The International Writers Magazine: Immigrants Story
When Solomon Jacob flung his red, leather-bound heirloom on that cold day in 1973, a rare “dammit” flew out of his mouth. Past and future retreated for a moment as the Book struck the wall of the Hyde Park apartment and sprang open on the hardwood floor, sprinkling pink, yellow, and violet flowers. A single bluish-purple petal fluttered and fell onto the opaque India paper like the last movement of a dried-out desert dancer.
The Eunuch Chronicles
Getting to God’s City by the River
Michael Chacko Daniels
“and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs . . . ”
Solomon stared at the petal of his mother’s beloved flower; he recalled the day she had picked it nineteen years ago.
He stepped back, face puffed, and turned his head. No, he told himself, he wouldn’t slip into his father’s or grandfather’s habit of seeking special significance for the flower in the words that revealed themselves in the randomly opened pages of his father’s Book; not even now. So what if it had been read and meditated on by two generations of Jacobs across four continents? Could words alone calm the maelstrom in his head?
Maybe, he thought, I should do the kind of thing Mother would have done: stuff into my mouth everything in the fridge—Mother’s pierogi, stamppot, and Father’s idli-sambar.
He clamped his jaws tight; the thought of eating anything right now filled him with nausea.
Those lovely flowers! Mother had picked and pressed them for Father’s birthday every year, no matter how busy they were in their medical practice—although giving fresh flowers would have been far easier, be it in Chicago, Riverside, Oakland, Kampala, Sao Paulo, or Varkala.
“Someday, I’ll plant a garden with all the flowers she loved,” he promised himself, his eyes remaining averted from the Book.
What were those flowers called? Hard to recall their names—not as easy as pierogi, stamppot, and idli-sambar. Always mistaking the name of one flower for another, he’d known he could go to his mother, join in her laughter and hear the names of the flowers on her tongue. She knew every one as well as she knew children’s diseases, or the Old Testament in her version of the Book—which had come in a battered suitcase from Europe after World War II to her home in Riverside, Michigan.
He stood, now, over his father’s version of the Book and stared at its red-and-black letters, wondering: How many times did Dad read aloud from it and talk of the ways of peace?
Peace? Not now, he told himself. What good did it do for Dad? Or for Mom?
What was left to do, then? Revenge? He’d have to prepare a grave for himself, if it was revenge. But wasn’t it a good time as any for a grave?
Solomon struck a match and flung the flaming stick at the Bible. “Take the damn neighborhood with you,” he mumbled. “And Chicago.”
The match flared through the air. But fizzled before landing on the floor.
In its place, slowly, a memory took form; a vision from childhood of what he had wanted to do in Riverside, the city where he was born. A city of holy scavengers who drove out the poor and stripped their buildings. A city of burning houses. That city, again? His father had often said, “Although some may call it ‘God’s city by the river,’ it has a mean streak a mile wide.”
He knelt down and looked at the Bible. The Book had opened where his fingers had made a frequent passage: Mathew, 19:12. “For there are some eunuchs,” he read aloud, “which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”
Solomon Jacob was able to receive it. Nothing was changed from the first time he’d read Mathew 19:12 and understood the routes to becoming a celibate.
Days passed with few words and little activity. The Book was closed, yet never far from him. Finally, retreating to his parents’ carefully constructed pile of medical books and journals in a back-room closet, he struggled to hide the Book. The flower-filled mountain fell on him.
He wanted to pull out his hair, a little boy once again. For a long time he just lay there, unable to tear his mind from the beauty that was his mother, more beautiful than all her flowers.
“The flowers—that I can do,” he told himself, “but what about Dad’s much-postponed dream of bringing Grandma and Grandpa Jacob from India?”
He worried over this deferred dream for another day, telling himself he’d do what his father had been about to do, but now couldn’t. Then he thought: No, I won’t do it; I don’t have the strength for such an undertaking. And then: Yes, I’ll do it. And then: Even if father’s dream ends up interfering with my own plans for Riverside? And then: Hey, I am no little boy; no reason to think I can’t keep his dream separate from mine. And finally: Yes, I’ll do it. But not because I believe in a diety.
On that cold January day in 1973, the sound in his head of bullets hitting flesh finally stopped. And after a while, he felt confident that he could eat sensibly without gorging himself before his journey to the city by the river where he had been born and his father had never been comfortable—the city that, his mother had said just a few weeks ago, could break her son’s heart because he wasn’t what the people in it thought he was or wanted him to be.
No matter, he told himself. I have to go; the sounds I want to make in Riverside will shut down the sound of death in my head.
. . . alone in that vast land of America . . . .
Far away in Varkala, India, Grandma Jacob tore a page from her Bible into small pieces and released them to the wind. Bleached butterflies fluttered in the rice fields and among coconut, banana, jackfruit, mango, papaya, and drumstick trees.
Later, she walked down the hill to the beach to hear Grandpa Jacob speak to the people of Varkala. Will he turn them against America? she wondered. Kerala’s many communists and socialists were already out in force, stoking people’s anger.
“Many miles from here, in a very dangerous place on the night of January 14, 1973,” she heard Grandpa Jacob intone in his native Malayalam to the hundreds of mourners, “in that great country of America, where they possess, as seldom seen before, the God-given power to banish hunger and poverty—yet, caught in a culture of greed and crass materialism, they killed our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ: Paulose Kuriakose, Mary Kuriakose, Rachel Kuriakose, Mathai Jacob, and Ruth Jacob.”
Aaeeyo, Grandma Jacob mourned silently. My beloved son, Mathai, and his wife—gone forever. My golden grandson is alone in that vast land of America. Will anyone really understand him? Love him for what he is?
“In one night,” Grandpa Jacob continued, “bullets shredded all of them in faraway Chicago, the very bosom of Christian America.”
Silently, Grandma Jacob covered her head and prayed—unlike her husband, she addressed not only Jesus: “May Solomon see his way past his sorrow and follow his heart. That’s what my beloved son and daughter-in-law would want. My husband can’t help himself; he burns with a single-minded proselytizing fervor, even at such a sad time in our lives. What can he do? When he gets wound up, his ambition is to sweep up souls for the only Savior whom he recognizes. And does he not have moments of great eloquence?”
“GaneshYahwehJesusAllah, all same,” the boy said.
After his parents’ funeral in Chicago, driving to Michigan under a gray Illinois sky in his beat up Gold Duster, the bluish-purple dried petal rose and fell in Solomon’s mind’s eye. Was it, he wondered, a sign of what would happen to his dream? Or a sign that he was going to crash? The latter, he was sure, if the flower kept distracting him. He pulled up at a rest stop and stared at a slender line of silver maple trees in the vast and lonely plain.
Those Michigan Riversiders, he recalled, hadn’t liked his father. Why would they roll out the welcome wagon now? When they heard what he wanted to do in their city by the river, they’d probably hurl firebombs at him, surreptitiously no doubt, like they did at some of the buildings in their inner city.
Maybe he should head back to Chicago. This sudden journey to Riverside was no more than a foolish, wild impulse; bravado of the worst kind. What did he know about dealing with the type of people who’d let the houses of the poor burn? He never had the heart for conflict and contention, no matter how long and hard he’d practiced the martial arts. More than likely, he’d be a good-for-nothing warrior among the mean-spirited. They’d strip him bare and chop him up at the first opportunity. There was so much they could attack him on.
No, the best thing he could do for himself at this time would be to join a Zen monastery, live an austere life for a couple of years, and try to resolve his emotional and sexual confusions. He had known for a long time that the sexual life of his peers was not for him; neither women nor men attracted him. He was best suited for a monastic life. Simplicity. Order. Routine. Celibacy. Service.
The bluish-purple dried flower rose and fell in his memory, again. Mom’s birthday gift for Dad, so carefully selected and pressed. Maybe the persistence of the flower in his mind, now, had something to do with his memories of the boy he had been when the flower was picked. An insufferable boy, so sure of himself, all taken up by a dream for Riverside that came to him out of the bright tropical daylight of his grandparents’ home in India—a dream that flashed through his mind after listening to the adults around him talk and talk for never-ending days about saving souls and saving bodies.
A strange vision; for Riverside, no less. A vision that had come to the boy he had been at the end of his first week out of America, back in 1954, nineteen years ago.
He recalled staring at Grandpa Jacob’s stethoscope-free neck and whispering to his father, “Tell me, Dad; please tell me about Big Daddy, or I’ll die. Definitely.” His eyebrows and ears had shot up.
“Easy, Solomon,” Mathai Jacob said, his tamarind-brown hand hovering over his son’s sandy, curly hair.
Easy? The boy’s shoulders slumped. Forget easy, he told himself. He was five, not a baby. He had to know the answer to the puzzle that sat between his eyebrows and wouldn’t leave him alone—why this giant man of Varkala, so much of his body exposed, black-as-India black, this “Big Daddy,” didn’t have a stethoscope attached to his body, though he, too, was called Dr. Jacob?
Mom and Dad did, when they worked in Chicago, Riverside, or Varkala.
Maybe Doctor Big Daddy had hidden India-man superpowers. Shazam! India-man!
No, no, not like that.
Doctor Big Daddy, more elephant than Wizard Shazam.
In America, Dad explained everything. Everything. But here, in Doctor Big Daddy’s house, in Doctor Big Daddy’s country, nothing. Dad better tell me, or I go kaput, he thought. No, no, maybe not like that.
There were zillion other reasons he could die in this sweat-popping heat. If not a lizard peeing into the mouth-burning sambhar and poisoning him, then a giant, hairy spider. A scorpion. Dropping from the roof’s dried coconut fronds. A python. Hiding under the teakwood bed—
Scream? No, no, Mom won’t like that. Better—hug Doctor Big Daddy.
The boy dangled on the railing of the spacious verandah, pumped plump olive legs. A green chameleon separated its head from the spine of a banana leaf in the garden, examined him with pinhole eyes, and winked.
He stopped swinging.
I don’t believe it! he thought.
The chameleon rocked forward, shot out its tongue, snagged an insect, and, as if spring loaded, retracted it. Powerful jaws crunched.
A crow flapped; the chameleon dropped to the ground in a shower of drops and disappeared between the stems of the giant plantain herb.
The crow alighted on the railing a few feet from Solomon, turned, and slanted its head.
A lizard chased a rust-colored cockroach up the whitewashed wall into the thatched roof.
The boy’s legs pretzeled; he held his crotch, feeling the little bump he had there.
“I don’t believe it!” he said aloud, just as much to the crow and the chameleon, the lizard and the cockroach, as to his parents and grandparents.
“Easy,” Mathai said again. “Remember what happened to kitty-cat.”
“Dad, tell me, or I go—” Lips pursed, fingers snapped. “Poof, like kitty-cat, anyway.”
“You’re scaring Solomon, dear,” the boy’s mom, Ruth, said. A smile wavered in her peeling, sun-burned face. She turned to look at Grandma Jacob. “So much to take in, so much never seen before. Eyes like saucers, ears rise straight up with each new sound. A thousand questions.”
The boy’s eyes narrowed.
Grandma Jacob’s light brown face opened up with a smile, her teeth matching the whites of her eyes. “You want me to tell him, Mathai?” she asked her son. “Your father can be a mystery to a young boy. After all these years, he still confounds me.”
Solomon rearranged the fly of his new India-cotton short pants that was tickling him. Why couldn’t he be dressed in a lungi like Big Daddy or a skirt like Mom?
Mathai’s face turned a shade lighter, long eyelashes of dark eyes fluttered, head shook a few centimeters. He said, “Solomon, souls live in our bodies while we’re alive. Your grandfather is a doctor of souls, he takes care of souls, your mother and I take care of bodies.”
Souls? Doctor of souls? the boy pondered for a few moments. Gray-blue eyes darted from Father to Grandfather, and then to Mother. Big Daddy, a miracle man? Yes! He had a big soul. That’s why he was double Dad’s size. My favorite man—the carpenter who repaired our home back in Michigan—worked miracles, too, but with hammer and saw. A wood doctor. All big bones and muscles.
The boy jumped up and down, eyes agog with excitement.
Grandma Jacob said to Mathai, “A little Michigan dove trying to make sense of this tropical land.”
The dark bird flickering in her eyes caught fire.
“What a special childhood moment with my only grandchild,” she added, her right hand making small circles in the space over her heart. “As memorable as the moments I had with you, Mathai.”
The boy shouted, “I’ll take care of houses.”
“Why houses?” Ruth and Mathai inquired one after the other, in voices that sounded as if peppercorns had seared them.
“A touch of disappointment in your voices?” Grandma Jacob said. “Because Solomon doesn’t want to be a doctor? What happened to progressive child-rearing?”
The boy punched the air.
“You silly people! Souls, of course, live in people; people, of course, live in houses. Without houses, of course, big trouble for people, big trouble for souls. Souls need houses! Right, Mummy? Right, Daddy?”
Ruth, her blue eyes turning into a happy-sad whirlpool, said, “You have a point there.”
Mathai, his expressive face condensing into a darker shade, all emotions hidden behind it, nursed his silence.
Water dripped from the roof; birds whistled, chirped, hooted.
Mathai said, “Solomon, I don’t think your grandfather’ll agree with that.”
At the other end of the verandah, Grandpa Jacob removed his ear from the short-wave radio and reported, “United Banana Company sponsors a coup in Guatemala. June 27, 1954 news.”
Blue-gray eyes widening, the boy stared at Doctor Big Daddy.
Bare to the waist in the sweat-happy, humid heat, Big Daddy reclined in a canvas-backed, teakwood easy chair.
Elephant Man, the boy thought. Everything big. Eyes, nipples, toes, even the weenie under the loose lungi. Maybe someday Doctor Big Daddy could explain how to make a regular weenie out of a knob.
Mathai said, “At least, it’s a man’s job he is inclining to. That’s a mercy. God be praised!”
Grandma Jacob turned away from looking at her husband, and said softly, “He could’ve covered his mountain of flesh in the presence of his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. But lording it over one and all, has he ever shown an iota of self-consciousness about physical exposure in anyone’s presence?”
Her voice turning hard as a thick-edged knife cracking open a coconut, she said to her husband, “What are you talking about? Did you hear what your grandson just said? I get to see him for the first time! Do I want to spend it lost in some nowhere-land of conspiracy theories?”
Mathai Jacob tousled the boy’s curly hair, floated a please-don’t-fight smile between his parents, and said to his father, “That’s United Fruit Company, Appachan.”
Grandma Jacob lifted the boy and smothered him with kisses. The boy buried his nose in her neck. “Curry,” he said. “You smell like curry, Big Mummy.”
Leaning back in her warm, soft arms, he examined her moist eyes, ears, and well-oiled gray hair, and ran his fingers through the inner rim of the soft holes of her elongated earlobes that almost reached her shoulders, and whispered into her ear, “Cow-soft, doggie-soft, no, no, softer, nothing like it in Michigan.”
“Love you, Big Mummy,” he added, raising his volume. “Love you—from here to America! Dad, when’s Grandma coming to America?”
Mathai scattered the gathering of crows on the railings. “Soon.”
“Soon doesn’t always mean soon, does it, Dad?” the boy said.
“You’re my golden grandson,” Grandma Jacob said. “Now, tell your grandfather what you want to do.”
The boy squirmed out of Grandma Jacob’s arms and scampered to Grandpa, eager for a closer look and sniff. Did he smell of curry like Big Mummy?
“Save houses, Big Daddy.” Plump olive fingers curled, uncurled. “Like my carpenter friend, back home. Riverside. Michigan.”
“Carpentry?” Grandpa Jacob turned his head from the radio. Scowl lines formed crevasses, ridges, and ravines.
A long moment. A frown?
The boy shivered.
No, not a frown, a Big Daddy smile.
A Joy to the World smile. Grandpa Jacob clapped. “Carpentry? The Jesus craft. Work with wood and you can save houses, work with people, and save souls. Ahh! Everything’s possible. Man proposes, God disposes.”
“He said, ‘God,’” the boy reported to everyone.
Grandpa Jacob refixed his ear to the shortwave radio. “Thank you, Mathai, for gifting me this American sutram-magical device. The Sultan of Borneo’s ransom, those vipers at customs in Bombay must have sucked out of you when you entered India. But no custom’s duties, India Treasury runs dry, India government collapses, CIA wins. Then, where’ll India be? Back to white-man’s colony. Fresh into mammon land.”
Had the soul doctor lost interest in him? the boy wondered. “Doctor Big Daddy,” he said, “is the radio’s mouth-speaker.”
“Short-wave radio, no better modern present for an ancient Indian man,” Grandpa Jacob said to Mathai. “Now I’m no longer the wild man of Borneo. My ear and window to the world is instantly augmented. I can be here, there, everywhere. Left, right, center. Mind you, I’m very much, cent-per-cent sure the CIA and the Fruit Company had banana fingers in the Gautemala shenanigans. When you come back next year, son, I’ll be conversating, American-style. Less British-twist. Also, more up-to-date.”
“God’s banana fingers!” the boy said, clapping.
Ruth and Grandma Jacob smiled; the two adult males frowned.
The boy spider-walked plump little digits over Grandpa Jacob’s exposed potbelly. Smooth and warm, he noted.
Big Daddy giggled.The boy burrowed his nose in the generous tummy.
“Doctor Big Daddy, I love you, too.”
“Praise God!” said Grandpa Jacob.
“Solomon! Don’t be rude,” Ruth said.
“Doctor Big Daddy, you’re Ganesh!” the boy clapped and circled the Elephant Man. “Big Daddy Ganesh!”
Grandpa Jacob bellowed and sat up. The radio’s extension cord unsettled the side table, almost dropping the well-worn, leather-bound, red Bible; generous breasts and tummy vibrated and rolled. “What?”
Arms spread for balance, the child stepped back, wondering, Should I flee from this man with the big eyes?
Mathai, Ruth, and Grandma Jacob froze.
“The Elephant God?” Grandpa Jacob said, rising out of the easy chair. “A good Christian like me?”
The boy watched Doctor Big Daddy Elephant Man advancing, now more formidable than ever. For such a big man, feather light on his toes.
Sure, Doctor Big Daddy was Ganesh, not Wizard Shazam. He slid his unshod feet back on the dark-green tiled floor.
“A follower of the Word of Christ Church?” Grandpa Jacob said.
Ruth unfroze, moved to remove her son from harm’s way.
“Ganesh?” Grandpa shot the word out of his mouth.
The boy jumped back. Did Big Daddy, Doctor of Souls, have a chameleon’s tongue?
“Yes, Ganesh!” the boy said.
Grandpa Jacob wagged a thick, lizard finger. “You’re becoming a regular Hindu, playing in the dirt with those ragamuffins. You take in their language like a sponge, parrot their gods’ names. You’ll fill your mind with rot; they have a million gods and a billion names. Come here, join me in raising your voice in a word of prayer to Jesus, cleanse your mind, heart, and God-given everlasting Christian soul!”
“Your smell, Doctor Big Daddy: jackfruit and mangoes, cashews and coconut oil.” The boy skipped, happy to share the odors of this giant who everyone except Grandma feared.
Grandma Jacob rushed to the boy’s rescue, freed him from her husband’s ministrations, wrapped her arms around her only grandchild in a soft, firm embrace.
“I will protect you, as long as I live,” she said, pressing him to her heart. “From all devilry. Male or female.”
“Or hijra?” the boy asked, stepping back and dropping both hands into his pockets, his right hand patting the softness between plump legs. He had learned the Indian word for eunuch in Bombay when a group of them had stopped their taxi and asked for a monetary offering in return for their blessings to protect “the lovely little one” from malevolent forces. They were terrifying, yet strangely attractive! Strong bodies barely covered in saris and adorned with bangles, earrings, and necklaces; large eyes lined with kohl.
“Male, female, or hijra,” Grandma Jacob said.
“From Big Daddy, too?”
“Him? Yes! I protect him from everyone, I could very well do the opposite, too.”
She scooped Solomon up and walked away; the little boy kicked happily in her strong arms.
Ruth, her curly, sandy hair bouncing, tried to match the pace of the striding older woman. “Ganesh, Yahweh, Jesus, Allah. It’s all the same to me,” Ruth said. “But to Mathai—”
“My son, Mathai! Daddy’s boy on religious matters,” Grandma Jacob said. “My mother—born a Hindu. Christianity came in adulthood only. At twenty-one. After she fled her abusive, no-good, always-drunk husband to marry a Christian.” In pace with her step, Grandma Jacob condensed sentences and long histories, firing rapidly. “Later, wiser, although she continued to kneel to Jesus, known only to me she bowed to Hindu gods and goddesses, from Saraswati to Bahuchara Mata. Extraordinary woman.”
The boy clapped.
“Bahuchara Mata?” Ruth said. “Goddess of hijras,” Grandma Jacob said. “Worshipped by Hindus and respected by those Muslims who are neither male or female. Her followers believe in nonviolence.”
“GaneshYahwehJesusAllah . . . plusgoddessofhijras, all same,” the boy said, avoiding Bahuchara Mata. Bahuchara Mata? That one remained a mouthful for him.
“Solomon,” Ruth said, giving him a big, soft kiss, “don’t let your Dad or Big Daddy hear you say that.”
“Doctor Big Daddy? Doctor Big Daddy’s Ganesh.”
Now, smiling over how Grandma Jacob had protected him from Grandpa’s fury nineteen years earlier, Solomon restarted the Gold Duster. He felt a little less tense, but no wiser about why the bluish-purple dried flower had troubled him. Anyway, this wasn’t a time to think about flowers, fresh or dried. What he needed to call up was a warrior’s endurance and resilience.
Resuming his road trip to Riverside, he reentered the flow of traffic. He recalled the picture of the Hindu tantric Goddess Bahuchara Mata riding a rooster; a hijra friend had given it to him in India a few years ago. He was sure it was somewhere in the assorted mementoes he’d piled in the trunk and on the back seat, along with the sari and high heeled shoes, bra and bangles, lipstick and kohl. Maybe he should arrive in Riverside wearing them, singing praises to Bahuchara Mata. Give Riverside a jolt.
When his friend had told him that Bahuchara Mata’s third-sex followers believed that if you gave up violence to all creatures, she’d protect you, Solomon asked, “Then, why are they so shamelessly aggressive in public?” and his friend said, “Because people want them to be that way. Wake them up from daily hum-drum. Give self a jolt. Open mind. Without touching. Don’t forget Bahuchara Mata is a tantric goddess.”
Solomon smiled. Neither of his parents had believed in the likes of Bahuchara Mata: while Mathai Jacob was a dyed-in-the-wool Protestant like Grandpa Jacob, Ruth Jacob was an agnostic Jew.
Now more than ever, he felt, he was more like his mother than anyone else. The world made sense only if he looked at it through her skeptical eyes. As for Grandma Jacob, she was like no Jacob he knew. It was possible she believed in everyone’s God; no one god or goddess could satisfy her spirit.
He shook his head; he wasn’t like his mother at all. Unless, she had felt periodically like blowing it all up, like he did just now.
. . . I might come to love this city.
Once in Riverside, Solomon drove slowly down Wealthy Street toward his childhood home. He tried to see his mother again in his mind’s eye, working in her beloved garden. Years ago, his mother had sold the house, saying, “Nothing will bring me back to this city.” No matter, he told himself. I know she loved Riverside. The smell of smoke overpowered him. Up ahead, flames shot out of a boarded-up building.
There goes one part of my childhood—the part that drew me back, he thought. The matchstick I threw in Chicago blooms here. No, no, he corrected himself, that’s nonsense. It couldn’t be that. Fire fighters were hosing down the building and trying to prevent the fire from spreading. Police sheperded people out of neighboring buildings, pushing back bystanders. Solomon parked his Gold Duster on the street and walked toward the police line.
Someone must have known—
No, that’s nonsense, too. It’s just coincidence. Someone set this fire for profit—
“What a shame!” said a tall, middle-aged black woman; she shook her head and clicked her tongue. The fire crackled.
“What happened?” Solomon asked, chin pointing at the burning building.
“What happens all the time south of Wealthy Street,” she said, pointing to the left, “only this time it has happened on the north side of the street.”
“Fire arrow,” said a black kid. “I saw it.”
“Three!” said another. “Shot out from over there.” He pointed to the trees in the back of the burning house.
“Fire arrows?” the woman asked. “Are you sure, honey?”
“Fire arrows,” said both boys.
“Two, four, who knows?” the first boy said. “One arrow—enough to torch that rat trap.”
Solomon looked at the kids, the woman, and the burning house. He looked at the cloud of billowing black smoke. He looked at the swarm of spectators.
Oh, Mother, he ached, I miss you so much. I already want to flee this city. They burn so easily these houses that people could live in. It is a city that hates. In time, it’ll hate me. Good time to get into my Gold Duster and speed away. What do I know about how to change Riverside, or how to help create something new? I will turn on my heels now, set aside childhood dreams before they become nightmares, and without a backward glance head for California. Grandma and Grandpa will love sunny California, a much more welcoming climate than this city of snow and burning buildings. I’ll go—like you, Mom—and never come back.
He looked at the tall black woman, wanting to say, Yes, it’s a shame—but before he could, she said, “Young man, tell me I’m right: I know you from somewhere?”
“Maybe you know me, maybe not. Years ago, I lived in that house—”
“Ah, yes. I do know you, not from somewhere, but from right here—”
“Many years ago—”
“And so it was—”
“I played in that house and in this neighborhood—”
“Your mother, Ruth Jacob, was my friend; your father, Mathai Jacob, my doctor.”
Solomon’s reply got stuck in his throat. More than ever, he wanted to drive away, but now that she’d said she knew his parents, he felt obligated to stand there. But how, he wondered, was he going to tell her without breaking into tears that both Mother and Father were dead?
“God brings us together in strange ways at strange times, doesn’t he?” she said. “As soon as I heard the address of the burning building, I dropped everything and came right away.”
Why did she have to bring God into this? “Seeing the building burn reminded me how much Mom hated this city.”
She nodded and put her arm around his shoulders. His shoulders relaxed. Oh, no, I’m going to cry now, he thought.
“I know. I know,” she said. “But looking at you, I remember how much she also loved this city in which you were born.”
“I was about to get in my car and leave,” he said. Why did I reveal that? he wondered.
“And go very far away and never come back. I know that feeling well. But, before you go, you must tell me what brought you here.” She paused. “Because, you see, why would you and I be here at the same time that the house that was Ruth Jacob’s burns?” She pointed her chin toward the two kids and added: “Hit by fire arrows!”
If there are more people like her in Riverside—
“When evil strikes, one can never give up,” she said. “I can still hear Ruth Jacob saying those words and your father saying, ‘Copy that.’”
. . . I might come to love this city. It certainly would be a miracle, if there are any more like her, he thought.
. . .when Solomon got over his fear of girls . . . .
July 20, 1974
Varkala, Kerala State, India
My Dearest Solomon,
Many times, people have repeated to me what you said when you were five. After your beloved parents were killed, everyone in Varkala expected you to retreat from your childhood dream of saving houses to more private thoughts and activities. . . .
As to your questions whether we’d like to come and live with you in Michigan, I have talked it over with your grandfather. In the final inning of our life we’d like nothing better than to be with you, Solomon, our only grandchild, to see you settled in life. We have spoken to people who have knowledge in these matters, and have been told we’d be lucky if we can get our affairs in India settled in less than a year. Fortunately, passports and visas are not a problem because they were all worked out as part of Mathai’s previous arrangements for us to come and live with him in Chicago. . . .
After writing the letter, Grandma Jacob reflected that when Solomon got over his fear of girls—shyness really, a young one’s shyness, no more, the type of shyness that would fall off with a little bit of encouragement and practice—and found a partner for life and they had children, she’d teach them how to live among Riverside’s Dutch Protestants and Polish Catholics.
No more difficult than teaching children how to milk a cow.
Hadn’t she, without hesitation or inner conflict, integrated dissimilar traditions within herself? Out of reverence for her mother’s matriarchal and Hindu lineage, and partly as a fashion statement that reflected her attraction to its colors and textures, she’d pierced her ears as a young woman and worn the heavy earrings to produce her elongated earlobes. Hadn’t she successfully encouraged Solomon’s male inheritance with years of Kerala’s martial arts?
And she’d be damned if she’d let her husband make it difficult for her to pass on her knowledge because of his stratagems and his latest passion: taking pristine Christianity back to the West. That was a job for an American, a Made-in-America job for a Made-in-America person, not her Made-in-South India husband.
“Honor thy husband—even if you’re stronger than him,” the patriarchs had said before she married Jacob.
“Honor thy husband? Yes, certainly. Very good advice,” her mother had said. “But more to the point: change the old-men’s words to ‘Humor thy husband, even if you’re stronger than him and he’s in the wrong.’ That’s my two-in-one wisdom for you. Without humoring, you cannot honor him. And I promise you, my golden daughter, you’ll have ample reason to humor him. All men believe they know more than they actually do. Don’t I know? Running away for dear life from a woman-beating-hating husband, with two little children, marrying a Christian, living in the Christian heartland of Kerala, taught me this.”
But now, Grandma Jacob asked the goddesses Saraswati and Bahuchara Mata: Will all my knowledge and intentions be of any consequence, if my darling grandson becomes confused in the vastness of America about who he is?
© Michael Chacko Daniels Oct 22nd 2010
Part two of The Eunuch Chronicles starts here
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Michael Chacko Daniels is a former community worker and clown who grew up in Bombay, India. His past adventures include five years as a Volunteer In Service To America, four as editor/publisher of the New River Free Press of Grand Rapids, MI, and 16 running the Jobs for Homeless Consortium. He lives and works in San Francisco. His writing has appeared in Apollo's Lyre, Cricket Online Review, Denver Syntax, dragonfire, Eclectica, Grey Sparrow Journal, Hackwriters, Popular Ink, Quicksilver, SHALLA Magazine, and The Battered Suitcase. Writers Workshop, Calcutta, has published three of his books: Split in Two (Poetry, 2004), Anything Out of Place Is Dirt (Novel, 2004), and That Damn Romantic Fool (Novel, 2005). The fourth, Morning in Santiniketan (Haiku, 2010), will be published in December. Website: http://indiawritingstation.com/
More life stories in Dreamscapes