The Old Man, the Indian and the Picture
by Gaither Stewart
The old man needed to piss. Much as he tried to return to ruminations about the Roman Empire, he couldnít think of anything but piss. Binu should have long since been back. Probably downstairs at the coffee bar while he sat here maybe about to piss in his pants again. He seldom knew for certain. He wondered if old Roman emperors like Ö like, uh, the one he could never remember, a name something like giallo, the color of proper piss.
Si, si, thatís it, Caesar Giallo. Oh Cristo, no, seems like only yesterday everything was still clear. Now all time is today. Time and everything is like a foggy yesterday become today Ö when I didnít have to piss in my pants or think about piss and diapers and my own stink. Ecco! Of course! I mean Caesar Galba, the oldest of Roman emperors. I wonder if he too had to wear those disgusting diapers they put on me at night that by morning stink worse than Galbaís Legionsí latrines.
Oh, God, itís here. This time I feel it coming. Try not to think about it. Name some things. The things in the room. The new divan that magically becomes a bed, the fireplace Iíve never lit, the twin candlesticks on the mantel, the engravings of Rome on the walls, the photograph of Ö of Villa Doria Pamphilj, the small carpet just under my eyes, the window facing nothing, the potted flowers, the empty bookshelves, the antique cabinet they keep dishes in Ö Oh Cristo, I canít stop it. OK! So just let it flow. Binu will clean up the mess. Binu can perform magic. Iíll just say Ďyou came too late, Binu, it arrived on its own.í
His Indian caretaker had been with him only a few days, maybe since yesterdayís yesterday. Maybe longer. Already the old man loved him. Something eternal about Binu Ö or about his own feelings for him. Yesterday Binu had given him a bath. Or was that the day before? No matter. How pleasant to be bathed by another man. He had hardly paid attention when Binu washed his genitals and listened attentively to his recollection of something to do with the war, he believed. Hard to remember now what he recalled, yesterday. Tall and handsome Binu, in his Indian way. Too handsome. Some woman might seduce him and carry him away. A sinking sensationólike the awareness that he was pissing in his pantsówhen Binu showed him the snapshot of his wife and the baby the father had not yet seen. A consolation, too. She was far away, Binu said. The old man had heard the sadness in his voice so he shut his eyes to the image and closed his ears to such disruptive chatter. He would have no truck with anything or anyone that could carry his Binu away.
They told him Binu was too long for the bed in his bedroom. Well, let them buy a new one. Just write a check on my account. Strange, he thought, I never knew beds came in varying lengths. They all look the same to me. Of course Iím tiny and Binu is a giant. From his height he must see me like a child. Twice as tall as I once was, he thought. No matter. But it is like living in two different worlds. A matter of perspective. What a strange thought. The matter of peoplesí height has never occurred to me before either. My daughters are not much taller than me. But Binuís height doesnít bother them. They will be back soon maybe with my new reclining chair. But Priscilla, where was she? Why, she was just here. She sometimes gave me baths before Binu came from India. It was always embarrassing. Actually humiliating. My little penis and my balls hanging toward my knees. Now, all these people hanging around. What were they all doing here anyway. Sometimes talking and talking about things I donít understand. Other times their mouths move but no sound emerges. Sounds crazy, I know. I am usually alone. Earlier, when they brought me breakfast I could hardly eat, so disturbing all that crowd milling around. Talking or not talking. Sometimes that deathly silence is worse than the noise and confusion. Much better if they come one at a time. I should suggest that to the boss. The boss? Iím the boss. Not my daughters even if they try to boss me around. I just pretend I donít hear their words and ignore them.
Iíve noted that everything seems to move away from me. Even if it is close by. Now that doesnít make sense. But it is frightening, like the silence coming from the mouths of their talking heads. Worse is when they try to engage me in conversation. As if I knew what they want from me. No, no conversation. Shake and nod my head. Point with my thumb. Back there! The word they love most is ďmoneyĒ. How much this costs. How much that costs. As if I cared. Then they ask, Papa, remember Australia? Australia? What do they mean? I close my eyes and pretend to sleep. They stretch me out on the couch. I barely peep to see if it is Binu. No, itís one of my daughters. Canít say which. She too seems so far away. This matter of distance has to be cleared up. Itís not the same as height. Must ask Binu about it. Ask him about my memory, too. About my memory my daughters speak of when they think Iím not listening. But I am. I hear things. Like their stories about Australia and our life there. They whisper that I donít want to remember.† And they tease me when I cry at some flash of memory. Where does memory go when it leaves? And also my feelings. I have always confused memory and feelings. The result is always disaster. And tears. Away with the memories that translate into feelings that bring on the tears. No, no memories. Feelings I can reserve for Binu and Priscilla who give me baths. Who have nothing to do with memories. I wonít remember feelings either. They never did me much good.
Australia? Are those strange images that keep flashing through my mind Australia? Why donít they just say so. That flash of me driving a big car. Stopping at a red light on a big avenue. Thatís all. No, wait! I keep searching for the clutch with my foot. There is none. A mystery. Or I see big waves rolling in. Oh, just to ride them like the kids do. The next time my daughters mention Australia Iíll ask about the waves Ö if I feel like talking. Which I probably wonít. Thereís another image. Wide streets and tall buildings and strangers speaking a funny language. Must be a dream. A big car, red light, missing clutch, high waves, tall buildings, funny talk. Oh, whatís that now? Whatís that God awful stink?
Oh, no! Itís me. Iíve done it again. Didnít even realize it was more than piss. Number two in my pants again. Now they will all be mad. All except Binu. Maybe heíll give me another bath before the others notice.
Itís all so confusing.
Binu could clarify matters.
So what is he doing down there in the coffee bar? Just downstairs. Right under my window.
Per líamor di Dio! If I could just get to that window to check out the bar. How far is the window? No more than two meters away. But how? And with this stink infecting the whole room. If I just slide to the floor. Roll over a few times. I would be there. But then what? Che cazzo! What the fuck? There was a mob here while I tried to chew the roll one of my daughters kept shoving into my mouth or sticking the coffee cup against my lips and me with my mouth still full. Priscilla was here, too. And also the other daughter. All talking, talking, talking. Now, nobody. They could just push me to the window so I could see at least the trees of Villa Doria Pampfilj. If I could get up on the window sill now I could see the bar and yell at Binu for help. What a dilemma! So close, that window sill, and so far away. That obstacle of distance again. And my pants full of my merda. That was a thing I liked about the language they spoke in that country. The word for merda. SHIT! Shit really spells it out. Merda sounds so tame in comparison. Like poo-poo. For children. But SHIT! Now thereís a real manís word. From now on, SHIT for everyone. SHIT! Just saying the word gives you satisfaction. Meanwhile, Iím really in this mess. Literally. And maybe fottuto, too, as they say. Fucked.† The SHIT in my pants already roaming around God knows where, up to my waist in the back, down my legs and covering my little pecker. Blocked in this prison of a chair. I canít see how I can reach the window sill and call to that, that oaf, that wonderful oaf, Binu, to get his ass up here and clean me up. Thatís what I pay him for. To keep me clean. Well, also to feed me. My daughters are at me constantly for not eating. Acute anemia! But how can I eat Ö when I canít even get to the window. Never realized how important windows can be in old age.† Like an emergency station Ö or emergency exit. Exciting, the idea! The window as an exit. Iím not hungry anyway. Itís the principle of the matter. Binu is supposed to be here, keep me cleaned up and feed me. Thatís all he has to do. Just take care of me.
††††††††† I just hope the bar is open. It used to close one day a week, I think. I wonder what day. I wonder what day today is. Doctor said I have to always know the day and the date. But who can keep up with all those details. But if the bar is closed and Binu is not there, then where is he? He just appears and disappears. Thatís not good. I donít want Priscilla to give me baths. And sheís always complaining that she canít lift me when I fall. I canít imagine how that happens. I canít even stand up. Therefore I donít fall. Iíve always loved her, that cute little Indonesian or Filipino or whatever she is. I donít believe she would lie about me falling. In her charming way she insists that Iím still covered in bruises and that Iím lucky I didnít ďbreak my headĒ.
††††††††† Mamma mia, Iím suddenly so sleepy. Despite the mess Iím in I have to lean back and close my eyes for a few minutes. Diapers at night, the morning clean up, the cappuccino and cornetti I used to love, my daily bath with Priscilla or Binu, and already theyíre talking about lunch. Thatís when I, uh, when, uh, uh. Oh, what a relief, feels good, despite, despite, despite the SHIT, the SHIT, the SHIT. Oh, rest.
††††††††† What? What is it? Did I sleep again? They tell me to stop that. To watch TV. Hear the news. Keep up with things. As if I cared about those things. But the reality is cappuccino, cornetti, shit in my pants, baths, lunch talk, my signature on pieces of paper, severe talk to me about money, Iím not to give Priscilla my wallet anymore.
ďBinu! Binu! Are you here? Is nobody here?Ē
Either theyíre all here or nobody is. I wonder if the bar is even open. The window. I know if I could get over there I could yell for Binu and he would come on the run. Thatís the way he is. Yes, Iíve decided. Iím going for it.
Just lean forward. And somehow fall out of this chair. Try not to bump my head. If I only had my helmet I wore on my scooter.
Forward! Ever forward without a helmet!
Oh, oh, canít stop it now.
Here I go. Whooee! Here I come floor.
My eyes are wide open. Iím already there. I mean, here. Nothing seems to hurt. Unless Iím dreaming that I survived the fall.
So now what? I canít move my legs. Canít stand up and am too weak to pull myself up on that window sill. Elusive devil, it is. What to do? Think! Divan, fireplace, twin candlesticks, carpet, Rome engravings, window to nowhere, potted flowers, empty bookshelves, antique cabinet. Gets me nowhere. Priscilla asks if itís true that I canít walk. She believes in miracles. Religious sort, she is. True? The truth? Letís donít exaggerate, Priscilla. Such a truth would be an exaggeration. You think I could walk if I wanted to but that I prefer not to walk. Now thatís a queer truth, indeed. Yes, indeed. Thatís Priscilla. But thatís Binu, too. Never thought I would think these thoughts, but these brown peoples from those distant countries are different Ö and theyíre better for it. They understand life better. And me? Iím as pale as the ghost of Caesar Galba. And like Galba I always thought I knew the truth.
OK, Old Man, enough philosophy. But wait! What am I doing here on the floor in the mess Iím in? Ah, yes, for some reason Iíve got to get up to that window sill. Quite a success if I just get there. If I grab it with my right hand. Yes, like that. Now scrooch up and somehow get my knees under me, get a little more leverage. Caspita, Iím getting there. Thatís the thing about falling, you never know where a fall might carry you. Now, to get my left hand also on that sill. Like that. Now pull. Pull! Hard! God, what a foul stink that fall stirred up. But it got me here. Here where? Here at the window sill. Oh, those fucking curtains the women insisted on hanging here. Flying right in my face. OK, now with my chest on the sill I just have to slide forward. Like that. A little more. Push away that fucking curtain. Insists on hanging right over my eyes. Pull it! Pull it hard! There, itís coming down. Pull the whole fucking thing down. But I have to keep it away from me. Wrapped around my legs like that is not a problem. Binu will disentangle it all. Uh oh, the window. Ah, thank God itís open. Slide forward a little more. Now what? Yes, I remember. Got to get a view of the bar. Tables on the sidewalk. Umbrellas open, too. Damn it! Canít see whoís under them.
But wait! What luck! Why isnít that Binu, standing on the curb? Whatís he doing down there?
ďBINU! BINU! Look up here!Ē But who is that with him? Oh no, itís a woman. Could she be the one in the picture? So tiny beside that giant Binu. Binu too long for the beds. A new bed for Binu? OK, OK, a new bed. But just look up here.
Now slide forward a bit more so he can see me better. That woman, she has her arms around his waist. Heís kissing the top of her head. Imagine that. A kiss right on the top of her head.
ďBINU! For Christ sakes, look up at me.Ē See the mess Iím in. Oh no, now he has his arms around her. Why heís leaving the bar. Walking up the hill toward the piazza.
Ah, now he sees me, the scoundrel. Heís grinning. Shaking his head, pointing at the woman. Why heís trying to escape. Slide forward, a little more, wave your fist, let him know whoís boss here. A little more forward, thatís right, scrooch the knees up a little more, a little more, thatís Ö oh, oh, the air is strangely moving. I seem to be flying.
Slowly, slowly, the fourth or the third floor floated past. I think I caught a glimpse of Villa Dora Pampfilj. Second floor. No stop. On the express.
You donít have to clean me up Ö up Ö up. †
Gaither Stewart writes fiction and journalism. He is a senior editor for the American online publications, The Greanville Post and Cyrano's Journal Today. His works are published in venues throughout the world. His latest novel, The Fifth Sun and a collection of political essays, Recollection of Things Learned--Remembering Socialism are published by Punto Press, New York. He lives with his wife, Milena, in Rome, Italy.