Fiction / May 2008 (Issue 3)


by Larry Lefkowitz

Each day at about five o'clock in the afternoon on her way home from work she passed the motorcycle, motor scooter and bicycle repair shop where he worked. Usually she waved to him if he was in the front of the shop, without entering to speak with him since his boss frowned on her disturbing him at work. But today he signaled her to enter the shop. As soon as she was inside, he rushed up to her and told her to take the next day off from work, and that he would do the same. He would come for her on his scooter and they would spend the day touring together, for which purpose she should pack a lunch for them.

She lowered her voice so that only he could hear. "You will actually take off from work?" She knew how difficult it was for him to get a day off.

"Yes, I have arranged it. You arrange it, also." He knew she would have no trouble doing so with her boss who lived close to her house so that she still had time to arrange it that very day. He looked in the direction where his boss sat in the adjoining room, unable to see them but certainly trying to hear them, and added quickly, "I'll come by for you at ten."

It was twenty past ten the following day when he stopped at her house on his motor scooter. He beeped the horn for her to come out.

"You're never on time," she scolded him gently. "Here, take the lunch."

He took the basket of food and strapped it to the rack on the back of the scooter.

"I have a surprise for you," he told her.

"Oh?" she exclaimed.

"I have brought along a book to read to you at our breaks. A wonderful book."

"I hope not one of those detective novels you are always reading!"

"No, something more interesting. You know how I am always striving to find a purpose in life and in work. So I was delighted when I came across a certain book in the library last week as I was checking out the books on two-wheeled vehicle repair. The title of the book is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It was translated from the English, or rather the American."

She shrugged. "I hope you won't need it to fix the scooter on our trip."

He looked puzzled for a moment, and then laughed. "It's not a repair book. The librarian apparently made the same mistake and consigned it to the 'repair' book shelf. Finding it was like opening a clam and finding a pearl inside. One can not overestimate the fortuitous. But who knows this better than us— remember how we first met? You happened to drop a book as I was passing by and I picked it up and gave it to you, which led ultimately to the pleasure of my picking you up today. Only too bad we will not be riding on a motorcycle instead of a scooter."

"A scooter is good enough," she said.

Her comment pleased him; it was typical of her modesty, the quality of hers which had first attracted him to her. He took the book from where he had inserted it between the bars of the rack. "Before we head off, listen to this." He thumbed through the book. "Ah, here it is." Without clearing his throat for fear it would sound pompous in her ears, he read out loud.

In riding on a motorcycle, you are completely in contact with all that you see. You're in the scene, not just watching it as when you are inside of an automobile, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.

"The same is true of riding on a scooter," she said in order to encourage him.

"Yes, I agree. So let us remember this fact as we travel, it will add to the pleasure of our journey."
He returned the book between the bars of the rack and sat on the scooter, his legs straddling it. She sat down behind him, holding on to him tightly; her hug suffused him with a feeling of joy that she was his, that she was a part of him. And he wondered whether, if he married her as he intended to do, there would be many moments of such joy.

He started the scooter. The sound of its motor shattered the silence and sent a group of black birds resting in a nearby tree flying off to escape the roar which was not one of nature's familiar noises. The scooter headed off slowly, as if reluctant to continue its trip. After a time, he eased the scooter to a stop near a copse of trees. "Let's have a drink," he said. "It's becoming hotter." He took the vacuum bottle from its holder on the scooter's column.

They took turns sipping the cool mango juice from the cover of the bottle which also served as a cup. He lay back and placed under his head a cocoanut which had fallen from a tree. "I need something softer," he said.

She was leaning against the tree from which the cocoanut had fallen. "Come on, you can use my lap for a pillow."

He got up, went over to her and lay down with his head resting on her lap. "The author of the book," he said tapping it, for he had taken it from the scooter along with the bottle, "would be pleased with this bottle cover—it is a single object which serves two functions."

"Good for him'" she said. He couldn't tell whether she had said it in approbation or mockery.

Undaunted, he continued, "For instance, things and people are not separate ...", he paused and ruffled the pages of the book until he found the page he was looking for and read out loud to her:

The real motorcycle you are working on is a motorcycle called you yourself. The machine that appears to be "out there" and the person that appears to be "in here" are not separate things, together they grow toward the desired "quality", or together they separate from it.

She took the book from his hands, closed it gently, and put it on a moss bed near her feet, as she sat down. "I prefer people to machines."

"That's because you are a romantic, and I am a classicist," he said, sitting next to her. He picked up the book. "The book divides human understanding into two kinds—classical understanding and romantic understanding," he said by way of introduction to that section of the book which elucidated the difference between classic and romantic. Finding it, he read to her for some minutes before concluding, "Although motorcycle riding is romantic, motorcycle maintenance is purely classic." Once again she took the book from his hands, put it on the moss, took his face in her hands and kissed him. "I'm the romantic," she said. "And you are a classicist who is now blushing."

For a while they forgot Zen and they forgot motorcycles. After a while, after they had finished their romanticism and lay back facing the sky, he was aware of the delight he felt at this moment and in the woman next to him, and remembered a passage from the book that had moved him:

And he sees that all consciousness is a dream ... a dream he must now sustain by his efforts. Then even "he" disappears and only the dream of himself remains with himself in it.

He wasn't sure he grasped the full significance of the passage, and at the same time he thought that he did. He wanted to repeat it to her, but feared she might laugh at his seriousness. And he remembered another passage that had moved him when he had read it.

He no longer wonders what will happen next. He knows what will happen next, and tears flow for his family and for himself and for this world.

For a few moments he tried to grasp the meaning of the passage. It saddened him, but with the kind of sadness that is somehow uplifting. Yet he did not repeat the words to her because he thought it would sadden her and might cause her to rebuke him for spoiling the day's pleasantness.

A sudden sharp pain in his side roused him from his musings. She had jabbed him in the ribs with a playful finger. "Stop dreaming," she scolded him.

He lay back without answering.

From the ocean rose a heavy odor like rotting organic matter. In contrast, the wind was calming and the sun warm. Windy, sunny days had always been his favorite weather. A flock of black birds flew inland as if fleeing from something. She wondered out loud if they were the same black birds that the scooter's engine had startled.

"I don't know," he answered. "It's unlikely," he added, getting to his feet, and pulling her with both hands to her feet. "Let's continue our journey," he said.

He drove the scooter leisurely now, as if it had been lulled into sleepy motion by the balmy weather, and the two people and the machine as if one object moved closer to the coast, but still above it. The ocean stretched forever, warm and blue, very blue; it produced in him a strange sense of despair. Perhaps it was caused from some lines from the book that the view caused him to remember:

Those who live along the coast never know what the ocean symbolizes to landlocked inland people— what a great and faraway dream it is, sunk in the deepest levels of subconsciousness, and when they arrive at the ocean and compare the conscious view with the subconscious dream, there is a sense of defeat at having come so far to be so stopped by a mystery that can never be fathomed; the source of it all.

The scooter moved slowly, as if controlled by the weight of his ponderings; it passed hills, in the folds of which strange flowering shrubs had been sculptured by the upsweep of winds from the ocean, and there were vines and purple and red flowers, and a fragrance mixed with a vague scent from the yet unseen ocean. He thought of stopping and plucking a red flower for her to wear in her hair, its red colour set off against the black of her tresses; he decided against doing so lest it prompt from her a charge that he was abandoning the classic for the romantic. And yet the vision of the red flower in her dark hair seemed a merging of the classic and the romantic. Or a merging that went beyond them.

The scooter descended along a road that wasn't a road so much as a path, passing houses that became thatched the closer they came to the bay. Boats seemingly floated on the bay, and he felt her arms tighten around him, perhaps the sight had moved her also. They left the scooter and walked toward the water. And he remembered another passage from the book, one that he had memorized, too, because it spoke to him:

Unhappiness and misfortune are bound to occur as long as people live, but there is in me a feeling now, that was not here before that penetrates deep: We've won it. It's going to get better now, things like this it is possible to feel.

And it would have been better, for both of them, together, yet on that day, at that moment, she said to him, "Look, there is something unusual on the water, far away, very white."

"It's only the wind," he said. "The wind is whipping up the water."

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