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The Maharishi of Telegraph Avenue

Anthea Jay Kamalnath
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I was barely twelve-years-old, and yet old enough to wait by myself for my mother to come pick me up from Berkeley. The wait was long; she had an hour's-worth of driving to do to come get me. The heat of the sun's beating summer rays pressed down on me, as I sat wearing pedal pushers that revealed the fuzz-hair on my recently-shaven legs. Shaving. That recent enterprise that seemed to further push me into the claws of womanhood, that and the brassiere. Breasts. Womanhood. And I was just twelve.

           The smell of organic vegetarian Mexican burritos mixed with the aroma coming from underneath my arms. Puberty brings her sweet perfumes to those who don't ask. I sat kicking my leg so that my mini-backpack would bounce in rhythm off the tip of my shoe. Inside the bag, my wallet with its five-dollar bill jumped up, and down, up, and down.

           Deciding that it couldn't be that hard to order a fresh macrobiotic non-genetically-engineered nacho from a teetering concession stand, I got up and with a sigh, started my twenty-meter journey. Quickly, I reminded myself the best way to avoid any possible embarrassment, harassment (anything with the syllable rass in it) was to look at the ground; look only at the ground. Not at the feet, because then you'd forget they were your own and fall. For starters, following my own rule, I barely got off the bench without tripping. The old man without the leg on the wheelchair (who probably saw eight million people die in Vietnam and thus was suffering from that and the government's refusal to admit that he was carrying their child,) was making his daily rounds in the garbage bins. I averted my eyes from the ground to take a peek, maybe hoping there was something in the garbage can I could grab, instead of continuing the perilous journey to culinary enlightenment. He snarled. Missing teeth and women's clothing added to the pile of rags that clothed him. Mistake. Eyes back on the concrete. Never look up. The sun will either blind you, or someone will look straight back at you, peering with perverted eyes into your very self. And my twelve-year-old self didn't want anyone looking at or into her. She refused to be yet another boy-crazed Barbie bimbo. She had thoughts, deep thoughts. She was deep. I was deep.

           Achieving some equilibrium, I made my way to the yuppie-hippie stand. My head reached the counter and mumbled something about "I'll have, uh, the, uh, nacho, uh, number seventy-five."

           "What?" The man's pectorals seemed to be liberating themselves from his small white shirt, their prison.

           Eyes down. "Seventy-five."

           "What?"

           Eyes up, for a teensy-weensy second. He wasn't even listening. Little droplets of sweat drizzled down the sides of his tanned face. He looked like the kind of person that had sex. He looked like the kind of person that had sex and was good at it. Jesus should have looked like that. His name probably was José, too, I thought. A muscular wet Latino.

           "Um, the twenty-nine, yeah, twenty-nine."

           "OK, money is three and two five."

           Eyes down again, only this time trying to take off, open, and look through the mini-backpack without falling over. After momentary coordination-confusion, I handed him a crinkled Lincoln. He snatched it, leaving testimony of his sweat on my returned change. It was damp. Shoving the cash into my bag, I grabbed the Zen food. Spirituality had infested everything in the Student Union, even Mexican food. What she forgot, ecstasy remembered for her.

           I hurried back to my little spot on the bench, hearing the rhythms of the steel drums coming from down the avenue, once again wrestling with myself to make my mini-backpack less clumsy. Breasts. They got in the way. I was supposed to have apples, not watermelons. I'd look down and two massive globs of fat would greet me. They seemed to thrust themselves forward, as if seeking adulation from the world, protruding for attention. They got in the way. Frontal ass. I wanted nothing to do with sexuality. I was more than that. I was deep. And they were more than just an invitation; they were walking advertisements.

           I looked up to see how much closer I was to my bench. Mistake, again. In my narrowness of sight, I caught a glimpse of a man, with a big cowboy-looking-but-not hat, mouth something at me. My focus quickly spun. In my confused state, wanting to get to my bench and wanting to remember exactly what he had mouthed at me, I stumbled in an air-head walk to my corner. With my maturing-plum-bottom finally parked, I collapsed inside. I could look up now. Mistake, again. The man with the pimp hat was walking towards me. I froze. The fuzz on my legs must have magically penetrated themselves into the small holes in stone bench or gravity was pulling even harder on my numerous fruits. Eyes down. But puberty's newfound interest in attention was damning me to look up. I did. The cornucopia toppled. My inner child went running around in circles looking for its mommy.

           "Hello." The static grainy "l" in his greeting seemed to drip off his tongue forever. Opening my mouth without thinking I let out a "hi." What was I doing? Minute black hairs plotted the outline of his chin. My eyes set themselves on these dots, for big black lenses replaced his eyes. The open third button on his white blouse revealed a bush of more black foliage. Hidden beneath the mass, something was glittering. Gold? He placed his hand right next to my thigh, making a clink on the concrete with his rings. My eyes shot down then back at the little dots. Pimp?

           "How chu doing?"

           The little child in me stopped running and realized that mommy was nowhere in sight. It grabbed the nearest pillar to my stomach and started screaming. But my conscious being was deaf. "Fine." I wanted to slap the brat. No, the child in me wasn't frightened. Rather, I think it was trying to find something to grab onto. It was scuttling around trying in vain to gather its belongings. It didn't want to be robbed.

           "So, what chu doin' on dis lovuh-ly fatah-noon?"

           It stopped grasping my stomach, and started beating on my chest. I blushed, thinking that the whole world could hear the tantrum going on inside me. Whatever embarrassment was hidden by my caramel complexion. "Uh, just got out of class." Then it stopped. The child gave up. Instead, whimpering, it snuck back into the base of my neck, lifting my hairs. It hid, but tried to understand what was going on. Where were these responses coming from? My eyes crept up to the big black pits that replaced his eyes, only to find themselves in the reflection, and quickly returned to the spots of hair.

           "Yew go ta school here?"

           "Only during the summer."

           "What's ya name?"

           The child slid all the way down my spine, scratching her fingernails so that I could hear the ringing agony. "Je..Jessica." I had saved myself. Believable lie.

           "Well, Jessica, dat is one pretty name and chu one bewdeeful lady."

           The child passed out. I was partially grateful for its quick exit, but now the fuzz on my legs had stood up. "Thank you." Who was this calm person speaking for me?

           "Yanno, Jessica, I have dis wondah-ful club in de city, ever been dere?"

           "SF? Uh-huh."

           "Well I run dis joint in Mission, here's mah card." He handed me this small blue card, bordered with cabaret lights. I grabbed it from the end so as to not touch the ends.

           "Stop by anytime. Ask ta see me, gurl, and I'll get yew in free."

           Moment of silence. Thank god the child is gone.

           "So where chu goin' ta college?"

           My nerves began dragging the child to a safer resting spot. There was no attempt to resuscitate it. "Uh, I'm, uh, only in high school." Believable lie number two. So much for nonchalant invisible speaker, the "uh" had come out.

           "How old are you?"

           "Uh, fifteen." Believable lie number three. Three years. I should have aimed higher. Now I'd done it. Gone and embarrassed him.

           "Fifteen!" Moment of silence number two. "I thought chu at least twenty-one!"

           The child's heartbeat returned. Convulsions. My eyes dropped to the floor. Only they didn't meet with the floor. Breasts had to destroy the view. The fuzz on my legs was now bending backwards. "Well," He placed his hand on my thigh. The child didn't scream. The gesture was more paternal than the previous motive of the conversation had been. "Why don yew give da card to yo fadder, and in five years, yew can come to mah club, see mah name up in duh big lights, ‘n tell your freenz, ‘Dat man tried to hit on me when I was only fifteen!'" He let out a grainy course crackling wheeze. Laugh? I smiled. "Well…I'll see yew around here, got to go get mo peoples to dish da scrilla." Another wheeze.

           My eyes were still stuck on the Jell-O canteens before them. A screeching noise on the pavement yanked them back up. The wheelchair guy had replaced the man. He was gone. It had left too. I couldn't find the child. It, she, was gone.



© 2001 Anthea Jay Kamalnath, all rights reserved
 appears here by permission



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