Archive for Seniors

Mobility Mafia

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

The Local Mobility Laws were radical. They were the biggest shake up of municipal transport policy in fifty years. In fact the biggest change ever.

Lucerne Transport Committee represented all stakeholders. Carefully selected people acted as ambassadors for different ages, income brackets, races, genders, sexual orientations, and those with physical and mental disabilities. There were bad-tempered oldies and noisy children; the rich, poor, and those on welfare; black, brown, red, white, and yellow people; male, female, neither, and both; gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and even straight people; folk without limbs, paraplegics, quadriplegics, deaf, dumb, blind, slow, dyslexic, and otherwise challenged persons.

Each person was given charge of a particular area. This policy was inspired by native totems. For example if you were of the Red Lizard folk, then you looked out for red lizards; you protected them as best you could and never hurt or ate one. If each person in the tribe looked out for one species of lizard, then all lizards would be protected. This philosophy was supported by the Chinese adage of every person sweeping outside their doorstep making the whole world clean.

The danger is that rather than a seamless plan, it becomes a hodge-podge. Less a Dracula, with a clear philosophy of life and a long term approach to survival, and more a Frankenstein’s monster, patched together from ill fitting scraps, with no motivation to live but hatred of his maker. As with any voting system, some people are louder and scarier than others and push their agendas hard. The Greens, Seniors, and Religious did well in Lucerne. They ruled the roost and what they said went for all.

Helene hated going out on the roads. The Local Mobility Laws had made it a nightmare. There were gangs of old men on street corners, drinking and singing. Mean cyclists ran wheelchair users off the road, claiming moral superiority for their self-powered two-wheeled vehicles. Only walkers could use raised paths, with lower forms of transport staying beneath, honouring this most green and ancient form of motion.

Those caught trespassing on high paths were punished severely. Forfeits were set at one toe removal per offence, though there was leniency for children, and harshness for repeat offenders bearing inadequate remorse. For them a second offence could lead to the loss of two toes, a third, three toes, and if no more toes were available, the count was completed on fingers.

Old women on motor scooters – who were somehow allowed to use the high paths – had the run of town. These mean spirited hags even rode walkers like Helene off the road. Helene had complained about them once, and their yobbish children and grandchildren had harassed her for weeks after. There was no recourse to these Mobility Mafiosi.

Helene walked around the corner late one night, straight into the KK – Krinkle-Kut – Gang. She was wearing headphones so hadn’t heard their singing. She’d also been rushing, and not paid attention to scattered bottle and butts.

The Greens and Religious were often vocal, but respect for Elders had been taken to extremes, with those over sixty expecting to be obeyed immediately. Talk back and you were likely to get bruised. Social media, video games, reality TV, game shows, and predictive texting had made youngsters vulnerable, which the consumer advertising, food processing, allergen drugs, pornography, and religious industries had exploited. Youngsters were useless at best. Power had truly returned to the Old.

Most of the old men stepped aside for Helene. One, however, whom she later referred to as “Mr Viagra”, called out “Hey darling! You’re looking fine-fine. How about some old man action?”

She ignored him and walked on. When he threw a peanut at her head, she turned around and let him have it. “Why don’t you take your teeth out and take care of yourself?”

The rest of the KK laughed so hard that Mr Viagra withered. Lights came on in surrounding condos to see what the fuss was about. The KK became embarrassed and went home, where their families told them off. “Shame on you grandpa,” they said. The old men no longer hung around that corner. The resurrection of the young had begun.


Moti Mahal

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience, Sacred Geometry, World Myths with tags , , , , , on April 28, 2012 by javedbabar

Mr Amin was not himself. Though he bore his usual impish smile, and walked around in his usual attire – shirt and tie, and sleeveless sweater – he muttered beneath his breath. Clients of Open Hearts seniors daycare centre were not used to seeing their manager behave like this. Zoe the cook overheard him when he came to the kitchen to make tea. He said, “It’s the law of life. It’s an ancient tradition. It’s biologically ingrained. It’s a moral duty.”

Half an hour later he was back for another cup, still muttering. “But now they feel differently. They say we’re individuals. We’re all responsible for ourselves.”

Zoe wondered if she should say something now. She tried to catch his eye but was unable to, so just said quietly, “Mr Amin… is everything alright today?”

“Yes yes,” he said. “They come once a year. They are coming today. That’s all.” He would say nothing further, and made his tea and left the kitchen.

Later that morning, Zoe said to Smuel the driver, “What’s up with Mr Amin? He seems really bothered.”

He said, “I’m not sure. Shall we ask him?”

They went to Mr Amin’s office together, and Smuel said, “Mr. Amin, you seem troubled today. We were wondering what’s happened, and if we could help you in any way.”

“Nothing’s happened – why should it?” He was hostile to their enquiries so they went away. Only last week he had told them of his dream of living in a moti mahal, a palace of pearls, in the next world. How he’d clammed up.

At midday exactly two cars pulled up. They were of similar make and model, except that one was black with number plate A1 and the other was white with number plate A2. A man stepped out of each car at exactly the same moment. From the black car came a black man wearing a black suit, with black shirt and tie, and black socks and shoes. From the white car came a white man wearing a white suit, with white shirt and tie, and white socks and shoes. Their features looked similar and familiar. They both looked somewhat like Mr. Amin.

The white man pushed open both sides of the Centre’s double doors, and walked in haughtily. The black man pushed open one door only and smiled at the Centre’s clients as he entered. If it wasn’t a crazy thing to suggest, Smuel would have said that they were differently coloured twins.

The white man pushed open Mr Amin’s office door without knocking or calling. He entered and closed the door behind him, and Smuel heard voices raised from within. If they got much louder, he would check to see if Mr Amin was O.K. The heated discussion lasted five minutes before the white man came out, scowling and cursing beneath his breath. The black man knocked and went into Mr Amin’s office, and their voices remained low. A few minutes later the black man emerged, smiling broadly. Both men headed back to their cars.

Smuel didn’t know how to handle this situation. As an employee of Open Hearts he need not do anything. No crime had been committed and management appeared to have the situation under control. As a person, however, he couldn’t stand it. Who was this white man who had upset his impish boss? And who was the black man who had soothed him?

Smuel ran outside and tapped on the white car’s window. The white man rolled it down and said, “How may I help you?”

Smuel said, “What did you say to Mr. Amin? Why were you rude to him?”

The man said, “I didn’t say anything to him, and I wasn’t rude to him.”

“Don’t be smart. I saw you. You went into his office and shouted at him.”

“Believe me,” said the white man. “He shouted at me first. He always does. That’s why I was in a bad mood when I entered. I knew what to expect, and now that it’s over with, I’m relaxed.”

“Why does he shout at you?” said Smuel, confused.

Smuel hadn’t noticed Zoe come outside. While he’d been talking to the white man, Zoe had engaged the black man. He heard a furious exchange between them. He never would have imagined Zoe using such words. He ran over to the black car immediately. Zoe was crying, so he held her. It seemed so natural. “What happened?” he said.

“That black man was nice only on the surface. He was rotten within. He came here to threaten Mr Amin. That’s why he was so carefree. And he only seemed quiet because his threats were muttered.”

“But who are they?” said Smuel, staring after the disappearing cars.

They saw Mr Amin peering scared from his office window. He was a gentle soul now, manager of a not-for-profit social service ensuring that Ma, Pa, Grandma, and Grandpa had something to look forward to daily. He was unquestionably doing public good. But before retiring to Canadia, he had been Minister of Culture for Northern India. He was a corrupt killer, a most evil man. The Agents of Karma tracked him everywhere, and once a year they came to check in. At the end of his life their collated reports would determine whether Mr Amin would reside in a palace of pearls or a demonic dungeon.

Gordian Knit

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , , , on April 27, 2012 by javedbabar

Gemma sat knitting in her corner. “Miserable cow,” thought Albert. “She never says hello to anyone, just scowls. Maybe that should be a new type of stitch. The knit from above, the purl from below, and the scowl from the side. Why was she always so grumpy? Others at Open Hearts seniors daycare centre just accepted that they were old and lonely and tried to be cheerful. She must be a good knitter though. Guru Baba’s disciples had asked her to make a dozen hats for them with holy symbols. A pile of them sat beside her, and this looked like the last. I’ll try being nice to her today, thought Albert, even though it’s never worked before.

He said, “Hello Gemma, how are the hats coming along?”

She didn’t look up and said, “I’m still working on them. Can’t you see?”

“Which symbol are you making now? It looks like a black spot.”

Despite his skills as a carpenter, roper, and archer, Albert had never understood the mechanics of knitting. Yes you made a row of loops and then pulled another row of loops through them. But what about shapes and patterns? And how do you make stripes? What about this black circle? How do you make something round in a square piece of fabric?

Gemma responded to his interest. Her speed of knitting doubled and then doubled again. She’s faster than Jesse James drawing, he thought. Before he knew it, she’d finished the final hat, and also completed a pair of red socks and small grey jumper. “Wow!” said Albert. “Lady, you are one mean scowler.”

“What do you mean by that?” she said crossly.

“Oh sorry, I meant that you are one mean knitter and purler. You, know a real fast stitcher.” He was digging himself into a hole here. He’d better stop.

“Shall I show you how?” she said. Nobody expected Gemma to say or do nice things. Albert was ambushed, and the only thing to do was accept.

He proved to be a natural knitter. It seemed that decades of of steer roping and quick draws had lasting effects. His hands responded intuitively to any kind of action. By the end of the morning he had produced a pair of brown trousers and possibly the world’s first knitted cowboy hat. It was a little floppy but sat on his head well.

Irene guided James over to Gemma’s corner. James was unresponsive since his third stroke but he sometimes had bursts of action. He’d performed well in art class recently, making an abstract painting in shitty browns. Maybe he’d take to knitting also. A double-breasted blue jacket and matching overcoat soon graced his shoulders. He was the most sartorially eloquent stroke survivor in Lucerne.

Zoe had finished her shift in the kitchen, and Smuel was on break till it was time to drive people home. They came to try their hand. Both were hard workers and within an hour they had produced a fancy knitted rug filled with Persian lozenge designs, and a pair of curtains. Then they looked at each other, unsure where to place these items. James saw that their thoughts were of a home together, but with Zoe already having a partner, this wasn’t likely, at least yet.

The manager Mr Amin returned from meetings at The Authority. “Thank God that’s over,” he said. “A day of talking and paper-pushing. Lots of time wasted with nothing achieved. It looks like you have all been busy though.”

Gemma was enjoying being the centre of attention for once. She said, “Come on, Mr Amin, you must have a go too. What do you mean, you can’t do it? It’s really easy. Don’t you practice meditation? Just keep your attention focussed. You’ll do it.” Within one hour Mr Amin had produced a lace tablecloth. The next day he made a royal blue cloak filled with the forms of suns, moons and stars. It was a knitted galaxy. “I saw this design once in a French palace,” he said. “It looks quite good.” He decided to send the cloak to the Queen of Canadia.

The next day Gemma brought special yarns. There were scented wools and edible wools, and some with sparkles; water proof, fire proof, and transparent ones too.

“Those look wild,” said Albert. “What shall we do with them?”

Gemma said, “Word got out about Guru Baba’s hats. Now Dr.Bungawalla is interested in using yarns for detox, and my spiritual guide Ozwald Malchizedek (OM) wants to try them for soul cleansing.”

“How will he do that?”

He won’t,” said Gemma. “We will. We will twist seven wools in holy colours and swallow their ends. After cleansing our digestive systems and collecting as balls within us, they will untangle and emerge from our behinds.”

“Are you crazy?” said Albert.

“Not at all. We will knit them all together and create a new fabric for our lives.”

“What kind of fabric?” he said.

“One with an extra dimension.” She jabbed a needle at Albert’s hand, and he jumped back instinctively. “The scowl.”

Steamed Peacocks

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience, World Myths with tags , , , , , , , on April 26, 2012 by javedbabar

James sat in his usual chair facing away from the television. Who knew how much more life he would see, so he may as well witness what was available. He watched the people that had become his daily companions here at Open Hearts seniors daycare centre. They were not the people he would have chosen, but God, fate, or Satan had chosen them for him. He knew that he was here for a reason. He had been angry at first – really angry – about his third stroke and partial paralysis.

What they fed him at lunchtimes was dull – things like chicken stew, chow mein, or potato curry. It wasn’t bad food, just uninspired. The cook Zoe tried hard in the kitchen, but there’s only so much you can do with an ingredients budget of $2 per person per day. James had flashbacks of sumptuous feasts – steamed peacocks with their iridescent fans spread wide, and above them were roasted quails speared on golden trees; baked fish were set in tanks of crystal wines; spiced curds in mango and saffron sauce; necklaces of black grapes and pomegranate seeds; bejewelled women and turbaned guards; lavish tables spread in marble palaces with rose-scented air seeping through grilles, and cool water spouting from fountains inlaid with precious stones and tinkling along floor channels.

James’s static state had enhanced his powers of observation and concentration. Sitting in one place all day – facing real people and life, rather than fake versions – made him aware of himself and his world.

The manager Mr Amin always said hello to him. James appreciated being recognized as a person rather than a pet or statue, which is how most others viewed him. He only turned towards the TV when Mr Amin played an Indian movie. They were mainly for the female clients, who loved the fabulous colours, clothes, dances, and songs. But James also liked to watch them, for they ignited memories of red saris with golden embroidery, and blue ones with pearls, of troupes of fat men performing devotional songs in trances, and women with curves and luscious lips banging their feet strung with small bells. He wanted to tap his feet to the rhythms but couldn’t move them. He found himself rolling his eyes instead. Sometimes blinking rapidly.

Ex-cowboy Albert greeted him too. He’d say, “Howdy Jesse!” meaning Jesse James. “Now don’t you be causing any trouble today. I’m keeping an eye on you pal. Remember I’m the sheriff ‘round here. Self appointed of course – who else would appoint me?”

Zoe was unhappy in her relationship and it showed in her food. Her chicken stew was stewy, her chow mein was mean, and her potato curry was full of worry. Why didn’t she get together with their driver Smuel? He was a decent chap. He’d said to James this morning, “How do you like life on the road, James? I’m thinking of taking a trip across Canadia, maybe across the world. I’d love to take Zoe. What do you think of her? Want to come along with us?” James felt an affinity with him, the hopeless romantic. He knew that Zoe was in a long term relationship and unlikely to join Smuel’s road trip. Still, it didn’t hurt to dream.

James’ dreams held only one person: Irene. He didn’t know why at first, but it soon became clear. As he sat in the Centre’s communal Temple – filled with OMs, Stars of David, Crosses, Crescent Moons, and other holy signs – he visualized a new sign, a Black Sun, which was in truth an old sign, recalled from long ago.

He was seated in a desert encampment, the air warm with cloves. Torches blazed, casting golden glows across horses, people and tents. That’s where he had first known Irene – then called Noop, a royal maid in Northern India. He was a guard called Raja, tasked with protection of the prince’s wives. He guarded them with honour. His loyalty was absolute. His feelings for Noop however were special. He fell in love with her at first sight. Love between servants was forbidden so they kept it quiet, but Raja couldn’t bear the prince demanding “royal favours” from Noop. He had sworn to protect the royal family so couldn’t attack him, but he could try to reason with him. With great humility he asked permission to marry Noop. The prince blessed their union, but that night had him arrested. “Bastard servant,” he said. “Who do you think you are? You have spoiled this woman for me. She is no longer fit for a prince.”

The last thing Raja had seen was Noop executed before him. Then his eyes were gouged out. First there was one black spot, then another, and then nothing at all.

Here they were at Open Hearts seniors daycare centre living together again. Here they were at Open Hearts seniors daycare centre dying together again.

Black Spot

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience, Sacred Geometry, World Myths with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2012 by javedbabar

Gemma said, “Mr Amin, have you seen what’s happened in the Temple?” Being the manager of Open Hearts seniors daycare centre had its challenges and Gemma was one of them. She always complained about something – the food, the staff, the decor, and now the Temple. What a shame really. The Temple was a place where people came together regardless of differences, yet even that was a target.

“What has happened, Gemma?”

“A black spot,” she said emphatically. “A black spot has appeared. I don’t know what else to call it. A nobby. A circle filled with black paint. That’s what.”

A range of black spots dotted Mr Amin’s mind. A piece of paper given to pirates as a verdict of guilt. A fungus causing rose diseases. An accident-prone section of motorway. Parasitic cysts on fish. Night attack aircraft used in Vietnam. During his time as Northern India’s Minister of Culture, he recalled discussions about buying some from the US government; their low light level radar was revolutionary. “And what is your issue with this black spot?” he said. “There are many signs in the Temple. It is a place of free worship.”

“The other signs are holy symbols,” she said. “That sign is creepy.”

“But didn’t you knit that sign for Guru Baba?” he said. A week before, Gemma had made hats for Guru Baba’s disciples, each with a different symbol. One had featured a black spot.

“Yes but that was a pattern on clothing,” she said. “Not something to worship. Are you going to remove it?”

“The Temple is for everyone,” he said. “If someone has installed a meaningful sign, we should keep it there. It’s not offensive.”

Gemma looked annoyed and returned to her knitting. Tik-TAK-Tik-TAK-Tik-TAK-Tik-TAK. Mr Amin thought that he’d better take a look. James was in the Temple sitting quietly. Mr Amin nodded a greeting despite knowing that he would not react. This second – or was it his third – stroke had made him unresponsive. He now just sat wherever he was, looking straight ahead. Mr Amin however always greeted people. It was simply good manners.

The Black Spot was a perfect dark dot, nestled between glowing holy symbols. These included a silver Cross, a shiny blue Star of David, sparkly green Crescent Moon, glittery OM in saffron, dark blue Khanda, red Dharmic Wheel, pale blue Cofucian Water sign, purple Torii Gate, white Pentagram, seven pointed Bahai Star, and Taijitu. The black spot seemed to be pulsating. Mr. Amin rubbed his eyes. It was appearing and disappearing. It was just an optical illusion though. When you stare at anything for too long it fills your vision and continues to exist even when you look away. Mr Amin nodded to James again as he left.

Gemma didn’t mention the Black Spot again, and Mr Amin thought that the matter was settled. She must have accepted it.

Mr Amin visited the Temple weekly to meditate upon the holy signs. He was most drawn to the OM sign – feeling its potent vibrations first fill his eyes, then his head, his mind, and the world. But he was also moved by other signs. The Cross centred him, the Star of David pointed up and down, to heaven and earth, the Crescent Moon ruled nature’s cycles, the Khanda’s swords inspired bravery, the Dharmic Wheel spoke of non-attachment, the Confucian water sign symbolized duty, the Torii gate allowed rebirth, the Pentagram bore magic, the Bahai Star held unity, and the Taijitu symbol revealed the essential complementarity of  the “ten thousand things”. And what about the Black Dot – what did that mean?

Mr Amin saw that it wasn’t there. Had Gemma removed it? Maybe somebody else had. He would find out who did it. What a shame, he had been looking forward to including it in his meditation.

Later that day James shuffled into the Temple. He settled into his usual comfortable brown chair. His motions were limited and it was hard to adjust his body. The plastic one was too hard on his back and he sometimes slipped while visualizing. The comfy chair kept him stable. He stared daily into the constellation of symbols before him, and manifested his own one. His favourite. The Midnight Sun, or Black Light, known to mystics worldwide. The union of opposites. The synthesis of impossibilities. The light of the underworld. The womb and tomb. The power of belief. The light born of darkness, known as Hope. James made the Black Spot real.


Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , on April 24, 2012 by javedbabar

“Do you think that we’ll go on the trip too?” said Zoe. “I was just wondering.”

“I usually do,” said Smuel, “because I’m the driver.”

“I know that,” she said. “You know what I mean. The millionaire’s offer, does it include us?” The Millionaire entrepreneur who had visited Open Hearts seniors daycare centre had caused a stir. He had already made a $25,000 donation, and offered to fund the furnishing of the hidden basement, and had now said that he would fund the seniors’ annual trip. The details had yet to be formally announced, but there was much excitement.

“Let’s ask Mr Amin,” said Smuel. “He’s bound to know.”

Mr Amin was in his office trying to use his desktop. Despite having once been Northern India’s Minister of Culture, the Centre’s manager had never mastered computers. He’d once had an office full of clerical staff, so why bother? But today he needed to research holiday logistics – how to get there, where to stay, what to see, what to eat, and in particular for seniors: first aid, mobility, access, tea shop and toilet locations. “Yes, yes, come in,” he said, turning his back on his computer with relief. “Do you need me for something? Oh, the annual trip? Yes Mr. Daniel has offered us an exciting opportunity. He has offered $10,000 each, to a maximum of thirty clients, to undertake the holiday of a lifetime.”

“Ten thousand each!” Zoe and Smuel said together. “What for?”

“As I said, for the holiday of a lifetime. However he has specified conditions. People must choose either a one year independent adventure, or a one week luxury trip.” Zoe tried to interrupt, but he continued. “Yes, yes, a one week luxury trip with first class flights, five-star cruise, and champagne dinners. The independent adventure involves overland travel and backpacking in Africa and Asia. Everybody at the Centre must vote and the activity with the most votes wins.”

“Why is he doing this?” said Smuel. Daniel had seemed like a nice guy when he’d visited last month, but what was his real agenda? “No one just gives away money like that to a bunch of unknown old folks. Why wouldn’t he use that cash to go on holiday himself?”

Mr Amin said, “Ah, maybe you don’t know how Mr. Daniel makes his money. He runs a TV production company. This is his latest reality project. He will film the adventures for broadcast. So you see it is an exchange really, and in my view win-win. What do you think about that?”

“It sounds pretty good to me,” said Smuel. Zoe nodded in agreement. “But will we be going too?”

“I thought you may wish to know that. Smuel you usually do, and Zoe you could if you wanted to but have never asked. My view is that you are known to the clients, they like and trust you, and you will surely be helpful to them whichever holiday they choose. I can’t guarantee it, but hope that you will also be considered. Certainly if we don’t have thirty volunteers, you will go. Which holiday would you prefer, Smuel?”

Smuel chose the one year rough adventure, saying, “It’s a chance to make the most of life.” Zoe however chose the one week luxury trip, saying, “I’d like to do it in style.”

Mr. Amin said, “Well, here at Open Hearts we run one of the world’s few genuine democracies. We will let the people decide.”

Both Smuel and Zoe began canvassing support immediately. It seemed that there was a straight male-female split. Albert, James and their buddies wanted to be warriors aged sixty, seventy, even eighty-plus, shouldering backpacks, travelling on smelly buses and on crowded trains, sharing their rooms with bedbugs and strangers, and visiting places they’d never imagined like Egypt and Ethiopia. Even if they died en route they’d be proud of their last moments. Irene, Gemma, and the girls wished to be elegant and pampered. They wanted china plates and silver cutlery, Egyptian cotton sheets, rooms with views, and young men in uniforms saluting them. They didn’t want their holiday to kill them as they wanted to remember it for the rest of their lives.

The vote was scheduled for Friday but on Thursday Mr Amin received a call from Daniel’s PA. Daniel was very sorry, she said, but the production deal had fallen through and funding for the holiday was no longer possible. Oh well, thought Mr Amin, maybe there was no one year trip, and no one week trip either, but they could still manage a one day trip. He returned to his computer. Hunting and pecking at keys he managed to type in “Picnic spots near Lucerne.”

New Wings

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , on April 23, 2012 by javedbabar

The driver of Open Hearts seniors daycare centre waited outside the manager’s office. Smuel was always a few minutes early for appointments, that way he controlled time rather than the opposite. He watched sparrows hopping around the garden.

Zoe appeared. “Hello,” she said. “Are you waiting for Mr Amin too? He said to come at twelve, just before serving lunch.”

“Uh-huh. Twelve. I guess he’s seeing us both together.”

Zoe said, “Uh-oh. Do you think it’s about cutbacks? I’ve heard The Authority’s busted its budget and needs to slim down.” She wondered whether they were more likely to fire her and bring in pre-prepared food daily, or fire Smuel and use public transport to ferry clients. Or maybe they’d keep them both but reduce hours and pay. She would have to take a second job, as her Tom was injured and not working at present. And what about Smuel? It would be sad to see less of him. She loved their weekly shopping trips together for ingredients and supplies.

Mr Amin appeared, hurrying along. “Am I late? So sorry. No look, it is exactly twelve. I’m on time! You’re early! Ah, if only I ran a factory or a military, what a fine unit it would be. Well thank you for coming, I know you’re both busy. I wanted your thoughts on something. Please follow me.”

Mr Amin was excited, and even more impish than usual. He led them to a dirty white door beside the garbage area. Some pigeons fluttered away. “Do you know what this is?” he asked, looking at them in turn and grinning. They assumed it was a store room or mechanical room. “It is our second wing.”

“What do you mean?” said Smuel. “Second wing? Like the wing of a house?”

“Yes, yes, come and see.” He unlocked the door and led them in. Darkness spread around them, and the only light was from the doorway behind.

“What is this place?” said Zoe. “Is it a store room?” She stepped forward.

Mr Amin called, “Oh, watch out! There are steps there. That’s it, be careful.”

Smuel said, “Do you have a flashlight Mr Amin? Shall I run and get one? Okay, I’ll be back in a minute.” He came back with three torches. “Here, one each. You can never buy singles of anything now. These were three for the price of one at the hardware.”

“Let me show you around,” said Mr Amin. He led them down the hallway into a series of big rooms, small rooms, bathrooms, and store rooms, all of which were well constructed but unfinished.

“This place is huge,” said Smuel. “Why have we never used it? Is there a legal issue?”

“We are both lucky and unlucky,” said Mr Amin. “Our Centre was built originally as an eight thousand square foot mansion, but the owners had financial troubles and sold it before moving in. Swans began nesting in the ornamental lake which complicated things with the wildlife people. When Open Hearts bought it at auction we didn’t know that there was an additional eight thousand square feet of basement extensions. The previous owners had built them secretly to get around building regulations and then sealed them up, so they couldn’t be mentioned in sale particulars. Even The Authority doesn’t know about them. So that’s what makes us lucky and unlucky. We have this space but can’t do anything with it.”

“Why not?” said Smuel. “It exists already. It’s a fait accompli. Why can’t we use it?”

“Well, it’s more space than we need. If The Authority hears about it they may reduce funding, or change zoning, or make us move out.” Smuel said that they couldn’t do that. Mr Amin said that they were The Authority and could do anything they pleased. He added, “Actually we would need to spend $250,000 to make it usable. That’s not the issue though. You remember Mr. Daniel – the millionaire entrepreneur who visited last month? He is willing to donate these funds.”

Smuel and Zoe were bemused. This whole huge space beneath the Centre just sitting there. It was crazy not to use it. They said so to Mr Amin. He said, “It’s not that simple. Even if we did get The Authority’s permission, and funding from the millionaire, we’d have to think of the clients’ welfare. At present we have twenty to thirty people here daily. We know and love them individually. Making it bigger would dilute the group, and make it less personal. They may come here and still feel lonely. That’s not why we are here.”

Zoe said, “What about making this part residential? You know, rather than a day centre?”

Mr Amin thought about this and said, “Hmmm… yes, we could make it a nest rather than a garden. But right now our old birds fly here daily, it exercises their wings. It keeps them moving. If they lived here, then they wouldn’t have anywhere else to go.”

As they continued looking around the basement, they disturbed a nest of swifts that swirled around the rooms in darkness and then shot out of the door.

Mining Data

Posted in Global Travel, Mystical Experience, Unknown with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2012 by javedbabar

Tik-Tak-Tik-Tak-Tik-Tak-Tik-Tak. Gemma’s knitting was getting on his nerves today, and Mr Amin wondered why. She was usually a quiet presence in the corner of the lounge and her daily knitting was reassuring – something small and progressive in a huge unstable world. He liked to watch her knitting and purling, creating new patterns on new garments to enrich people’s lives. There were hats and socks and sometimes jumpers. Mr Amin saw that her knitting style was changing. Each stitch was smaller and tighter, as if pulled into itself, and she was working faster. He wondered whether she was working towards some crazy knitting goal, or it was just natural progression of skill

James seemed to be unsettled. Mr Amin said, “How are you doing today?” James didn’t respond directly but rolled his eyes and his head gave a shudder. Something was bothering him. When someone is the victim of a serious stroke, it’s hard to say what. Mr Amin held his hand briefly and said, “Be well, James. Be well.” He wondered what people did to end up like this. Was Karma just?

“What are you doing to him?” said Gemma, looking up from her knitting without speed or rhythm wavering. “He won’t respond to you. Why do you bother?”

Her insensitivity annoyed Mr Amin but she couldn’t rile a trained diplomat so easily. He said, “It’s always worth bothering with people, Gemma. You never really know how you will affect them, so I feel it is best to treat people kindly, and what happens after that is beyond my control.”

Gemma said, “Huh!” and clicked her needles more loudly. Tik-TAK-Tik-TAK-Tik-TAK-Tik-TAK.

He felt that he had better sooth her too, saying, “What are you making Gemma? Is it a hat?”

She brightened at the opportunity to talk about herself. “Yes it is. I sell them to Guru Baba’s disciples. Because of my career as a math teacher, I know about sacred geometry, it’s just combinations of shapes. They want a set of twelve hats with holy symbols. This one has OM.”

“What about the others? What’s on those?”

“Well, here’s my list. There’s OM right here, then a Cross, Star of David, Crescent Moon, Dharma Wheel, Khanda, Taijitu, Water symbol, Torii Gate, Bahai Star, Pentagram, and Black Sun, the symbol of mystics.”

Mr Amin thought back to his father’s funeral forty two years ago, with OM’s and swastikas chalked around the pyre. His father had risen from a small village to become Northern India’s Minister of Culture, a wonderful model for social mobility. He had become very wealthy and had the ability to get anything done, even the impossible – like freeing up land for power projects. Imagine if the dams and drilling hadn’t gone through – India’s development would have been hampered. Despite Mr Amin and his brothers finding daily blackouts exciting, in later years he felt sad that his nation couldn’t even keep its fridges running.

He was proud of his father’s achievements and had entered politics at an early age. He had risen in the diplomatic service before being himself appointed Minister of Culture upon his father’s death. He was shocked when he examined his father’s files though. Many were missing and the ones present bore great holes. Financial ones. His father had not been as noble as he had thought. It was India after all. Everybody was corrupt. His discovery shouldn’t take anything away from his father’s achievements. His administration was just tempered by practicality. Mr Amin wondered why he was thinking about this now. He hadn’t done so in years.


James too was thinking about his father, who’d run a mining company in BC. He’d come from Ireland with nothing and spent ten years searching for gold. His claim near Golden had eventually yielded rich results and he had become very wealthy. Rather than squander his gains though, he had used them to build up his business, expanding from Golden into other parts of BC. James had loved the extraction operations. He’d operated trucks and crushers from an early age, mining copper, silver, nickel, and zinc. His father was especially proud when James made his own discoveries.

On James’s 21st birthday, his father had said “Son you are ready to take over from me. I’ve spend much of my life here, and now I’m going out to see the world. He had travelled to the world’s great holy places – its great excavations and constructions – Rome, Delphi, Jerusalem, Giza, Petra, Moenjodaro, and the Taj Mahal. In India he’d heard about a big mining company behaving badly. He’d discovered that to secure extraction rights they were destroying an ancient temple and forcing poor villagers from their homes. He’d started a campaign to save the village and temple. The big mining company had complained to Mr Amin Sr., the Minister of Culture, who decided that this foreigner was a threat to the development of his nation’s resources, and also to his fat commission. James’s father disappeared one day on a site visit, and his body was never found.

Now at Open Hearts seniors daycare centre it was Mr Amin’s duty to care for James. Karma was more complex than straight addition and subtraction. Fathers’ sins were also visited upon sons. Tik-Tak-Tik-Tak-Tik-Tak-Tik-Tak.

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.