Fantasticoe Fall 2004
For seventeen years he had heard those sounds in his head. An old record player incessantly beat out scratchy tunes from an old Indian classic he had never seen. He didn't know what song it was, and honestly, he didn't even care. But he could hum along perfectly. He had no idea where the music came from or where record player was but he, without any resistance, continuously and quietly nodded his head as the music twisted and turned like a river. Outside his room he could see the Charles river flowing quietly and continuously as it twisted and turned dividing the city of Boston and the town of Cambridge. Beyond the river lay a place he called home a long time ago. From his room he had a breathtaking few of the beautiful campus of his university. Green trees lined all walkways and streets. Green grass seemed to have a different shade of green there. That was where knowledge blossomed, and beauty found a whole new meaning. Today, as he walked closer to the window to look for boats on the river, he saw a lone kayak. The kayaker's crimson jersey took him back to his old days at Harvard. The old Square, parts of which he could see from his high-rise apartment, transported him back to another point in time. Now, he could almost smell that green grass.
The thought of grass took him thousands of miles away to India. He lay quietly on a wet patch of grass with nothing on but a pair of old, grey L. L. Bean sandals. Beside him lay a woman. She was the color of chocolate; the warm and soft kind that melts in your mouth in one bite. Her dark chocolate-colored hands played aimlessly with his dark-brown hair while he gently hummed a melody from Grease.
"Did you like Grease?" He asked her.
She did not move her lips. As quiet as a dead body, she continued to play with his dark brown hair.
If she's not going to talk, I will, he thought. "Well, is there a movie theatre in town? Never mind. If there is one, we should go see some films sometime. I wonder if they are playing Grease."
This time she responded with a faint groan. Maybe she was only resisting the fact that he was constantly touching her right breast while elaborating on movies he knew.
"I loved John Travolta's panache. I even copied his hair style when I went to see Grease. Wait, let me show you a picture."
He reached out for his pants and removed a brown wallet from the pocket. Waiting for her reaction, he passed the black and white picture to her. She barely even bothered to look at the picture before returning to what had now become an obsession: his dark brown hair. For him, talking to her was like trying to drag a rock into a conversation. But she was good in bed, probably as good as Janine, his romantic interest while at Harvard. Then again, the grass they lay on was hardly a bed; it was nothing but a small oasis of grass and soft earth amidst a large banana plantation. Life here in India barely resembled his life back in Boston.
Growing up in Boston had been an entirely different story for Reverend Philip Howard, or Philip Michael Howard III. He inherited the middle name from his infamous grandfather who earned fame and fortune buying oil from the sheiks in the middle-east and selling it back to them. It was his eccentric grandmother who named him. Thank God, that old hag is in her grave now, he thought. On second thought, he missed her because she left behind a vast estate for him. The hippie movement in the seventies had hit him pretty hard, and one day, over a couple of joints with friends, he decided to go to India to spread the word of Christ. His friends had laughed at him then; they were probably too shocked or too high to comprehend what he had just said, maybe a little bit of both. With a Harvard degree in hand, he set out to fix the world.
After two years of training and solitary confinement at a Boston seminary, Rev. Philip Michael Howard flew to Madras from Boston's Logan International leaving behind his crying mother and his weeping sister. His father, one of the biggest private bankers in Boston was too busy to see him off. While Michael's plane hurtled down the runway, his father sat back in his black leather chair in his penthouse office and took a deep breath. He tried to calculate all the money that had been spent sending his useless son to Exeter and then to Harvard. Michael Howard II had hoped that his only son would grow up to join the bank He had lost his successor. Marijuana and John Lennon's poetry had ruined his son's mind. His young prodigy had grown into his worst nightmare.
India was worse than what his instructors in Boston had prepared him for. It was hot, it was humid, and the people stared at him like he were some kind of a monster. In fact, some of the locals did call him Gora Bhoot or white ghost, but he never took note of that. He was in India only to spread the word of Christ, not to scare the locals. The poverty and living conditions of the people in that village scared him. There were times when he stayed up all night trying to chase mosquitoes out of his room. He bathed outdoors, under a hand-operated pump while a servant tried his best to keep the supply of water continuous. The toilet was like a hole dug in the ground where flies seemed to have a feast every time someone left behind their dinner. He wasn't permitted to use toilet paper because it chocked up the pipeline. The idea of washing his asshole with water gave Philip a fear of using the toilet too often.
Reverend Mutthiah Matthew Vengappan was everything God didn't desire his messenger to be. He was proud, selfish, mean and angry. The only reason he was a priest was that his father had been a priest, and he had basically inherited the church from him. Being a priest in those areas meant authority, power, and political control. Vengappan wasn't exactly excited with the idea of a white-skinned priest coming to his house to teach him the word of his Lord. He knew his Bible well and thought that the superiors in Delhi had to stop taunting him. He was a good priest, he thought. Even God must be proud of me, he would say to himself. He sneered at Philip when he arrived from the bus station with his dusty backpack and a large duffle bag, stuffed mostly with books and clean shirts. A priest can never have too many white shirts.
Surprisingly, the two priests got along pretty well. Every morning, after the older priest had taken a dip in the ocean and run two laps on the beach, the two men would sit out on the porch and drink coffee with newspapers on their laps. The only English daily in the district published nothing but stories on the growing number of hippies in the peaceful state of Kerala and some editorial on the advent of Hindu fanatics who were trying to harass Christians who were minorities in their towns.
"There has to be an end to this nonsense in Kottayam. The Hindus need to be taught a lesson like they were back in the twenties," said Matthew coldly. "I can kill a Hindu like a fly." Philip only nodded. He couldn't disagree with the old man who wrestled with local wrestlers every Sunday after mass.
At Matthew's house, Philip had met the old priest's daughter, Mary. She was only seventeen and she often eyed him secretly while he bathed in the family's outdoor shower. She had never seen skin so fair, and he had never seen a dark woman as beautiful as her. Mary would prepare food for the two priests every day, and she made sure that their coffee was before them by the time the paper-boy got there.
That morning when Mary brought out the coffee and laid it one the table, the old priest noticed the young American stealing a glance at his daughter. Her flirtatious eyes gave away their secret.
"You cursed bastard. You white swine! You penetrated the sanctity of my virgin daughter! What will the entire village think of us now? They will spit at my church and my daughter!" The old priest was on fire. The girl who had been standing close to the door ran inside to hide her face before Matthew's rage found her. Matthew picked up his cup of coffee and threw the hot liquid right at Philip. It felt like his face was on fire, but he did not move an inch. That day passed by without another incident.
The next morning, one of the servants came knocking at Philip's door and informed him that Matthew and Mary had committed suicide by drowning themselves in the India Ocean. Their bodies had been washed ashore by the tide. After attending their funeral ceremony, Matthew found himself on the next flight to Boston.
On the plane from Bombay, he noticed a strange man sitting a few seats away from him. The man adjusted his sunglasses religiously and repeatedly. On one of his trips to the rest room, Matthew decided to sit on the empty seat next to the man and try to have some fun on the long flight home. At first, the man was hesitant to answer Philip's questions but he never really showed his face to him and when he did take off his oversized sunglasses, Philip froze in his seat.
"How did you get here?," screamed Philip. His loud voice even shook some passengers out of their seats. The airhostess came scrimmaging through the narrow aisle and tried to see what was going on with the two passengers.
"It's alright ma'am. My friend here behaved like he just saw a ghost," explained Matthew. Yes, Matthew.
Philip returned a crazy man from India. He had lost his sense of being. He could not recognize his parents and friends and all he hummed was the song that played on Matthew's old record player. He would talk to Matthew's spirit, constantly asking why he had killed himself. And all Matthew's spirit said was, "to come back and taunt you, you moron!". Apparently, the ghost of Matthew had boarded the same Pan-Am flight from Bombay to New York with Philip. Matthew made sure that Philip didn't esacpe his sight, even when he went to the restroom.
For seventeen years, the ghost of Matthew had been with him in his room. Matthew would not let him sleep at night when he lay on his bed at the monastery where he was sent to recover from the tragedy. The monks at the monastery let him be on his own. He would eat his meals talking about the outrageous size of the chicken wings. Sometimes, he would throw a sandwich at the wall and scream that something needed to get the hell out of the room. The other monks let him be on his own. While Matthew enjoyed looking going around Boston on the T, Philip slept.
Every time Matthew went out of the room on his little jaunts around Boston, he would leave his record player on. It bothered Philip because he could not turn it off. He would hum along the tunes just to avoid being bothered. Having to share a single bed between two people would not seem like such a favorable idea to anybody, but Philip had no choice but to roll over and give room to Matthew's non-existent ass.
As Philip stood at the window looking at Harvard across the river, Matthew snuck up quietly behind him. He grabbed him by his waist and hurled him at the window. The glass shattered like it was hit by a rock. Both of them fell twenty stories below to the ground, and Philip died instantly. Matthew stood next to the corpse and smiled faintly. He could taste the bitter coffee his daughter used to make, and it tasted good.
I would like to thank my instructor, Terry Heller, for being a patient reader and critic. Thanks to all my classmates, who carefully read through all my drafts, and gave me feedback on my work. Thanks to Kyle Mangan and Deborah Kwan, both freshmen writing center consultants, who spent hours with me, going through my writing, and pointing out flaws. The gas station across First Avenue deserves a special mention for providing all those cups of caffeine for a dollar every night. Thanks to Etsuko for losing a copy of my story without even reading it, I worked harder to write a better one. Allison Carr deserves a mention, she hates to read, but she read through my work and even wrote back some comments!