Pasha

He was full-on counter-culture. In a dog-eat-dog society, he was a big fat lazy cat. Imagine a white, long-haired cat lazily whiling the afternoons away. That was Willy to a T. As a child, he asked for pillows on his birthday. Always more pillows. His bed looked like a puffy white cloud. His mom asked, “You like being on clouds? You want to be a pilot, like Uncle Jack?” He had looked up from Aladdin and the wonderful lamp, a puzzled look on his face. “An astronaut, then?” she countered, her smile faltering. He said, indulgently, “I want to be a pasha and spend my days reclining on cushions while slaves fan me.” He saw the look of alarm on her features and hurriedly added, “Oh mama, I will treat them well.”  She resolved to toughen him up. One by one, his precious pillows disappeared.

He grew despondent, would not leave his room. If he did, he hid the pillows or brought them with him. To no avail. He was reduced to a paltry number as they found their way on high shelves in closets. If anything, his dream of a cushy life grew stronger with the opposition. His father had a talk with him, wanting to understand the boy. The father was a hard-working 9-to-5 man. He loved his dear boy though he did not understand him. They asked the paediatrician for help, who advised them not to worry. But if it were a phase, it would have stopped by now. The pillows gave way to embroidered cushions. He started wearing robes. For Halloween, he got a black turban with an emerald brooch. His friends built a chair with brocade and two long poles. He wore his robes and turban and they brought him back sweets. Everybody wanted in on it, and soon there was a procession following the chair and its occupant. He was a hit!

In all other respects, he was perfectly ordinary. He hated cauliflowers, played videogames and had a ton of friends. A lot of them were girls. He ended up trading Woody and Buzz for gauze curtains and a handheld fan. He invited his friends over to play pasha, complete with slaves and courtesans. There was lots of laughter. He was a genuine nice guy, and his peers loved to spend time with him. Apart from school, he didn’t go out much. His skin was pale and doughy, which he loved. He hardly had any muscle mass. He just wanted to lounge around and he did that to his parents’ mounting dismay.

When puberty hit, incense was burning non-stop in his room, trying to mask the sickening smell of hashish. He had a glass pipe, and a treasure chest of flimsy scarves for the girls. They doubled as veils. He was so popular that people brought him sweets in exchange for stories. He had read all of Arabian Nights and was keen on sharing his knowledge with others. He was also well-versed in poems from Rumi and Hafez. He recited them as girls swooned. He was adept at deflecting insults, being gentle and loving. He did not retaliate in kind, but was never apologetic for who he was. He had reached his ideal and was absolutely content.

He relished immobility. His parents were at their wits’ end, “What do you want to do?” “I don’t want to DO anything. I am, and that is enough.” They cut his allowance, but that did not make a difference. His father complained, “We called him Will but he has none!” His wife saw things differently and thought that Will must be strong-willed to go against society’s mores and adopt such a stance. Reluctantly, the father agreed. He felt he had failed the boy. He thought he was being a strong role model, but Will had chosen a different path, opposing his deepest values. Years of watching his son grow fat and content, living on his dime, had him wondering who the fool was. He felt others thought him weak and his son feeble-minded.

His son looked like a fat, jolly buddha. If only he had had the decency to be miserable! No amount of health lectures could convince him to cut the sweets. His friends were fascinated by his quiet determination to live entirely off his parents, with no prospect of doing otherwise.  His father finally blew up. He challenged Will, What if he did the same, if nobody made money to buy… to buy…  he realized how empty his words were, his life was. He was hitting mid-life and what did he have to show for it? He took to his bed. He could not sleep, self-doubt eating at his soul. He missed work the next day, the first time in years. His wife left the house, ostensibly on some errands. When she returned, her husband was sitting on cushions, at the foot of Will’s bed, smoking a pipe of hashish. She had not seen such comradery since Will had been a boy. She closed the door silently and started looking at job ads.

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