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VII: A Series of Lecture Notes from Harvard Yard

Anthea Jay Kamalnath
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On red-bricked replacements for concrete we sat, cigarette smoke burning away, the ivy ladder shooting up to heaven, contemplating our own private, brute, bad luck, under a starless sky, on a night soon to be forgotten. Sophisticated in poverty, we spoke of our own stagnancy, how we both had lost our keys and laughed in order not to cry. The humid breaths of heat caressing the Charles made their way to us, cold. Two children, one hugged too much and the other not enough, playing dress-up, wanting to be bums, we were. The line dividing fantasy and reality had become so thin since the Play-Dough® days of yesteryear, that we stood trembling at the prospect of experiencing a miracle: a dream before our very eyes becoming a reality -- a reality, in which there would be no more dreaming. Those who found the modern miracle could never dream. They were condemned to spend nights in strangers beds, park benches, alleys, riverbanks, train stations, forever lying, supine, looking up towards Zion, only to find the stars swallowed by the light of street lamps. Quickly, we sighed across a perfectly manicured lawn and left our footprints of privilege as trademarks while we rushed towards sanctuary, the bell tower, leaving our souls to retain every drop of fear we were unable to spill, contaminating the water with nicotine. We couldn't shut off every street lamp and awaken the stars. But, we could worship the night with compassion, and beg to be taken seriously by the dawn.


Hand in mine, she dragged her body forward, hurling it down to the Pit beneath our feet. Her figure-eighting gypsy hips advanced and retreated to the finger-pluckings of the bass guitarist who smiled sloppily. Kisses never given waited to be caught in the 11:05 p.m. air. I closed my eyes and imagined awakening the next morning in the naked white walls of her dorm room on a wet red sheet indented with the outline of her body. I could smell the stale morning coffee. But her feet fled from mine, showing off to the people watching. We performed to an audience of yuppies and freaks: youth-raping, strangers' eyes, forcing them to stare at the numerous piercings, colorings, patches, pentacles, and bruises. One of the young men I had seen in the café that afternoon. He walked in, heading straight for the bathroom, not looking left or right. He had been wearing a suit. When he reentered the café from the bathroom, he exited dressed in black baggy jeans, hat on backwards, a torn t-shirt that looked like it had been used as a mop. His arms were decorated with chains that found their way to his throat. And there he sat now, watching us dance, getting high off the scent of urine. An old man stripped away the wrinkled cloth on his body to reveal his emaciated body, each rib bone almost vibrating. His glazed over goggle eyes ignored my chase, staring at themselves. My nose focused on her invisible perfume which slid in little droplets from her forehead in the summer heat. Her ugly teeth parted her face. I smiled. I did not love her. But her greasy curls bounced with such enthusiasm, that I let go so as to see her whole. She stopped to breathe, smeared her gone lipstick with the back of her hand, and picked up my hand again. We danced and the world twirled on.


It was dark enough for them to lose track of their footsteps, so they traversed the yard as a pack of individuals on the night watch. They returned through the side gate. A dark figure stumbled upon them. It betrayed its age in a voice that had been tired out of any youthful exuberance, left only to wheeze out a simple phrase: Do you have a lighter? It was met with no reply, but one hand from the cluster extended a flame. The light flicker revealed the figure to be a man they had previously met. They had never exchanged words with him, leaving their feet to braid unseen paths on the polished streets with his. His eyes did not look up to them in the dark, as they had on the street, when he stared directly to ask for spare change. He drew his voice from the smoke to add passingly, Muchas gracias. One of the many chastised the anonymous hand that had lent itself forward. This criticism was noted silently. They moved collectively ahead, forgetting him once again.


On the walls hung Elvis, pierced down with thumbtacks on his palms and feet. A plain girl twisted her face in annoyance and slammed down guacamole on tomato on cheese on beef, guarded by fries pointing threateningly. The fluorescent light of the ceilings drowned and died in the froth of the milkshake. One sip and they were back in a time that they could never have known, a time of Bill Haley, red lipstick, drive-ins, pink hula hoops, Thunderbirds, and yellow skirts stuffed with fluff. Giggles came out as snorts through their noses and they screeched with laughter at their parents dirty jokes over a midnight pizza. Drunk off of Coca-Cola®, they stumbled, stomachs full, to another café, another dininghall, another ice cream stand, excusing moments of silence with nutritional values as their alibi. Killing off seconds and giving birth to cellulite, not caring to purge themselves, they chuckled away moments. Then they would walk it off, making a full circle, only to rediscover the same cafés right before dawn. And there, they sat, mice running by, the sky glowing purple violets, discussing the etiquette of introductions. There they talked. And there, they sat trying to comprehend the 4 a.m. sunrise.


The seconds hand, having met both the minute and hour hand, emptied the lecture room. The students fled from the rank building which hid its unsightly face in a secluded corner of campus. The professor and a whining student were all that remained. Instead of blowing off the dusts of insecurity and sweeping her out the door, he stood wide-eyed absorbing intently. He waited patiently, offering an ear instead of a shoulder, opening his mouth only to advise. His eyes had seen the same scene before. Due to a simple gesture of charity, a person who she otherwise would have tucked away in a trunk of nostalgia had become, incomprehensibly so, an idol. The maniacal nocturnal studying that shipped away information now wanted more. It was replaced by a desire to realize more than simply the shape and form of each typed letter of the alphabet. It sought to comprehend the spaces between words as well. A hot plate of desire slipped itself under her brain, cooking it with a want to impress, fueling a drive towards complete understanding. He did not return her stereotypical complaints with the expected words of flattery; his mouth delivered flowers, still in the pot, that would not simply heal immediate wounds, like a cut bouquet. Rather, they would plant their roots in her brain and blossom, perfuming her head with a comforting scent always. She left, ego unaltered, but in a daze. He had left her even more confused. She finally understood what she already knew, but could not understand why he had bothered to explain.


They ran. This was just another stupid American notion of romance, as the Italian had noted with her nose scrunched up. The sky ripped itself to shreds, sending the tears they had secretly let fall on the ground pouring back down upon them. Delirious off of boredom, they fell splashing. The dirty water stained their buttocks and crotches, squirting up their thighs. For forty-five minutes they would forget the chocolate slave trade of West Africa, the happy Buddha adorning their armoires, and the unhappiness that was so fashionable to wear on the body at the time. The water, filtered by tree branches, cooled their blushing faces. Peels of joy made their way from the stomach to the back of the teeth. Hugging each one of their wet bodies. They never realized that they barely knew each other, yet they rocked each other to sleep with lullabies. They screamed after quiet hours, vomiting out their intestines, trying to read the future in them. One wanted a family, with a wife to bend over and pat the children on their heads. One wanted to save another's world, so she could escape from her own. One wanted money to spend on decorating the flesh of her soul. They sang these hymns out loud in the night's infested air, too afraid to breathe in during the day. They ran. They tried to forget that they were living the last moments of childhood. They let the sky cry for them. There, in the Faculty Club circle, they were stoned with raindrops as they analyzed the empty black canvas above. They were trapped in a ring of perfect white benches. Each drop penetrated their skin's pores, flushing out fear in toilet seats. There, in the modern Stonehenge, they happily wanted to die.


We had just met. Skipping introductions, we walked. We followed the yellow bricked road past Bartley's, Hong Kong, Una's, and found ourselves wandering into undiscovered territory. We discussed things of no importance in order to avoid the awkwardness of unfamiliarity. Although used to jay-walking, we stopped and waited for our turn to cross. The sky was bright. We half expected a butterfly to land on one of our shoulders. It was the first morning spent outdoors and was to be the last until the day we parted. We kept up a quick pace of walking, to keep the trip as short as possible and spare any agony of serious conversation. The world was either asleep in bed or mass that Sunday morning, as we continued to travel to the echoes of churchbells. So we continued alone, not bumping into any person. Then we came upon our first close encounter with a creature of our own kind. He was an overweight Hispanic man, cleanly shaven, with chubby cheeks placed on a happy face. He sat on a marble slab with orange pants and a white plain t-shirt. Eyes attempting to stare at us, only to miss the target by a few degrees, his face begged for something. He spoke in a child s voice, Any change? This was to be our first meeting with a member of the spare-change gang. Doing what was appropriate and usual, one of us made a regretful face and we passed on. But he responded with the unusual. We walked on ready to forget him, but we had not advanced more than five steps when we heard the same voice of a child burst into a wail of grief: But I m hungry Miss, I'm hungry. The plea was accented with the slur of a toddler. Still not believing our ears, we walked on thinking he would stop, but he continued until his voice could not reach us. On our return trip, we decided to switch streets so as to not bump into him. We continued on, complimenting ourselves without speaking of our clever avoidance of guilt. We turned the corner and found him waiting for us. Hello ladies, nice ladies. He spoke in the same child s voice. We stared at his face, and the child that had been imprinted there, replacing a man's, was crying inside. But we walked on, once again astounded by the strangeness of the situation. We did not see him again. On the last day, the only other day that we spent the morning outside, we followed our feet back to the beginning. Again, we walked past the Tuscanini's, the Harvard Bookstore, the Little Tibet Shop, and found ourselves remembering. As we laughed at our verbal memoirs, we heard a baby's cry. We looked left and saw our friend sitting there with his silly face. Again, puzzled by the oddity, we walked on bewildered for a few seconds. But we were able to regain our pace and walked on.

© 2002 Anthea Jay Kamalnath, all rights reserved
 appears here by permission

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