With last week’s blizzard whiteout stretching the length and breadth of the nation, I was obviously unable to use my bike for travelling to work and had to resort to flexing my boot soles back on terra firma for the first time a while. Of course, this consists of trudging an eight mile round trip just so I can saviour working in subzero temperatures within a forty foot metal container with no heating, a fantastic experience I suggest everyone should sample at least once in their lives before they die from the onset of pneumonia. Ah, the need to earn money and survive in a consumerist dream world, balanced against developing a life-threatening disease if you choose to work!
I digress. So, the snowfall was the perfect excuse to return the bike I borrowed off my mate ‘M’ - see "A tale of two Bicycles" for more details - as I wouldn’t be using it now and anyway, I’d not even ridden the thing since I discovered it was stolen from a bunch of crack-selling, pre-pubescent hooligans with a penchant for carrying guns, so I ‘phoned him. After several rings but no answer, I was just about to cancel the call when M finally picked-up and as usual, he sounded as if he had far better things to be doing than wasting time speaking on a ‘phone to some random.
“Yeah...?” was uttered in a low, obtuse manner, no doubt influenced by scores of cold calling sellers of every description offering their own branded verisimilitude to the masses.
“Alright M, how’s it going?” I said and almost immediately continued speaking as there was a cold pause from his side, “I’ve finished with that bike I borrowed, so was wondering if I could drop it off sometime today...?”
There was another pause, then M clicked it was me.
“Yeah right, no problem... bring the piece of sh*t up in the next hour as I’m busy after that, alright...?” was barked through the airwaves into my earpiece.
I attempted to make small talk for the sake of the now-booked meeting in sixty minutes time, “Er, okay then... why, what’re you up to then? Need a hand - ”
M cut in and stopped me dead in mid-pester. “I’m aligning my Chakras and then breaking on through to the other f**king side, alright?!” came his interjection, echoing in the now-imposed silence of our ‘phone call.
End of conversation as far as I was concerned, as I wasn’t up for an Existentialist debate first thing in the morning. “Er, right then... see you in an hour,” I said and caught a grunt before the disconnection tone rang out of my handset. My mind was now set wondering about what Transcendental delights were going to greet me at M’s house, so I set off to a meeting with a preordained destiny, regardless of whether I was a believer in Eastern mysticism or not.
As expected, my intended travel plans pretty much developed along the lines of trying to cycle for miles in a foot of trudged snow: pushing the bike through the slutch and slurry most of the way until a clear section of road popped into view, then utilizing the ‘tyres-against-the-tarmac’ method of travel, which worked well until I hit sheet ice and my prolapsed prostate gland led me back to the compacted footpath. And let me just add that all this effort continued, mile after mile, with me looking over my shoulder for the cretinous little drug-dealing pricks whose bike I was lumbering along with in public, no less.
Eventually though and with five minutes to spare, I wheeled the bike around the corner of M’s ground floor flat, my breath billowing in clouds from my exertion and although I was wearing gloves and a bobble hat, I must confess to being frozen to the core due to the outside temperature. “Thank God I’m here,” I thought to myself, “at least I’ll be able to warm up at his flat before I set off...” but as I turned into M’s vestibule, I was met with a surprise: the front door was wide open. Cautiously, I lent the bike against the flat’s wall and peering into the windowless hallway, I knuckle-rapped against the door’s glass panel insert and called out.
“Whoa... M, you here...?” echoed along the hallway; at the end of the corridor was M’s bathroom door, which slightly ajar with a light on inside and the faint sound of running water could be heard coming from inside.
“I’m glad you’re here now as I could do with a hand after all... ” sounded M’s voice, unseen as of yet and so, with this statement I cursed myself for my vocal offer of help on the ‘phone an hour before. “Come in and shut the door behind you,” M shouted out, seemingly from behind the bathroom door, so I turned and took hold of the bike’s grips, then steered the bike in through the open door and closed it.
“Er... alright... er, where do you want this....?” was all that could leave my frost-cracked lips as I lent the bike against the corridor wall, where it jutted into the path of anyone trying to get past. This I discovered as I had to sidle around its metallic obstruction in order to get to the bathroom door. “What do you need a hand with, mate...?” I said as I walked up and knocked on the door slightly, the sound of the running water louder from this position. As I spoke, I noticed that my breath was still crystallising due to the inside of his flat being much the same sub-zero temperature as outside.
“Come in,” M said and so, I pushed the bathroom door open to be greeted with a sight that burnt itself into my mind’s eye forever. Under the fluorescent blaze of the overhead light element, M was sitting in his half-filled bath wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts and with just the cold water tap running. I nodded at him, quite probably wearing a look of confused shock and he glanced at me to return the nod, just the continual flow of freezing liquid breaking the uncomfortable silence between us within the tiled bathroom.
“All I need you to do for me is to turn off the tap when it reaches here,” and with this, M rubbed the bath panel with his finger to indicate the correct fill level he wanted. I looked from him, to where he had placed his fingertip about an inch above the waterline and then back to him: he was wearing a slight smile.
“You see, I’m a Vedantist at heart now,” said M as he sat motionless in the ice cold water, its level slowly rising, “so what’ll be will f**king be, as our lives are all planned out before we’re born out of the pool of universal conscious, right?!” I think he expected an answer from me regarding this statement, so I tried to play it cool, which was quite easy considering how cold it was in his flat.
“Er, right...” was all I could manage, until I realised I had to state the obvious. “Jesus, isn’t it cold enough for you with no heating on and the f**king front door wide open, eh?” slipped out between my chattering teeth.
M let out a snigger and shook his head at this suggestion. “The cold doesn’t bother me now I’m in the zone,” M said, his eyes now closed and his legs bent into the lotus position (well, as best you can affect the lotus position whilst sitting in a bath) with his hands upturned on his knees and his index fingertips touching his thumb tips.
He then took a slow intake of breath. “So, when I’ve had fifteen minutes of complete nothingness in this water and I get out,” was expelled with a waft of condensed chest mist from M’s mouth, “then I don’t need any heating on in this sh*thole ‘cause I’m f**king roasting, literally burning up!” Once again, he allowed himself a small chuckle and then, his face became expressionless as he sought to attain his meditative state.
I stared at this increasingly surreal hallucination - because that’s all it could be - then turned and looked around myself: the bike was still where I’d left it in the hallway, so I checked my wrist’s radial pulse as I thought I may have been spiked with an LSD tab that morning or perhaps had suffered an aneurysm slogging my way there; no, everything was fine and M’s madness was real and now encroaching into my life. I knew there was no point in interrupting him now, so I just kept watching the gradual rise of the freezing water level, safe in the knowledge that I’d done the right thing by bringing back M’s bike so I wouldn’t have to see the crazy bastard again for a while.
With the water just reaching M’s intended level, I leant over and turned the cold tap until its icy flow ceased, then returned to the bathroom’s open doorway to once more try and fathom this scene of insanity: a fifty five year old, sixteen stone ex-soldier who was renowned the borough over as a hardened drinker and fighter, was now sitting stripped in a bath, in waist-deep freezing water whilst trying to open his chakras and attain spiritual Enlightenment via the dissolution of the Ego and ultimately, merging with the Absolute. Yep, not something you come across very often in life, I grant you but still it was an intriguing observation for a layman.
And I believe I actually witnessed this interconnection of all universal matter as I stood there absorbing this scene; only for a second or two, I grant you but still it happened, I’m sure and just a couple of drips from the tap’s nozzle falling onto the still surface of the bath’s water rippled my total absorption into supreme Nirvana. As for M, well he was astral projecting himself into the form of a neutron and off dancing between protons and electrons down on the sub-atomic level in his contemplative moksha state, oblivious to our realm of so-called conscious reality.
Complete and utter silence reigned...
Then, someone rung M’s flat intercom buzzer, filling the calm air with an electronic alarm akin to a 1990s illegal rave and in a nanosecond, everything changed: I jumped from surprise and took a step back as M instantly came out of his all-consuming trance like a apoplectic Water Buffalo.
“WHO THE F**K IS THIS C*NT NOW?!” was screamed at top note and in one movement, M was out of the bath, sending freezing water flying everywhere - including all over me via the Archimedes’ theory of fluid displacement - and off hurtling along the corridor towards his front door, where unfortunately, he connected with his bike.
“JESUS F**KING CHRIST, F**KING MOVE YOU C*NTING BASTARD!” Luckily, I had spun around to follow M’s direction of travel and was just quick enough to move to one side as his bike careened along the hallway through the air, in-between the open bathroom door and crashed into the full bath, drenching me once again with ice cold water. I shook my head in disbelief at this fiasco and decided enough was enough: I was getting out while the going was good. I slopped out of the bathroom and went towards the front door just as M had reached it; in one rapid turn of the handle, he wrenched the door wide open with such force that puffs of powdered plaster filled the vicinity.
“YEAH, WHAT DO YOU WANT?!” spewed forth unto the poor, unfortunate person unlucky enough to have pressed M’s door buzzer. I could hear a muffled voice on the other side of the door and then M responded again, only this time in a lower tone but still full of rage. “TV licence, you say,” was sent forth in barely a whisper as I drew up next to him and as he moved to one side for me, I could see for myself that it was indeed a young man in his twenties from the TV Licensing department: appearing as if just given an electric shock from his frozen face, this now-terrified lad must have been wondering what on Earth had just happened to his day.
M continued speaking as I slid past him and the TV licence lad. “I don’t give a f**k whether you have to report me or not for not having a f**king licence, right,” seemed to startle this foolish boy more than the initial explosion of fury and he was physically bending backwards at a near-right angle to keep his face away from M’s torrent of abuse. At this point, I just looked at M as i passed and nodded to indicate I was going, to which I received a head twitch, accompanied with a squint of his eyebrows as an indication of a thanks for helping him out during his morning immersion. I quickly forgot I was soaked through to the skin and with an indiscernible shaking of my head acknowledging the horror of my morning, I wetly strode away in the melting snow with M’s haranguing of the TV licence bloke fading away in the distance.
“Listen, I’m never going to buy a f**king licence for that electric sewer, so you’ll have to take me to f**king court, right...?” ebbed into the morning’s cold air and was carried far away from me. The last thing I recall hearing M say flitted into the ether, echoed a while and then dissipated its atoms with the birds. “Do you think I care what’s going to f**king happen to me, eh...?! I’m touching my inner void through studying the f**king Upanishads, YOU SIMPLE PRICK!!!”
I pulled up my hood, put down my head, slid my hands into my pockets and got the f**k out of there, quick.