Hungry enough for a nice Indian meal, I was keen on trying out Indian dishes, but am confused by the array of foods on display at the food counter. They were so mixed that I had no idea whether they were Indian, Chinese, Muslim, American, European, and/or Continental. Studying them I became full suddenly. So I stood around waiting for someone to notice me.
A waitress spotted me but she decided to turn away to serve the other customers. Slighted, I became crossed. I sat down like a spoilt child and I started to wave my hand frantically. Finally, one waitress catching my attention, and I quickly pointed to an item on the list in the menu. Without thinking, I ordered Ceylon tea at the same time.
When the food arrived I used my bare fingers to grab at the chapatti and dip into the garnish. The orange colored sauce was pungent and I had to sip the tea before I could continue. Three minutes later, the waitress who ignored me came to enquire, “Is everything alright, Sir?” and at the same time she cleared the plate away, together with the plate which helped me scoop honey for my tea. I was annoyed.
I left the café and I walked along the streets, amazed by the masses of people on the streets without a purpose. I found that New Delhi was not my kind of city and I just wanted to complete my course and then go home. Actually Joshua was supposed to be here with me, but he wasn’t and I was beginning to miss him.
Joshua and I were in the same church together and we were supposed to travel here together. I wanted to send him an SMS but was unsure if the network was working. If it got to an unknown source it could be misread. In any case I was here on a retreat, which meant that I was to connect with God, just God, and no one else. My brother Joshua was a human being.
This morning I was having another discussion with Father Francis.
“I didn’t encounter any ghosts last night when I was out,” I blurted out immediately the minute I saw the priest.
“No, they are there all the time, it was just that you can’t see them with your human eyes,”
“Huh? I thought that ghosts were visible with the naked eyes,”
“You are wrong there, my child.” Father told me.
“With spiritual eyes, you could see them.” I tried to be clever.
“Ok, I know, if you like what you see, you call them saints, and if you don’t like them and they disturb your sense of peace, you call them devils,” I made an educated conclusion upon which Father Francis further elaborated.
Father Francis asked me if I had, or thought that I had done anything wrong. I dug hard into my recent past and had to confess that I was very attracted by the ladies in blue turquoise.
After confession I was made to read out loud certain chapters of the Bible for at least half an hour. Father Francis released me after I put the rosary on the table and I was set free. So I planned my own schedule. I looked at my watch and suddenly realized that my time was two and a half hours in advance. I turned the clock to the local time in India and relaxed a little, automatically I walked back to the hotel room.
The retreat was being held at the annex to the hotel and as I walked back to the hotel through a sheltered walkway, there was a slight drizzle but I need not take out my umbrella. Once I was inside I could see shops on both sides, they had mannequins like they were soldiers on a parade. I thought about the air hostesses in blue turquoise again.
The streets were crowded, people walking randomly about. They were mostly dressed with a wrap around their waist. I knew that the Indian ladies who wore the sarong had a special way of knotting the grip. I told myself I would ask Father Francis if he could teach me that tomorrow instead of going on and on about the Bible.
The hotel annex also had a massage parlor and a barber next to each other, with a revolving tube in blue and red lines at the entrance. I looked at the options and decided on the massage parlor. Since they were good at knots, they must similarly be good at untying the knots in my body when they massage me. I meant the blocked qi passages. I tiptoed upstairs, and found a darkened room with some people on the bed.
“Sir, want some?”
An Indian lady with long hair stood at the doorway, as though she did not want me to go in.
“How much is this going to cost me?” I asked her.
“It takes only an hour of your time,” woman replied.
“I only want half hour,” I said.
“No time?” woman said.
“Got, got time, but never done before,” I sounded like a little boy, naïve.
“In that case, I charge you half hour,” woman answered.
Mesmerized, I was being led into the room with the Indian charm, and the drumming sound, and I forgot that I was in a massage parlor. I lay on the bed. The bed had a hole to look through with my face downwards so that I could breathe without having to turn my head sideways.
I took my jacket off and lay it by the side. Without a word the woman put her hands on my shoulder and she began. I had no chance to protest. I relaxed after a few pushes.
“Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring,”
It was my cell phone. It was loud and I jumped up from the bed.
You want to answer?” the woman asked.
I groped for it in the jacket. I was in a foreign country I needed to be connected in case the call came from Singapore.
“It’s me!” the voice on the other end said.
“Hello,” only then I began.
“Are you Mr. Chia?” she asked.
“Yes, it’s me,” I replied instantly.
“What are you doing now?” she asked.
That was strange. A caller asking me what I was doing. I didn’t know whom she was. She had no business to ask me. But I felt compelled to answer.
“I am having a massage being done now,” automatically I reported to her.
“So you have arrived, Joshua.” she sounded pleased.
Joshua was in Singapore how could he have arrived here in India? Unless, like Father Francis had said, his soul ascended into my body, and I took over his spirit. Apparently according to the Catholic faith, Jesus ascended into Heaven to be with his Father. I am Joshua’s twin-brother, our father had passed a long time ago.
“Miss, I am Henry, not Joshua,” I tried to emphasize.
This always happened, people calling for Joshua and speaking to me thinking that I was Joshua. I didn’t know why. Perhaps we sounded alike.
“You from the headquarters?” I assumed.
I was being employed by the Hearty Insurance Company in Singapore at the time. I wanted to tell the caller that I was here on retreat and not on paid leave.
“The hotel is looking for you, wondering where you have gone to,” the woman sounded concerned.
“Could you give me your room number again,” the woman asked.
Instead of giving her the answer I decided not to trust her. I wanted to know if she were calling from Singapore or from India.
“Have you reserved my seat on my flight back to Singapore?” I tried to engage her.
The line went dead at this point. The masseur’s hand on my back.
I looked up, I saw the woman staring at me, my instinct told me that the massage parlor disconnected my line from the caller. The service provider was now the Indian even though I was using a Singapore service number.