Green Sombreros

From 2003 in response to a request to write a true-ish story featuring green sombreros and elephants .

 Rabble-worn gravel path gradually traveled/A rebel unraveling stumbled and babbled…

You must leave here at once said the wind. Jump out of your window and into my arms and I will carry you far away from this danger and foolishness.

Will you really? she asked.

You have my word whistled the wind- Come on- it’ll be a Vacation.

A vacation from what?

Sense and Supposed-to-Bees.

I am not a huge fan of Sense and Supposed-to-bees.

So you’re waiting for what exactly?

She jumped and was caught in a cool rush. Arms so strong and safe that she laughed out loud for the first time in the longest time and the moon came out from behind a cloud to see what it was that merited such mirth.

Where are you taking me? she asked.

Do you think the wind knows where it’s going?

She smiled into the darkness.

Does it matter? he asked.

Not so much.

Good said the wind. That means we’ll get there.

Below them a smorgasbord world, set like a table for the feast of a king. Such muchness she thought. Her heart filling and spilling dizzy with delight as the wind dipped and spun a boyish ballet below the stars.

Alice down the Rabbit Hole he said. Wonderland is Everywhere.

Why have I never been here before?

Because you were too scared of falling.

He that is down need fear no fall…

No Fear No Fun said the wind and spun her upside down.

When she finally caught her breath she started to laugh and when she finally stopped laughing she said honestly I should go home now.

Why?

I have my reasons.

Reasons-raisins said the wind. You’re not that important.

I’m not?

No.

She smiled.

I am tired so tired. I have sleep to do and work to dream that’s it isn’t it?

Something like.

You don’t really want to go home do you?

She smiled.

Jump said the wind suddenly and it was a command.

What?

Jump.

She looked down. There was a longish ways to look.

Go on. Dive deep.

For what?

For pearls maybe. Maybe for fun.

For fun pearls?

That too.

When you’re diving it helps to believe there’s water under you, no?

That’s one theory.

Right she said.

And jumped headfirst into the jasmine-scented night.

***

The gecko looked at her critically. May I ask a silly question?

She nodded yes sticking flat to the wall and thinking life would be a whole lot easier if she could see it in the singular. Talking geckos were an entirely new phenomenon to her and she wanted to pay attention to the experience, something not so easily done when you are seeing things in triplicate.

If wishes were horses what would horses be?

If wishes were horses…she trailed off there trying to think.

You don’t know do you? Three accusing pairs of gecko eyes glared at her with unconcealed contempt.

Does it matter?

Do you?

Yes!

Well then.

This wasn’t going well for her.

She shook her head trying to clear it.

Now there was just one gecko but one with three voices.

She’s not very bright is she?

Maybe she fell on her head when she was a baby.

That’s one theory.

Did not!

And she was about to follow that with something suitably cutting, but the wind came by and shushed her with a cool finger laid against her lips.

Make-believe he whispered.

What?

When you don’t know- the answer is Make Believe.

Go on. Make-them-Believe.

But-

Sometimes said the wind, the Truth is a matter-of-fiction…

And then it was just the glaring gecko and the girl again

Flamingos she said loudly.

Flamingos!

Three voices in almost-unison. The gecko looked beamish.

If wishes were horses, horses would be-

Flamingos.

Absurd.

Excellent!

Why thank you.

Why thank me? Instantaneous indignation in a green gecko glare.

Oh help.

Off the Wall! thundered three voices

She shrugged and smiled.

I’m done with you she said.

And fell off the wall.

***

She fell for a long while and didn’t notice the flamingo flapping amiably alongside her until he cleared his throat with significant politeness.

A Flamingo she said blankly because she felt rather called upon to say something and nothing else seemed appropriate to the occasion.

No ma’am, a horse said the pink bird smugly and a poet at that.

To prove his point he then proceeded to declaim the following

Roses are red violets are blue.

I think it’s funny that last should be true.

…Well what do you think?

It’s very- succinct, she said.

Succinct said the horse-who-was-a-flamingo and profound yes?

That also.

You’re not a poet too are you?

No no.

That’s all right. Somebody has to be ordinary so it may as well be you.

She wasn’t sure she liked that take on things, but the horse-who-was-a-flamingo continued with a knowing sidelong glance-

You didn’t intend to turn out ordinary did you? No matter. Accidents happen.

I am not an Accident she said hotly.

And just then hit the surface of the cold water with a loud splash.

***

Can we talk about something else please? I’m off cigarettes, alcohol and dreams.

She looked up at the man across the table from her, he was blowing bubbles out of a purple pipe and sipping something frothy from an orange and green coffee mug that said “World’s Greatest Sister” across it in sky blue lettering.

What were we talking about?

Doesn’t matter said the man let’s talk about something else.

Why are you off Dreams?

Why aren’t you?

Oh but I am.

Why?

I used to think if I sat around dreaming out of windows and over the moon then sure as death and taxes Someday My Prince Would Come etc.

Mass-marketed Disney Dreams- When You Wish Upon A Star etc.

What?

Pay no attention to me. You were saying?

That dreams mean nothing unless you wake up. That Wishing Upon Stars is all very well but then you have to get up and do something. That you can’t sit around waiting for things to happen to you. You have to Go Out and Happen to Things.

You make that up yourself?

Actually, I saw this poster once.

Ah.

Anyway, I’m no longer the casement window sort.

And what sort are you pray?

A different kind of stereotype: The Hungry-for-the-Big-Bad-World sort.

By that sin fell the angels.

Yes but I’ve always thought Lucifer would have been an interesting conversationalist. Are you laughing at me?

Yes.

You think I speak in jest?

Jest is a good word.

It is.

Do you remember me?

Should I?

Try.

So she wrinkled her brow and blew softly over the fingers of one palm- then – yes she said her eyes bright and indecipherable. I remember. We met in a dream on Wednesday night at that corner street restaurant. You were sitting at the table across from mine wearing an orange tie with purple flowers and singing the national anthem backwards, yes?

No he said kindly.

It was a nice thought though.

It was. And there’s another one coming up right behind you.

She turned and her arm brushed against the orange and green mug that said “World’s Greatest Sister” in sky blue lettering, and as it fell of the table in slow motion the room began to spin like a top on the asphalt and she wondered what next.

***

Am I in your way? said the great blue elephant sadly.

Not particularly she said.

Well that’s neither here nor there.

Well neither am I.

Yes but you’re in my way.

You might’ve just said so you know.

I was being polite said the great blue elephant with haughty gloom

I was not to the ill-manner born. And where I come from rights-of-passage are respected.

Rights-of-passage?

Yes. Gullible Girl before Great Blue Elephant, Great Blue Elephant before Godforsaken Treetoad, Godforsaken Treetoad before-

I think I understand.

You think you’re rather clever don’t you?

I didn’t say that!

Ah- but you thought it.

How do you know I’m gullible?

Well you’re here aren’t you.

I – I don’t know.

So you see- you’re not so clever after all.

You’re very unhappy.

Yes said the great blue elephant and burst into copious tears.

And what’s worse is you’re bored.

Unbridled Boredom said the great blue elephant passionately, is my middle name.

Not very catchy.

No. Frankly I’d prefer Hortensio.

Nice.

Isn’t it though?

You need to be meaningfully engaged.

To who tell? I asked the Love of my Life and she said Come back Tuesday.

When you’re not meaningfully engaged you start to spend vast quantities of time and thought on stuff that doesn’t matter or shouldn’t- and eventually you end up believing that you’re Unhappy.

Is that True?

I would never lie to you.

I need to be meaningfully engaged.

What’s stopping you?

Well- he stopped there sheepishly (and for a great blue elephant no small feat that.)

Oh- I see- I’m in your way.

The great blue elephant shot her a grateful look as she stepped aside. Bless you he said in Tamil tapping her head lightly with his long trunk and as he did so the ground gave way beneath her and she found herself falling.

Here we go again she said.

***

The girl in the mirror looked decidedly- cross.

What ever took you so long?

I didn’t know you were waiting.

That’s what they all say. Don’t you want to get to know yourself?

Yes.

Well then?

My mother told me never to talk to strangers.

How has that worked out for you?

More or less.

More. Or. Less?

Less.

Figures you know. If you don’t go within you go without.

So I’m too late?

As it happens you’re just in time. Come on In.

She took a step forward, tripped and fell through the silvery surface.

Well that’s one way of doing it said the girl in the mirror.

Quiet down you she said.

***

Are you looking for Jeffrey? said a creature looking most suspiciously like a Godforsaken Treetoad.

No.

I don’t think that’s true.

And who are you?

I’m Jeffrey.

I don’t think that’s true.

No it’s not said the creature and fell on his knees I’m just a Godforsaken Treetoad.

You ought to abandon your pretenses you know.

And would you take care of them if I did ?

Not so much.

Well then.

You can get up now.

Aren’t you going to knight me first?

I think no.

What good are you he said rising sulkily.

There’s nothing wrong with being a Treetoad.

Go away.

Treetoads are Real.

And that’s a good thing?

Yes.

Are Moose Real?

Yes.

What about Jeffrey?

Who’s Jeffrey?

I am said the oddly shaped piece of furniture in the corner, raising its head. And she realized then that it wasn’t an oddly shaped piece of furniture at all. It was a Moose.

You’re Jeffrey?

I could be.

What does that mean?

What do You mean?

I- I’m not sure yet.

Everyone said the Moose must mean something. To someone.

That’s what makes you Real.

You are very Real she said quietly.

And very Ugly said the Moose and he twinkled at her.

I think you’re Uncommonly Attractive said the Treetoad with schoolboy earnestness.

Let that be a lesson said the Moose.

To who? She asked

Whom corrected the Moose and abruptly disappeared taking the Treetoad with him.

She stood there for awhile. Mulling. And as she mulled the room turned into a giant chute and she was sliding down it faster than she could think down to the very Bottom of What Exactly she Did Not Know.

***

The back of the bus was rather bumpy, her head unexpectedly encountered the ceiling several times in the space of the first five minutes and as she rubbed its top rather ruefully the girl with the billion-bitty-braids said without looking at her, I hope you don’t mind I’ve taken the aisle.

Not at all she said.

I have to be able to see where we’re going or I feel sick she explained opening a Protein bar and proffering the part sticking over the top of the package.

Thanks she said taking a small bite wondering the while why she had never found it necessary to see where she was going when she was going anywhere and wondering if that was at all sane.

You know I was supposed to be visiting the Taj today said a voice somewhat pointedly from the other side of the girl with the billion-bitty-braids.

I thought this was your Day of Silence said the girl in the aisle seat her head still unturned.

No that was Thursday said the voice cheerfully.

It is Thursday.

That’s a bald-faced lie.

She leaned forward to see where emanated this voice from and thus encountered the rugged features of a young person wearing a shirt of sheer lavender and a faded blue lungi patterned with sarcastic looking elephants.

Are you very upset about the Taj? she inquired solicitously.

Devastated he said comfortably, dried cherries anyone? And he passed around a small bag of the jeweled fruit.

Where are you supposed to be? asked the girl with the billion-bitty-braids.

She summoned the word Home to her lips from where it was buried deep down inside her, but The Floating Islands got there first so when she opened her mouth that’s what fell out.

Over-rated said he who was supposed to be visiting the Taj.

So are Supposed-to-Bees said the girl in the aisle turning for a brief second to smile before her gaze whipped back to where they were all going. All that really matters is what IS.

Have to say I’m with her on that one he said.

And what Is- I mean are – you going to do now?

I’m going to get married.

How do you feel about that?

It’s Interesting.

Who’s the girl?

Manjula Subramaniaswamy. She’s from a village near a city called Madurai you probably haven’t heard of it.

Oh I’ve heard of it she said crushing a soursweet cherry between finger and thumb before streaking a vertical line of vermilion across his brow: Wish You a Happy Married Life.

Thank You Ma’am.

A friendly silence ensued. She chewed the red fruit thoughtfully and began to feel maybe there was some method to this madness after all.

I think now you should tell me a story, said the young person wearing the shirt of sheer lavender, fiancé of Manjula Subramaniaswamy from a small village near Madurai, and I think it should have feature: green sombreros and elephants.

She frowned trying to understand why this story sounded so strangely familiar to her. Just when she thought she might have it, the bus hit an exceptionally obnoxious speed breaker and she felt herself sailing out of her seat and right out the window.

***

The wind caught her easily, You’re a long ways from home young lady he said feigning sternness.

Where is your home? she asked feeling suddenly very sleepy.

Nowhere. Where’s yours.

Everywhere she said her eyes drifting shut.

Same Difference said the Wind softly without stopping.

***

We think you should wear this said the two salespersons in perfect unison pointing to a very minute overtly outlandish outfit hanging on the clothes rack in front of her.

What’s wrong with my sari? she said and then saw that it was coming all undone.

This will be more Comfortable, they continued still in chorus, and infinitely more Entertaining.

She surveyed the suggested costume skeptically.

Do you have that in red? she asked finally.

The salespersons smiled over her head at each other. One of them led her to a stool and said Forget the dress and sit down.

The other brought over a glass of cold milk and a plateful of cookies.

She gathered up as much of her trailing sari as she could and tucked it in at the waist belligerently. I detect a distinct air of condescension here she said. And I dislike it intensely.

There There chimed the salespersons soothingly. Don’t let us upset you child.

I am older than both of you she said stormily, and Three times as scandalous.

Scandalous? they fought a hard, desperate and losing battle against the kind and disbelieving laughter in their eyes.

So there was nothing left for her to do but stand up on the stool with the air of The Boy who Stood on the Burning Deck and flash forth the following in full voice:

When it feels like sin

Is extra thin

And you can through it see

It isn’t called a nightdress then-

It’s called a Negli-gee.

And then she looked around triumphantly challenging any living soul to stand up and declare she was anything less than outrageous, outlandish outfit or none. No one spoke, thus vindicated she moved to get off the stool her foot caught on her sari, the stool tipped and the room tilted dangerously.

***

Stop said a voice sternly. It was a girl dressed all in white save for a bright red patch sewed onto one pant leg munching popcorn out of a plastic bag.

So she stopped.

You need to quit running away said the girl authoritatively. This behavior is thoroughly unacceptable.

Running away from what?

From what you need.

I want. I don’t need.

More than anything else-

It’s a question of Greed.

Cute. But True? Not so much said the girl impassively and then impulsively- I’m like that too.

Like what?

An Escapegoat.

An Escapegoat?

That’s one word for it. Yes. Running bleating and frantic and foolish from-

From what?

Fate.

Fate?

That’s one word for it. Yes. So why do you cut and run?

When the heart of me to butter turns the tongue of me to stutter then the butterflies inside of me do flutter soft but rampantly they mutter most incessantly oh what an utter fool is she and I can only splutter not deny.

Poetry to postpone Pleasure?

Or put off Pain.

And how does that work for you?

Not so much. Can I ask a silly question?

Shoot.

What is happiness to you?

Laundry said the girl firmly Laundry, soap-scented, sun-faded, serenely flapping in a slight breeze on an old clothesline in someone’s backyard or sweetly waving like so many young lovers over paint-peeling balconies on a narrow sidestreet somewhere in Italy

Or like prayer flags on snow-tipped mountains where the air is diamond sharp and incense-sweet somewhere in southern Tibet?

Exactly.

I don’t want to run away from something like that.

Then don’t.

Remember: In every passing moment lies the chance to Turn it All Around.

That’s very wise. Did you make it up?

Actually I saw this movie once.

I need to start watching the right movies.

You need to start Turning it All Around said the girl with the red patch sewed onto one leg of her pants and even as she spoke the world started up into a slow whirl up and down and around and up and down and around and up and down and…like an irresistible carousel revolving to a faerytune on the misty fairground of a future that seemed at once impossibly near and impossibly far away.

***

I’m tired, said the Boy-Who-Didn’t-Particularly-Want-To-Ever-Grow-Up, sitting on green grass skipping small stones over the glass surface of a borderless bluegray sea.

Tired of what? she asked

Options. Too much. Too many. They give me headaches.

She thought about that for a long while.

Would you care to originate a sentiment? enquired the Boy somewhat dryly after what he deemed to be an inordinate interval of inconclusive silence.

Blow Wind Sun Shine Water Run Climb Vine Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Knowing Who and What You Are Knowing What You Have to Do Choiceless Lucky Ducks are you.

There you are he said The Freedom of the Fateless vs the Prison of Plural Possibility.

Boy?

Yesmm.

Choices concern and control mere Circumstances. Decisions don’t determine your Destiny.

And what does?

You do.

It’s the same deal.

Not Really. I once ate an entire bowl of Fortune Cookies.

Why?

Trying to find a Fate I liked.

And-?

All I got out of that was The Mother of All Stomachaches and a Realization.

That?

That it’s not so much about which cookie do I eat and how’s it going to crumble. It’s about okay so this is what’s on my platter irrespective of who dished it out and now I’m going to deal. And you can toy with it indefinitely, you can slip it to the dog when no one’s looking, you can maybe start a foodfight- or you can eat it with gratitude and find a way to grow through it with grace and humility and without harm maybe even helping a few people along the way and living to make a small difference somewhere. Sometime. Which could be Now, Tomorrow and All the days after.

All that just involves more decisions.

But you see the difference.

Almost.

Almost what?

Almost I thought you were going somewhere with the Fortune Cookie story, and he smiled engagingly and with the air of one who means no harm and much leg-pulling.

So she splashed a handful of the sea in his face.

Grow up he said laughing.

You first and she flipped some more saltwater in his general direction.

You and I she heard a voice say then, are going to rumble.

And it was just about here that she found herself being lifted up and bodily thrown into the briny bluegray of a borderless sea.

***

The man behind the counter looked up as she walked in. Don’t tell me he said, You need a sombrero.

I do?

Everyone does.

Where I come from she said, it is customary for one’s parents to pick out for one at the appropriate time an appropriate sombrero.

Inconceivable said the man behind the counter what a curious custom.

It’s true she said.

Tell me though, given a choice wouldn’t you much rather pick out a sombrero for yourself?

And just how would one set about doing that?

Well it’s a fairly straightforward procedure said the man behind the counter First you look around some and then you pick out the one that catches your eye. The one that speaks to you somehow.

A speaking sombrero?

Hypothetically speaking- yes.

Please continue.

So let’s say it’s a green sombrero-

With a good heart?

A green sombrero with a good heart. Is that important?

It’s important.

Well then- yes.

Please continue.

So you try it on and-

I like it. I keep it. And live Happily Ever After. I see how it works.

Not quite.

Not quite?

No. Because you haven’t yet seen the Red Sombrero or met the Blue one not to mention-

What’s wrong with the Green Sombrero?

Nothing but-

So why look at the Red or the Blue?

Because they might fit better.

And they might not.

True but-

So I might as well stick with the Green.

If you like but-

But what?

Then you’d never Really know.

How does one ever Really know?

There was a short silence.

I suppose one doesn’t ever Really said the man behind the counter slowly.

I don’t think that’s true.

How can you be so sure of things you know nothing about?

Because if some things aren’t True than nothing is.

A brief pause and then:

May I show you our selection of green sombreros Ma’am?

I don’t want a green sombrero.

No? the man behind the counter was beginning to sound a trifle confused.

I want a sombrero the color of night in the darkest hour before dawn, a sombrero star-spangled cloud-swathed and set with the crescent moon, a sombrero as constant and ever-changing as the summer sky. A sombrero that knows how to speak in silence, how to laugh and have a good time. A sombrero with a sense for the sublime- one that knows its own mind and can carpe the diem like none other.

Is that all?

Except for the bit about the good heart.

Because that’s important.

Right.

Yeah, we’re out of those smiled the man behind the counter, Sorry.

Doesn’t matter she said easily, I’d just as soon wait for one to fall on my head from heaven anyway.

Do you know you are full of the strangest ideas?

Yes. And do you know your left pupil is substantially larger than your right ?

Said Frederic and I quote Je le sais. Even as he spoke the dark center of the man behind the counter’s left eye began to spin very suddenly through the space between them and she realized suddenly and with a start that it was in truth a Frisbee and one that was moving very fast towards her indeed so she picked up her legs and jumped high to catch it which to her boundless astonishment she did only for some reason she couldn’t then come down but felt herself being lifted like Superman- Up Up and Away.

***

You again said a voice. And it was the Wind.

I think I’m falling she said.

Wouldn’t put it past you.

Either that or I’m flying.

I see how one might confuse the two and by the way right there that was sarcasm.

You know what my problem is?

They’ve found a name for it?

You can’t keep me Up. Or Down.

Is that a bad thing?

I don’t know. It’s interesting though.

That’s one word for it.

Vacations are Good things.

Have to say I’m with her on this one.

Any advice?

Don’t know that I have any worth giving.

I’m asking.

I won’t like any advice I have to give.

Ditch it then.

Done.

She was almost Home. And the Night was thick with all that had passed since she had jumped from her window what seemed like long ages ago.

What’s that you’re holding.

A Frisbee she started to say and then realized it wasn’t. Not anymore.

She opened her fingers and found a fistful of luminous pebbles irregular in shape and size. And in their depths shone strange and familiar images. A girl with a billion-bitty-braids and a bag of popcorn, a gecko’s green glare, lines of fresh laundry dappled in the sun of late afternoon, the trailing end of a sari, the very Real faces of the Moose who could be Jeffrey and the Godforsaken Treetoad who thought him Uncommonly Attractive…she tore her eyes away from the shifting silhouettes.

Fun Pearls she said softly, gratefully, just as they reached her window.

You’ve been an awesome support.

Was just standing around anyways- figured someone might as well lean on me said the Wind shrugging in his usual way. So when’s the next Vacation?

I don’t know. But I think next time I may want to go Ice-skating.

Ice-skating?

Yes. Because it’s the thing to do here you know, and I am told it requires a fine sense of balance, great agility, flawless co-ordination and natural grace talents I happen to possess in abundance and by the way right there- that was sarcasm.

Ice-skating it is then.

And all this is a lesson for you.

How is this a lesson for me?

It just is.

All right then he said, Platonic hi-five?

Platonic hi-five.

And as she put a hand up against the palm of the wind the sudden scent of jasmine wafted across the world.

***

Epilogue

All alone in the still silence of that night, leaning over the window sill and into the darkness, she gathered all her strength into one arm and unfurled her clenched fist like a flag in the moonlight flinging the soft white pearls far and wide across a vastness of sky where they stuck hard and fast- and where they remain to this day–to witness if I lie.

 

 

 

 

 


One response to “Green Sombreros

  • Shalini Sahai

    How utterly delightful!! I love this whimsical, fantastic tale of green sombreros and elephants peppered with wisdom.

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