I woke up thinking I was a puffer fish. My eyes inflamed and sticking together, cheeks as red as hot molting lava and my neck an itchy forest. The only sunshine on the horizon a what’s app from the shipper. George would be collecting me at 2.30 pm.
But even this sunshine was being chased by rolling thunder clouds. If the Land Rover is not here today, oh dear – tomorrow is the only Saturday of the month the customs are closed and then on Monday it is a national holiday to celebrate the birthday of Guru Nanak Jayanti, the founder of the Sikh Religion. There are no Sikhs in Kerala.
After lunch, as good as his word, George bundled me into his car. ‘We must rush, they close at 5!’ He spun his car around, ‘and these bureaucrats are sticklers for time.’
George reminded me of a Bollywood actor; I can’t remember his name. The actor with many parts playing the same role many times. Both have short white beards; both have beards no longer than their short white stubby hair. Both have silver glasses in front of brown eyes alive with expectation as they flip about taking in what goes on about them like a nervous passenger with a neurotic taxi driver. Do you know the actor? And George is always chatty and desperate to finish his sentences with comic banter. I laughed. However, his banter is not always funny.
Customs House to Port House to Customs House to Port House to Customs House. That was my afternoon. Stamp missing on this form. Customs chief signature needed on another form. An afternoon with the tedious working men keeping the country moving, never contributing, never a player, always a linesman.
That said, George was magnificent – he charmed the grumpy customs officer who it seemed, from his body manners and sigh, wanted to start the long weekend early rather than keep a paying punter happy.
With a little ‘abracadabra’ from George’s charm I finally rang out ‘Hallelujah’ when I saw the Land Rover drive out of the port some five hours after George collected me.
Back at George’s family house I was offered a seat in front of a church alter. Yes, I sat on a lounge chair thinking I was in the family chapel rather than the family living room. Opposite me on a mahogany platform against the wall, two candles in long holders had recently been extinguished. The last of the incense smoke drifted towards a full-sized portrait of abright-eyed young man with long, curling, neat conditioned hair, (not dissimilar to mine) with a smile and a knowing wit. (Like mine?) This man’s smile knew the future would be good. This Jesus was every mothers dream son in law.
Above the picture a catholic cross of Jesus’s last day. The blood gory all in the right places.
‘Coffee?’ said George, ‘how about a coffee?’ I was fine with coffee until he offered ‘or wine? We have some left over from my granddaughter’s birth?’
My imagination got the better of me. I went for the wine. ‘Oh, it is room temperature,’ stated George, ‘is that ok with you?’
I have not drunk wine for many weeks and looking at Jesus, temptation got the better of me. I am sure Jesus smiled at me as the wine arrived. I stayed as cheery and merry as I could. And what could I say as I looked in at the cloudy wine, with a tinge of brown, a smell of rancid raison, scorched sugar in the fizz. I knew it was going to be a bubbly shock to my palate. A summing up which could not be closer to the truth.
‘How old is your granddaughter George?’ I asked with trepidation looking at the wine.
‘Only a year.’ Thant explained the wine. ‘And I love her to bits’
George carried on chatting away, cracked jokes, drank coffee, changed subjects as fast as a news reader, never letting a sad subject lack a smile.
‘Yes an arranged marriage. They met once, engagement party followed, and a month later they were blissfully married.’ Said Gorge as if he wanted me to know the deal had gone well, he had been complete professional, as he had with the Landy. He then drew a book from the mahogany shelve next to Jesus to show off proudly his daughters recent wedding album.
‘Just met once!’ I asked with surprise.
‘Yes’ he said, thinking as he spoke, ‘just the once, and we knew it was a love match; they were still talking after half an hour!’ This time I was not completely sure if it was banter or truth. We both laughed. His daughter and wife stayed serious.
I gritted my resolve and prepared to drank down some of the wine. I lost my nerve and instead I played with his one year old grandchild from the marriage and chatted to his daughter.
Still the wine stared at me. I stared back. I looked at the happy go lucky picture of a young faced Jesus before life took a turn for the worse. I looked up at the cross with the stain of life bleeding out. I looked down at the blurry white wine; George carried on chatting oblivious to my dilemma. I stretched out my hand to take hold of the wine; by chances I looked up at the man on the cross again and started to hum to myself – ‘Always look on the bright side of life….