Growing up Catholic meant that I learned context faster than most. Good sex was functional, bad sex was vandalism. I explained this to Sandi on our third or fourth date and she asked me about dancing.
“I’m pretty sure you’re thinking of Baptists. As far as I know, Catholics don’t have any rules regarding dancing.” I told her.
She jangled her bracelets, leftovers from her mother’s gypsy phase in the 70s. “Are you sure?”
“Not really,” I said and looked at the bracelets again. She wore them well, all the way up her forearm to the meat above her elbow. She was thick everywhere it mattered, but instead of finding a charming way to tell her that, I picked at my food for a minute and she did the same, bites the size of dimes as we watched each other on the sly. Slow sips of wine, pretending to pick out the different flavors.
She went back to the sex thing. “What do you mean by vandalism?”
“Destruction with no motivation. Misuse of the body, depreciation of the soul.” The light didn’t hit her so much as meet her, glide across the top of her chest and lower neck. “Things like that,” I told her, hashing over the first time I heard such implications at mass and in bible studies. Some things we’ll believe forever just because we heard them first.
I start again. “There was a philosopher who rallied against people being the means to an end instead of the end itself, which is the exact opposite of Catholicism, I think.”
"No, it wasn’t Kant.”
“No,” she said, setting her wine glass down gingerly. “I’m saying the word ‘cunt.’ Can you say it?”
“You mean, am I spiritually allowed to say it? Sure. Cunt. I like big ol’ sloppy cunts.”
“You’re not the best Catholic I’ve ever met.”
“I doubt you’ve met any,” I told her as a joke, but we both became quiet as she thought about it. I had moved to the city a couple years ago with my faith already gone. The people I met seemed to never be born with it, which was fine but different. The sex thing was the weirdest to me, how open a topic it was. The first summer I was here I saw a man sitting down against a dumpster I normally jog past. When I slowed up to check on him and make sure he was all right—not passed out from the heat or anything—I saw he was holding his cock in his hand, a pile of semen on his shirt above his navel. Several flies had landed in it, their wings in a drastic flutter to help their legs get out.
Kandan did not have any stickers on his front window or dashboard. For a little while, he had had his mother’s name – Vimala – on the back, but ever since she had forgiven his sister for running away to marry that lazy drunkard boy, something which he could not bring himself to do, he had lost respect for both women. So when he took his autorickshaw in for a routine reupholstering after the last monsoon, he had it removed. Now it looked as clean and faultless as absolution itself.
Kandan felt very strongly about his allegiances. He wouldn’t attach his sanction to just anything, not even his traitorous mother’s name. He had the least personal autorickshaw in Chennai, which suited him just fine. Some drivers slept in their vehicles through the afternoon, many ate sitting in the backseat, and most if not all channeled their entire personalities into the cause. You didn’t have to look at the number plate to identify who drove an auto. They stamped their vehicles with their religious beliefs, their family connections, their taste in pleather or animal print plush and the smells of their own bodies.
“At least Hanuman,” said his friend Pala, gesturing at the upper breadth of Kandan’s front window with his joint. “The one where he’s flying and carrying that mountain. It will look nice. And Hanuman will bless your travel.”
“Don’t start,” said Kandan.
“No, I understand, Kanda. You don’t want to block your view. But I’m telling you, it’s good to have Hanuman go before you.”
Kandan looked over at Pala’s autorickshaw, parked beside his. The front panel displayed the goddess Karumari, the mystic Sai Baba of Shirdi and a romancing Radha and Krishna. He knew that inside, in a triumph of syncretism, a triptych of Ganesha flanked by Christ and a mosque took pride of place. “The best part,” Pala had said when he first acquired it, “is that it’s all one sticker. They actually made it this way! This is the beauty and the glory of our country!” Pala had the Indian flag on his back window. He meant it, too.
At three every afternoon Kandan and Pala would share a joint somewhere near TTK Road. Occasionally, like today, Pala proffered aesthetic advice. His philosophy on autorickshaw decoration essentially was: look stylish enough for God to want to look at (and after) you. Kandan tried not to be troubled by this.
“What I don’t understand, Kanda, is how come you don’t want any protection?”