She said: “Oh, so it’s a writers’ convention, then?”
“That is what Miss Sunderland said when you told her about my journey to these Himalayas?” Bapuji asked.
“Yes, Bapuji,” I replied.
“Well she is correct. Look here, these are the yogis that wrote the Upanishads. They are all the writers. They live in those mountain caves. So Miss Sunderland was correct. It is a meeting of writers. And these are the ladies that are helping by giving them wisdom… but papu, should you not be going to bed now?” Bapuji said.
“I am in bed, this is a dream.”
“Oh yes, sorry, I forgot.”
“And you Bapuji, aren’t you exhausted from travelling all the way up here to the Himalayas? That is a long, long journey.”
“How can I be tired, I have no body, I am already dead.”
“Oh yes, sorry, I forgot,” I said.
“Why don’t you wake up now and get ready for school?”
“Just I want to stay sleeping five more minutes?”
“Okay, but then you will get up and have some Weetabix with warm milk and sugar, isn’t it?”
“And maybe some scrambled eggs and toast and butter?”
Bapu knew that if he made me think of breakfast, I would wake up. You see, I used to love Weetabix with warm milk and sugar. My Bapuji! He was trying to trick me.
He just a trickster like Krishna the butter thief.
Back up in the Himalayas, the yogis were all sitting in the lotus position in a circle around a fire, and Bapuji and I and everyone were sitting with them and they were all laughing and talking.
And guarding the mountain was an askari (a Maasai night watchman). He had made the fire and now he was just standing near the edge of the mountain, watching the mist sink into the valley and the early morning sun was just coming through the thick mountain clouds. Bapuji said that the train that Chaiwalla asked him to take had stopped near the bottom of the mountain, and from there he had taken the country bus with all the Kikuyu vegetable ladies through all the dusty roads winding up in to the mountain.
Bapu pointed to the bus he had taken. The bus driver was standing outside the bus, talking with the askari, and then one of the yogis brought the askari and the bus driver a cup of tea in an earthenware cup.
The yogis were laughing because the upcountry African women from Limuru were telling them jokes and making them laugh. And I recognized one of the women. She had been Wanjiro’s friend in Nairobi but then she died and I remember that Wanjiro was crying when she heard about it. Even my grandmother was sad when she died, because this lady would come to our door and sell us upcountry vegetables, mangos and cassava and sweet maize and these things. But now she was here in the Himalayas. Her name was Wangari. Our eyes met.
“Atherere waemwegha!” she said to me in warm greeting.
I don’t speak Kikuyu so I didn’t know how to answer her, but I think she said how are you or something like that. Anyway, she was not surprised to see me, but I was very surprised to see her.
“Bapuji, there are some vegetable ladies here from the upcountry in Nairobi, like that lady Wangari. I mean these ladies sell vegetables so what are they doing here with the writers of the Upanishads in the Indian Himalayas?”
“These ladies may be vegetable sellers to you, papu, but here, they are royalty,” Bapu replied. “Here, they are treated with respect by all the writers of the Upanishads, and they are here to give wisdom and bring news of planting in the earth, because the mountain needs the low earth, and the low earth needs the high mountain. There are no castes here, and no races and no religion, only mountains and earth.”
“But how did they get here?”
“Upcountry bus. You remember that upcountry bus? It is right there, you see.”
“Yes, but I thought that bus stops in Limuru.”
“It does, but when one of these ladies is ready for her long journey, she asks the driver to drive her up the mountains so she can finally see the world from above. That bus driver is waiting to take her back to her ancestors. She is just visiting at present.”
“I am getting hungry for the Weetabix!”
“Good, now you go and wake up. You need to go to school soon.”
“But do I need to give any more lessons to Headmistress Sunderland?”
“No, that is enough for now. You have opened her eyes, and now if she wants to see she will see.”
“See what?” I questioned.
“See that we are all connected. Because you don’t learn that in school isn’t it? You learn that here, in places like this.”
“You mean you learn it when you die?”
“What makes you think I am dead?” Bapuji asked me.
“Because you said so yourself, isn’t it?”
“What makes you think you are asleep?” he questioned.
“Because I said so myself, isn’t it?”
“Exactly! But why did you say it? What were you thinking? Your thinking is the government, isn’t it?”
Now my grandfather was enjoying himself confusing me like that time when he confused Wanjiro about the socks.
Then one of the yogis spoke.
This man was sitting next to Bapuji, and he was laughing and he spoke to me in Sanskrit. I do not speak Sanskrit but I understood him.
“Samsara,” he said.
I stared at him.
Then he said it again:
“Samsara. It says in the Upanishads under your grandfather’s bed that Prakash found when you played hide and seek that ‘Samsara, the transmigration of the souls takes place in one’s own mind, therefore what a person thinks, that he becomes, that is the mystery of eternity.’”
“Are you understanding, papu?” Bapuji asked.
“Look,” Bapuji began, “if you think you are dead, you are dead, if you think you are alive you are alive, if you think you are sleeping you are sleeping, and if you think you are awake, then you are awake.”
“But right now, I am sleeping, because if I was awake, I would be eating Weetabix with warm milk and sugar, isn’t it?
“And what makes you think that you are awake when you eat your Weetabix? Maybe you are dreaming when you are awake?”
“Now I am getting mixed up.”
I was sitting looking at Wangari’s feet and I noticed she must be cold because there was Himalayan snow on the ground.
“Ask the woman if her feet are cold,” I told the yogi and he translated for me from Sanskrit to Kikuyu. Wangari started laughing before replying.
“She says that when she goes back down she will go to Mr. Patel’s shop and ask him for some new soksi,” the yogi translated.
Then Wangari put her hand out and made a fist and started laughing, and shyly covered her mouth to make the laughing stop. Slowly, she got up and started to shake the hands of all the yogis and they shook her hand and bid her farewell.
“But how come she is shaking hands with all of you?” I asked the yogi sitting next to my grandfather.
“Because there are no untouchables here. And there is no Queen for god to save, and there are no stolen jewels on anyone’s head. This is a pure place, a happy place, a peaceful place.”
The upcountry ladies got into the bus, and just as the bus driver was getting in I saw his face. I recognized him so I jumped up and ran toward him shouting, “mwezi, simama!! Mwezi!!”
“You! You stole my Bapu’s silver watch, isn’t it?” I shouted at him.
He said nothing.
“Are you going to give it back?”
He said nothing, but took off the watch from his wrist and gave it to me. Then he got in the bus and drove off.
“Bapuji!” I said proudly to my grandfather, “I got your watch back for you. I got it back!”
“Thank you, papu. But just one question: now that I have my silver watch back, what time is it?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “Does anyone here have the time?”
And all the yogis started to laugh and giggle.
“We have lots and lots of time, how much you want? Ten minutes, thousand years, ten thousand years?” they asked.
Then one of them gave me a cardboard box. It was a box of Weetabix. So I opened it and took two husks and put it in the bowl of warm milk and sprinkled some sugar.
And that is when I realized I was awakening and it was morning and I was sitting at the breakfast table.
“You need to rub the sleep from your eyes, you are not awake yet,” I heard my mother say. “Today Sebastian is coming over after school and you and he are going to build model aeroplanes, isn’t it?”
“Good. Now, I received a phone call yesterday from Miss Sunderland. She said that you are to make sure that you go out and play during the recess. She said there is no need for you to be teaching people about tea drinking during recess. What does she mean by that?”
“I don’t know,” I replied sleepily.
“Hmm. Well, better you just go and play during recess isn’t it?”
“Your father has attended the funeral, and now he is coming back. Funny thing happened at the funeral, did I tell you?” she said. “An African bus driver came over to him at the funeral, and he said he found the silver watch of your grandfather. He said he found it under a seat in the bus. The thief must have panicked and thrown the watch away after he stole it from Bapuji.”
“Really? How did the driver know it was Bapuji’s?”
“Because it had his name inscribed on it, remember? It was for his retirement. So the bus driver looked him up in the phone book. Your father told the driver that your grandfather no longer needed the watch and told him to keep it.”
“So the bus driver was not the thief?” I asked.
“No, no, no, he was the driver of the bus, an honest man. The thief was a passenger on the bus.”
“I made a mistake.”
“I thought the bus driver was the thief.”
“We all make mistakes. I made a mistake once,” my mother admitted. “I told you off because you put your fist out to get measured for socks at Abernethie’s. Do you remember that?”
“We can all learn from our mistakes,” she reminded me.