The day I met Willy Bones is a memory that will forever be etched in my mind. I was walking down the street of the Main Bazaar across from the New Delhi railway station, looking for a place to get my pants fixed. Men eagerly attempted to herd me like a lost sheep into their stalls, coaxing me to more purchase more articles of knock-off stuff that I don’t need nor have room for in my pack.
A little back story: Just 48 hours prior at “The Fitness Dude” gym center in Varanasi, I was working out, in the hopes that if I worked out to the point of exhaustion, I would be able to sleep through the incessant honking that forever permeates every nook and cranny of my hotel room and the holy city; in Varanasi, tomorrow never comes.
All eyes on me as I worked out. Who in the hell is this white guy in north-face cargo pants, sopping sweat all over the floor? Focus. Ek. Do. Teen. Chaar, Paanch! With exercise, confidence, and intention, my ambition to be a super villain in a Bollywood film is bound to be! There was no kettle bell, so I opted for a dumbbell instead. Before I began, the song that Breaking Benjamin did for the Halo 2 video game soundtrack came on. A wave of euphoric nostalgia came over me, and I got in the fucking zone. I grasped the dumbbell, and in a cloudy stupor of nostalgic misjudgment, I swung deeply into a squat. “RRRRRRrrrriiiiiiiip!!” My pants split violently from back to front, the sound of roughly torn polyester left hanging in the hot moist air. All eyes on me. Haha! Look at this crazy westerner! Laughs all around, mostly coming from my own mouth.
After combing the bazaar for thirty minutes, I finally found a tailor. I assumed that I would have to leave the pants with him, and return in a few hours or so to pick them up. However, he sat me down on a sack of rice directly at eye line of his workbench, and began his work then and there, a swift diligence in his movements. Within three minutes, I was on my way with a fresh pair of north face pants, south face wholly intact. My next line of action was to purchase an alarm clock. I continued walking along the main bazaar, maintaining equanimity in my attention, filtering out the so seemingly authentic “hello sir!”s that rang out from each stall as I passed. Just walking. Observing.
A scene stopped me dead in my tracks and consumed my attention. A tall, lanky, stubble-faced white male in front of a closed stall, hunched over, sitting on the curb of the gutter. I moved closer to get a better look. His hair was disheveled, he was staring off into the pedestrian traffic of the bazaar with a look of nonchalant disinterestedness painted across his face. Next to him, two chestnut-skinned Indian girls and one boy in soiled clothes, all about the age of seven, were huddled around and intensely focused on an iphone7 they held in front of them. I moved closer. The bright hues of pink and blue and green of Candy Crush cast a luminescent glow over their mesmerized faces.
“Mate… I’m sick of playing chess on my phone. It’s so goddamn unfulfilling… I need a girl. I need someone in my life that I can share life with, can make love to, can be real with..”
“So are you letting these kids play games on your phone?” My attempt to nudge the conversation towards more topical subject matter, at least initially.
“Yeah, but I keep an eye on the bastards. They’re sneaky, y’know? Oi, let the girls have a turn,” he said to the boy in a mock-stern tone of voice.
I had trouble identifying his accent, but his demeanour seemed pleasant enough, so I sat down with them.
“This girl here,” he pointed to the small girl. “When she smiles, it makes me forget about the world… Hey, hey,” he gestured to the girl he was referring to with a contrived grin. She shook her head and resumed her deep interest in the realms of Candy Crush. The unkempt man introduced his name as Willy Bones, and asked me where I was from. I told him that I had been living in Australia for the last year, doing my work holiday visa. He explained that he was born and raised in Queensland, the place where I had been living for the majority of my time down under. He told me that he had been living in Delhi for about four months, editing a book that he was hoping to finish by the new year. After that he remained quiet for some time. The children soon tired of Candy Crush.
“Food. Hungry.” They gestured to Willy.
“Alright, you fuckin’ scoundrels. Let’s grab a rickshaw. Would you like to go on an adventure?” He shifted his gaze to me with a sly grin. Despite his size, I couldn’t help but see him as a bespectacled boy in a giant’s body; harmless enough. I nodded and followed the group. William hailed a rickshaw down, but when the driver told him 100 rupees, he lost his temper.
“I AM NOT SOME FUCKING IDIOT MAN!!” He yelled loudly and pointed violently with his index finger to his arm. “JUST BECAUSE I AM WHITE DOES NOT MAKE ME SOME MONEYPOT, YOU THIEVING SCOUNDREL!” Bystanders began to take notice of the scene. Willy and the driver argued and haggled for two minutes, finally settling on fifty rupees. We made our way to the end of the street, crossed the main road, and arrived at a small food cart, just outside of the entrance to the New Delhi railway station. While the children ate, Willy and I talked. Everything revolved around romance, or lack thereof: the paralysis of fear that overcame him when he attempted to talk to girls, the paranoia that arose simply at the thought of initiating a random encounter in the street without coming across as creepy or overbearing.
He wanted to read me a story at his apartment and asked if I would go along with him. The many diverse characteristics of his nature, so compassionate to the poor and needy, so impulsively bold, angry, and defensive in daily doings, reclusively shy in his dealings with the opposite sex – the main muse of his art, left me at a loss for conclusive judgment as to the stability of his mind. Was this man safe to associate myself with? Am I putting myself in physical danger here?
We went back to his hotel. We ascended the stairs to the first floor, where the clanging sounds of a man banging around with a hammer in one of the rooms opposite to Willy’s echoed throughout the corridor. He opened the door. The room was in complete disarray. Paint, brushes, and stacks upon stacks of blank canvasses littered the floor. He explained to me that he had been living in Delhi for three going on four months, most of his time having been spent in this room. He made no apologies for the mess, quickly moving over to his collection, paintings stacked high like a vast record collection; all depicting females, done in both tastefully and sexually obscene form.
He then hurried over to his bed, sat down with legs folded, and from a small black bag withdrew a black laptop. Scrawled across the back in big white painted block letters read “WORK SUCKS.” He opened the laptop and began to read a story with clear enunciation and passion. He read it as a love story, only that two paragraphs into it, an experienced male could easily infer that it was the recollection of a classic escort pickup. As he read me the story about the hooker, the man in the hallway continued his work, switching from hammer to some sort of a buzz saw. As Willy read, his tone of voice became combative, tense, and after a few seconds he stopped reading and stormed into the hallway.
“CAN YOU PLEASE SHUT UP FOR ONE SECOND!! I’m sorry. I’M TRYING TO READ A STORY TO A FRIEND. PLEASE, FIVE MINUTES AND THANK YOU.”
He returned to the room, slammed the door, and immediately resumed reading the story as if nothing had happened. The sound of the buzz saw stopped. The story ended with him painting a portrait of his “lover,” her taking money out of the wallet in his pants, him snatching the bill from her hands and explaining in loud commanding english that he needed that money to pay his rent in the morning, her storming out, him following her into the dark night, being unable to find her, leaving him feeling alone, sick, and right back at square one on some lonely street in Vietnam. A tale of naïveté bliss and the pain of unrequited love.
Afterwards, he showed me more of the many paintings that he had created; beautiful, surrealistic paintings of the women that so tormented his soul. Unattainable, set on a metaphoric pedestal just out of reach. After smoking a couple of joints and flipping through his paintings, we made small talk. His recent outburst in the hall seemed far away, and he exuded a sense of likability and friendliness. Although we talked about our families, occupations, and hobbies, the crux of the conversation would ultimately return to his carnal desires. A lot of his more frantic-looking pieces were in tough times, he told me.
“Looooots of pornography. What a great job it would be, to make love all day.”
His wall was covered with collages of Indian and white models from Cosmo, Vogue, and other fashion magazines. I finally asked if I could purchase one of his paintings for my collection. He refused to sell me a painting, but offered to make me one instead. While he painted, I played some music for him that I thought he would enjoy. After he finished the painting, he snickered and said, “I don’t mean to be a dick, but I am in love with this painting. Would it be okay to do another one for you?” He asked me if I had a photo of an ex-girlfriend. He began painting again.
“I don’t mean to be a dick or anything.” He said this quite frequently. He maintained a demeanour of indecisiveness, his emotions tossing and turning like a sailing skiff caught in a cyclone.
“I don’t wanna look at porn. I mean, I love the women in porn, but I want to share a bed with a real woman. Maybe when I’m a rich artist, I can have a pornstar to make love to.”
Willy quickly made me another painting, this time of a girl that looked nothing like my ex-girlfriend, but with a cat, an animal which I am quite fond of. Before he could get another “I don’t mean to be a dick but” in, I promptly bubble-wrapped it and shipped it to my mother and father’s address. Willy signed the back as “Satan”, date created 06/06/06, the medium of paint used being “semen and blood,” and the cost being “1,000,000 dollars and one bj.” After we had bubble-wrapped and turned the package over to the courier to be sent, Willy asked where I had sent it to, and I told him that I had sent it to my parents’ house. He quickly vocalised his remorse at having written such obscenities on the back of the painting, and he explained to me that I should have told him where it was being sent beforehand.
Willy suggested that we go eat some lunch for ourselves at a place nearby. Everywhere we went, he made no effort to acknowledge that we were in a different country. He spoke in hurried English to anyone and everyone, not slowing down, never attempting to compromise his speech in order to effectively communicate what it was that he wanted. It all made for very humorous, sometimes cringeworthy breakdowns in communication.
Over lunch, we discussed how he could properly expedite the process of meeting up in person with a girl that he had been beating around the bush in quite amicable conversation with on Tinder for the past week or so. I explained that in order to see results, one must take action. How wise I must have sounded, myself 26 and single, much to the befuddlement of every Indian that has asked me, “what is your good name, what is your occupation,’ and the dreaded last one: ‘are you married?” My answer to that last one usually leaves an awkward silence hanging in the air.
While letting our food settle, Willy wanted to play a game: two lies and one truth. I tried to keep it lighthearted, as it was two in the afternoon and I didn’t know Willy very well, but he jumped directly into the deep end. He used the game as a way to confide in me about the deep sexual pain and frustration that was preventing him from forming the bond with a companion that he so desperately desired. By way of the game, he confessed to me that he had fingered the family dog and had had sex with another boy when he was nine years old.
After lunch, Willy decided it would be a good idea for us to drink some alcohol.
“Let’s get fucked up and loose. It makes it easier to get the girls.” I explained to Willy that I was not much of a drinker, but would happily be interested in being his wingman. He agreed, I agreed: the adventure must continue. We decided on procuring some hashish before getting the alcohol. Outside of the restaurant, a gaunt, old Indian rickshaw driver with shiny black hair sleeked to the back gave me a big thumbs up sign accompanied with a toothy grin. He pulled up next to us, and explained in broken english that he could get hashish. Easy done.
“You better not fuck us over mister,” Willy quipped as I negotiated the price with the driver. The driver wanted 2000 for a tola, equivalent to ten grams of hashish. I firmly explained that we only wanted 1000 worth. Willy would quickly switch back and forth between combative anger and a compassionate, almost playful manner. Anytime he would jump in to negotiate price, he would physically poke and tickle the man into a playful submission of commercial agreement. We finally came to a consensus of 1000, and piled into the old man’s bicycle powered rickshaw. He drove us past the new railway station, every now and again turning back to face us, asking for the money with outstretched hand. After numerous failed attempts, he finally consented to returning with hash in hand before we put the cash in hand.
Willy needed to purchase some rolls of paper towels, so we went into a nearby shop. Once purchased, the two paper towel rolls became props for a drag/burlesque routine that he began performing in the street, much to the stares and laughs of baffled bystanders. Willy would see a sign or advertisement in the street depicting a female, and he would become consumed, almost possessed, with angsty lust. He would lick the women’s faces on the dirty street signs as we passed them, hold the paper rolls at his upper torso to mimic the presence of breasts, and stroll along like he was the star of a Victoria’s Secret catwalk. Many people looked to me for some sort of non-verbal explanation, but I would simply shrug and smile.
After twenty minutes, Willy suggested that we should steal the rickshaw, forget about the hash, and go on a “REAL” adventure. I jokingly told him to give it five more minutes and I’d consider it. Five minutes later, just as Willy was planning our getaway, the man returned and beckoned us into the back seat. What he gave us seemed decent enough in quality, but seriously lacked in quantity. When we got off at our stop, Willy asked for the money I had in my pockets, about 500 rupees, combined it with the 200 rupees he had, stuffed it into the drivers hand, turned around, and began walking off in a hurried fashion. The driver began yelling at me, but I shrugged, turned, and followed Willy. The sounds of the driver’s voice drowned out amongst the beeping of other vehicles as we put distance between us and the rickshaw. We made it back to Willy’s hotel, shared a chillum, and that is when all hell broke loose.