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Authors: Paul Di Filippo

Roadside Bodhisattva

BOOK: Roadside Bodhisattva
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Roadside Bodhisattva

Paul Di Filippo

 

For Deborah: The road goes ever on …

 

And to the spirits of two

Roadside Bodhisattvas:

 

Henry Miller & Charles Bukowski

 

Roadside
BODHISATTVA

 

 

 

One

 

 

The fat geezer in the suv ditched me in the middle of nowhere.

“Sorry, kid, this is as far as I’m going.” He jerked his thumb left at a long shady gravel driveway with a fat plastic mailbox staked at its edge. “My place is about a mile down there. Brand-new vacation home on a sweet little lake. More glass than walls, two fireplaces, sleeps ten.” He got a nervous look, like he’d said too much. “I put in real good security, since I’m only there on the weekends. Motion sensors and an automatic dialup to the local cops. And my brother and his family are due along soon.”

What a fucking jerk, sitting there in his Casual Friday office drone clothes, too stupid to know that his rugby shirt and Dockers were just a different day’s uniform. All panicked that I was gonna follow him maybe on foot after he abandoned me, and rip him off. Like he had anything I wanted.

I already had the front passenger door of the suv half open, the straps of my pack in one hand, but I paused just long enough to make sweat break out on his forehead, despite the suv’s air-conditioning going at full blast.

“Yeah, thanks for hauling my ass all those miles. Golly, was it ten or twelve? Want any money for gas?”

He must’ve been totally deaf to sarcasm, because he actually took me seriously. “No, no, that’s quite all right.” He squirmed around in his seat like a dog with worms, then said, “Well, good luck getting wherever you’re going. Do you need directions?”

I stepped out, keeping the door ajar for my comeback. “Don’t go to any extra trouble.” Lame. What else could I say to make him squirm? I rummaged around and came up with something that just made me sound like a drifting loser. “I can’t get lost anyhow, because I don’t know where I’m going.” Then I slammed the door as hard as I could.

He didn’t bother to answer me, but just drove off. His hopefully–rollover-primed tires kicked up a roostertail of pebbles, and I noticed a “Free Tibet” sticker on his bumper. Yeah, right, like he even gave a fuck.

I looked around. Nothing but trees as far as I could see, more trees than I had ever personally experienced before. Hot narrow ribbon of asphalt without even a yellow stripe for variety, stretching off to faraway unknown places. But the weather was pleasant, pure summertime, and the sun was still pretty high. Lunch still sat nice and solid in my stomach, a couple of burgers, some onion rings and a large Coke. I started walking in the direction me and Droneboy had been driving.

I was really gonna have to work on my ironic tone of voice.

 

My pack wasn’t all that heavy. Or so I had thought when I first shouldered it on the way out the door of my folks’ house. All I had in it was a couple of paperbacks, my iPod, and my best Skechers. I was wearing my second-best pair. Plus a few clothes, like an extra pair of jeans and three tee shirts, some boxers and socks. But by seven o’clock that night the straps of the pack were cutting into my shoulders like two dull knives. My feet ached, my legs throbbed and I smelled pretty ripe, like a crate of cabbages in a dumpster. My throat seemed to be made out of the crudded-out cardboard of a day-old pizza box. Pizza. That was really something I could enjoy right about now. Just a hot, greasy slice or three and a tall icy soda.

But this landscape was about as far away from civilized things like pizza as I could imagine. How many miles had I walked in the past five hours? At least a hundred, probably. And still there was only forest, forest, forest. Not a single car had passed me in either direction. Why had anyone ever bothered to build a road through this fucking wilderness anyhow? All I had seen since I started walking was two or three driveways leading, I had no doubt, to other exclusive asshole hideaways. Where did these people go when they wanted to rent a dvd?

At last I admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to find any supper tonight or a good place to crash, like a bus station or an all-night diner. So I started thinking about calling a halt to this sweaty marching and curling up under some tree. I figured that maybe I could make some kind of Boy Scout shelter out of twigs to stay warm.

After about another ten dozen miles, I scoped out my best bet so far. This tree was huge, standing all by itself, and its curving branches came down to about the height of my head, like an umbrella half opened. It was set back a dozen yards or more from the road in a field, so I’d be less likely to attract attention or get woken up all night by the nonexistent traffic.

I left the road and cut across a strip of land where the grass and wildflowers practically came up to my waist. As I got closer to the tree, the grass and flowers gave way to clear ground packed soft with about a million years’ worth of dead leaves. Nice mattress, I thought.

With the sun sinking and the living leaves on the tree’s branches thick as discarded scratch tickets on a sidewalk, the space under the tree’s canopy seemed dark as a janitor’s broomcloset to my eyes. I got a little spooked and slowed down. What kind of animals lived out here? Bears? Cougars? Did they like to hang out under trees?

I stepped forward, past the first branches, and waited for my eyes to adjust.

“Howdy, friend.”

I jumped back like I was yanked on a string. Maybe I would have run if I wasn’t so tired. Looking back on things, maybe I should have. But I didn’t. Instead, once I felt like my voice wouldn’t shake, I spoke right back

“Who’s there?”

“Just a bone-weary fellow traveler like yourself, pardner. Come on in.”

I hung back a minute longer, letting my eyes get used to the gloom. A gentle sunset breeze was making the leaves whisper and breathe in a soothing way, and the air caught close beneath the branches smelled nice. Suddenly, for no real good reason, I felt peaceful and relaxed. That feeling, plus my tiredness, won out over any fear or caution, and I stepped forward.

Now I could see the guy who had called out to me.

He sat crosslegged and loose-limbed at the very base of the big trunk, his butt nestled in a knot of roots. He was a slim, wiry, tough-looking older guy. I couldn’t really guess how old. Once people get past twenty-five or so, they all start to look the same age to me.

He was dressed nothing special. Jeans cuffed up above some ratty hiking boots, belt with a big buckle, denim shirt. His hair was a little on the longish side, and slicked back with some kind of gel or mousse. Or maybe it just hadn’t been washed lately. His face was the most startling thing about him. Pockmarked with old zit scars and craters, nose a messy sprawl, lips kinda blubbery. Patchy gingery whiskers sprouted here and there across his lean cheeks and chin, like weeds in a deserted lot. A little scary looking, overall. But his eyes, as far as I could read them in the evening shade, were lively and friendly.

He didn’t get up right away, and for a minute I had this wild idea that he was glued to the tree, or part of it, or something else crazy like that. But the next minute he unfolded himself easily and stood up. He stuck out his hand and said, “I’m Sid.”

We shook hands. “I, uh, I’d like to remain anonymous for now.”

Sid cracked this wide rade grin. “Anonymous, huh? Okay if I call you Anon? Of maybe you’d prefer Kid A?”

Maybe withholding my name was stupid. But I wouldn’t go back now on my impulsive decision, and I wouldn’t let him get a rise out of me. “Whatever.”

Sid stepped back and looked me up and down. “How old are you, Kid A?”

“Eighteen.”

Sid snorted like a cop’s horse with its nose in the feedbag. “You come from some planet where they use a different numbering system? That mustache you’re cultivating has about six hairs in it.”

That pissed me off. “So what? Your own beard looks like you started to get electrolysis and then changed your mind halfway.”

“You got me there, Kid A. But that doesn’t change your age. I say you’re sixteen, tops.”

“What if I am?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all. I just don’t like to be lied to. Why hide what you are?”

Maybe he had a point. “Okay, you’re right. I am sixteen. And a half.”

Sid clapped one rough hand on my shoulder. Usually I hated when people did that, because it always felt phony. But for some reason this time, I didn’t mind.

“Okay. Now we’ve got a basis for communication.”

“How old are
you
?”

“Fifty-two.” He took away his hand and slapped his own tight gut. “Looking pretty decent for an elderly guy, huh? Still got basically the same waistline I had when I was not much older’n you.”

“I guess that’s cool.”

Neither one of us said anything for a minute. I waited for Sid to ask me the most obvious questions. What was I doing on the road? Where was I heading? Had I run away from home? But he never did.

“Thinking of camping under the tree for the night?”

“Well, yeah. Unless you need the whole space here, or just wanna be alone.”

“Far from it. Company is good. You thirsty?”

“Yeah!”

“There’s a creek a few yards in that direction. Need a cup?”

“Um, sure.”

Sid moved to the base of the tree. I hadn’t seen his pack in the shadows till then. He went to it now and opened it up. It was some kind of retro-looking army-surplus pack, green canvas with a built-in metal frame, lots of grommets and side pockets and rope ties and cracked leather straps. He dug out a plastic cup and tossed it to me.

“Oh, and one other thing.”

A roll of toilet paper came flying through the air.

“Just don’t shit too close to where we both have to drink. One of the prime tenets of civilization.”

I smiled for the first time since I had met Sid.

“Hell, can’t argue with that,” I said.

 

When I got back from the stream, Sid had moved around to the far side of the big tree and was kneeling down. He was busy arranging rocks in a circle around a patch of ground cleared of leaves down to the dirt. Beside his boots rested a decent-sized pile of twigs and branches, snapped to short lengths.

“We can have a small fire over on this side, and there’s less chance anyone’ll spot it from the road. No sense drawing busybodies who’ll sic the authorities on us. If it’s one thing I hate, it’s being hassled by the cops.”

“They looking for you?”

“Hell, no! Do I appear to be some kind of wild-eyed fugitive to you? I’m clean as a virgin’s panties. But I don’t own a home, I don’t pay taxes, and I don’t drive a car. So of course I’m instantly an object of suspicion. You too, for that matter.”

I needed to wrap my mind around that concept for a minute. Just by stepping away from my old life, I was considered a potential criminal? Leaving behind the things I didn’t want anymore, the people who didn’t want me, made me a menace to society? Even without doing anything illegal? Where was the justice in that? Finally I managed to think like a cop and see myself from their point of view. But I didn’t like it any better.

BOOK: Roadside Bodhisattva
10.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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