Underground stardust

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on May 18, 2018 Published on May 18, 2018

On a cool grey morning, 7.30 on the dot, Muriel drops Bins and me off at the Peter Pan bus terminal. We’re bound for New York.

The journey is a travelling museum of human oddities. At the bus-station in Fall River, a giantess with a single coal-black plait down her back is locked in conversation with another equally rotund person. An ancient man with a pair of canes to lean on is muttering to himself while checking the garbage bins for food. At the Providence bus terminal a tall blonde man is practising the levitation illusion with a single shiny ball. He passes it back and forth across his forearms, his shoulders, his upper body and his back, stroking the blue sphere as if it were a frisky little animal, with a life of its own, impervious to gravity.

On the bus, a girl with nails like pink daggers arranges and then rearranges her honey-blonde hair in a dizzying variety of styles until finally settling on a crisp French braid. At the Port Authority Bus Terminal we exit briefly to catch our breath before plunging underground once more, to join the tide of commuters flooding through the subway system, on to Grand Central Station, to catch the Metro North Line. We buy our tickets, find our platform and soon we’re clickety-clacking along. The slender dark-haired girl in the seat facing ours pulls out a packet of pungent fish-fingers, eating furtively, her eyes darting about.

We’re staying with a dear friend whose apartment is thick with playful, flavourful, inventive art. It’s everywhere. The clock in the kitchen has a winkie face with alternating images of gears and machinery. There’s a handmade mermaid adorning a jam bottle on the breakfast table. The pressed-glass water glasses are decorated with bees. There are cheeky wooden crocodiles lurking under the coffee table in the front room. Her cat greets us with wide-eyed disdain, his blue-grey fur fluffy with disapproval, his pink nose averted. But he allows us to stay after Bins lifts him up to rub whiskers with him.

Our five days are spent dashing about, enjoying the mild weather, meeting old friends, eating great food in Long Island, enjoying the view from 39 floors up, on 52nd Street West, giggling at the Naked Cowboy in Times Square (wearing undies!) and meeting a gorgeous Great Dane called Grey. Then it’s time to leave. We retrace our steps, back to the bowels of the Port Authority terminal. There, amidst the thunder of buses and the bustle of quick-stepping travellers, Bins sees a figure in a bejewelled white cap and robes, perched atop a large red plastic suitcase. “Look!“ he exclaims. “It’s Fareed Ayaz and his brother, Abu Muhammad!” Famous Pakistani qawwals, complete with entourage! It’s like seeing a party of djinns in a coffee shop! Bins goes over to pay his respects. We board our bus, smiling all the way home.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on May 18, 2018
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