Friday, April 29, 2011

No vacant corner

“If you leave the smallest corner of your head vacant for a moment, other people’s opinions will rush in from all quarters.”  -  George Bernard Shaw


Bob and I met Barb during our anxiety ridden freshman year at Cal, in mid-October of 1971.  Barb was a radical born-again Christian, a Pentecostal who spoke in tongues, and had a boyfriend named Roger who was even more radical than she was.  Even at Berkeley, I remained unashamed about the fundamentalist Christian faith I had embraced in high school.  My girlfriend Lorraine’s father had been a Nazarene pastor, and the simple joy she took in her blood-washed purity had captivated my heart at first glance.  I was baptized in the ocean at Gray Whale Cove in Half Moon Bay at sixteen by an eighty year old pastor who nearly gave his life for me in the wild December waves. 

But then I had always swum in a sea of universal intention, having been told I had the same second sight as my grandmother Daisy, who could see through your soul and into the big picture of your future, when she relaxed into the galaxy-riding reality of the Holy Spirit that occupied her willowy frame.  My Aunt Shirley, her oldest child, used to look hard at me each time we met and remind me, “Shelley, never forget you have Daisy eyes.”
One fall evening that first year at Cal, I had been standing at the curb on Bancroft Avenue in front of the leather shop, waiting to cross over to campus at the corner of Telegraph.  The overhang of street trees was focusing the lowering sun into Jacob’s ladders in the waning hours of day, and the Falafel King was just beginning to fold his cart.  The Hare Krishnas banged out their last hurrahs for the stream of students as they made their way down Bancroft, headed toward Shattuck for a pizza or happy hour.

It was Friday, I didn’t have to be at work, and my intended destination was Moffitt Library, not because I was hell-bent on studying, but because I lacked anything more interesting to do.  A big yellow bus, parked a little way down Bancroft to my right, caught my eye, its original school district moniker painted out with a bad match of yellow.  A sandwich board emblazoned with big hand-painted red letters was positioned beside it on the sidewalk, proclaiming, “Lecture Night, Number 4:  The Answer for Our World Today.  Free Spaghetti Dinner.  Free Bus Transportation.”  A paper clock with movable hands announced that it would be time to board in fifteen minutes.

Right about then, Bob be-bopped up the sidewalk to join me, popping smoke rings, and the two of us turned to a conservative looking blonde standing nearby, a stand-out in the Berkeley crowd because of the knee-length skirt, collared blouse, and bright pink lipstick she was wearing.  She was about our age and, as it appeared, about our level of disorientation, so we asked her if she knew anything about the spaghetti dinner. 
“You mean that?” she asked, tilting her head to the sign. “Yeah, I’m going.  Who can say no to a free meal?  Besides, what have you got to lose?  Come, keep me company,” she said. 

The bus belonged to a church that her boyfriend Roger, a junior zoology student, was involved in, she explained. She had met Roger at a Campus Crusade meeting in July, when we were all just starting to roll into town. 

“Yeah, he says this guy Sun Myung Moon has churches all over the world,” Barb enthused.  “He told me that when he heard what Moon was about, it totally blew his mind.  Plus they were really good to him when he first came to town and didn’t have a place to stay,” she added.  Whatever they were about, Roger was convinced, already a true believer. 

Barb and Roger had been seeing each other off and on ever since.  He would show up where she worked, or be outside her classes when she was done, three or four times a week, sheepish and endearing.  “He’s such a sweetie,” she said shyly, blushing.

She had attended three classes at his invitation already, at the church Center on Ashby, where a tiny Asian woman had outlined how man becomes separated from God; Barb had trouble explaining this herself.  And Roger was going to be on the program tonight – he was already up there helping with dinner – so Barb had promised him she would go.

“It sounds like we’re kind of coming in on the middle – is that OK?”  I asked, not wanting to horn in.
“Just stay close to me – it shouldn’t be a problem.  Roger says they’re always excited to see people these days – I think there’s a big revival happening in the next few months and they’re getting the word out as fast as they can.  I’ve heard the Reverend might even come to Berkeley soon, all the way from Korea.”

While we waited there on the sidewalk, the three of us exchanged names and vital statistics.  Barb was a freshman poli sci major in pre-law, a former varsity cheerleader and salutatorian who had come to Berkeley on scholarships awarded by the local Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, the Athletic Boosters, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and an endowment left by a local matron who had an elementary school named in her honor.  Besides a part time job at the power company, she worked both weekend breakfast shifts at Bernini’s Café on Bancroft, and helped out at Ed Hunolt’s Berkeley Book when they had inventory or a big sale.  “I love my parents as much as the next gal, but I’m way past ready to cut the cord and get my own place, so I’ll work as many jobs as it takes to do it,” she said emphatically, laughing at herself.

Bob and I were also daily commuters, me from Daly City, and Bob from his mom’s new home in nearby Moraga.  Shirley had chosen Moraga for its wholesomeness comparative to Daly City.  We didn't mention to Barb the irony of Shirley moving the family there after marrying her new alcoholic, with Dad barely cold in the grave after his drunken crash on Alemany Boulevard.  Or that Bob’s exploration-du-jour into romance was with the 42-year-old  mother of a community college coed he had befriended there, a nineteen-year-old who lived across the street from the family, and who thought she was Bob’s only fling. 

Bob worked at his neighborhood Safeway as a part-time bagger and other-duties-as-assigned, and I worked in the basement of a health club in Stonestown as a telephone solicitor.  Graham had also gotten us jobs with him at a San Francisco warehouse-district poster factory for $1.65 an hour, which we held in addition to the other jobs.  Our mission was to slide one end of a finished poster into a long spindle and whirl it with a foot pedal, pulling a long skinny plastic bag over it. Then we would stuff the end of the bag into the hole and cover it with a label.  We took pride in the fact that we were well-oiled machines, and we would fill boxes with hundreds of these at a time while our bosses, Billie and Blackie, two gigantic Tongans in Hawaiian print shirts, would stand so close to us we could smell the musky warmth of their tree-like bodies. 

Commuters like Barb and Bob and I lived in a different culture than the students who lived right in Berkeley.  We were  outsiders, and therefore somewhat immune to the wild parties and the drinking; the streaking and other demonstrations related to Phi Kappa Whatever; the head trips inherent in tight-knit localized relationships, and on-campus protest politics.  We spent most of our free time either driving or on the East Bay Transit, and held down one or two part-time jobs in addition to our nightly regimen of read-five-chapters-and-be-prepared-to-discuss-in-the-morning, times four.  Because of this, we had little time for the luxurious angst that most Cal students swam in, day in, day out.  And as outsiders, the three of shared an instant connection.

Finally, the yellow bus puffed and flapped and opened its door.  And so began a magical mystery tour deep into Strawberry Canyon, all of us on a quest for a free meal, the decidedly earthbound Bob just enjoying my company and looking forward to a good laugh at my expense, and Barb and I hoping to find spiritual enlightenment. 

That’s how I met Barb Mayhew.  And she was to turn out to be far from conservative, in the end. 


We chattered on vacantly as the bus launched from the curb, not noticing the hard, cracked seats of the hand-me-down school bus tossing us in the air until the conversation momentarily wound down, our butts slapping down harder with each successive bump the higher we got into the canyon.  We were all three piled into one seat, intermittently thrown sideways into each other, first one way, then the other, each time the bus took a turn.  Barb’s hair smelled faintly of cheap perfume. The sun was fully behind a cover of trees by now, and a warm orange glow was beginning to overtake the sky to our right, cut out in rectangles by the row of half-open windows that lined the hull of our little space capsule.  Slightly drunk on the warmth of each others’ bodies, Bob and I began to sing quietly in unison,

We all live in a yellow submarine,
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine
We all live in a yellow submarine,
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine.

The others joined in, a few at a time, until everyone’s voice was one.  Bob threw an arm around my shoulder and leaned his cheek against mine, the crowd of relative strangers melting into getting-to-know-you chatter.   He sang softly, just for me, the music in his throat buzzing against my neck,

As we live a life of ease
Everyone of us has all we need
Sky of blue and sea of green
In our yellow submarine.


As we leveled off into a broad parking lot, a youngish man with the indeterminate age of a grad student, crowned by a stiff, kinky brunette mop flecked with grey, popped up at the front of the bus, where, miraculously, he had sat apparently unnoticed for the entire trip.  He had a face that was faintly reminiscent of a potato dumpling, and was wearing a hodge podge of odd, ill-fitting polyester garments that gave him the look of someone who had just emigrated from Eastern Europe, or of a computer science major. 

“Hey, everybody,” he chirped in a nasally voice. “You remember me, Andy.  We’ve almost arrived to the Haas Center, so I’ll give you a little background on what we came here to do tonight.  Oh, wow – newcomers!  I didn’t see you get on.”  He let out a high, nervous little giggle, looking straight at me and Bob through his thick black-rimmed spectacles.

Bob muttered under his breath, “I thought we came to eat spaghetti - and he was definitely not expecting you and me, was he?”  He cringed at the deep thrust of my elbow as it ground into his ribs. 

“Stifle,” I whispered, my face getting hot, hoping Andy wasn’t going to make us walk back down the mountain.

Andy collected himself and continued, clearing his throat, in a serious tone now. “I’d like to welcome you to the fourth lecture in our dinner series for the Unification Church.  Tonight, now that you’ve learned about the Divine Principles, you’ll learn about our Reverend Father himself, and what he means to us.  Remember one thing as long as you’re here:  with us, you are loved, unconditionally.  In the Unification Church, there is peace and freedom, and forgiveness, brothers and sisters - for you, and for the world.  We want you to feel that – feel it.  So enjoy the meal, friends.  We can’t wait to share God’s love with you tonight.”

The bus pulled up in front of the open double doors of the center and lurched to a stop.  The vertical yellow rhombi of the cathedral windows glowed in contrast to the evening sky, now streaked in deepening shades of moonless midnight blue and dark turquoise.
“Here we are!” chimed Andy, chirpy again, as the folding doors snapped open at the bottom of the steps.

“Kerry is waiting on the curb for you.  Just follow her inside, and we have a hot meal waiting, as always.”   He touched each of us as we passed him on the way down, some on the shoulder, some on the arm, some on the face, always grinning, eyes flat behind the glasses.  “We love you, brother.  Welcome back, brother, good to see you again.  We love you, sister.”

Kerry was indeed waiting for us as we set foot on dry land.  She was a muscular, short-limbed girl of no more than 20, with four long honey-colored braids rolled up in a loop and tied at the back of her head with twine.  Clad in a persimmon-colored smock top and faded dungarees, she wore no makeup, and her skin had a translucent quality that reminded one of a rosy-tinted golden apple after it’s just been washed.   She buzzed among us as we assembled on the stoop in front of the double doors, hugging each one of us and flashing a broad, milk-healthy grin.

“OK, everybody, follow me inside,” she lilted, and we all stepped through the doorway together in a tight-knit little herd. Bob and I caught each other’s eyes in silent communication, wondering what it was that invoked the conveyor-belt metaphor that linked our thoughts subconsciously.  Perhaps it was the latent mind’s eye image of Andy standing on the belt behind us, blocking any potential escape as we rolled inside.  Somehow, the other more experienced recruits – albeit not a whole lot more experienced - didn’t appear to know where they were going, or why, any more than we did.

The other buildings at Strawberry, which some nights were brimming with life, looked dark and deserted.  It began to cross my mind that the only ones up here were us fourteen or fifteen spaghetti refugees who had just climbed off the bus; by the look of the crowd already inside, about twenty-five church members; and, I guessed, one caretaker, nowhere in sight.  Then there was the bus driver, probably one of them, and of course Andy.  I reached in deep to draw upon my natural faith in human nature, which, while right now groaning under the weight of rapidly unfolding new experience, was as yet unbroken.  I had not yet begun to occupy the Charles Manson/Santa Susana mountains metaphor with my mind – not yet.

Bob, the proud possessor of an expertly wired bullshit detector, began to fidget visibly.  Barb, on the other hand, looked captivated.  She had also seemed oblivious to Andy’s reaction when he spotted Bob and me on the bus.

The ones who were already up there, surrounding us as we came through the door and introducing themselves for all they were worth, were a strange brew.  They were mostly 18 to 20-year olds who were obviously students.  But also among them were mixed in a few who occupied a grey area, who said they were students, and looked like they could be students, but who had one or two not quite plausible, can’t-put-your-finger-on-it characteristics that marked them as phonies – too out of step, too slick, too enthusiastic, too something.  Or maybe it was just the vibe of being in the mountains at night with relative strangers, or the glow from the yellow bug light outside the still-open double doors, that made it seem that way.  In any case, together they were a strange brew indeed.  Whoever they were, it was clear they were ready for us.

There were a few rectangular tables set up in the dining hall as we entered, laid out with checkered oilcloths, paper plates and plastic flatware.  With not quite twice as many hosts there to greet us as there were guests, we found ourselves all together just about filling the tables, seekers interspersed evenly with Unificationists, and us slightly outnumbered.  Some of the twenty-five were scuttling around now, running in and out of the kitchen and acting as waiters.  In seconds, there were steaming platters of spaghetti, served family-style, laid out in the center of each table, with baskets of rolls, bowls of head-lettuce salad with pink dressing, and pitchers of fruit punch and water.  The ones who weren’t serving food each sat down and took one of us on as a buddy, trying to act natural as if this had happened randomly, but painfully transparent in the effort.  It was evident that the oddballs in the group were calling the shots, some of them organizing the table sitters, others organizing the kitchen crew. 

“Home at last,” grumbled Bob, settling into the idea of being stuck up there for the next hour or so, and putting himself somewhat willingly now into the hands of our eager hosts.

“Usually they just give us brown rice and veggies, so we’re getting the deluxe treatment tonight, I guess.  Look, that’s Roger!” Barb whispered, poking me and jerking her head to the right.  “Which one?”  I asked under my breath, as she aimed her eyes discreetly and said, “Table across from us, third guy from the right, opposite side.”

She was pointing out a boy with an angular frame, and warm, deep hazel eyes with lashes you could see even from a distance.  He had a thick, shiny mane of chestnut hair with a natural, soft wave that both fell across his eyes and brushed his jawline.  His long-sleeved grey thermal cotton shirt revealed well-muscled arms and a solid flat chest, a body that could belong to either a tennis player or a swimmer.  It belonged instead to Roger – Roger who was so far, by all reports during my forty-five minute friendship with Barb, a lover of animals, champion of the environment, and man of chivalry.  Beautiful.

His eyes locked on Barb’s and probed deep, his wide mouth breaking into a grin that quickly dissolved back into serious conversation with the assigned “guest” beside him. Just as quickly, his eyes caught mine as Barb looked away to butter a roll, and hung on just a little longer than I felt comfortable with.

“Why isn’t he sitting with you?” I questioned her.
“I don’t think it works that way,” she replied softly.

She was right on the money about that, more so than she knew at that moment.


An older girl with pale freckled skin, copper red hair and a Boston accent had sat down to my left, apparently my assigned companion.  “You’re new, aren’t you?  And so is your friend there.”  She nodded her head toward Bob, the tiny muscles around her eyes tightening just slightly, almost imperceptibly.

“We came with our friend Barb.  She’s a friend of Roger’s over there,” I replied, again feeling distinctly like a party crasher, and like I had just thrown Barb under the bus.

“Oh, wow, Roger.  He is so together.  We’re super glad you’re here, of course.”  Her tone had swung abruptly to perky, in contrast to her faintly irritated demeanor just seconds before.

In my peripheral vision I saw that Barb and Bob had each acquired a soul mate, too - Bob a broad-faced, beardless bespectacled Asian boy in a blue flannel shirt, and Barb a plump Latina with deep acne scars.  I suspected the drill would be much the same, at least for Bob, as it was about to be for me, so I concentrated on my partner and didn’t bother to try eavesdropping.

“Shelley,” I replied, “and thanks for dinner.”

“You’re welcome, Shelley.  And what did you come for tonight – besides dinner?”

I could only imagine how Bob was answering this question.  Nevertheless, I struck out in my own direction.  

“Barb told me that you guys have a different perspective on God.  Is that true?”

“Are you a person of faith, Shelley?”

“Well – I’m a Nazarene.  So I guess I’m a Christian.”  Hearing myself say that was like listening to a disembodied voice, reciting empty words.  In reality, the dewy eyed wonder I’d found in the stormy Pacific that December day at sixteen had dulled considerably under the crushing weight of 18 to 20 hour days of bus commutes, low-paying jobs and marathon study sessions.

“Well, Shelley, that is just super.  What Father teaches will not be new to you, then.  But it will be much more than what you already know now.  You’re kind of jumping in midstream, but it’s obvious that you’re a very wise lady, or you wouldn’t be here, and I know you’ll pick everything right up, no problem.  I can tell just by talking to you, you are the kind of person Father is looking for – smart and together.  And wow, that’s sure a pretty top you’re wearing!  Where did you get it? It’s such a cool color with your eyes.”  By now, she had her hand on my arm.  Then, her voice lowered suddenly.  “Look, we’re starting.”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Roger rising from his seat, dabbing his mouth with a napkin.  Behind him to his right, standing back from the diners in a doorway I hadn’t noticed before, was a small, round-headed Asian man, old enough to be my father.

Roger cleared his throat and began to speak.  “It’s so good to have all of our new friends here tonight.  Brothers and sisters, let’s welcome our guests and show them how glad we are they’re here.”

I have to confess that the sound of enthusiastic applause aimed squarely at the few of us, with our heavenly hosts staring and grinning for our benefit, gave me a heady feeling in spite of the disconnect in my mind, causing an involuntary glow of self esteem to flood my cheeks and the back of my neck.  It was not lost on me that this feeling was at odds with what I knew, which was that they knew very little, if anything, about us, and that we had done nothing to earn their applause except show up.

Still, I remembered God well enough to know that I didn’t need to do anything but love Him back to earn His esteem – didn’t even need to do that – so, as an apparent prisoner of love, I decided to give our captors the benefit of the doubt.

Then Roger chimed in.  “I’m very proud to introduce the leader of the Unified Family Center, Brother Edward Dau.  I call Edward my brother because when I came to Berkeley a little over a year ago, I had no money and nowhere to stay.  All of my money had gone to tuition and books, and I couldn’t afford even to share an apartment.  I was sitting on the front steps of Sproul that day, with my backpack and a trash bag full of clothes, wondering where I would sleep that night, and Andy here (Roger glanced over at Andy, smiling and bowing his head slightly) sat down next to me.  He asked me if I was hungry, and when I told him I had no money, nothing to eat and nowhere to go, he picked up my bag and took me home with him. 

“When we got to the Center, Brother Edward met us at the door.  He invited me into his home, to be part of his Family, and shared with me the way of the Divine Principle.  His kindness and wisdom has changed my life.  If it were not for Andy, who found me, and for my Brother Edward, who enlightened me, I would still be in darkness.  And I would not have the loving Father I have today.  Brother Edward?”

Stepping aside, Roger extended his hand to the wiry, moon-faced man behind him, then turned to join in the applause with the others.  The man smiled shyly for a moment, lowering his eyes and bowing his head, but then he raised his hand to the crowd and said, “Enough, thank you.  I am not here to speak for myself tonight, but for Father.  You have learned about the life changing truths found in the Divine Principle over the last three lectures, and I can see on your faces that you’ve already been transformed into people of greater wisdom and enlightenment.  Now you’re ready to understand more about how it is that we are blessed to possess this holy knowledge.  And so I will tell you tonight about the life of our most beloved leader, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, our Father and mentor, and how these things were revealed to the world through him.”  Okay, I thought, let’s see what he’s got. 

“My Father has endured great hardship during his life here on earth.  But above all, he has been chosen by God for great blessings and has endured to see that these blessings are shared with mankind.  The Divine Principle is a revelation of Jesus Christ, given as a gift to all of us through Father, Reverend Moon.  This revelation came to him in Jesus’s own voice, in Father’s native language of Korean. 

“Earlier in his life, it had also been revealed to him, directly by God the Father, that he personally was given the mission to re-build Christ’s church here on Earth.  Can you imagine, being the one person chosen by God to re-build the entire church all over the world?”

Hard to imagine, I thought to myself.  Maybe even impossible to imagine.

He went on. “Because Jesus died on the cross prematurely, before it was God’s time for Him to go, Christ was never able to establish a Kingdom here on Earth, which was God’s plan.  Jesus was really not supposed to die, but to be crowned King.  This was revealed exclusively to Father Moon.”

Hmmm, I thought.  Haven’t heard that one before.

“Instead Jesus was stopped by evil from doing what he came to do.  That’s why the Lord has put Father Moon in this world today:  to finish the work begun by Jesus Christ, really to be the Christ, the second coming, in these last days.”

I thought to myself, here we go – this guy thinks Moon is the next Jesus. 

“I know that this will be a new concept for you,” he continued.  “The established church does not teach the truth about Father, because to the church, he is a living revolution.  What its leaders know, they don’t understand, because traditional religious education does not want for them to understand.  And what they do understand, they fear, and therefore conceal.”

He was intense now, fervent, and gesticulating with his right hand while he spoke.

“But you have been especially chosen to know the real truth about what God intends.  Father Moon is love in the flesh.  He has come to bless you and to heal you, to unify your mind and body so that you can live in harmony with the Divine Principle.  He’s come to heal the world, to unify the warring nations, to subjugate evil, to establish purity and the dominion of the blessed on Earth, and to do it in our time. To do it with you as His instruments.  Praise Him.”

Wow.  I glanced, stiff necked and shifting my eyes to the right, over at Roger.  The veins were standing out on his neck, and he was gazing raptly up at Edward with those amazing hazel eyes.  I turned my body slightly to spy on Barb, who was staring directly at Roger, caught somewhere between lust and incredulity.  A sidelong peek at Bob revealed that he appeared to be sleeping, having laid out produce at Safeway at five that morning before his eight o’clock class.

It had already dawned over me that more than half of the people in this building believed that a guy named Moon was probably God, and a few new recruits may have been moving across the line over to their side, right this very minute.  My regular seat on the 10:47 from Shattuck to the Downtown Terminal was growing more attractive by the minute.  I glanced at my watch: seven twenty, and counting.

Brother Edward went on.  “Father Moon was imprisoned for his bravery when the Japanese occupied his country.  But after his release, Father received a revelation that he was to go to Communist North Korea.  While there, he established the church of Kwang-ya, where he was commanded directly by God again, this time to keep people sexually pure and preach unity of mind and body. He was to require the young women to live in chastity until he, the Reverend Moon, gave them his exclusive permission to marry.  This is when he really came to understand the work on Earth that God had laid out for him: to represent God, and to rule over the people in every aspect of their lives.

“Over the years, he endured multiple arrests and persecutions, condemned to hard labor, and was finally reduced to preaching from a cardboard and mud hut.”  Not surprising, I thought.  Maybe the people didn’t want him ruling over every aspect of their lives.  “Through all of this, he was humble and faithful, knowing that the Lord had ordained him to establish God’s Kingdom here on Earth and rule over it.

“You are here for a reason.  There are no accidents.  You are here because God loves you, and the Holy Spirit has called you into the bosom of Father Moon’s love.  In Father, you can have peace within yourself, and join a movement that will bring peace to the whole world.”

There was a deafening quiet over the room.

“Won’t you come with us to learn more?  We are so honored that you have shared a table with us this evening, and we would be more honored if you would come stay at the Center tonight, and go deeper into Father’s love for you and your purpose on this earth.  Now I’m going to turn it over to Roger.  Brother?”

Roger jumped up, eager to please, trust written all over his face, and his eyes still focused on Edward.

He turned to the group. “The bus will make two stops:  one at Bancroft and Telegraph, where you boarded the bus with Brother Andy, and one at the Unified Family Center where we’ve met the last three times.  A warm bed, clean towels, teaching, and fellowship are waiting for you.  What you will learn there, will change your life forever. Ask yourself – do you know you are chosen by God to do His work?  Are you ready to be a part of changing the world today?  I know that you are, or you would not be here.  Who will join us?  Who will come and answer the call of the Holy Spirit?”

This is where our companions really kicked in, each one working his or her charge.  “Please come.  It’s Friday, and we can sit up and talk all night, or you can just crash in front of the fireplace.  Either way, we want you with us!  Please, won’t you come?”

We were lucky not to have been freshmen two years later, because by then Moon’s Berkeley church would be running buses straight from dinner to The Farm, a commune in Booneville where they didn’t let you out for at least three days, just like their sharper brothers and sisters in San Francisco already did.  And they would be using “heavenly deception” like them too, waiting until they had you isolated, far from home and exhausted, before they mentioned anything at all about Moon being Christ. We were lucky enough to meet the Berkeley Moon cousins, the black sheep of the family, before they had their act together, before the boss came to town. 

Three of our group gave in and said they would stay at the Center, two boys and a girl.  Part of me, the guilty part, was glad that they offered themselves up so the rest of us could go home. 
Bob’s head had bobbed back up now, wide awake.

“What happened?” 

“Shut up, I’ll tell you later,” I snapped under my breath. 

Barb, knowing that Roger already lived at the Center full time, as much as she wanted to spend all night with him, was both undone by the bizarre message, and stopped by her church roots from getting too close to any man she wasn’t married to.  As the three who signed up for the full treatment clustered around Edward and Andy, Roger walked up and reached in to cup Barb’s elbow.

“Will you stay with us tonight?” he pleaded, his gaze thick with what might have been desire, but could also have been fervor for something we didn’t understand. 

“I can’t,” replied Barb in a small voice.  “I have to work tomorrow, you know that.  7:00 AM, Bernini’s, for the breakfast shift.”

“I thought you were on later at Ed Hunolt’s for the used book sale.”

“No, that’s Monday night.  That’s Janet who’s on at Ed’s tomorrow.”

“Oh.  Well, maybe I’ll drop by and see her instead,” he said archly.

“You do that,” she shot back, turning to us and inclining her head toward the now open double doors, with the garish yellow familiarity of the magical mystery bus inviting us to climb safely aboard.

But we weren’t done with Roger yet – not by a long shot.


As we boarded the bus and glanced back over our shoulder, the silhouettes of the twenty-five were cast on the outer wall of the Haas building like Platonic cave-shadows cast in yellow bug light.  They were waving feverishly as the bus pulled away; we could still see them out of the back window, waving, becoming smaller and smaller until we rounded the hairpin corner and dropped down over the crest, out of sight.

Andy and the three volunteers were all seated together on two pews at the front of the bus, heads bent low, tops almost touching together, with Andy holding a Mickey Mouse newsprint tablet open to a prepared diagram he was sharing with his young charges.

Barb, wedged in between us with me pressed against the window and Bob on the aisle, was resting her face in her hands.  It was late in the evening now, and her streaked blonde hair had lost its luster, draped in strings over her forearms and lap, no longer smelling of perfume – just a blend of body heat and damp night air.  Bob absent-mindedly stroked the back of her head while, pretending to look out the window, he watched the reflections of the other riders on the insides of the windows across the aisle. 

At first I thought Barb might be crying, but instead she was praying softly, the words incomprehensibly rippling over her tongue in such low tones that I could not understand what she was saying. I leaned my head sideways down to hers, Bob’s hand sandwiched in between my cheek and the back of her head.

I could just make out what she was saying, but I simply did not understand it.  

“Amänä Agzab’r, amänä Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ.  Kǝrǝsǝtiyanǝ mätazäz mäTS’häfqdus, Kǝrǝsǝtiyanǝ mätazäz Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ.  Agzab’r mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä, Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä.”

“Barb? Are you OK?” I asked softly.  The words flowed again like river water from deep inside her.

“Amänä Agzab’r, amänä Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ.  Kǝrǝsǝtiyanǝ mätazäz mäTS’häfqdus, Kǝrǝsǝtiyanǝ mätazäz Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ.  Agzab’r mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä, Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä.”

Bob and I were eye to eye, heads up now, wondering what, if anything, we should do.  Neither of us had ever seen anything like it; not even the time Bob had lost touch with reality and begun talking to his father, in the voice of a little child as if his father were still alive and standing right there - not even that was quite like this complete departure from everything familiar.

I hadn’t noticed him before, but a student seated two rows up had turned around and was watching us now, his fellow castaways.  He was black, and had large intelligent eyes, aquiline features and pure flawless skin, covered with baby-fine transparent fuzz that caught the light. He didn’t look to be more than 17.  As his eyes and mine made contact, Barb’s words flowed again, this time louder and plainer.

“Amänä Agzab’r, amänä Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ.  Kǝrǝsǝtiyanǝ mätazäz mäTS’häfqdus, Kǝrǝsǝtiyanǝ mätazäz Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ.  Agzab’r mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä, Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä.”

“She’s speaking Amharic,” he said.

Barb continued to mutter in the background.

“What?”  I replied, unsure of what I’d heard.  “How do you know?”

“She’s speaking Amharic.  I was born in Ethiopia.  She’s speaking Amharic – bad Amharic, but it’s still Amharic - the same language my parents speak every day,” the boy repeated.

“Are you sure?” I asked, disbelieving.

“Of course I’m sure.  Listen, I’ll tell you what she says . . .”

“Amänä Agzab’r, amänä Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ.”

“Have faith in God, have faith in Christ.”

“Kǝrǝsǝtiyanǝ mätazäz mäTS’häfqdus, Kǝrǝsǝtiyanǝ mätazäz Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ.”

“Christian, obey the Bible, Christian, obey Christ.”

“Agzab’r mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä, Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä.”

“God have mercy, Christ have mercy.  It’s not quite right, but I think that’s what she’s trying to say.”

Barb raised her face from her hands, eyes glazed and teary from her out-of-body experience.  By this time, Bob had gingerly withdrawn his hand from the top of Barb’s head and discreetly hitched himself sideways to a seat across the aisle, from which he was observing the whole scene with birdlike intensity.

She looked the Ethiopian boy square in the eye.

“Do you know me?” she asked, still dazed.

“No, but I know what you’re saying,” he answered with certainty in his voice.

“Do you know Him, too?”

“I do.”

“Are you sure that’s what I said?”

“Yes, I know what you said.”

Barb leaned back in the seat and rested her head on my shoulder.  Not one of us uttered a single word the rest of the way back to Bancroft and Telegraph, not even the three who would not be getting off there with us, not even Andy.

Bob and I hugged Barb before she headed back to her car to drive home.  With our arms around her and her face still in my hair, she asked, “Do you think Roger is cute?”

“Sure, I think he’s cute, if you think he is,” I answered, amused by her centrality of focus considering the circumstances.

“Can you meet me Monday at noon at the Campanile?” She was standing back from me now, her eyes still a little blank, but clearing.

“Sure, I’ll be there.  Drive safe.”

Then Bob and I walked all the way down Bancroft to the bus stop at Shattuck, hands locked and swinging in unison with our steps, silent.  Just as the 10:47 pulled up, I said to Bob, “You’re coming with me Monday.  Noon, Sather Tower.”  He nodded.

As soon as he saw me take my regular seat, he was gone, headed for his little red Mustang, off to Moraga, back up out of the reeds to dry land.

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