Bags under your eyes

Bags under your eyes - a short story.

8th May 2007  - Kathmandu, Nepal.

I met a man today, he was neither small nor large, he had interesting eyes and the kind of skin that said travel.
He was neither harsh nor soft in his demeanour, a stooped gait gave a way a lifetime's carrying and indeed he probably had carried much, he was on this occasion weighed down by two large and luxurious bags. One in each hand. At the time we met he was struggling up the hotel stairs with these two voluminous cargoes. While others came and went in great haste, his slow bent demeanour gave away nobility and presence but there was something I couldn't put my finger on. There was more to this man, there was story that drew me. I needed to know more.

We didn't meet up again until the sun was going down later that day. It had been a hot day, the kind that dried the mouths of even the best watered animals in the street, dusty and ambivalent, nothing extreme, just another hot day in a foreign country.
I caught his eyes as he was adjusting his appearance, a nervous tucking in and out of his shirt preceded a quick visual pass around the room. Then I saw, I saw into his eyes fleetingly, the experience of photography, thirty years of insight into mood, of gazing into the souls of a hundred tribes, a thousand occupations and countless dispositions of faith had left me with an unnecessarily vigorous system for cataloguing the types that you found. Hotels were too simple, there were only so many types who could stomach travel to these parts & with varying degrees of insensitivity or egoic miscalculation and judgement left only a small handful of conscious individuals worthy of further conversation or so I thought. Here was a man with eyes that spoke of sensitivity, dark eyes that were hiding great stories and a warmth that was alien in the dust bowls of the developing world. His eyes acknowledged mine with a firmness that reflected my kindred spirit and opened invitation to further acquaintance.

He was on his way to seek new friendships in the temple close to the hotel. Something he told me he had to do, there was no intonation as he spoke, just a straight recollection of fact, no emotion, just a recounting of detail as he saw it. I could see this lack of emotion, this ambivalence to the rest of the world was a guard , but guarding what? He gave nothing away, was he a journalist, a photographer too or just a great philanthropist following a dogma, a pattern through his world that took him for momentary relief in his pain body to revelational insight into higher levels of consciousness he so plainly had visited but wasn’t consistently attaining.
I broke with my tradition of 'leaving be' to furnish my own curiosity to see if I could feel a way through.
He was a salesman, a marketer, an artist a man of great accomplishment there was plainly nothing he hadn't done, nothing that he feared as a goal, a challenge or as a pursuit. He was here collecting stories and anecdotes for a project he was pursuing.  A noble project, a work of art he was building alongside many of his clients, a collaboration, a piece about the Spirit of man. What he felt drove the world to achieve the greatnesses and true lasting legacies in the midst of all insanity. There was no joy in his account, it was a flat but incredibly well thought out piece. Every corner of his art had been measured, drawn up and allocated a slot in the tableau of what would undoubtedly be a work of great worth.
It struck me with the grace of one of the wild fighting Tibetan dogs that this was the ultimate irony. If ever a soul needed space for his own joy, his own love and if ever there was a soul who had so much to give and so little time to do so then here he was.  A travelling man, a restless energy, a lost piece in a cosmic map that was so short of vibrant pieces at this point in our planets history.

We agreed to meet for breakfast and I was left musing overnight on why this gentleman had dug so deep a hole in my usually quite solid presence of mind. After much unnecessary psychological musing I concluded that this was as important a meeting for both ourselves and that the next day would reveal the greatness and wonderment of it all. Choosing to focus on the struggle of the small blue flowers that were growing on the balcony outside, against all odds, stunted by extremes of temperature, I drifted asleep content with the world as it was.

Breakfast.

The temple had been a success, a radiant smile cracked over a much creased face to explain he had interviewed the lama, they had discussed his academic proposal to film short clips of the Dalai Lama's thoughts of the relationship of man with mountain and that they had both agreed on a plan to write to this great man jointly. I could feel his excitement, I was physically being thrown around by the egoic turmoil of a mind sea that was the rival of a storm in the Southern Ocean. It then occurred to me why I was privileged to all this. I was the harbour needed for the sailing, the fuelling and stocking of provisions before the big sail into the depths of spiritual blankness. He had obviously not reached a sustainable or consistent way of bringing his house of mind into discipline and every project however well planned, rigorously detailed was a giant risk - that the stillness, the calm couldn’t be maintained, that somewhere on the journey he would drown or suffocate in the thin air, sandstorms or storm tossed seas of the worlds spiritual deserts. The life strategy was a goal to goal blinkered attack on the spiritual nodes of safe haven he found on the way. Port to port he sought fellow spirits with more consistent disposition to draw on the light, the great eternal consciousness that was the stuff of all discoveries feats and endurance in the world of mind form, ego and psychological management.
Enlightenment I thought would be the easing of his load and then I saw he had brought his bags to breakfast.

They were meticulously tied up, smartly labelled and clean.
There were two bags, one in a beautiful russet brown, the colour of an African watering hole, where the dust is thrown around by the animals as they push and shove to stay alive over our most precious resource - daily water. This bag was even marked with next days date.
The second bag was more intriguingly tagged, a series of old fragment luggage stamps and airport labels revealed a lifetimes' travel. A darker leather bag substantially bigger than the first bag, it had many many zips and pockets, it had an easy to carry handle that looked extremely comfortable. This bag was black in the way that no light could escape. All light would be absorbed onto the cowhide polished efficiency of this portable filing cabinet of all things 'travel'.
He always carried these two bags wherever, nothing more, nothing less. Intrigued as ever, I asked why not just the one bag? The answer was simple and to the point.
'You never know', he responded with the automation of an airport vending machine, what the future will bring - and that's this bag. He raised the the bag with the date on. Proudly he unzipped a material nirvana of zipped pockets, a veritable temple of consumerism and contingency burst out of the pigeon holes, the structured neatness was quite beautiful in its calculated line. Its regulated regimented order and its overwhelming comprehensive structure and versatility. Nothing couldn’t be achieved with the contents of this bag. Every conceivable device, gadget, garment and survival item had been organised into this utopian dream.
I pointed to the second bag and he was less enthusiastic, an aversion in his gaze led me to believe he was less proud of this one. This, he spoke, is just my personal stuff, you know, the day to day stuff you collect, you find really useful and you need. In it he had the collected essentials of what must have been several lifetimes of travel clothing and random shopping. There were beads, sandals, pendants, brooches, small carved statues, flags and a great many compartments as with the last bag, all labelled, all filed all regimented. There was no energy here, just a deadness of space. You had to marvel at the intricacy with which it was packed but you had to question how one man had accumulated so much stuff and why he was carrying it around everywhere. This is me, he blurted out, uncharacteristically, and I could see it was. This entire life was defined by the the contents of that suitcase. The Ethiopian bead, the Indonesian face mask, the Colorado shorts and the stuffed rabbits foot. There were no pictures of children, friends or family, just things, cold lifeless things that mesmerised you, drew you in to an intriguing journey of past memory. What, I asked him, happens when an opportunity arises to go somewhere where you cannot take you luggage, somewhere exciting, an adventure, perhaps climbing a mountain.
Oh, he adopted a calm thoughtful disposition, and tilted his head to one side. He had rehearsed this, I travel up here, and tapped the side of his head.
He was absolutely convinced and absolutely set on this. There was no negotiation he would do with what he had and there would be no more. But do you never wonder what might be around the corner what great experiences you might miss travelling with such a heavy load? No, he was firm now, the greatest journey's never finish, anyway the greatest paintings merely stop at interesting points, my argument is that if we are all merely on a journey why must it have an end, a beginning or even a point?
I had to agree with him, I had always measured my journeys in friends made, not in miles, but here was an exceptional contradiction - he didn’t make friends just business contacts, he didn’t journey for the journey, just for the goal itself. It wasn’t in my opinion a life, but I knew as my 'Gods', my 'Being' had taught me that this was 'his way' and that great consciousness and the light was the only teacher in the darkness of such journeys.
And then with an unexpected lucidity this man whose eyes had caught my attention, this man who I was starting to judge in a reversal of all my teachings made a start with his hands and reached across the table to touch mine. We are not so unalike, he began with a grey bearded wisdom, we are borne of the same material, we are destined for the same end, we are all part of the same great consciousness of being, the same unified energy it is only the presence of now of looking at every moment of every day with the concentration of the forces of nature herself that we realise we ARE the forces of nature.
He drew his chair up nearer to mine and I looked into his eyes more deeply, I saw the untold stories, I saw the fires burn of a thousand camps, the tears of pain body unreleased that had travelled the whole universe an infinite number of lifetimes, I saw the proximity, the nearness of the light, the warmth, the glow of being, of human being and I saw the presence in the face of all.
It was a clearness, a clarity of vision, a truth and a way forward for us all. I looked from my position in the hotel lobby straight across the room to the tall and dark mirror and I saw no more bags.

 

Si Homfray