Sunday night, and it must have been later, about ten, ten-thirty. I had crossed the Brooklyn Bridge back to the city on foot. Grid squares of mild yellow and hard white ahead. To the right the Empire State boasted Italian tricolor. I was enjoying the walk, so that it seemed to be leading me. September too, so the night was newly cool. Mostly though I was thinking on too many things, like when you cram too many wet clothes in the drier, and they tumble around noisily and nothing comes out crisp.
I wove my way out of the Feast of San Gennaro on Mulberry. The booths were collapsing in an orderly way. Grills were being scraped of flesh and grease. Rows of flashing bulbs up and died. The trash cans had long since been force-fed to bursting, and the brooms were out.
Near the end was a Chinese lady selling trinkets and icons and statues. Why I let myself pause, I'm unsure, but I did. Maybe it was that she seemed so intent on arranging the pieces on the tables just so. Maybe it was that there's a mysticism we project on dingy little dragon figures. Maybe I'm overeager to have something odd happen. I guess that makes me a mark, but a willing one.
I spotted a lump of silver about the size of a baseball. It seemed to be hiding. It had strange contours to it, I could see them, peeking from behind the sooty brass and jade.
When I lifted it out, the silver lump was four faces of Buddha, each to a side and of sharply contrasting moods. I'd heard of these.
At first there was light, cozy contentment. Then a twist and there was laughing joy, mouth open, deep dimples alongside. Another twist and the face was drooping, heavy with sorrow, brows merging in center. A final twist and the face was surging with rage, eyes wide with beady pinpoints, lips knotted.
There were many 'Four Faces of Buddha' offered on the table. Some were copper, some were bone powder and formed in molds. Cow bone. I asked. The one I held was silver-plated and hand-carved, she said. I believed her only because this one's features were less even than the others. Underneath was a square of writing, someone's name I suppose, maybe the artist? A former owner?
Some of them were quite big, more the size of a large grapefruit. Or a real shrunken head. Could you palm a shrunken head? Privately I called myself an idiot.
Some of the copper ones had been dipped in acid to lend the proper 'ancient' effect. These were corroded nearly black, and the grooves in the faces highlighted by sickly green. It looked like someone telling a ghost story with a flashlight under his face. I put it back. Some of the bone powder ones were crimson and smooth as satin.
I still liked my imperfect silver head best. Small enough to sit on a desk and catch the lamplight in a certain way. I could picture now and then upending it and wondering what the hell was written beneath. I'd never ask a friend who could read Chinese. Where was the fun in that? They'd only tell me something dull, ordinary, and never what I wanted to hear. Secret map, or whispered prophecy. Something tingling. If I never knew, I could still pretend.
Then I thought of a practical use. It could be a fair warning to all visitors. Anyone who came to my apartment could tell what my mood was that day by which Face was turned outward.
That made me smirk.
A 'mood indicator'. I could use one. Or rather, others could use one where I was concerned. That sealed it for me. The Chinese lady and I haggled only for a minute, and each with an amicable shrug. It ended up costing me twenty-eight dollars, down from thirty-three. The Chinese lady wrapped it in newspaper that only she could read, between the two of us anyway. She dropped the bundle in a red plastic bag.
She tapped my forearm with her finger and leaned in to reveal I'd picked her favorite. It could have been a line, but there were others pricier than the one I chose. The Chinese lady told me that she liked that mine best because of the 'silver color, silver color'. She made its gleam sound like something confided.
I thanked her, she nodded and turned a lean face back to her treasures.
As I walked away I felt the silver head bottom out in the red plastic bag. I wondered why Buddha had moods. I know nothing about Buddhism, but I'd always figured he was a pretty even guy. He always seemed to be laughing, or easing back in a pleasant lounge, his belly spilling out. Sometimes he even had his hands thrown way up over his head in roaring good cheer. But I'd never seen him heartbroken, let alone succumb to fury.
What was strange was that it sort of bothered me. Not for long. By the time I reached Lafayette, I was choosing which mood would stare out from my desk once I got home. Who knew? My mood on Lafayette might be different from my mood in Harlem. Actually, I'd bet on it.
Still. Buddha and his moods. I know I'm mercurial as hell. But I thought he was above all that.
© Eric Yves Garcia 2013