A Passing Caprice – Rekha Valliappan

‘The only difference between a caprice and a life-long passion
is that the caprice lasts a little longer.’
– Oscar Wilde

I am playing hooky on a Friday, you know F-r-i + d-a-y! 3 + 3 head to butt swing on the nose regular kind of Friday that places the cone of silence of deep sleep in juxtaposition with quaffing stinky cheese, crackers and other bite-sized breakfast-in-bed morsels so I can be off to a routine start. My only thought is to laze around and flip my handful of coins. This week’s collection, jangling in my pockets, ready to capriole. Not a disease. The camelids, a caravan system of dromedary ruminants traversed the Atacama Desert for millennia simply because man and beast played hooky.

The door bell rings. Damn! My doorbell doesn’t just ring, it hacks, like Gabby having a scarf-and-barf, when she wants to spit out a hairball, only none comes. I am meaning to fix it, only the flathead screwdriver and wrench once stored in my tool-box is laying in a puzzled assortment on my work bench in the basement below. Like everybody I open one eyelid. Salesmen I think, blinking my watering eyes first at the front door, then at my vaulting coins, all bouncing like adrenaline junkies having their trampoline moment. Let them ring!

With my belly rumbling, the same as always, several coins flip, bound, leap, some unwillingly, defying laws of nature, expelled without incident on a starving stomach and roll away into crevices and cracks here and there in the floorboards and under the bed. As I lazily watch them airborne, the singular happens. And the plural of singular?Singularity. It’s not like my life is not miserable enough for some superpower moments to happen. It’s not Gabby, although at times she flips the rest, swallows others, not today. If her innards are ever documented shining round nickel-sized objects will be spotted. She’s grown old. Age makes her anti-social. She doesn’t chase my hopping coins as much.

Truth to tell, I am not good with loose change, except for flipping. It’s not as if you have hundreds of dollars in spare change laying around that you can afford to lose, as my mother would say, but her not being around any more I can flip all I want, so here I am flipping like crazy, silver showers in plume, fifty coins or more, when lo and behold I see what any disbelieving adult will not normally see. I swear on my mother’s grave, and her more than six feet below, bless her discerning soul. Jay, you’ve done it!

The metal coin jumps in the air in a way I’m never going to see it jump and makes a three-point landfall on its edge, you know standing up, tin soldier like. And there it stands, dead stop, after wobbling a bit, without further quavers. Given my state of mind I accept the arrival of my sun and moon, sea and land, Narcissus und Goldmund epiphany moment of life’s meaning and destiny. “Gabby,” I yelp mouse-like for fear the magic will disintegrate. Gabby is having one of her own Eureka! moments looks like, hookier than mine. She opens her lazy eye, the silver-ghost one, gives a pig’s grunt and rolls over, playing dead. I stare at my hands. I recognize one but not the other. They look larger than last night, the one I recognize. My smaller hand gives me delicious shivers. How else could I have flipped?

“What do you think, Gabby?” No answer. Later the door-buzzers leave. I quickly tune to Dr. Math in my laptop to gain some algebra knowledge. I am not willing to touch my shining quarter for I cannot help thinking it will subvert the truth hitting me in the left side of my face, the side that resembles my mother’s, down to the long distance nose-line. I feel the bee sting of the moment’s life-bite. I’ve been stung before. A fresh wave of delicious trembles descend to my toes. The angle of accuracy on this day means my chances at redirected caprice are astronomical. They have improved by ninety to one. I discover from Dr. Math a coin landing on its edge is a one in a trillion stand-off. Holy Guacamole! Caprice has hit enterprising good luck. Imagine sailing to Paris, walks in the Tuileries. Ibiza. Stay away from that coin unless you want to be imprisoned in your own delusional dreams. They be fool’s gold in the empty air! The cascade of my mother’s crackles descend in a fountain from Rishikesh to ensure my eternal salvation to Nirvana. But, the fundamental facts of kinship dictates that in a matter of wills caprice is by invention.

Satisfied my hooky caper is going slam dunk ad infinitum I make wordless noises at Gabby and take off to my regular joint, a diner few blocks down the road, to replenish my vitals. First things first is an irreplaceable matter of accumulated experiences. It’s not as if you are starving that you cannot afford to stand any more hunger, as my mother would say, but her not being around and all I can eat all I want, so there I am salivating like crazy that F-r-i + d-a-y! 3 + 3 morning for falafels and black coffee, when Gina who serves me whoppers at my usual table gets a surprise at my earlier than usual arrival.

I tell her I am celebrating my coin flip. Gina, of course bursts into loud laughter. She ought to get a manicure. “Oh, that!” she says disinterested-like, studying her nails, painted bright blue. “It’s landed on the nose,” I bubble, excitement flying spittle off my mouth, I miss all distribution points. She asks to see the wonder-coin. I peel it out of my inner coat pocket, undo the gauze covered in tin foil. Concealed inside is a small pewter case afraid to lose its star-sprinkled sparkling coin. I had won the case in a raffle at a new year’s party. “Chedi,” she says dismissively, to be irritable. I glower at her. Chedi to her means mere metallic, I suspect. She has gained some views of stupas and stuff from touring the east. Her hope is to one day be the curator of the Met in New York. Once she told a group of us university delinquents a lively but likely story of an empress in brass which ended in her, the empress, being turned into a chedi. I want to know more.

I turn my magic coin this way and that, too eager to mind Gina’s haughtiness or dispute her chedi claims. I am not convinced. I would hate to know She disappears into the kitchen. The place is filling up and I lose another opportunity to chat with her, the way we are used to, over cups of steaming black coffee.

I hail a yellow cab to head downtown.

Where to, Sir? asks the friendly cab driver in turban and a beard.

I’m celebrating my coin flip, I reply.

Jolly good, he says, I know top class celebration spot for coins.

That’s the place I want to go, nowhere and everywhere, is my expansive reply.

This side is up . . . that side is down.

Down, then up, then up and down, FLIP! I yell deliriously at the cabbie, and there’s an extra for you.

The traffic flows briskly We are headed downtown. To Chinatown. .Anyone who attempts to reach downtown from uptown at the height of mid-morning rush will know it takes over a couple of hours give or take a few minutes. And never on a Friday! I have all the time in the world. Flip!

Like a kid mesmerized by Pachinko at that moment if I can fly to the moon I will. The Big Bang occurred when the right chemicals in the universe all fused together after the initial burst. It is true I tell the cabbie. While it took a few hundred billion years, in reality it lasted less than a second, for life to form. He doesn’t mind me, humming ‘Stairway to Heaven’ under his breath. I grin, eschewing all airy matter leading to unexpected weird and my cluster of cascading silver coins. Two sides of the same, fault lines and all. A passing caprice? Perhaps. Chased by my dreams. Could be. A handful. Flipping?! The very reason I like to play hooky. Especially, on a Friday.


Image via Pixabay

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