A Haunted Roam
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I awoke with the distinct awareness that the circus had come and gone, all in one
It was already late morning when I reached the kitchen, where Gene was sitting
at the table.
"Like some breakfast?" he asked, gesturing to a cabinet full of cereal. I sat and
munched my way through a bowl, mentally contrasting Gene's milk-pale skin
with the framed poster of Malcolm X over the sofa. I washed my dishes,
deciding that I had definitely arrived in Berkeley.
Daya showed up shortly thereafter, and we took a walk through the nearby
I hadn't seen him for a couple of years, and his transformation was startling. In
high school, he was as short and stocky as I had been. Now he'd added a
handful of inches to his height seemingly out of nowhere, and developed a
sinewy muscle tone to go with it. In short, he seemed to have been drinking
deeply from the fountain of health. In addition, the short, close-cropped hair
he'd worn in high school which had accentuated his family's origin from India
was gone. Now, with long black flyaway hair reaching past his shoulders and
framing his thinner aquiline features, he looked closer to a Native American
who'd spent too long in the desert sun.
'You're looking good, cousin. Does everyone who comes to California get this
much taller?' I asked, grinning.
"No, I just think I had another growth spurt waiting," he smiled back. "You
graduated at the ripe old age of seventeen, while I was a mere lad of sixteen," he
'Well, I still think the sunshine has something to do with it. Look at you! You're
"Well, I have taken to bicycling everywhere."
I was impressed. I had started mountain biking whenever I could since I was
thirteen, but my high school friends had been mostly indifferent.
'So I think you know where I'm at. I'm really into this traveling thing, but being
low on funds, I have to get a job for a while. I know I could stay with Liz for a
while, but I don't have a lot of hope getting around L.A. all that easily. Berkeley
seems more my speed. Do you think I could stay with you for a while until I get
things sorted out?'
"Well, I'll have to talk to Gene about it, since it was his apartment first, but you
can definitely stay for a few weeks. I'll let you know. You should check out
College Avenue. There's a lot of shops there, and with the students back in class,
they probably could use some help."
'Cool, thanks. Speaking of which, what's all this about you taking classes I
thought you graduated?'
"Oh yeah, I did. Just taking some stuff I didn't get a chance to before."
I shook my head and laughed. 'Whatever makes you happy cousin, whatever
makes you happy.'
That night, the absence of circus and serotonin pressed down on me like a heavy
glove on my shoulder. I picked up the phone in Daya's room and called the
number Anna had left me, figuring she must have gotten into town by now.
An unfriendly male voice answered, "Yeah?"
Undeterred, I inquired politely, 'Could I please speak to Anna if she's there?'
'This is a friend of hers from southern California; has she come up from
Santa Cruz yet?'
'Okay, can I leave a message?'
He took my name and Daya's number, but I couldn't be sure he'd paused long
enough to actually locate pen and paper, so I made a note to call back in a couple
I found Daya out in the living room.
'So did you end up seeing your show last night?'
"Well, at first I couldn't get in, but you could pretty much hear the whole show
from right outside the wall. Then later I did find a way in and got sweaty and
danced 'til the end."
This was definitely a different Daya then the one I had known.
'Very cool, man; you know you're full of surprises, don't you? So, is there
anything going on tonight?'
"Well, it's Sunday, so not really."
'I'm feeling kind of restless, I think I might wander off for a while.'
"You want to borrow my bike, go for a little ride?"
'Wow, you serious? That would be great.'
I rode steadily south and up toward the hills, trying to stay close enough to main
streets that I could find my way without a map. I found a grocery store that was
open late, and decided I was thirsty.
I looked around for a place to lock the bike with Daya's narrow U-lock, but I
couldn't find anything the right height or width near the door. Having once had
a wheel stolen in Ann Arbor, I resisted parking it on the major street where its
wheels and accessories would be glittering targets. Lulled by the sleepy
appearance of the streets, I decided it was safer to lock the bike's wheel to its
frame, so it couldn't be ridden, and leave it next to the door, just for a minute.
I went into the store and immediately a plague of ethereal goblins marched
around me, like my own personal windstorm. The store was too big, the aisles
too bright, and the liquor shelves far too full.
I wrestled with my impulses as the seconds ticked away, fearing what getting
drunk would wash out from the back of my brain, unable to answer the
unbearable quiet of sobriety and isolation. Suddenly a soft pinging of my sixth
sense wakened me from my inertia and I grabbed a bottle of juice and zipped
through the express lane out into the cold night air.
It was gone, of course, like a friendly kick to the stomach by a donkey which
didn't know its own strength.
'Not again,' was all I could say, as I ran from one sidewalk to the other, hoping
to catch a glimpse of someone hoisting an unrideable bike over one shoulder.
The store security guard, who I'd foolishly counted on to pay any attention at all
to his post right at the door, hadn't noticed a thing. I wondered suddenly what
his cut of a stolen bike would be, but that road led nowhere.
It took an hour longer than it should have to walk back to the apartment, the
bike key dangling from my hand like an artifact from a parallel universe, one
where I wasn't always in quite so much pain. I saw tormenting visions of
running up into the hills and not returning, but instead I followed my feet where
they knew they had to go.
I told Daya in anguished whispers, 'I lost your bike. I didn't lock it right, for just
a minute, and they took it. I'm sorry. I'll get you another one when I can.' I lost
a single tear for my twisted fate.
Some people want you to feel more pain, and some want you to feel less. Daya
seemed ashamed I wasn't sure which kind he was.
"Don't cry," he said, "It's just a bike."
Later, after he'd gone to sleep in his room, I wrapped myself in my sleeping bag
on the sofa, under the determined jaw of Malcolm X, and shivered.