The Curry Drop Cafe - Tepid Water
It was high noon, and Saint Nicholas sat in the swaying coach of a train traveling slowly across a vast expanse of India.Â It was yet another one of his dreadful mistakes, being new to sainthood and all.Â He detested curry, yet the menu in the dining car proudly proclaimed curries this and curry that and curry everything else â€“ only his first-class compartment appeared to be a curry-free zone.Â Worse and much to his horror, there was not a single drop of skinny flat white to be had on the train.Â He was in a predicament not entirely of his own making.
The saint had found a one-way air ticket to the sub-continent shoved under the front door of his rented room in the dead of night.Â Attached was an open train ticket to ride anywhere in India, even to the very foothills of the Himalayas â€“ virtually on the other side of the world.Â It was clearly a gift from God, Who worked in mysterious way.Â As did his landlady, though hers could be more accurately described as devious.Â Not that one would, of course.
The god-fearing and mostly man-hating woman liked the saint, whom she did not think of as a man.Â But that, in a nutshell, was his problem.Â He was more like a big teddy bear.Â One that drove her to distraction, as good hearted as he was.Â A cross is a cross, no matter how it's wrapped.Â Infuriatingly, he was an absent minded bear who more often than not forgot to pay the rent on time.Â This really got up Miss Priscilla Smyth-Brown's nose.Â And what a big nose it was!Â She'd had years of exercising it by sticking it into other people's business, which is another story all together.Â More to the point, she'd seized on the teddy bear's remark that it was time he found Ms Right.Â But that he didn't know where to look.
Miss Smyth-Brown almost fell to her knees to thank the Lord upon hearing the child-like words.Â But falling to one's knees belonged to a lesser class of woman, and was of no practical purpose.Â Weeping with heart-felt joy was a weighty matter, not to be indulged in lightly.Â And the good landlady was no lightweight.Â Nor should such thanks for the blessings of God occur until her boarder was safely trapped on a jet plane winging past the point of no return to India.
Of course, the one-way air ticket was not solely to get rid of the teddy bear.Â If that was the case, she would have tried stuffing him into one of those big charity donation bins, along with his clothes.Â And then danced wildly around his burning motorbike at midnight.Â No, that was not her only motive.Â She'd reasoned that he might find some half-wit woman who didn't speak English awfully well, and they'd get married and â€¦ and it didn't matter what then.Â The teddy bear would be with the half-wit and they'd be India's problem.Â But if not an Indian lass, Nicholas might meet a swami or a guru; or be bitten by an exasperated cobra or crushed by a berserk elephant.Â Please, God, anything! Â Just don't let him return.Â At which point Miss Priscilla Smyth-Brown did fall to her knees, and wept in desperation.
Of course, the Good Lord hears the prayers of the heart.Â And he wiped away stricken Priscilla's tears, by way of Nicholas jetting to the land of elephants, cobras and ashrams.Â Yet the saint met none of these, for such were not in his best interests.Â Nor was Delhi Belly.Â If Miss Priscilla Smyth-Brown had mentioned that, Saint Nicholas would have thought she was speaking of Buddha somehow in Delhi.Â As it was, the affliction was self-administered, with the saint exercising his free will but not his good sense.
Away from the airport, the saint had eaten a roadside meal of something that looked like vomit.Â Cowering dogs made him wonder about the meat swimming in a yellowish gruel on the plate. The second spoonful was just entering his mouth when the afterburner of the first one was suddenly like a flame thrower in his mouth and throat.Â It was curry - direct from those screaming in torment in the burning pits of hell.Â Thus the second spoonful of destruction went flying from his mouth as semi-solidified mustard gas.Â A loving God had intervened to save the saint from most of the aforesaid searing ravages of Delhi Belly.
Nevertheless, even a touch of this scourge had been enough.Â It really was a godsend to discover that his train compartment was in first-class, having its own toilet facilities.Â A loo from heaven on which to sit for hours and contemplate the devastations of the curry direct from hell.Â The air-conditioned carriage was yet another blessing.Â Without it the scorching Indian heat might have led Saint Nicholas to believe that he'd somehow stumbled into the burning curry pits â€“ far, far worse than any black hole of Calcutta.
As it was, the sainted one thought that he might be on the train to purgatory.Â For there was no skinny flat white coffee mentioned on the menu in his compartment.Â It predicted having to travel almost the length of India to the Himalayas without his favourite coffee.Â It was a cross almost too hard to bear.Â However, God had not deserted him entirely.Â Flat white coffee was mentioned on the menu, even though out of stock.Â Straight black coffee was available for the desperate.Â And tea!
There were teas listed that had unpronounceable Hindi names.Â Yet there were also familiar English ones: green tea, ginger tea, jasmine tea, peppermint tea and that mysteriously named, breakfast tea.Â At a pinch, the English varieties would serve to stave off the worst of the withdrawal symptoms from caffeine.Â But not breakfast tea!Â The breakfast menu was the gateway to hell.Â There was curried bacon and eggs, curried sausages and tomatoes, and even toast with curry.Â All could be had with curried gravy.Â Thus all things breakfast were to be avoided like the plague.
Though Nicholas was trapped on the curry train, God had not abandoned him.Â If he'd been left to his own bumbling devices, the saint wouldn't have survived the long journey.Â Satan's direct attack by curry would have won the day â€“ not even the air-conditioned sanctuary of the loo would have saved him.Â But God looks after His own.Â In this instance via a kindly train steward.
Rajah took Saint Nicholas under his wing upon being told by the saint of his quest to find true love.Â The steward was an expert on the matter, according to his sixth wife.Â But being a modest man, he was assailed with self-doubts â€“ his greatest weakness in the opinion of his seventh wife.Â Be that as it may, Rajah offered to introduce the saintly one to the font of all wisdom, who even then was riding on this very train.
Thus they lurched their way to the third-class carriage, stuffed to the brim with people and awash with curry.Â Through a window, with Rajah pushing and God pulling, Saint Nicholas was hauled safely up onto the roof of the swaying carriage.Â There he was held in place by tightly packed fourth-class passengers.Â Thankfully, the air was free of curry.
The saint sat opposite the enlightened one - a bald man with a huge belly, attesting that he was immune to all the curry that Satan could hurl at him.
"I am Buddha, the all knowing," he said, gazing serenely at the saint.Â "And you are the blessed Nicholas."
"Indeed!" replied Saint Nicholas.
"You have come to learn the wisdom of the ages."
The saint nodded.
"I have five words for you," said the sage, "and five words only.Â Not one word more."
Saint Nicholas nodded.Â It was not for him to ask why only five words.Â For it is totally unwise to question wisdom, wisdom wise.Â It was a Zen thing, which he did not understand.Â And that didn't matter.Â For wisdom does not require understanding for it to be true.Â Acceptance is what matters â€“ and that was something imprinted on his soul.
"Don't eat curry!" said Buddha.
"Don't eat curry!" Saint Nicholas repeated the wisest words ever uttered. Â "Don't eat curry!" he said again, carefully pouring the wisdom into his own font.
"Go home!" uttered Buddha, as his final golden words.
With the wisdom of the ages ringing in his ears, the saint managed to scramble safely back inside the train.Â On the swaying return journey to his compartment, he stopped at The Curry Drop CafÃ© in the dining car.Â He bravely ignored the smell of curry damnation and bought a slice of dry bread and a glass of tepid water.Â These he consumed in his cabin, away from the curried malice of Satan.Â And for the rest of the journey to the foothills of the Himalayas, Rajah kindly served him a diet of bread and tepid water.Â Which is not an uncommon diet for those riding a prison train to the freedom found in true love.
It was not that he was ignoring Buddha's last two words of advice to humanity.Â At worst he was merely delaying implementing it.Â At best, the wisdom of his heart was correct.Â The long way home is often the shortest.Â It all depended upon where you saw home to be.Â Neither Zen nor Buddha would disagree with that.Â And Buddha had most certainly not defined where home was.Â Yet the saint could.Â For him, home was where the heart is.Â And his was with Ms Right.Â Thus, oddly, the wisdom of Saint Nicholas equaled the wisdom of the ages.Â Which really wasn't all that odd.Â For all wisdom comes from God, as does where the heart is.
Nevertheless, in the times ahead Saint Nicholas often silently repeated the words:
"Don't eat curry!"
Tales from the Divine Drop Cafes