbabar

It was a gorgeous day and the clients of Open Hearts seniors daycare centre sat outside. Whether they could or couldn’t be outside the centre’s “protected atmosphere” was a hazy area in the regulations. The centre was built to modern construction parameters and was completely airtight, making it highly energy-efficient. No air entered or left without being conditioned – pre-heated in winter, pre-cooled in summer, and something in between during spring and fall. Windows were never opened, and doors were double doors, regulating variations and tempering sounds. Floors were washed daily and walls wiped weekly. Insects and pets were forbidden. It was entirely spick and span.

None of this could be said for the great outdoors. Wild filthy nature was filled with birds and bees, richly-microbed soils, and every kind of allergen imaginable, including floating pollens, sneaky bacteria, communicable viruses, choky tree nuts, pointy oily seeds, five-bellied dairy producers, and gluten-filled grains. And of course there were all kinds of people not obeying rules and regulations, doing whatever they liked. The Authority discouraged the Centre’s clients from going outside. But as mentioned, it was a hazy area. The manager Mr. Amin took the view that culture must be tempered by nature. Today clients sat spread across the lawn – some in sun, some in shade – before Mt Alba, which rose up among the Valley’s swirling mists, as if to God.

Mr. Amin thought about Guru Baba’s great pilgrimage. It was both the highlight and the lowlight of his recent life. It had been a privilege to spend time in the company of such a great holy man. The residents of Lucerne had been shocked when this revered Master announced that he would retire to “that lovely little village with the white mountain above it.” The Authority had immediately offered him a mansion with acreage and horses, but he said that wasn’t necessary. He just wanted one of the “little houses” that he had seen there, meaning a seniors’ housing unit built by the local fraternal group The Tigers.

An empty unit was provided for Guru Baba and he moved right in. Nobody knew what happened to the Italian woman who had been living there already. Despite being over eighty – some claimed he was a hundred, even a thousand – Guru Baba was fit and strong, and led a hundred-person pilgrimage to the top of Mt. Alba. Mr. Amin’s knees had only allowed him as far as the base camp. It saddened him to have not attained the summit with Guru Baba, but upon his return, the sage gave him a holy rock upon which to dream.

Irene looked into the forests clothing Mt. Alba’s lower slopes. She wondered how the little girl who had become St. Sandrine had managed to ride her horse up there? Irene had once walked the forestry roads at its base, searching for crystals. Even those roads were overgrown and barely passable on foot. But Sandrine had ridden Thunder, her powerful charger, right to the summit. Stories of her horse having eight legs confused facts with legends. Odin’s horse Sleipnir had eight legs, not Thunder, who was just a working farm horse. He had a huge heart – which was what had drawn Sandrine to him – but the usual number of legs. Thunder’s owner, an Old Family farmer, had immediately seen the love between this young beauty and beast. He had also seen the holy light in her eyes. He had given the horse as a gift to Sandrine, and requested that she “ensure this fine beast accompanies you to heaven.” Sandrine had taken him literally, riding Alba’s trails with Thunder, and they died together at the top. This story of God’s creatures rising together had captured people’s hearts, and caused Sandrine’s elevation to Sainthood.

James too sat staring into the distance. Since his stroke he did little else. His thoughts however were as lucid as ever. People didn’t seem to understand that he may not be able to sing and dance, but that his mind ran free. In some ways it was stronger than ever, as there were fewer distractions, just flowing possibilities. He thought of diabetic amputee Safira climbing the mountain. How had she managed it without legs? She’d had a support team, of course, carrying food, water, camping and medical equipment, but the exertion had been all her own. The thought of her struggling up there with steel legs and canes was so inspiring that he often cried. People mistook those tears for sadness at his personal condition, but that was not true. He was resigned to the life that fate had delivered, and that was the thing – that Safira wasn’t. She had achieved the impossible. She was an amazing woman. An inspiration to all.

Gemma sat in the shade, knitting and purling. Tik-Tak-Tik-Tak-Tik-Tak-Tik-Tak. She wondered if Ozwald Melchizedek had really climbed Mt. Alba? He was her spiritual mentor – and occasional tormentor – but some of his stories did seem quite tall. He said that he’d climbed Mt. Alba in his mind, raising his level of consciousness “to the top of his Man-Head, and the bottom of the God-Head”. He had balanced his soul at the mountain top – which he referred to as the “pyramid point” – and at that moment, intersected with divinity in a “holy checking in” of transcendent involution.

They all stared at the holy mountain, knowing that soon they would be climbing it together. “Okay, time to go inside,” said Mr. Amin. “Last one in is a mountain goat!”

Shitty Brown

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , on April 16, 2012 by javedbabar

“I’m looking forward to the art class,” said Irene. “It’s been years since I’ve painted anything. It will be fun I think.” James stared past her towards the front windows, where light poured in. He seemed to prefer facing that direction, not that he could tell her himself. She just had a feeling.

She enjoyed her daily visit to Open Hearts seniors daycare centre. It got her out of the house, and she’d made a couple of friends now. Most of all she liked to spend time with James, who had been her soulmate in many lifetimes, even though she’d found him too late in this life to share much, and his stroke had left him unresponsive to her and everybody else.

What did he do all day, she wondered? What did he think? What did he feel? What was it like to be locked up inside yourself, unable to share your thoughts and dreams? Poor James. Her James. King James. She said to him, “Okay darling, I’m going to see Mr. Amin to see if I can help today. He seems to appreciate my assistance.”

Mr. Amin said, “Irene! Nice to see you.” She wondered if they had magic imps in India? If they did, then he would definitely be one of them. “The art teacher will be arriving at ten. Would you please help her to set up when she comes.”

Mr. Amin was amazing. Where did he find resources for these kinds of activities? The Authority had cut back severely on funding. Public services were closing down everywhere, yet Open Hearts was running smoothly with cultural activities weekly, even twice weekly. They’d recently been taught a dance called Zumba, Egyptian belly dancing, healthy cooking, pottery, origami, and rapping – at which ex-cowboy Albert excelled, though Mr. Amin was displeased with the continual rhyming of his name with gold pannin’ and jammin’; “It is pronounced A-meen,” he said. “Not Am-in.” Albert had then rhymed his name with spleen and unseen, and obscene and latrine, at which point Mr. Amin had asked him to stop.

Irene helped the teacher lay out paper, paints, brushes, and pots. She hadn’t brought many colours – just the basics: red, yellow, blue, black and white. Enough to make something garish like they would have produced when children. Maybe they would succeed in mixing subtler shades. From what she recalled though, mix too much and you end up with shitty brown. There was enough of that around here already.

Mr. Amin called everybody together. Not everyone wanted to join in though, and not everyone was able to. Her James for example just sat to one side, staring. How could he engage? Never mind a paintbrush, he could barely hold his spoon.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Mr. Amin. “Here is our teacher, Stella. She has been an artist for twenty years, and has kindly agreed to deliver a six-week art course at Open Hearts.”

“If she’s an artist, then why isn’t she making art?” said Gemma.

“What do you mean by that?” said Mr. Amin.

“Isn’t there a saying: ‘Those that can do, and those that can’t teach’?”

There was an embarrassed silence, broken by Stella. “Actually I do both. I teach two days a week and paint three days. I’ll invite you all to ‘Being Become’, my next exhibition in the City. Mr. Amin, would you be able to arrange the transport?” He nodded. “Good. Let’s begin. Why do we make art?”

“Because it’s lovely?” said Irene. “It improves our environment.”

“Yes, it does. Anybody else?”

Mr. Amin couldn’t help joining in. He said that we had a basic instinct for harmony, balance, and rhythm. We desired experience of the mysterious. It was an expression of the imagination. It held ritualistic and symbolic functions. Nobody needed reminding that he had once been the Minister of Culture for Northern India, before retiring to Canadia to be near his grandchildren.

Stella said, “I think you’ve covered everything, Mr. Amin. Shall we begin?”

People fiddled about, knocked over water, got paint on their clothes, bent brushes, and ripped paper, but eventually paint made it onto paper, and artworks “became”.

Nobody noticed James rise. He shuffled over to the central table and seated himself before an art station. “What’s he doing?” Gemma said. “Watch out, he’ll make a big mess.” Stella helped him to get started, and he continued independently. It was true though, he was making a mess. There were patches of colour beside and then atop each other, which quickly fused into browns. Shitty browns. It was time for lunch, and they went to the dining area for oil-free chicken curry with chick pea rice. James stayed where he was, manifesting his vision.

Mr. Amin went to check on his progress. As Minister of Culture he had considered all manner of artworks for purchase and display in national museums. From Mughal miniatures to pickled sharks. He saw that there was merit in this painting. Within the shitty brown he saw a strong story emerging. He saw two trails of colours joining, separating, and rejoining, arching and twisting, fading and reforming – losing and then finding each other – yet their forms were always entwined.

Questionnaires

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , , on April 15, 2012 by javedbabar

“What are these for?” said Irene, fiddling with the white envelopes and then holding one at arms length and reading. “The Authority, 10001 The City. Why are you giving them to me? Why don’t you take them to the Post Office?”

“There are questionnaires inside the envelopes,” said Mr. Amin. “I’d like you to hand one out to everybody here.”

He could have done it himself, but then what could Irene do? Just sit there doing nothing? As manager of Open Hearts seniors daycare centre he had to be ingenious at all times, which was the only way to keep the place running. “When completed, they should go back in the envelopes and be returned to me. Then I will take them to the Post Office.”

“What are they for?” said Irene. “I’ve filled out enough forms to last me two lifetimes. We all have. What don’t they know about us already? We’re old and we’re dying. What else is there to know?”

“Irene,” said Mr. Amin. “We are regulated by The Authority. There have been bad news stories about care homes recently, and they are a hot topic provincially. The Authority is doing some Quality Control.”

“What’s the point of doing surveys now? It will take them years to analyse results and implement changes. By then we’ll all be dead!”

Mr. Amin knew she was right. The Authority’s capitalist system was based upon dissatisfaction. Do satisfied people feel the need to buy things to prove that “they’re worth it”? Of course not. They stay at home and appreciate simple pleasures. You may as well do what good you could though. He said to Irene, “We’ll be dead anyway, so why not help future generations of oldies?”

“Okay, I will. Why not? What have we got to lose? Don’t blame me for what they write though. They’re not all in the best of moods, or even sane.”

Irene walked over to Gemma. She didn’t want to interrupt her knitting, so stood over her for a while. There was no appreciable slowing of her knitting and purling of purple and white yarns. Irene cleared her throat and said, “Gemma, may I give you something?”

Gemma’s needles slipped. She grimaced to herself, and looked up furiously. “What do you want! Disturbing a woman doing her knitting. You should know better than that! Who the hell do you think you are anyway?”

“I’m sorry Gemma. I tried to get your attention but you were too engrossed. What are you making?”

Gemma was still irritated and said sarcastically, “Can’t you see? It’s the fabric of life. The knit is what should happen to you, and the purl is what does happen.” She jabbed a needle.

Irene said, “I didn’t know that you took it so seriously. I thought it was just a pastime, making bootees for your grandchildren.”

“I don’t have any grandchildren,” she said. “Or any children, for that matter.”

Maybe Gemma was onto something, thought Irene. The yarn was a good analogy. The Two Laws of the Universe did create a kind of fabric. The weft was the Law of Attraction, drawing you along, and the warp was the Law of Karma, pulling you up or down. Us oldies must be getting wise.

Gemma said, “So why are you bothering me? What’s in that envelope?”

“It’s a questionnaire about the Centre. Please complete the questions and return it to Mr. Amin.”

“You must be joking. I was a high school teacher for thirty years. A damned fine one too. I’ve taught every person in Lucerne under forty to add, subtract, multiply and divide, and the smarter ones square roots, squares, integration, and differentiation too. And then they saddled me with so many forms to complete, lesson plans to create, reports to write, key stages to follow, observations to pass, and endless other bureaucracy that I had a nervous breakdown. Can you understand? Someone who could add real and imaginary numbers, divide by irrational ones, and multiply by transcendent ones with her eyes closed, was made to drown in a sea of stupid papers. Idiotic! Vacuous! Pointless! I never recovered and never returned to work. All I’m doing now is waiting to die. The last thing I want to do is complete any more forms.”

Irene told Gemma that she didn’t need to complete the form. She would explain to Mr. Amin, who would understand surely. She handed out forms to others more successfully, and then came to James. She wondered what to do with his form. He sat there all day, unresponsive to everybody – even to her, his one-time soulmate, so many lives ago, but he couldn’t even look back into her loving eyes now. That was life. Or should she say that was lives? She decided to complete the questionnaire for him.

It was a simple system. There were twelve questions, with a choice of responses – Good, OK, or Bad. She looked into his eyes as she asked each question, hoping for a clue to his thoughts. She asked him what he thought of the location of the centre, its facilities, staff, the food, the information they provided, responses to clients’ concerns, the treatment of visitors, their occasional excursions, overall cleanliness, healthy and artistic activities, daily timings, transport. “Anything else?”

He stared blankly ahead throughout her questioning, and gave no indications at all. She ticked OK for all of the questions. Maybe the conditions of his next life would be Good.

Who knew what The Authority would do with the results anyway? Would they reduce services to dissatisfied respondents for being unappreciative? They were just as likely to reduce services to satisfied ones, thinking that they were getting more than they deserved. Why should unproductive members of society be so happy? If everybody felt like that, The Authority’s economic system, based upon perennial dissatisfaction, would fall apart.