I was over at my gran’s house the other day and she asked me to go check on her kindly neighbor “St Nickolas” down the street who had recently broken his ankle rock climbing.
St Nick is British but he speaks good German too, so he gets on well with my gran. He’s probably in his 60s, but he’s in better shape than me because he does a lot of mountaineering.
Once he lead a group, including myself, up a local mountain — which I confess is not all that high. A few people die on the mountain every year because of stupidity. They try to climb the face and fall off or are washed away by a sudden rush of water during a storm. So it’s good to have an experienced guide.
I couldn’t even make it up the bottom third. I alone, embarrassingly, had to turn back and go home. But I didn’t feel too bad because I cooked dinner while waiting for everyone else to return. And as it happened, although the day had been clear and sunny, once I left the group it began to cloud up. Those who reached the summit found it totally socked in and came home crushed.
At any rate, St Nick was doing well. We talked about this and that. I skimmed his pool of leaves then he made some chai as I tidied his kitchen. I told him about my various stresses: Piccolo, book deadlines, my gran’s screwed up medical bills, Der, moving, and . . . . . and then I saw his mala lying on a table.
It’s wood, but the rich red-gold color of the wood, the silky texture, the inner gleam, the soft scent . . . . Oh my!
Being a total magpie, I went straight to it and began to sing its praises. St Nick smiled and admitted he had another rosewood mala just like it. He’d bought a twin in case his ever broke, but it was so well made it never had.
He said he’d give me the extra one and walked away, leaving me to fondle his mala shamelessly. Eventually he returned with a blue silk brocade sack. I opened it with glee, only to find a rough, dull strand of clunky beads.
“The mala is identical, I assure you,” he said, flopping down. “They’re the finest quality natural heartwood.”
My expression was skeptical to say the least.
“But you’ll have to add a million mantra repetitions to develop a patina of the same luster,” he continued, putting a splash of brandy in his hot buttered chai.
I frowned slightly.
“At 108 a day, it should only take you 25 years or so.” He took a sip of his tea and tried not to laugh.
I took the beads anyway.