I only ever saw him on the edge of places. I met him on the way to Dharamkot; I saw him on the far side of Bhagsu. I’d seen him at least twice before on the path around the temple. Each time he asked me to ‘help him out’ and when I refused – he was young and strong – he walked off muttering Jesus Christ. A young Indian guy, though his accent sounded like Newark. Yesterday I saw him at the monastery guesthouse where I’m staying – he was asleep behind the shower block, just barely out of the rain.
Today he was sitting on a bench beside the temple path. I sat down beside him. “All right,” I said. “Tell me.”
“Listen to me, okay? Are you going to listen to me, man? Maybe you will not believe me, but I’m going to tell you anyway. My father’s name was Patrick Kevin O’Brien. Do you know him? He was a great man. I lost my parents very young; he took me in. He paid for me to go to a school. Very expensive school, man. The best. He was like a father to me.
“We came to this place for a holiday. I did not think I would stay here forever. One night he fell. He was a heavy drinker, see. Nobody would help me. I paid two coolies a thousand rupees to take him to the hospital. I went to the Embassy. Nobody would help him and he died. I went to my school to get my certificate but they wouldn’t give it. He didn’t pay the last six months you see. Give us fifteen thousand rupees, they said. But where could I get that kind of money? Are you listening to me man? Are you believing me?”
I was listening. Even if I didn’t want to, I listened. I made a promise years ago. I guess it is a kind of vow. I must listen, and buy him lunch, and never lay a finger on him. I could shake his hand, if he offered it. That’s all. I couldn’t ruffle his hair or touch his shoulder. I made a vow. Because I have been this kind of boy.
He was still good-looking in a sly, rakish way. He had early lines from his face from cheap cigarettes and whiskey. Looked at everything out the corners of his eyes.. He said he was 19. He was lying. I reckon he was 26 and figured 19 was the maximum age he could be and still win sympathy. I could imagine how beautiful he must have been a dozen years before, when he’d attracted the attention of globe-trotting do-gooder pedophiles. Men who paid for everything during the day, and thought highly of themselves -- and at night drank, and figured then that they were within their rights.
I am certain this was the case, though I can show no proof, except to say that I have been this kind of boy.
If you really want to fuck someone over, if you want to pulverize their integrity and reduce their dignity to a fine powder, if is enough to give them money unpredictably. You can destroy a person very efficiently this way. And you can assure yourself that all you ever did was help them.
“Another guy came. He was a German. He sent money for awhile and then I never heard from him anymore. One French man came. He got me a job with a non-profit. I had a staff of six people working under me. But he stopped sending money too and then they said I had to leave. Bad luck, man! Just bad luck!
“I started to work a job then. Because I speak English well. I worked in Bhagsu at a very fine hotel. I worked at the Himalayan Queen. And at the Simla Plaza Hotel. Finally I had to work at the Green Hotel. I did a good job, a very fine job, man, but every place let me go. Because they said I was a thief. I am not a thief. But everyone they say I am a thief. They are fucking liars, man. Do you believe me?”
Obviously, this guy was seriously twisted up. His morality was shot. Boundaries and integrity gone. How could he ever be good for anything now?
Of course, as the son of privilege, I can never truly understand this young man’s situation. After all, my rich father paid for college. Or said he would. Sometimes he did. Other times he changed his mind. If he felt I didn’t respect him enough. Mostly he forgot I existed. He was a very important man, see, and I was not among his priorities.
I was not a poor boy, but I reckon I understand something about benefactors. My father was a benefactor in the grand old style. He liked to be thanked -- he could not be thanked enough, and he enjoyed it very much – but most of all he liked to be begged. Of course we’d agreed to everything in advance, but he never once remembered that. Nothing ever came until I called, never less than three times, often six or eight, each time more desperate, until I’d say “this is the last day I’ll be eating” and then he’d send a check. I’d hurry to pay my bills. And then the check would bounce.
“Everybody knows me, man. And I know everybody. I saw you yesterday, man. You’re staying up at the monastery. I said hello to you, man. You didn’t hear me. You were sleeping in the room with the broken window.”
I reminded myself that I must always keep my valuables out of sight.
“Did I tell you, man? I’m a Christian. I had a dream last night. I dreamt of Jesus. I dreamed of Jesus and he told me I had to get out of here. If I could get to Bombay, I could just start over. All I need is a bus ticket, man. Can you help me out? Nobody helps me, man.”
“I totally agree with Jesus,” I said. “But all you’re getting from me is lunch.”
I gave him thirty rupees. He beamed, took off to buy a bottle of the vicious local liquor. I didn’t blame him. I’d want the same thing in his situation. I did want the same thing. Each day I practiced not drinking it.
Prayer beads in hand, I resumed my pious circumambulation of the temple. I reminded myself that I must warn the guest house. There is a thief in the area.