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LAce Posted Monday, July 5th, 2004
Practising Asia: The Swordfighter
Lela Schneidman

A shadowy figure, bundled in torn black rags and a matted dreadlock helmet, steps into the fluorescent light of the BEER store. The only open shop on this twisted narrow street tempts him with glittering shelves of bootleg liquor and super-strong beer.

The man has shown himself before, pissing into a roadside garbage heap next to the vegetable market. Now I watch him stealthily from the balcony of a Tibetan hotel.

He lurks near the storefront, the shopkeeper eyeing him warily and waiting for him to approach the counter. I can see by the way the tattered man grabs at passing strangers that he has no money for drinking. He pleads earnestly with a few. The Israeli tourists dodge his furtive grasps. The fuzzy shadow of his beard blurs his profile. He blends into the dark alley next to the liquor store.

After a few tentative attempts at entering the store, the old beggar awkwardly approaches the high white countertop. The shopkeeper brandishes a whiskey bottle wrapped in Hindi newspapers and begins to climb over the counter. The derelict raises his hands in defense, runs outside, stops in front of the darkened Kodak film store next door, and falls to the ground.

On a slanted street, this stunt is unexpectedly graceful. His tumble transforms into a gentle roll onto his back. The man propels himself to standing, now in possession of a splitered 2x4, which he holds like a sword. With imperial skill, the master whisks his new weapon through the air. Like a crouching tiger dressed in rags, he begins his performance for the passing crowd. Some are bit frightened to see a sword-brandishing beggar. Others are impervious to his private show. Raucous laughter fills the BEER store.

After a few more darts and dashes with his plywood sword, the darkened man suddenly becomes weary. He lets his arm fall to his side in defeat, having lost the battle with his demon. Mumbling quietly to himself, he crosses the street and lights a beedi, which he smokes rapidly. Dropping the once magical piece of wood to the ground, he crookedly wanders up the street, following potholes into the darkness.

Comments [post a comment]

Posted by Nicholas Taylor on Tuesday, July 6th, 2004 at 8:44 AM
Ha! Well done, Lela.

Posted by Rebecca Shwartz on Tuesday, July 6th, 2004 at 10:07 AM
beautiful lela, i'm right there on that street again

Posted by Justine Taylor on Friday, July 30th, 2004 at 1:39 PM
Incredible, Lela, as always!

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