ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT? (Angels & Other Occurrences 6.2)

Raj takes out the Genuine Elvis Jacket for the last time, though he is trying not to admit it is the last. This is his one and only treasure and he keeps it on top of his wardrobe, wrapped in many layers of tissue paper, and the whole inside a heavy-duty supermarket bag. Every so often he brings the Jacket down, unpacks it, dusts it with a soft cloth and checks it for moths and spiders. He does the same now, trying not to know it is the last time. But the trying isn’t working, and tears run down his cheeks. He holds his face away from the jacket as he cries. There must be no salty marks. That would lessen its value.

The jacket is in the softest of leather and a rich and variable pink that exactly matches the wondrous sari of Lakshmi. Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, prosperity, fertility and power – none of which has come to Raj in his middle-aged lifetime. Lakshmi, who is greatly loved, and whose picture remains on his bedroom room wall. A rare beauty, she is seated upon a lotus flower; two of her four hands hold up smaller lotus flowers, the remaining two shower coins into a bowl. To her right and to her left are elephants, their mighty trunk raising a golden pitcher, showering water down. No need to worry, he tells her, I shall take you with me. I shall keep you in the picture at all times. This is what I know: the day after tomorrow some men will arrive, and they will take away the house. This is because I have no money left in the bank. I told you, didn’t I, that my taxi was hurt in an accident? She was so badly hurt that I could not drive her again. It is my fault for picking the wrong insurance company. They would not replace my vehicle and I have lost my livelihood.

I have lost our home. And now I have no money and the mortgage persons are coming to claim back the part of my house which is theirs – which is most of it. But I promise you will be coming with me, my lady, wherever I am going. Raj did not elaborate on this, because the truth was that he had no idea where that might be. For all he knew, in a day or two’s time he and Lakshmi might be sheltering together in shop doorways.

He had purchased the Genuine Elvis Jacket from a place on the internet, with an inheritance from his father. It was the largest sum of money Raj had ever had and he’d spent every last rupee of it, and more, on the Genuine Elvis. One single, mad, foolish press of the button and it was his. It had come with a folded paper, something called a Provenance. The Provenance was signed by the King himself, or so it claimed, to confirm that this was, genuinely, his own jacket. Raj’s English had not been good enough at the time for deciphering the convoluted legal English it was written in, and had hesitated to ask an English person for fear of being rebuffed or looking a fool. A small part of him feared the jacket might not be Genuine after all, but he had never let himself dwell on that.

Nowadays his English is greatly improved but he continues to resist the temptation to unfold the Provenance. Instead, he plays and re-plays his collection of Elvis Long-Players on the ancient record player he found in a second-hand shop soon after he arrived in this country. He knows the words of all the songs by heart. He combs his hair back into a passable Elvis quiff. He copies the way the great man used to curl his upper lip into a snarl and the way he did the ah-ha-ha in the middle of some of the lines. He grasps and imaginary microphone and serenades his mirror image, and Lakshmi, and when he does so he escapes for a while. He is no longer an impoverished Asian taxi driver in a shabby Norfolk town, with persons coming to repossess his property. He is The King himself. Glamorous. Rhinestoney. Revered.

And now he is about to give away the Genuine Elvis because Lakshmi has instructed him to do so. She appeared to him in a dream last night and was most beautiful, and most insistent that this be accomplished. He is to give the Genuine Elvis to a baby, just born in some sort of gypsy trailer in a field, over Thetford way. It sounds most unlikely, but if Lakshmi commands it, it will be his privelege to do it. Delicately he unpeels her poster from the tacky stuff holding it to the wall. Gently he rolls her and places her into a cardboard cylinder. “I must trust you to show me the way, my lady.”

It is a longer journey than he imagined. It takes him all day. He has not really planned how he will get there, perhaps not caring much whether he arrives or not. He sets off as he is, unshaven, in trainers and thick socks, a puffy anorak and a woolly hat. He catches a train, then a bus, then another bus. He stops people and asks them when he gets confused, no longer discouraged by these grim, white English faces; their foreignness to him, his own to them.

He has brought no food, but someone on the first bus feels sorry for him and hands him their sandwiches. Someone else gives him a cup of tea from their flask, and a small bottle of water. They seem to know he is on a journey of some importance, and what he needs. At last the bus sets him down at the edge of a smallish wood, snaking up the side a small hill. And now, he senses, it is time to walk. He does not know which way to go but Lakshmi, in her cardboard tube, feels confident; she urges him this way and that and he obeys her. He keeps his mind empty so as not to interfere. With increasing frequency he shifts the carrier bag from one hand to another. The Genuine Elvis has been getting heavier and heavier the nearer he gets to his destination, and now is beginning to feel like it weighs more than the world itself. The plastic handles cut into the palms of his hands.

As Raj follows, his feet become sore, his lungs become short of breath and his ribs hurt, but something like peace has entered his heart. Lakshmi is with him, showing him the way. He has no idea at all where they are heading, the pair of them. Yet it feels like coming home.

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