Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
I SIGHTED him on the bench outside the lone café overlooking Rydal Water, the placid idyllic lake behind Wordsworth's Rydal Mount Cottage in England's enchanting Lake District. He was dressed in grimy black clothes and it must have been months since he had shaved or showered.
"What's the thyme?" he called out.
"The thyme," he said, pointing to the wrist.
"Oh, the time is 5.20," I said, trying hard to place his accent. Was he Scottish or Irish? He now approached me in a languid walk. The desolation of the place made me cringe a little.
"Got 50 p for a lemonade?" His manner was friendly, and I decided to humour him. I fished into my pocket and gave him the change while settling down on the bench.
He went into the café, came back with his lemonade, and sat down next to me. For a while, we watched the water birds sparring and crying. We had the lake to ourselves. "Interested in the poets here?" he asked me. I could barely see his lips move under his matted beard.
"Yes," I nodded. "Always been interested. Came here mainly to check out the poets, and by the way, take a look at the lakes."
"By the way, take a look at the lakes," he repeated and raised his eyebrows. And then he started chanting:
Where there is green, sure there are sheep
On luxuriant meadows and slopes steep
Your sheep are here little Bo-Peep
Enough to count and fall asleep
He stopped and gave me a mischievous grin. "Can you tell whose work it is?"
I could guess this was not Wordsworth or Coleridge or any of the Lake District Poets. "Must be yours."
He winked. "You guessed right. You don't have to be a gifted poet to write poetry from a place like this, do you? Just come out and describe what you see, and presto, it becomes poetry." He gave me a penetrating look and added, "You seem sad. What's the matter?"
I hesitated. Should I confess to a stranger? The exaltation about the environment compelled me to drop my guard.
"I lost my job. Three weeks ago."
"Ha!" he snorted, as if he had heard a joke. "So that's the problem? Don't worry. After the war, I thought I had lost everything. A couple of years later, I was back on my feet, hale and hearty. When my wife Rose... Rosemary died, I thought I was a goner. I roamed here and there. But I am okay now. Thyme is the greatest healer. Thyme will pass. You will get a new job and you will forget you were out of one."
"None of my business, but why did you lose your job?" he continued, slurping the lemonade.
I shrugged. "They told me I couldn't relate to the youngsters... the new generation. I was a disciplinarian, an ogre to this generation's junkies. I couldn't stand their coming late, their clothes, their flirtations. So I got tough. It was a question of them or me. The management decided to get rid of me."
"Ha!" he snorted again. Much to my consternation. I could see no humour here. "The thymes, they are a changin'," he sang merrily. "Mister, you gotta change too. Can't remain the same. Don't worry. You will, you will. It will just take some thyme."
"What do I do till I get a new job?"
He scratched his beard. "You know what? Confronting thyme pure, uncommitted, unoccupied thyme is a terrifying experience for a human being. But once you learn it, it does good for the soul. Imagine no TV, no movies, no pubs, no theatre, no distractions at all. For example, being out in a place like this. What can you do but stand and stare? At the water, at the geese and the ducks. Sometimes nothing moves for hours. That's what I am trying to do. Confront thyme. It does good for the soul. It tells us worrying isn't any good."
He had now finished his lemonade and was staring wistfully at the bottom of the glass. "So what do you want me to do? Stand and stare for the rest of my life?" I challenged.
"No, no, no. Do it for some thyme. As soon as your soul is cleansed, you will be ready for your new job, your new life, whatever."
Who was this? A crackpot? A messenger of God? Anything seemed possible in this little heaven on earth where time or should I say, thyme stood still.
"You seem to have the wisdom of a sage. What are you doing here?" This time he cackled loudly. "I told you what I am doing. Confronting thyme. A sage? My foot! I am simply someone who is staring at thyme. Anyway, can you think of a better place for a sage? A sage? Me? I am just a thyme-starer."
Amused by his own coinage, he broke into fresh peals of laughter. We were silent as both of us tried thyme-staring. After a few minutes, I was no longer separate from the lake, the birds, the stately vegetation and the two houses that were nestled in the hills. From being the observer, I had become the observed.
Suddenly I found him peering at my hair.
"You have dandruff," he remarked.
I touched my hair with embarrassment. "Yes. I have had it for some time now. Tried many things. Don't seem to be working."
"Thyme is the best healer," he announced grandly.
"Don't you think that's a little too lofty? For dandruff? Even a little ridiculous?" I asked. He cackled louder than before. "What do you mean lofty? Haven't you heard of thyme? It's a really cheap herb. Mix it with parsley and vinegar. Apply it twice a week. In two weeks, I guarantee, you will have no more dandruff."
G.B.Prabhat writes fiction and non-fiction. He is Director, Consulting and Enterprise Solutions, Satyam Computer Services Ltd. E-mail him at email@example.com
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