The Krishnas were sitting in a circle on the floor in preparation of their evening meal when Daniel arrived. Those assigned to serving carried bowls of rice and vegetables, placing them in the middle of the circle while others lit candles or passed out paper plates. The crowd wasn’t very large, just four or five families, a couple of novitiates, the elders, and a hippie or two who’d wandered in for the free meal. They let Daniel pass in silence.
The week before six o’clock had been twilight with orange haze hanging over the city and just a whiff of decay. Now six o’clock was dark and funereal. He could hear the girls singing as he climbed the stairs to Marcia’s. They were off-key. So off-key that Daniel began to dread sitting and listening to them politely. There were so many young people with guitars singing protest songs off-key, each believing they had talent or a gift. Most ended up on the streets. He thought of turning around and then a voice – God? – told him he must proceed.
Martin stood with his back to the poster of Che Guevara. The comparison between the two was vivid; Che, so full of passion that even in two dimension and long dead he made Martin look like a bloodless slug plastered to the wall. Like all good demons, Martin claimed a familiarity: “Daniel, old man. How splendid to see you.”
They’d met Martin the year before on their weekly date at the laundromat. Daniel was a few minutes late and so arrived to find Marcia already speaking to a dark-haired stranger as she sorted through her things.
At first he thought jealousy had made him wary of the stranger. The man was charming and full of stories of a life spent wandering the world whereas Marcia knew just about every aspect of Daniel’s sorry existence. But when Martin claimed to have been a poor destitute Cockney youth and then spoke in an accent reminiscent of Henry Higgins and not Alfred P. Doolittle, Daniel’s worry meter began to spike. He longer for the safety of Marcia’s flat.
And then, he heard the one person who was his refuge from the world invite the demon for tea.