I am wandering a darkened hallway. Somewhere, the sun is rising. I know it is morning, but the arches and carved stone go on and on like this interminable day of subways and airport shuttles, staring at tracks and walls that begin to tighten around me, more suffocating with each passing minute, the train, now, stopped.
In this captured place. Caged and powerless. Stuck, like the cars on the tracks. Sometimes all we can do is wait.
Somewhere, the Eastern sky is brightening. I need to find a window, or a portal.
Light flows in and out of this strange structure; now an anteroom, wriggling with carvings of eyes and figures, painted images on doorways and columns.
The Sculpted House? I touch the walls and feel my way. She must be right. I’m deep inside something otherworldly; a lost civilization, or an artist’s universe.
This can’t be Brittany. I have no passport in my pocket. I have no time and no money for France this summer.
Something flutters, just above my head. I look up, anticipating a bird – or worse – a bat. Instead I see a brightly tinted goddess on the smooth surface of stone. But she pulls away from the rock, now alive. I look more closely. It’s Meg Ryan, her pixie lips puckered and brow furrowed, as if she’s surprised to see me, and distracted. Who was she expecting?
Meg Ryan’s hair is long and flowing, filled with sun and spells. She is young, she is Rapunzel, she is peering down from the shadowy opening in a wall of embellishment. I wonder if she is imprisoned or lost. I wonder if she’s waiting for a train to pull into its station.
I check my teeth. Yes, all here.
Sometimes my teeth are broken. Sometimes they have fallen out and I am toothless and aging. I am told it has to do with power, with powerlessness.
All here. This time I say it aloud, reinforcing my presence of mind, my ability to maneuver, the lucidity to navigate this environment, this dream state. I’ll find my way out, I’ll find my way out, I’ll find my way out, when I’m ready.
But I’m not ready; this Sculpted House is welcoming. I am content here. Calm inside the inventiveness of the outsider, the product of his fever, the need to create with what is found, the drive to create even if no one knows. They are deemed marginal, disenfranchised, unaffiliated, unschooled. They are cut off.
Perhaps it is the rest of the world that is cut off; they are the outsiders.
Inside lies vision and obsession – those who forge art that is unrelenting: lines and tunnels, beasts and warriors, gods and paradise. These insider-outsiders breathe life into board and scrap, into gardens and sculptures of shards and rock.
I circle back, I circle back, I circle back. Here is the entrance of roses and raspberries. Here, light blooms violently and I walk towards it, stepping into its warmth.
But this is not a French garden. It is Nek Chand’s Rock Garden, and this is India.
I can see my station from the window. But this is respite. Seeing my son off on his trip has been tiring and stressful. His destination is set; he’ll arrive, soon. My destination is a jumble; I’ll need to take whatever comes, reshape it when I get there.
People push, parade, press in. Everywhere. Some stand on the platform. The walls are concrete and mosaic tile. There are commuters and tourists, children restrained by adult hands. An elderly man in suspenders and a fishing hat hunches over a bicycle. He must be eighty; how can he ride that thing?
We inch ahead, not quite at the station. The doors remain closed. Across the tracks is a sturdy-looking man with mahogany skin. His features on the left side are beautiful and even, as though perfectly laid out by a master planner. Le Corbusier has fashioned his face, a cubist face, a painting, an edifice, a map. The right side is slightly malformed, as if purposely misshapen, as if the contrast will heighten the perfection of the other half.
The man with the cubist face stares straight ahead, waiting for his train, people milling around him. Some look at him. Some look away.
Now the people are mosaic; the man has become rock and clay and mosaic. He is stoic, a stone; one of Nek Chand’s mosaic people, and everywhere I look they are standing, sitting, surveying, rolling forward in vast numbers through a garden of greenery and rock, waterfalls and rock. They are adorned in bits of metal and glass, clothed in ceramic. Their eyes are rock and glass. My teeth are rock and glass.
My teeth are glass, but they will not break.
Nek Chand’s people are advancing. They take steps, then stop. I take steps and keep going: I wander peacefully among them, admiring the way they absorb light and reflect light. They are sun-skinned guardians, earthen populations.
The old man with the bicycle never looks up.
I want to check his pulse. He is so still.
I want to sketch his face; its shadows seduce my hand, but he’s too far to touch, and I have no pencil or paper.
The train nudges forward again. The old man with the bicycle hasn’t moved. The subway doors open and close in front of him, over and over again, but he remains, unconcerned and immobile, like Nek Chand’s mosaic people, Nek Chand’s mosaic people who are outside and waiting, Nek Chand’s mosaic people in the gardens, lining the walls, taking position along the platform.
Darkness will come, and with it a sense of menace; I want to flee, to run back to the Sculpted House, to grab Meg Ryan’s hair, to wrap my hands around it, use it like rope, climb to safety. Even if safety isn’t necessary. Even if safety is not recognizable inside the strange embrace of the sculpted house.
I expect this more and more, this departure; what is recognizable will take its distance. Fear will spark like a flash fire, and disappear just as quickly. I’ll be forced to find beauty in imagined places.
I finger for my cell phone, digging around in my left pocket. I glance at it. Still no signal. I want the call from my son that he has arrived safely.
The barrel of worries never quite empties: I weather the labyrinth of entries and exits, of unforeseen turns, of destinations I cannot manage or control. My teeth are glass.