"Coffee, anyone?"

My mother runs a clinic specializing in "colonics therapy", a clever euphemism for what was once- before the PR firms snatched it from oblivion- ominously called "enema". She is one of the best in Toronto at this ancient practice, which has not changed much since its crude beginnings many centuries ago. Moliere has characters of questionable morals--- not to speak of hygiene--- describing this ritual in some of his plays. And it was so popular at the court of King Louis XIV that his favorite niece, the Duchess of Burgundy, had her manservant administer an enema in front of the King (her modesty being preserved by "a most chaste" posture) before going to watch the great misanthropist's plays. Moliere always got the last laugh: the Duchess died of complications from a bowel infection that led to the onset of measles. She was 26 years old.
    It's a simple procedure, really. The patient--- in this case, me--- lies on his side in a fetal position, a blanket covering everything but his buttocks. (Kneeling with the buttocks raised before a non-paramour was common in the days before public exposure of genitalia became something to blush about). Ambient nature sounds issue out of the CD player, filling the lavender-scented room with the sound of gurgling brooks and song birds. The practitioner--- in this case, my mother--- speaks in hushed tones (a problematic butt-tensing reflex for me ever since that one day, when I was a four years old, she used the same tone to lure me into a much-deserved spanking). A sterilized metal nozzle is then gently inserted--- with a little twist, please--- into the anus and distilled water is passed through the rectum. Once the lower intestine is bloated, my mother chokes the transparent tube through which the water passes like a garden hose, thereby arresting any potential leakage down below. It is then released gently, so that the flow can be reversed and the now-fetid water can pass back through the tube. The "inner debris" moves along and is siphoned into a waste container. Aside from a mild discomfort of bloating, there is no pain. There is none of the idle chatter you are used to at your doctor’s office either--- no talk about the latest version of the iPod or how the new job is going while he fingers your prostate; only deathlike silence, punctuated by the occasional and inscrutable "hmm" or “ahh”. Sometimes, if it is of even the most cursory scientific moment, my mother would pinch the tube at two points, capturing a chunk of belated fecal matter, like some creature from the deep sea dislodged from its dark haven and exposed to sunlight for the first time. With her reading glasses on, she reminded you of a pawnshop jewelry appraiser scrutinizing a stolen heirloom brooch. Then, without the language to bridge the chasm between what she was observing and the perfect adjective to describe it, my mother would bellow--- a sound made even more incomprehensible by her broken English.
    After one such session with her, she invited me to a seminar given by the spiritual luminary of this movement--- the Dalai Lama of Enemas. His Eminence had graduated with a PHD in botany, spent two years in Kenya harvesting coffee beans with the natives before he had his eureka moment. He would be giving a rare appearance, my mother explained, one of the thirty-six such "rare" appearances, I would later discover, on his whirlwind $200 per ticket tour around the world. For my mother, this was equivalent to a backstage pass at a Rolling Stones concert. The seminar was held in a hotel near Cabbagetown, a live-and-let-live neighbourhood of expensive Victorian homes, where university professors, seventh-generation landed English/Scottish/Irish gentry, pimps, and married gay couples conjugated in some semblance of harmony. This Guru Of The Bowels was, to my surprise, much younger and well-groomed than I had expected. You could easily have imagined him hosting an Emmy Award-winning reality show called “It Don’t Mean Shit”. Without a quiver of irony, he spoke with an eloquence far removed from his subject matter, which in this case was advertised as: “Stimulate: The Cure-All Benefits Of Coffee Enemas”. He stood before the crowd of almost one hundred professionals (like my mother) and the few blackly curious (like me), percolating about the cancer-defying blessings of this treatment. I stared at my half-consumed murky coffee and held back my gag reflex. Cultish silence filled the white-washed conference room each time this Prime Mover-and-Shaker opened his mouth. Using pseudo-scientific jargon, he commented over a War And Peace-length slide show about the difference between free-trade African and Costa Rican coffee beans and its affect on human feces. It was so stomach-churning and graphically revolting that I started humming my favourite karaoke tunes to distract myself. I surprised myself with the number of songs in my repertoire.
    When we broke for lunch, my mother cheerfully lead me down the hall to the Chinese buffet room. The smell of deep-fried chicken balls and the sight of the charred skin of roast pork, super-imposed with the images that had just flogged my eyes, had me dry heaving all the way back to the elevator. My mother rushed to my side, saving me from complete collapse.
    "What happen? Something wrong with stomach?"
    I shook my head, steadying the bitter tears in my eyes.
    "I need some fresh air. I want to take a walk."
    "You hurry back. Lunch be over in one hour. I want introduce you to him."
    Outside, the world looked like someone had vomited on it. Everything was grey-green and slimy. Thankfully, the hot mid-day sun was veiled behind a thicket of clouds. I needed a drink, one or seven of them; I needed something--- anything--- that would bring about a spell of self-amnesia. So I headed east toward a tapas bar I used to frequent, pressing my copy of Rilke's Notebooks Of Malt Laurids Brigge against my stomach to keep it from erupting. Once inside the cavernous basement, I took a seat at the empty stool bar. The smell of mold and sweet tobacco lingered in the air. There was nobody in the room save for a figure sitting at a table in a corner, scribbling madly into a notebook. Wisps of yellow smoke formed a shroud around his head. After waiting some time, I called out to him. He jumped to his feet, looked down the short length of his pug nose at me, back to his notebook, then back at me again. His tall scawny figure draped in a grey cardigan and his white-speckled goatee sprung to mind a medieval scholar transcribing some obscure Latin work into an equally obscure language--- a work nobody but he himself would ever read.
    "I was just wondering if somebody worked here," I said.
    "Uh, yes, um, I work here."
    He went behind the bar, cracked open a warm bottle of Heineken.
    “Sorry, fridge not working,” he added. There was a ravaged quality about his face that suggested a man who had lost many things, and kept all the remaining bits and pieces to himself. His eyes, dark as a solar eclipse, slowly shifted down to my book. He asked me what I was reading. When I told him, he held my gaze and, to my astonishment, began to recite a long poem in German. A startled space separated us when he finished.
    "You must always read Rilke in his original language."
    "What was that?"
    "A poem about Orpheus."
    "You are a writer?"
    "A poet."
    "What is your name?" When he told me who he was, I felt a tremor taking over my hands. I stared down at them like loaded pistols.
    "I just read your work in the Penguin anthology last week."
    "Yes, yes. At least penguins don't walk away with your poems and pretend it is their own." He laughed. I had remembered reading about this somewhere, about how some spineless English translator had assumed legal ownership of this great Easten European’s work, as though the latter was long dead, and handed the work over for sale to one of London's publishing houses.
    We talked about his life: of being an infamous dissident war writer, the siege of his city, genocide, exile and cultural dislocation; of how one day during the war the great American essayist, Susan Sontag, while in that part of the world to mount a production of Waiting For Godot, had stayed at his house and promised to deliver him and his family to America. She did just that before her third, and final, battle with cancer. But he never got to America. He stopped here, in Toronto, a city too civil for his tastes, a place he had hoped would be a mere stop-over to greater experiences, deeper associations. It was a place that he refused to call “home”. But like a bad habit, Toronto stayed with him and never left. It saddened him to be here, kept him in a state of perpetual longing, but the words of his deliverer, the warrior-priestess of American letters, always kept him buoyant: "In the valley of sorrow, spread your wings." And he did just that. He spread his wings and swooped in, opening this basement bar in Cabbagetown, which never did gain any traction with customers, except for a motley crew of usually broke emigres and writers. With half-full bottles of scotch and vodka on the shelves, the bar became his solace, his escape from memory and retreat from action. He had neither the ambition nor the endurance for immigrant work, and because of his few paying regulars, just enough profit to restock his liquor cabinet and write.
    We engaged like two brothers, separated at birth and re-united after life and loss had exacted its toll. The result: lessons from Sniper Alley for him and, comparatively-speaking, growing up in the Tower of London with hundreds of servants for me. He recited his poetry in English, his melodic voice often betraying the song beneath the sombre cluster of absurdity and death. His poems had the effect of plunging you in Arctic waters and lifting you to the sunny surface of the Caribbean--- grim reality transmogrifying into light surreal images all in the same sentence. A grey moth becomes a peacock butterfly becomes Stalin's tunic. I fell in love with this man, his impossible poetry, the empty bar, and our serendipitous meeting.
    By nightfall, we were both intoxicated by booze and conversation. We were also famished.
    "I’ll make for you my national cuisine," he said, before disappearing into a kitchen upstairs. It would be a full forty minutes before he returned, a large oval platter with flower prints stacked with what looked like four different kinds of meat and three pieces of rolled bread. His arms shook from the weight of the platter.
    "This,” he said pointing at the bread, “is called burek.” It reminded me of dog poop.
    “And what is that?” I asked, diverting my attention.
    “This is called cevapici," he said, beaming. He pointed at them one at a time. "This one here is made of only veal. Very special." The other three consisted of minced pork and veal, minced lamb and veal, and minced pork and lamb. The profound lack of ingenuity in cooking techniques was disconcerting. I imagined every kitchen of every household back in his homeland equipped with only a grill--- no oven, no burners, not even a refrigerator. After a long pause, I asked him sheepishly if salad was of any interest to his fellow countrymen, at which point he slapped his forehead and remembered that he had forgotten the salad upstairs. He returned with a large glass bowl of chopped onions, sprinkled with some chopped parsley.
    “A little salt. And olive oil, too.” Tears formed in his eyes. I thought it was the pungent odor of the sliced onions. But he may very well have been waxing nostalgically about his mother’s cooking. He watched expectantly as I picked up the knife and fork.
    “This is too much,” I ventured. “Please join me.”
    “Of course, of course. But in our country, guests always first.” The smell of grilled meat and garlic climbed up the walls of the room and into the pores of my body. I chomped and chewed thinking of my favorite karaoke song, “Lady” by Kenny Rogers, and rolled my eyes toward the ceiling, singing along with the lyrics scrolling overhead. I finished my piece of veal and, perhaps a bit too eagerly told him how great it was and that he should join me. He attacked the plate, slopping the bread into the blackened oil at the bottom of the platter. At first, I was happy to witness this carnivore in action, devouring for five people; then, I felt a bit of shame washing over me; after all he did spend forty minutes making this meal just for me. I reluctantly returned to the meal with a zealousness that was as much feigned as it was unexpected. We finished the platter of meats within an hour, all the time resuming our conversation about his experiences: of seeing lovers’ bodies decaying for months on a bridge that separated two enemies, each side afraid to salvage the bodies and give them a proper burial; about horses and cows in rigor mortis after a bombing, their four legs poking the sky like thumbtacks. And as if the scent of the food had crept out of the bar, out onto the streets, and through the windows of distant houses, his friends began to materialize at the bar door. With each new guest, he disappeared upstairs to make more cevapici. Meat and conversation and more meat continued to arrive at our tables as his friends appeared. This lasted through the night. People of all colours, races, and languages gathered at the bar, their only commonality being their comradeship with this great poet and some form of exile.
    Finally, when it was time for me to go, I looked around me at empty bottles of vodka and scotch littered on the floor. Some of his friends had passed out and were sleeping on the washroom floor. Two of them were sprawled over tables. The rest were crouched in corners behind a curtain of smoke, mumbling--- I presumed--- about the past. I rose from my seat and announced that I must take my leave. The poet staggered toward me and offered me some coffee.    “Turkish. Will take the edge off and you can pretend life is good.” I thanked him and told him that I stopped drinking coffee, that one less vice was good, no? He laughed and embraced me deeply for a long time.
    “This meeting was meant to happen. You are my friend." These were his parting words to me and I promised to return soon.
    Outside, I squinted at the sun breaking through the clouds. Cars filed bumper-to-bumper in the direction of the downtown core. Hordes of people disgorged from the streetcar; other hordes boarded it. I chose to forgo the streetcar and took to the sidewalk. Suddenly, I remembered my mother. I turned on my cellphone; she had left five messages, the last breathy one full of concern for my safety. When I called her back, she was back at her clinic, relieved to hear my voice. I explained what had happened to me after I left the seminar. After being assured that I was fine, she asked me if I had eaten breakfast. I stopped myself in mid-answer. There was a long pause.
    “Hello…?”
    “Yes, I’m here.” I told her I had to get off the phone.
    “Why, what wrong now?”
     I hung up before I could answer and hailed a cab. I hopped in and told the driver to take the quickest route to my mother.