It's been easier since Devi, Muladharma and Palin got here.  I feel that I have a good ally in Muladharma. We of course had to do the major round of family celebrations and parties that never seem to end, but I'm finding it less exhausting.  And Muladharma is willing to kick everyone out when he's had enough.

"I see you've met my family,"  he remarked shortly after arriving, when there were no less than 50 relatives occupying his home, all anxious to see their wayward but beloved brother-uncle-cousin. "My condolences."

"They've actually been very nice,"  I comment, not wanting to offend.

"Of course they are.  And they're even nicer when they leave."  I smiled in acknowledgment.  Since that time, Sari and I have actually had more privacy, and, oddest of all, time to enjoy life.  We've taken to playing tennis.  She's quite good.  One would never have known that suffered numerous broken bones to her arms throughout her years with Barry--and had surgery on her wrist thanks to her activities with us.  I played in high school and college, and while I was terribly rusty at first, I've improved.  We're getting to where we're pretty evenly matched on the court.  We do a lot of swimming as well.  We go and do the rice line weekly.  I think the locals have come to accept my presence; I got some strange looks in the beginning, but I'm a regular feature now, and I'm treated with as much respect is possible from a starving, diseased crowd.  Devi helps run an immunization clinic and we worked there as well.  It was distressing not to have adequate supplies, but we keep trying to get more, and every child we immunize, it's one more child that may not have to die unnecessarily.  Drops in the ocean, I remind myself.  But they can raise a flood if persistent enough.

We've had time to read and discuss books.  My Sinhalese is much better now--certainly no one would mistake me for a native speaker, but I can ask for basic necessities on my own, like power cords and computer peripherals and items on restaurant menus.  Colombo does have some delightful restaurants and we've partaken of them, sometimes with Devi and Muladharma, sometimes on our own.  I get to spoil Palin from time to time.  He's mostly interested in playing with his friends, but he'll come play in the pool with us, and we play a wicked game of backgammon.  We've moved into playing Go.  I'm still beating him but he's catching up. Go was actually something I enjoyed playing with Langly.  Frohike never got into the game, but Langly found in intriguing, and every once in a while, we'd have a match.  The maids have been instructed not to disturb our game wherever we leave it.

And I communicate regularly with Langly and Frohike.  Their emails are loaded with good natured complaining and news of their lives.  Jimmy's communications are much more sparse, but Jimmy isn't much of a typist, and he doesn't like communicating via email; he says he gets more out of being face to face with people.

Don't I know it.  I miss the guys terribly.  That doesn't change.  I wake up each day and, after noticing that Sari is there with me, I then remember that the guys are not there.  I miss hearing Frohike and Langly arguing over the sports pages, eating Jimmy's blueberry pancakes, complaining about the latest news together.  I still get to read plenty of newspapers--Muladharma takes many of them, but it's not the same without the guys there to debate and analyze.  In short, it isn't nearly as much fun.

Sari has announced that today, she will be at temple.  Every so often, she takes a day to meditate.  She's gotten me in the habit of doing it, but 20 or 30 minutes is about all I can tolerate.  She's trying to teach me yoga but I'm not really enjoying it all that much.  I did swimming, tennis and track, so I'm accustomed to more rough and tumble competitive sports.  And I still say that some of the so-called magical aspects of yoga that Sari's told me about are bunk.  She doesn't seem bothered by it, anymore than I am of her skepticism of little grey men.  I've seen them; she hasn't.  And my general opinion of yoga is that if I want to be twisted into a pretzel, she and I can do it in bed.  She's expressed interest in doing some more exotic positionings and acts--she is a tantrika, a fact that I still prefer not to think about (not about that she isn't sexually exciting--that aspect of it I enjoy.  But envisioning her with different men is not an image I need).

"You don't mind that I do this, do you?"  Sari asks me as she's preparing to depart.

"You need this.  Go do it.  I'll be here when you get back."  I flash her a wicked smile that suggests what I'd like to do when she gets back.  I'm being very bad, I know.  She's feeling very spiritual and my carnal urges are sticking out all over the placed, which makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, but she relieves that when I get an equally evil smile from her, indicating message received and understood.

And a little privacy will be good.  A good time to catch up on chasing Runtz.  I  know, I swore I wouldn't do it.  And I'm really not chasing him.  Simply looking into things.

I'm deep into spidering when there's a knock on our door.  The way the house is set up, Sari and I have what amounts to an apartment of our own.  No kitchen facilities, but it's quite opulent in every other way.

"Hey John.  I've got to go into town and get some shopping done."  I hear Devi's voice on the other side of the door.

I walk to the door and open it part of the way.  "Enjoy your day."

"Well, actually, I need to get a number of things, and I could use an extra pair of hands.  Plus--" she smiles a wicked grin, reminiscent of the one her sister flashed at me a little while ago--"there's a really nice Japanese teppan place and I don't know about you, but every now and then, I get this mad urge for a steak.  Whaddya say?"

What I'm tempted to say is, I have a lot of work to do, but it's really difficult to turn down a woman who brought you 3 Costco packs of Snickers bars back with her.  I have about a year's supply.

And quite honestly, while I love most of the dishes that I've had here--both Sari and Devi are excellent cooks, and despite the amount of household help here, they seem to prefer to do their own cooking--beef sounds like it's what's for lunch.  I find myself salivating at the thought.  I've been dreaming of cheesesteaks lately.  Granted, this lunch won't be wrapped in grease-soaked paper and likely will cost more than my first car, but I jump at it.  Beef is a definite no way with Sari.  I'm happy to respect that, 99 percent of the time.

"I'll be ready in just a minute,"  I promise her.

Of course it's hot.  It's been raining in the evenings, but never enough to cool the place off.  It just makes it hotter and damper.  Right now, it's not too bad, but Devi has not yet begun to seriously shop-and I've witnessed some of her consuming binges.

"So what do you think of it here?"  Devi asks me point blank.

"I…think I like it, for the most part.  It just takes a little getting used to."

She laughs, that hearty, bell-like laugh that resonates throughout the entire street.  She doesn't seem to care that she's being stared at; I think for Devi, there's no such thing as negative attention.  Everything about her, from her confident strut (how she does that in four-inch heels, I haven't a clue) to her louder than loud lime green sari trimmed in fuschia, screams "look at me!"  I'm still a little self-conscious here, but it seems that an awful lot of people know her; we run into no less than a half dozen people on the street who are overjoyed to see her having returned to this corner of the world, and this is accompanied by extensive conversation, mostly at top volume.

In between being stopped by various and sundry friends, we talk.

"The family's a little much, aren't they?"  she comes out again, completely direct.  Not that I mind her approach; I'm just accustomed to a little more subtlety with Sari.

"There are an awful lot of them.  I need a score card to track everyone."

She waves her hand in a dramatic, dismissive gesture.  "Don't worry about that.  Even Mula can't remember half their names, and he's a blood relation.  You and Sari seem to be doing all right."  Here, she's resorting to a little more subterfuge.  I really don't like to discuss personal business.  For one thing, anything I say will most likely make it back to Sari; she and Devi share confidences to a much greater degree than I share them, even with my absent brothers in arms.

"I love her very much,"  I say simply.

She laughs, that rich laughter again.  "I know that!  I was asking if being with her is what you thought it would be.  She went through a lot with Barry, and she says you went through a lot with Susanne."

At the mention of Susanne's name, I feel the hairs stand up on my neck.  "No disrespect, but I would really prefer not to discuss that."

"Hey, I'm not asking you to reveal all your deepest, darkest secrets, boy.  I'm just asking if things are okay by you guys."

"You see us all the time,"  I say noncommittally.

"And you seem like you're doing great.  But I know you're an atheist, and her faith--well, I was just curious how you felt about that."

"It's part of her," I shrug.  "And she never pressures me about my beliefs, or lack thereof."

"No, she's good that way.  I mean, I'm a Buddhist, mostly non-observant, as you may have noticed." Since we're headed for a restaurant for the express purpose of eating Japanese beef, I gathered as much, and I had plenty of indications beforehand that this was the case.  "I'm not much for meditating--that's more Sari's and Kris's thing.  I'd rather buy shoes."  This fact is also not lost on me--her collection rivals that of what Imelda Marcos's was in the 70s, and it's just as tacky.  I suspect she will be adding to her already massive collection today.  "I was just thinking you seemed like you miss your friends a lot.  You seem homesick."

"I am."  No argument on either point.  "I really hope we can get home soon.  Don't get me wrong, I'm tremendously grateful for all you and Muladharma have done for us--"

"Don't worry about that.  Just remember, don't go off chasing after Runtz.  Leave that to Mula."

"Why would you think I would be doing that?"  I'm trying to go all innocent, but the fact is, I'm a poor liar--and this woman knows it.

She stops and stares at me.  "Just a sense, I guess.  You seem to spend a lot of time at the computer."

"Old habits die hard."

"Just be careful."

"I believe Muladharma made his position very clear, as has your sister."

She's serious now.  "Just try to enjoy your time here.  Mula will find this bastard and believe me, he'll be subject to every conceivable punishment.  Then you'll be able to go home.  But believe me when I say that we're happy to have you with us."

I'm acutely on edge now.  What does she know that she's not telling me?  Has Muladharma been monitoring my transmissions--no, he couldn't have.

On the other hand, just to make sure, I'm going to do some additional checking when I get back.  I like Muladharma, respect him and appreciate all the efforts he's made on our behalf.

I just don't think he's going to be able to do this without some help.  I won't offer it to him--not at this time, anyway.

"So whaddya say?  Let's go eat some beef and enjoy a few beers, shall we?"

"Devi, please don't be insulted when I say this, but you are really an operator."

"Why should I be insulted when it was the main reason Mula fell for me?"  She finds this amusing.

I assure her that I am having nothing to do with the search for Runtz.  She doesn't believe me, and she knows I know she doesn't believe me, but she tells me she does.  And I'm not about to pass up the opportunity to have a delightful lunch with her.

I dream of a place, though, where this uneasy feeling will not stalk me all the time.  And I don't think this is it.

I need to talk to the guys again.

Go To Chapter 10