Sunday, January 14, 2007

On the joys of an ice cream

It had been a night of prolonged madness at the restaurant. The weather was exceptionally kind to those inclined to lazing at beaches: moderate temperature, intense sunlight, blue skies, and slight breeze. At sunset, beach bums hauled their UV-irradiated bums off the beach and into the strip of cafes and restaurants nearby.

I finished work and headed across the road to get myself an ice cream. Ice cream cone in one hand, I waited for the next tram. It may be 11.20pm, but the place was showing no sign of quieting down like the rest of this early-sleeping country.

A middle-aged man approached me. He had neatly combed short grey hair, indistinctive silver-framed glasses, a conservatively styled short sleeved shirt tucked into a pair of khaki-coloured trousers and secured with a brown leather belt. His angular face was rough, slightly wrinkled.

"Hello," he greeted me uncertainly.
"Hi," I looked up from my Ferrero-Roche gelato.
"Have I said hello to you before? You look kind of familiar."
"Oh, well there are so many Asian people around here…"
I continued with my ice cream.
"And they all look the same. So, what brings you here?"
"I work at a restaurant," I was still engrossed with my ice cream, and he was disrupting my peace. Wait, find out what he wants and then ward him off. Unless he wants to discuss the finer points of automotive gearbox design…

"You work at the Japanese restaurant over there?"
"No. And what brings you here?"
"Well, I stay around here… and I talk to people about God."
Aha! But a plain "mm," was all he got from me.
He waited expectantly. I looked up from my ice cream (again!) and he was still waiting.
"No thanks, I’m not interested."

This subtle game of telling him frankly that I was not interested went on for a few sentences. It was not very successful, he got a line in.

"Did you know that God created the universe?"
"Yup," I answered as many thoughts ran through my mind. The "poof! tadaa!" kind of creation? Create as in produce a set of differential equations and setting the initial conditions? What if there was no universe, and I am only part of your imagination?

No, there would be no use taking the Darwinism angle, the Buddhist angle, the Hindu angle or the Taoist angle. It would lead us down the same well-trodden path. And I do not like the scenery there.

"I actually have my own ideas on how the world came about, so thanks," I decided to take the generic direction of agreeing to disagree.

"What if you were to die tomorrow, in an accident or something? Will you be comfortable with that?"
"Yes, we all think we know everything but…"
"Yes, I think I know everything and you think you know everything, so why not leave it as that? I’m quite happy to live in ignorance."

"If we do not go to Heaven, what is the alternative? Hell?"
"Maybe the alternative is this," I piped up cheerfully as I pointed at my ice cream, a daft grin plastered to my face.
"Maybe the alternative to Heaven is this gelato," I explained my statement to him.

I’m quite sure he did not say anything for at least 3 seconds. He tried something else, but I pushed him away with the same "you have your beliefs and I have mine."

Finally, he gave up. "Then I’ll leave you to rot in your sins," he spat bitterly.
"Same to you!" I merrily returned his farewell in the typically clichéd manner.

Peace again.

The truth is I did not get peace again. I was exhilarated. This little bit of verbal sparring had provided an adrenaline rush, and coming up with that silly ice cream and Heaven comparison gave me plenty of dopamine. To be able to drive off an Evangelist by mere debate without resorting to insulting anybody’s religion was something to be proud of.

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