The accountant sat in his small dimly lit apartment reviewing some figures when the telephone rang.
“Adam, is that you?” inquired an aged female voice.
“No, I’m sorry. I think you have the wrong number. What number…”
“It is you, my God, isn’t it!” she interrupted.
“No Ma’am, I’m sorry, I’m not Adam. No one by that name lives here. What number…”
“What happened to you? Where have you been?” I’ve been looking for you for…”
“Miss,” the accountant piped in, having now grown impatient, “would you mind just telling me the number you were trying to reach and maybe I could help you.”
There was a short pause.
“No, it isn’t you, is it?” Her voice echoed in a distant, resolved tone. “Please forgive me young man. Do excuse me for any trouble I have caused.”
And another pause.
“It was just…and I’m sure this will sound strange to you, but it was just that, just that for a moment, you see, I mistook you…for my son.”
This momentarily absorbed the young accountant, but the line then clicked off. The accountant sat puzzled holding the receiver. But he then saw the papers strewn out upon the desk before him, quickly recalling his duty to the calculations. So with renewed purpose, he now continued with reviewing the figures, having now shaken off any prior alarm.
The tightrope walker had diligently practiced his routine for years, and the day finally arrived when he was to make his long-awaited debut. Understandably nervous, though still radiating the dignity of a master in the craft, he carefully toed his way out upon the thin taught line, finally commencing in the over-rehearsed feat of dexterity. It had been his every determination to lift the crowd of the tented bleachers onto their feet, and into an outburst of ovation.
But about halfway across the rope his attention was broken by an unusual silence.
And when he secretly peered out at the benches, and up along the dimly glazed rows, his peripheral curiosity gave way to the more disquieting notions that the tent was, in fact, wholly vacant. Could he have confused the date of the show? It certainly couldn’t have been canceled without him first knowing! Such questions gave the tightrope walker momentary pause high above the un-netted ground, and while he flirted with other, even more, menacing feelings, his bowed legs slightly teetered beneath him. A faint syncopated buzz echoed from above, and when he craned his neck back he could see the trapped flies tapping through the hollow light fixture hanging from the tent’s uppermost roof.
In spite of his disturbance, the tightrope walker managed to regain composure and manipulate himself back to the safety of the platform. There he would have to wait, but that was of no matter, for he was once again self-possessed, and standing freely upon solid ground, playing out the performance in his head.
Palolem Beach is a sleepy town in southern India. During the day I wander the shore barefoot or rent a motorcycle to explore the coast and nearby villages. At night I play cards with other backpackers, smoke hash and opium, and drink Coke with “feni,” which is a homemade coconut or cashew moonshine that is illegal outside of the State of Goa. I imagine hashish and opium are illegal even within Goa, though I haven’t asked. Sometimes I fish in the the Adriatic Sea. The night sky is majestic, and it’s made brighter still by trailing my fingers through the waters from off the side of the row boat and kicking up beads of phosphorescence. Without question the last week plus has been bliss, that is except for the slight issue with the bathroom.
I’ve been staying in the spare room at the home of Ganesh Patel and family. They charge two dollars a night. With a single bed and one pillow and linens and a semi-functional, albeit noisy, fan, it is actually more than I could expect. It even has a locking window and door. The bathroom, however, is an outhouse. Well, of sorts. The first time I used it, and the last, was a few days ago. I had somehow managed to conduct my business elsewhere until then and in the relative comfort of western amenities, i.e., toilet and not hole. But on this one occasion urgency took charge and out to the backyard I marched.
The facility is a stubby bamboo hut with a low hanging roof thatched in dried palm. A thin bamboo mat hangs by a string covering the doorway. The backyard also houses a gaggle of small, free roaming livestock, a clothes line and a well, all of which augment a pleasing sense of authenticity in my temporary digs.
There is no toilet paper, so I prepare a bucket of well water for cleaning myself. I lean the bamboo mat to one side and crouch as I cross the threshold, shaking away flies and peering into the dark while my eyes adjust to locate the anticipated hole in the ground. There is none. There are only two stacks of bricks spaced equidistantly along the thatched wall. Behind the bricks and along the ground there is a circular hole that has been cut out of the bamboo wall. The sunlight penetrates the opening and highlights the stack of bricks. I surmise that the design is intended to squat upon the bricks, do my business, clean up, and finally spill the remaining water on the refuse to wash it out the hole, which presumably fertilizes the garden.
I mount the wobbly bricks, my knees buckling as I squat down with shorts lowered and pulled all the way forward behind my ankles. It is strenuous to remain balanced, and the lack of ventilation and constant swatting at flies do not ease the effort. When I readjust my footing, stray palm leaves protrude down out of the roof and jab the back of my neck and head. I look down between my legs and the column of bricks, the sweat pouring off me and dousing my steaming pile, which is illuminated through the hole with a gentle wisp of light, the atmosphere reminiscent of a painting by one of the Dutch Masters.
My eyes have now adjusted to the darkness, and the rest of my body is contorted and near-still, having found as much comfort as can be expected while perched naked from the waist down and defecating in a thatched hut off a stack of bricks. The flies no longer bother me, it is futile to fight them. I hone in on the nearby sounds of children’s laughter, they must be Mr. Patel’s. I hear the squawking and honking of chickens and pigs, the defensive purring of cats, and the midday ocean breeze bristling through the dried palms.
A more audible snorting crescends to within earshot. The slurping and grunting continue, and I then nonchalantly peer down. Between the bricks and only inches from my legs there is a pig’s head protruding through the cutaway and into the inclosure. It is ravenously lapping up my feces. The sudden sight makes me tremble at the knees. It is hard to maintain poised while I wobble back into balance. The pig’s head pops out of the hole while I remain reeling. Then its head juts back in again, but only for a moment, and I watch from above its tongue furiously licking up the remnants before it finally exits for good.
It has since taken days to process this minor trauma. While I avoid the outhouse, I do take closer notice now of the pigs when I go out back to tend to the laundry. There are three of them trotting around, and I can’t help but wonder which of the little ones it was that forever blew my house down.