Jack Swift :: Enter Jo-Ab

The green bus pulled around the corner, squealing on its wheels like a Formula One courgette on steroids. To the attentive eye, it was visibly pulsating with the effort of holding its psychedelic cargo from bursting out onto the street, threatening to detonate like a fractal explosion in a spiral warehouse and cover the city in squirming astral day-glow debris. It spluttered to a stop outside a shoe shop and disgorged a young man with (possibly prehensile) dreadlocks, an incredible tan, and bright green dungarees held together with yellow silk scarves. His name was Job, but he pronounced it Jo-Ab, because he liked the sound of it better that way, how it rolled out longer, the way people thought he’d said Joanne. Also, he fancied himself to be the spiritual descendant, he would say, of both Jonah and Ahab – he also said they both had problems with Whales, and though he didn’t have any problem at all with Whales the aquatic mammals, Wales the country kept disgorging him, usually around the solstice, and usually dressed as a kind of ultraviolet Merlin, always at least a couple of card decks short of his full mental quota. On such surveys as he had occasion to fill in over the years, Jo-Ab usually called himself a Pagan, but only because its opportunities for truly creative fancy dress were wider than Zen Buddhism or Islam.
     He scratched his dreadlocks with his forefinger, looked around him and whistled. A closer observer could have heard him append a ‘sheeee-yit’ to the end of the whistle, as if he were seeing the street for the first time at the distant end of a vast bus-journey, and in many senses it was true.
     He banged the side of the bus gently whilst watching a school of traffic-wardens moving towards him from their separate stations around the street, their eyes bulging with malevolence and barely-suppressed rage at the world in general and at this psychedelic carbuncle in particular.
     “Just unloading, man,” Jo-Ab said to the first of them, but it wasn’t enough to prevent it launching into its tirade of commands, a string of sounds meaningless to Jo-Ab, as he had, through long practice and dedication, learned to filter them completely from his awareness. Not caring what traffic-wardens said was the only way to not get caught in their terrifyingly strange consciousness, he had decided; the alternative was to be sucked into their power games and become only further enmeshed in horrific paradigms of fear and control that were best left alone. Why let yourself go on a bad trip if you know how to avoid it, after all? Why let the ball of goodness drop, Jo-Ab would argue.
     The traffic-warden barked more sounds of mean-ness and insecurity at him, and waved a quivering finger at some sign that, to Jo-Ab at least, was covered in the arcane symbols of a religion to whose beliefs he had never subscribed and whose dogmas he was now less than interested in. Jo-Ab only nodded and wondered where he could get some frozen yoghurt. That was it. Blackberry frozen yoghurt, now there was a thing.
     “Can’t you read?” frothed the warden, and this was enough to pick Jo-Ab up out of his yoghurt trance.
     “Read?” he said, surprised to be drawn back into the world of communication. “Sure. Various forms of propaganda, lies, revelations and entertainment, I guess. I can write a little too – used to make some kind of a living scratching verses from the Tao Te Ching onto hemp seeds for the tourists in Glastonbury, but the gig’s long gone now, my friend and I really wouldn’t advise getting involved. Why? You like books, you get much of a chance to read these days, friend? I like comics. Corto Maltese best of all, but horses for courses and all that. What’s your favourite book? Have you read ‘The Silmarillion?’ You’d love it, man. Or, maybe some Tom Robbins would be more your cup of tea. No, man, Jim Dodge, that’s it!!”
     He stopped and squinted down the tunnel that separated the two men and saw only the red-faced anger and high blood pressure of the traffic-warden’s reality. The sadness-layer of the world attempted to drift over him like a greasy duvet of futility, but was deflected by a force-field of joy so dense and impenetrable that the sadness and desperation of humanity roused itself, just for an instant, and a glow of possibility spread out from where he stood. It warmed the world sufficiently for a young woman in a nearby tenement block, contemplating ending her own life, to snap out of the six-month depression she had been wearing, pick up her bag and leave the gloomy flat, her boyfriend and a hundred empty bottles of Jack Daniels and twenty overflowing ashtrays forever. She paused only to take a faded yellow umbrella from the top of a cupboard in the hall, because it had always reminded her of buttercups and was the last link to something good in her life that hadn’t been sold, soiled or soured by the dead-end relationships she had allowed herself to fester within. She left the flat with a spring in her step that she could not explain, and went on to manifest a shining spirit in the world that had lain dormant in her since childhood, and inspired a host of others to step outside their front doors. A pretty good break, all in all.
     Jo-Ab was not aware of the effect the transaction with the traffic-warden was having on the world around him. Lacking any coherent response from his co-conversationalist, his thoughts quickly returned to yoghurt and saved him from the further frustrations of the traffic-warden’s world. It might not have to be Blackberry, but something yoghurt-based for sure. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had frozen yoghurt. He wondered if they had any fruit left in the bus. Maybe Avi had eaten it all. Maybe they’d never had any fruit – the forest had been a long time ago and the gifts they’d collected had always had a fairly nebulous quality to them. What a forest though!! The dryads had surely danced their natural-fibre socks off that night! It made him smile to remember, a smile that penetrated the traffic-warden’s defences and almost made it as far as his heart before he realised what was going on and clamped down the control routines to stop any unpredictable outbreak of inner warmth.
     By now a phalanx of other wardens had joined their companion. Fellow foot-soldiers in the War On Disorder, they were comparing their watches and pointing at signs, shaking their heads and punching the consoles of their ticket-machines as if they were texting Satan. A degree of general shouting was growing, and Jo-Ab was wearying of it. The drive had been long and he had hoped for a more auspicious arrival, but he knew that unexpected wheels were turning and did not fret overmuch about their activity, merely wished for some quiet. He fished around in the numerous pockets of his dungarees until he found materials enough for a baggy roll-up, and began toning a mantra of universal salvation that he’d learned from a Ladakhi girlfriend some years ago. Little by little, as the ranting raged on, he felt himself lifted and lifted and lifted until he could feel the divinity of himself, the wardens, the situation and generally everything around. He beamed at the messengers of the Corporation and saw their childlike beauty, and they charged him £40, £80 if he didn’t pay within two weeks. Then, beautifully, orchestrated by the mysterious divine, they went away, shouting at each other and complaining about their uncomfortable shoes. Perfection, he thought, and lit the roll-up. Banging with the palm of his hand on the side of the van, he yelled,
     “All clear – the raiding party tried to steal some money, but my virginity and self-respect are intact. Who’s for frozen yoghurt?”

* * *

     Jo-Ab was a bodhisattva – a soul that has been back to the source, dwelt with it and decided to get another body together to come and help the rest of us bumbling fools find our way out of the forest. Of course, there’s really only one bodhisattva, one soul and one tree in the forest, which is all God, but that doesn’t make for much of a narrative, so we have to bring it down to the next level, at least, where time causes reality-diffraction into ‘US’ instead of ‘ONE’ (or ‘NONE’ if that’s the way you prefer to butter your metaphysical toast), you and I, thou and thee, this and that, and the whole 10000 piece eclectic jazz orchestra we call reality. Kabang – suddenly there are komodo dragons and pot noodles, flamingos and AK-47s, crawling King Snakes, pin-striped stockbrokers and mobile phones – less serene than the One, but with a cast of gazillions and an unlimited expense account, flamboyance and colourful chaos are bound to result. Goodbye celestial harmonics and the ecstasy of Union, hello Traffic Wardens and the sweet smell of Spring coming up to hump your leg with its vast, multicoloured schlong made of mud, berries and the wet dreams of hibernating badgers. Welcome back to the Universe, Jo-Ab.
     Sometimes they are called ‘saints’ but really bodhisattvas have simply learned enough to escape the gravity-field of ignorance and dwell in their divinity enough to lift us up from our sleep. I believe that they are everywhere around us, working their mysterious magic, conscious or not, but I don’t know for sure – all I know is that Jo-Ab came back from the Source and didn’t realise it for a while, but that by the time we met, he was pretty relaxed about it all.
     In Asia, in the times when you couldn’t walk down the street without tripping over the prostrate body of one saint or another, drunk on Holy inspiration (or Holy wine), and indeed when Jesus Christ himself burst back through the membrane in Bethlehem or thereabouts, the imminent arrival of a mercy-trip messenger to this earthly plane was heralded with signs and portents enough to wake even the most apathetic soul from their spiritual siesta, the ringing of bells and whistles that stopped the forgetful and told them ‘LISTEN UP,’ but when Jo-Ab was conceived, his mother was visited only by the archangels of heartburn, morning sickness and daytime television.
     When an old woman appeared at her door, telling her that the restless foetus in her womb was a holy man come down to Earth to spread a message of love and universal salvation, Moira, mother of Jo-Ab, answered that she didn’t want any cloths pegs, thanks, and closed the door of the humble (possibly squalid and certainly filthy) council house that was destined to be the birthplace of this unique soul. West Midlands General Hospital would have claimed that honour if, by the time the sacred moment arrived some eight-and-a-half months later, the telephone hadn’t been cut off and had not Moira insisted on watching the end of Crossroads before calling for help.
     Aquarius, with the Universe rising and a full moon fever from the day he was born, Jo-Ab’s first words were ‘Guru,’ which, of course, coming from the mouth of a six-month old baby, however angel-eyed, were totally and forgivably misunderstood by Moira as a heartfelt plea for another rusk, which was the last thing that the child wanted. What he would have said, if his voice had not been handicapped by the strange and as-yet-unformed body he now found himself trapped within, would have been “fetch me my robes and my staff – I must leave this place, good people, to visit my most holy teacher, high in the snowy Himalaya where my heart longs to be…”
     Perhaps it was for the best. Jo-Ab’s father, Jo, having lost his job at the Walsall MFI warehouse, was more attentive to his young sons telepathic pleas and understood that something was going on that wasn’t written in the child-rearing books he’d borrowed from the library the week before, but everyone knew that Joe had done way too much acid in the sixties, and his late-night wine-fuelled musings on the nature of his rapidly eccentrifying son were greeted with near-universal derision or with a patronising good-humour saved for new fathers and Alzheimer-afflicted uncles and aunts. Besides, ‘Jakey’ Jo, as his friends endearingly called him, was no stranger to outlandish speculation and even claimed that he’d seen an angel talking to Moira one night when the home-grown had just been harvested. She claimed to not remember a thing, which was true and not entirely surprising, as those were heavy Bacardi-and-coke days, but even in the depths of her housing-estate slumber she was quickly realising that Jo-Ab was not like other boys, a fact that caused her some immediate embarrassment and a deep, warm pride that she kept hidden deep within until the day he left home.
     Joe tried to feed his son’s growing appetite for esoteric knowledge as best he could, mainly through a heady diet of cheap science-fiction paperbacks and frequent visits to such scarce sites of spiritual interest that he could find nearby in the RAC Atlas of the Midlands. If Jo-Ab was impatient, he kept it under wraps for his father’s sake, and the two of them scoured the area in Joe’s Mini Cooper van until one fateful summer day when Joe and Jo-Ab arrived, at the end of a rare excursion beyond the confines of the Black Country, at the ruins they call these days ‘Stonehenge.’
     It had been twenty years or more since Joe had set foot in the stone circle – more adventurous friends had taken him there one solstice night and he’d had sex on one of the stones with a white witch from Plymouth called Sylvia. Returning to the stones was thus an emotional affair from him, and made more so by the fact that his 12 year old son chose that hour to tell him who he really was.

* * *

     The conversation began simply enough…
     “Yes, son…”
     The two of them were sharing a thermos of sugary tea a few hundred yards from the ancient site, having spent the afternoon mostly in companionable silence, walking round the site and thinking their own thoughts. Joe had a lot to ponder, coming back here after all those years. He had found a little trio of magic mushrooms growing off the path and was enjoying the slight crackle of magic they were making in him, but the wave of emotion was stronger than the mushrooms’ urge to dance, and he sat for a long while sighing deeply on one stone in particular, smoking a baggy roll-up and looking out over the Wiltshire countryside, oblivious to the roar of traffic from the main road. Jo-Ab’s thoughts were of a less sensual nature, if no less nostalgic, in their way. He was fascinated, and the buzz of electricity at the place was so strong that there was no sign of the asthma that had troubled him for the last five years. By the time they came back together, he had remembered a lot about this place, and about himself, and though he could see that Joe was in a happy state of personal time-travel and reminiscence, it was time to put his cards on the table. The cards were the Fool, the High Priest and the Universe, and the table was a slab of stone as old as the memory of the divine, but it was time, nonetheless. As he sat in meditation, feeling the roar and rush of the ley-lines and the whispers of the ancestors that had gathered in the air around him, Jo-Ab was, for the first time in his life, uncertain how to proceed.
     Terrence McKenna has said ‘if the truth can be told so as to be understood, it will be believed…’ and this was the problem now facing Jo-Ab. What to say to his dad so that it would be understood?
     Imagine, a 12 year old boy says to his father:
     “Dad… this body you see, it is not my true body – my true body is made of light, because I am a perfected being. Thanks for the packed lunches and the upbringing and all, but I’m off now. Ta-ra.”
     Or perhaps:
     “Dad… Let’s cut the crap – you know I’m an incarnation of the Light and so do I. Send my love to mum – I’m off to save the world…”
     Or even:
     “Dad… I hate to tell you, but you are not my father, and Moira is not my mother. My true father is Consciousness and my true mother is Energy. I have come for my birthright. It is time…”
     Any way he thought of it, it just didn’t seem fair – after all, for all Joe’s human faults, he was a good-hearted man, a rare and special good-hearted man, in fact, whose life hadn’t gone quite as he had expected, and the very last thing Jo-Ab wanted to do was hurt him any more than he knew he had to.
     Once, years ago at his birthday party, when Aunty Doreen had asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he’d looked her in the eye and said ‘God,’ and she had thought that he was a horrible little boy who wanted to rule the world. Now she didn’t even send Christmas cards, and Jo-Ab had learned the most difficult lesson there – that you have to make them understand you. There was still so much to learn in dealing with people – it wasn’t enough to just tell them the truth, you had to know the way to tell it. If life is like a joke in that sense, then perhaps it’s also a matter of the…
     So, when he said “Dad…” that afternoon, he was as nervous as he had ever been. More nervous than the first time he turned water into Fanta Orange; more nervous than the first time he had, by accident, brought one of the gerbils back from the dead; even more nervous than the first sweet kiss with Maria, the pretty Italian girl from number 63. Perhaps, although it was a close call with that one. This was different, though.
     But he started at the beginning, with what he remembered first about this lifetime, and Joe helped him. He was as affected by the magic of the stones as was his son, and although it was painful for him, mostly because it reminded him of how far he’d wandered off his own path, he was waking up to what was really real and what was, as his own Dad would have put it, just stains on the furniture. Once Jo-Ab had started, Joe didn’t interrupt, but he did put his arm round his son as he listened, and when Jo-Ab had told him everything he could, he didn’t rush to speak. He crumbled the last of his special reserve 1976 Lebanese Red into a single-skinner and smoked the whole thing before speaking, and when he did, all he said was, “Fuck me, son. I knew you were a special one n’all, but I’m bloody glad I never really knew. Imagine changing the nappy on a screaming kid when you know it’s a bleedin’ bodhisattva, eh!”
     The thought of it tickled his Leb Red reeling mind so much that he couldn’t speak for a further ten minutes, and Jo-Ab spent the time marvelling at humans, marvelling at his earthly father in particular, how much he had under-estimated him. He felt his heart swell and his smile expand, and he thought to himself ‘I could have done this years ago…’ Another lesson for Jo-Ab, and it was the flip side of the lesson about communication – it was that if he spoke his truth, from his heart, without anything in between, chances were that it would speak directly to the heart of his listener. Of course, not everyone’s heart was as open as Joe’s, but it was a lesson nonetheless, and he felt himself accelerating, his life and his destiny making two lines closer to one another with every second.
     Once Joe’s laughter had subsided to a few intermittent giggles, he turned to Jo-Ab and looked at his face for a long time. The Leb Red, the tiny Wiltshire mushrooms, the energetic configuration of Stonehenge, and the presence of this holy being next to him, were all serving to lift him to a place he hadn’t known for a long, long time. Not since him and Mad Harry Singh had taken that batch of Sandoz acid at the Sri Chinmoy concert in Wolverhampton back in ’71 and he had seen all the Lights. He too was remembering who he really was, and though the distance between his everyday being and the true Joe was a gulf he was painfully aware of, it was mighty fine just to be close enough for once to at least exchange telephone numbers with his higher self.
     “Go for it, son,” he said, when he was able to speak, and then he leaned over and hugged Jo-Ab, and they both cried for a while, tears that didn’t need an explanation or soothing away. ‘My god,’ he thought, afterwards, walking alone back to the van, ‘life’s a peculiar affair, for sure. Who’d have thought it, eh? Little Jo-Ab!’ Never has a father been more proud of his son than in that moment, and it kept him going for half the way home, until he started wondering what to say to Moira, but that’s another story, and Jo-Ab was not there – he was sheltering from a late summer drizzle beneath the mighty stones of the henge, eyes rolled back into his head, listening to a soundtrack of angelic, ancestral singing that only he could hear and possibly, very possibly, hovering several inches off the ground.
     Jo-Ab had come into his inheritance.

* * *

     Jo-Ab wasn’t entirely sure why he had come in Edinburgh. He was fairly certain that Ozric Tentacles weren’t playing, and reasonably sure that he hadn’t arranged to meet anyone there at any date in the next couple of years, but the van had a mind of her own sometimes – maybe she wanted to feel some cobblestones under her wheels or had a craving for shortbread. Perhaps she was asking to be re-fitted in whatever breed of psychedelic tartan Jo-Ab could muster from one of the New Age shops on the Royal Mile… It seemed unlikely, but Martha had a peculiar sense of humour and he might have to investigate the possibilities. Everything would become clear, that much was certain, and clearer still once he had found the frozen yoghurt.
     A tardy gaggle of hitch-hikers emerged from the back of the van, squinting in the daylight. They looked battered and confused and held on to one another with the air of emerging hatchlings. When they had seen the huge green van slow down and weave into the slip road outside the A1 services at Lincoln, they had thought their dreams had come true. A genuine hippy van, driven by a genuinely freakish looking king of hippy-dom, was going to give them a lift. As the van tooted its horn and the be-dreadlocked driver rolled down the window to confirm that yes, Edinburgh was his intended destination, a billowing cloud of ganja smoke had engulfed them, and they thought that they had died and gone to heaven.
     Jo-Ab had recently given Martha a new coat of paint for her twentieth birthday, and she was now proudly shining engine green and emblazoned on one side with what Jo-Ab considered to be a fair, if freely-interpreted, modern rendering of Quetzalcoatl, the Mayan Sky God, resplendent in hues that could peel the paint off any less well-dressed vehicles at 100 metres and psychically deflect police vans as they tried to pass or draw level to peer inside. The paint had been mixed at the infamous Potts’ brothers studios in Glastonbury and had quartz and lapis lazuli crystals ground into it. On the other side, the side that the hitch-hikers could see as they picked up their rucksacks and instruments, was a throbbing double spiral of horrific proportions – it turned on itself thirteen multi-coloured times and ended in the centre with a giant Buddha embracing an oak tree. In the branches of the oak tree, a huge floating eye blazed out rays of blue and orange light that reached all the way up onto the roof of the van and down into the wheel arches. Jo-Ab had planned to really go to town on that side of the van and give the roadsides something good to look at, but had held back and settled for the spiral motif instead. A renegade Nepalese lama in Devon had blessed the van with the peacock-feather-and-vase treatment and a somewhat liberal priest from County Donegal had sanctified the interior in exchange for a bottle of Jo-Ab’s renowned Autumn Supernatural psychoactive mead. Martha was in fine form.
     As the four hitchhikers climbed into the be-cushioned interior of the van and began asking the usual hitch-hiking questions, some of the more alert of them began to realise that they had climbed into something way beyond their reckoning as they found places to sit amongst the carved wooden mushrooms and silver birch trees that Martha was temporarily housing. Within an hour, they had realised that what they had really wanted was a pretend hippy – instead they had got Jo-Ab and Martha. It was like climbing into the mushroom-infested belly of an entheogenic whale.
     They arrived in Edinburgh two weeks later, but by then their notions of Time had suffered extreme and possibly permanent alteration, and they had stopped trying to count the days just after they crossed the Welsh border.
     They had never been to Wales and, despite their futile protests that the route from Lincolnshire to Scotland didn’t traditionally bend like an over-worked banana to take in the land of the sleeping dragon, once Jo-Ab had discovered the gap in their experience, he felt it his duty to educate them,. His paternal instinct thus aroused, he also took it upon himself to enlighten them in the ways of the Welsh mountain mushroom, and now Jim, Suzie, Charlie and Avi (whose name had previously been Dick, but who had changed it on the sixth day after the Preseli Mountain Experience in the light of a dream in which he remembered his previous life as a disciple of Bhagwan Rajneesh) emerged from the belly of Martha slowly, touching the ground tentatively as if it might prove to be another illusion in the long string of uncertain realities across which Jo-Ab had pulled them like tentative water-skiers on the multifarious and unplumbable waters of the cosmos.
     It had been a great journey, thought Jo-Ab, as he surveyed the wide-eyed children of wonder emerging from the van. Great kids. Good hearts.
     “Avi – you want some frozen yoghurt?”
     “Only fruit, Jo-Ab. Apples. I like apples. Apples are good.”
     “That’s right, Avi – apples are good, but frozen yoghurt is good, too. Maybe you should put some clothes on, eh? We’re back in Babylon now.”
     “Clothes, yes.”
     “You others? Frozen yoghurt sound good, or are you all on holy diets too?”
     There was general agreement that frozen yoghurt was a good thing, and pretty soon the five of them were slowly and happily walking the streets of Edinburgh in search of Ice Cream Eden like explorers of the New World, pausing only and occasionally to rescue Charlie and Suzie from being trapped for too long in the sensory delights of stroking lamp-posts and watching the traffic lights change.
     The children also couldn’t remember why they had been coming to Edinburgh, but didn’t seem to mind too much. They too now had faith in the Universe. Jo-Ab stuck around them long enough to make sure that they made themselves comfortable camping in the back garden of a Mind, Body and Spirit centre in the city, where they caused no end of trouble by laughing too much and refusing to dance properly to anyone else’s tune, and then he left them there with the last few bottles of Autumn Supernatural and a book about Tantra.
     Another holiday over, Jo-Ab, old son, he thought to himself. It was time to find out what was next and get down to work.


4 thoughts on “Jack Swift :: Enter Jo-Ab

  1. Bloomin’ Marvellous Tom! :))) I laughed I did … and as ever, I find myself immediately immersed in the story’s own world. Your words, expertly, intelligently, wittily woven, never fail to lift the greasy duvet of futility! ;)
    Cheering your brilliant writing on in loud heartfelt cheers!

  2. Hi Tom, found your stuff while Googling: ‘Traffic Warden Bodhisattva’ as you do, and you pop out of the cosmic toaster… Brilliant stuff… Like a Celtic version of dear old Bodhisattva Robbins.. Can’t believe you’re not published… makes me despair with all that pulp forest fiction crap out there, so that you can’t see the wannabes from the yogis….
    I’ll check out the rest of your stuff on the site later
    Thank Godnogod for Google!!

    1. Thanks, Caspar – there’s plenty more Jack Swift material swirling about in the maybesphere, some of it on paper, too. The stories turned into a book, but the book needs work and work needs time and perhaps the time has come. It’s niggling at me, gnawing at the soles of my soul or at least the instep of my spirit. There’ll be fanfares and trumpets when it’s ready. In the meantime, thanks again – I’m glad you enjoyed it (and ‘a Celtic Tom Robbins’ would tickle Jo-Ab no end, I’m sure…)

      Hope you found some Traffic Warden Bodhisattvas out there somewhere. Heavy trip – you can see even the bodhisattvas flinch when they pull that card.

      Nowards ;)

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