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Part 38
New York, Wednesday August 23

9:21 p.m.
After Hossein and Nance broke the horrible news to me, my mind underwent a strange reaction. Instead of falling apart, my tears magically dried out. I ceased feeling confused, hurt, or even guilty. I simply and methodically put all those feelings aside. I knew exactly what I had to do.

I spent the next day making the necessary phone calls. Fortunately, it was bAbA joon who picked up the phone when I dialed my parents' number. As always, he refrained from asking unnecessary questions and wished me luck. Derrick was equally magnanimous. "I think you are doing the right thing darling," he said. "You can't give yourself to your audience on stage when your mind is wandering thousands of miles away... Don't worry about the play, this is why you have an understudy... We'll be happy to welcome you back when you have figured things out..."

Aaahhhh... Finally my tomato juice. I thank the flight attendant and gulp down the refreshing liquid.

I am going to Paris.

Thursday August 24

10:25 a.m.
Arrived at Charles de Gaulle early in the morning as scheduled. The customs officers looked at me suspiciously when I passed the gate in my pink pumas and track pants, wearing my New York Yankees T-Shirt and baseball cap. I am carrying no luggage: Just my knapsack and of course holding onto you, dear little diary, firmly in my hand. After a perfunctory check of my knapsack, a haughty "Allez-y! Allez-y!" ushers me outside. Welcome to Paris!

Grabbed the first taxi in sight and immediately gave the address for the Time Magazine Paris Office. I don't have Ali's home address (Hossein thinks he might be staying with friends but he doesn't know who) but I feel very light-hearted. Am not scared at all, in fact quite euphorically confident that I will find him even though I have one measly address and this City is immense. Even took the time to smile at the ironies of life. Did not follow Ross to Los Angeles yet here I am following Ali. But this feels different. This time, I am truly the one taking control of my life, not letting someone else shape the course of it.

12:02 p.m.
The taxi drops me off in front of a majestic looking building. I take the elevator to the Time's office where I am greeted by a funny looking teen-ager (At least she looks like a teen-ager!) with purple streaks in her hair, red braces in her teeth, and a thick pair of 60s type glasses with leopard print frames. She is chewing her gum quite noisily and busily working away at her Solitaire computer game. I turn around to the glass door behind me just to check if I have the right office, but yes, here she is, the receptionist of the venerable Time magazine Paris Office!

I think of clearing my throat to get her attention but then remember Grolpy and decide to be more direct. In my grade seven French, I utter:

-- "Euh... Excusez-moi... Puis-je parler a Ali M..."

-- "Oh don't worry, I'm American too, can't understand a word of the Froggie-Speak."

The girl has turned from her game and is looking at me with a bored look, continuing to chew her gum. For some reason, I picture the cows at my friend Sadie' s farm in the Hamptons chewing the cud all day long while we watched them with equal delight and horror from behind the fence.

-- "Umm... yes well... great... well... I am looking for a friend who works at your office...His name is Ali M..."

-- "Ali? We don't have anyone here who's named Ali... Try Newsweek..."

Before going back to her game of Solitaire, she momentarily looks at my pink leather diary with fluffy black trims.

-- "Cool diary..."

I am torn between my desire to laugh and my instinct to stick my fingers into the girl's mouth and yank the gum out. I decide to smile even more brightly than before and give it another try. I look at her nameplate on her desk to be more "personal". The receptionist's name is Althea...

-- "Um...Althea..."

-- "I ain't Althea... She's on maternity leave, I 'm just filling in for her..."

-- "Okay, then what is your name?"

-- "Sally."

-- "Okay Sally, listen to me. I have just flown from New York, hopped into a cab at Charles de Gaulle, come straight here carrying only this purse and this diary, and I have only one address in this whole City, and it is the address of your office. I have it on 100% valid authority that my friend Ali is working at this office. Now think a little bit. Did you have any new recruits last week? From New York City? Medium height, dark hair, Olive skin... His name is Ali!

Sally looks thoroughly annoyed with me but then a flash of recognition passes into her cow-eyes.

-- "Oooooohhhh that guy!"

-- "Yes! That guy!"

I beam expectantly. Only a few moments separate me from Ali now."

Sally continues chewing.

-- "Yeah... I know who you're talking about... It's that guy Ali... I think he's in Spain..."


-- " What's he doing in Spain???? He just got here!"

-- " Yeah well this is, like, Time Europe... (more chewing)... and like, we cover all sorts of stuff in other countries...( chew, chew)... And yeah... I think he took off for the week-end with some of the other guys to go cover the Running of the Bulls in Spain..."

I can't believe what I am hearing? Ali? Covering the running of the Bulls in Spain? That just sounds so unlike him! Who does he think he is, Ernest Hemingway?"

Sally has gone back to her computer game. But I won't give up.

-- "Well, is there an address in Spain where I can reach him? Or a cell phone?"

Sally looks at me with a look that says I've exceeded her tolerance for boredom.

-- "Naaahhh... And even if I did, I couldn't just give it up you know? I mean you could be a psycho ex-girlfriend you know?... No Offense!"

Images of Sally flying out the 6th floor along with her computer. Gotta calm myself down. But there is no way around it. My euphoria has been replaced by despair. In a plaintive voice all I managed to utter is:

-- "Well... what should I do then?"

Sally chews on. She manages to blow a big bubble hiding her tiny head then pops it.

-- "I don't know... Why don't you go see the Eiffel Tower?"

I am sitting miserably on a bench outside the office building. Not a good idea in Paris. Already, I see a "gentleman" in his sixties, with impeccably matching tie and socks sitting at the other end of the bench. It seems with every minute going by, he is inching just a little bit closer to me.

What can I do? Oh God? Go back to the airport? My heart is not in it? Go completely bonkers and venture into Spain? Yeah! I had such luck finding Ali in one City, I will have no problem finding him in an entire country. Just follow the arrow saying "To the Running of the Bulls".

Oh god the older gentleman is so close now I can smell his rose-scented cologne. I better get out of here? But where to?

1:15 p.m.:
Well here I am Sally! I hope you're happy! Out of luck and out of ideas, I decided to actually go to the Eiffel Tower. I mean heck! If I am to go back to New York City tonight with my tail between my legs, I may as well have gotten one constructive thing out of the whole trip. And standing here at the top of this eyesore (I don't care what you say, Zola was right!), I am hoping to get some perspective on my life, some sense of what in hell I am doing here? What is it about me that makes happiness always out of reach? Am I cursed? God...I feel like I have been on a search all my life... the right friends, the right school, the right boy-friend, the right job...Not only do I never seem to coordinate my goals, I am not even sure I like them once they have been reached. I am so confused....

1:45 p.m.
The strangest thing happened to me. As I was standing here deciding whether to leave all this meditation crap and go have a double shot of whiskey at the Eiffel Bar, the Elevator door opened and dozens of people poured out. It was like a sea of oranges tumbling out of the Elevator. I looked around in awe. One of the Tower staffers discreetly whispered to me in English:"Zee Dalai Lama is here in town fer a conference... Some ef zee monks have decided to take zee tour of zee Eiffel Tower." I felt comforted because for a second, I thought I might have fainted again, like I did back at the chapel in bAbA's hospital.

Then I got a very eerie feeling. Among the orange figures scurrying to and fro, and despite my astigmatism, I seemed to recognize one figure. I approached this man from behind, as he was looking out from the observation deck and tapped him gently on the shoulder. He turned around to look at me and I was shocked to recognize his face, thick glasses, warm smile and all. He was the man in my dream! The one I had the night before we got the tests results back for bAbA's cancer. What had he told me then? That's right: That the day of birth is not a beginning and the day of death not a termination, it is a day of continuation.

The man however did not seem to know me at all but he gave me a polite enough smile anyway. I felt so stupid for blurting the first thing that came out of my mouth:

-- "Have you been to Mount Vernon?"

-- "...Mountain... Vernon...? Where is this mountain?"

-- "Um... oh I am so sorry... It's just that... well I thought you were someone I knew..."

I turned away mortified ready to take the elevator down and hop onto the first plane to New York. I thought to myself that Amoo Reza had been the one kook in the whole family and I had probably inherited his "crazy gene". But the man followed me and it was his turn to tap me gently on the back.

-- "Excuse me Miss... Perhaps I can help you in some way."

I could not help but take this offer. I felt so alone!

-- "Your Excellency", I began, for lack of knowledge of how to address him. But he interrupted me.

-- "I am just a simple monk... Now tell me, who are you searching for...?"

As strange as this sounds, I felt like he was genuinely interested in helping me, that he would understand me. But I had so much to say, it all came up like babbling, stuff about my MIP (Mystical Iranian Prince) and Ross, and Peerooz, and Ali...

He gently touched my elbow and interrupted me:

-- "This MIP you tell me about... This idea is keeping you from your chosen path... Remember, there is no one on earth to worship. No man or woman to place on a pedestal over your head. No person so refined or holy or perfect that you cannot imagine yourself an equal."

His words felt as if they had grabbed at my heart and were squeezing it so hard. He saw the need I had and encouraged me. The tears came flowing. When they dried out, he said:

-- "Now tell me what you search for..."

-- "I search... for... happiness."

His face beamed.

-- "My child, Nirvana is the highest happiness..."

-- "But...how do I attain Nirvana?"

The monk responded:

-- "Our life is shaped by our mind, we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves... Remember this my child, and repeat it often: If in day to day life you lead a good life, honestly, with love, with compassion, with less selfishness, then automatically it will lead to Nirvana. Now close your eyes and meditate."

I leaned against the railing and did as he told me. I was not feeling euphoric anymore but I wan't feeling miserable either. Instead a great calm had enveloped me, just as it had in the chapel in Mount Vernon General. I closed my eyes and started whispering the monk's mantra. With each utterance, I felt myself grow even calmer.

If in day to day life, I lead a good life, with love, with compassion, with less selfishness, then automatically it will lead to Nirvana.

I was free.

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