Why had I taken that route tonight? After dinner with a friend who seemingly chatted for hours, I had decided to take a longer, less busy route home. Once a beautiful promenade, with fine landscaping gracing the wide median, it was lined with lovely homes. Times changed and each home was partitioned into many efficiency apartments. Shirtless tenants sat outside with cans of beer and play loud music. Most had no cars, so the street was usually empty. The trees on the median had grown to giant size, blocking out the tall street lamps. I clicked my high beam on to keep from veering onto weed-covered lawns.
Suddenly, a shout from a building to my right. Instinctively I twisted the steering wheel left. I had been driving at about fifteen miles per hour and felt the front tires thump against a curb. The bright beam of the car outlined a large, black plastic bag, carelessly tossed on the grass.
I quickly backed up and continued my drive home. My first thought was, did I get a flat tire? Then, a second thought crowded it out. The bag had been moving, ever so slightly. But something had to be in there. Something alive.
It wasn't until I got home and pulling the car safely into the garage, that another thought crept into my mind. I had seen a similar bag in that store. Tiriayuti. But the world was full of large, black plastic bags. Why would this one have any connection to that store? True, most plastic bags did not have living things inside. But that was not my business. Or was it?
Settling down for the night, I hardly gave a thought to the long conversation with my friend over dinner. All I could think of was the slight man in the alley, and the store. Did I mention, this store was filled with the most opulent display of jade, pearls, onyx, malachite, citrine and every kind of semi-precious stone known to man. Huge hand-carved statues of eagles and ornate figures sat in corners as if they were ordinary umbrella stands. Golden, pink and glowing white pearls hung on seemingly plain strings, as if they were baubles from the five and dime. As plain as the slight man seemed, could he be as extraordinary on the inside as was Tiriayuti?
I, seeker of the most extraordinary pearl in the world, had I found the place, the connection that would end my search? Had the accidental turn downtown been an accident, after all? It would have been fitting that I would hit pay-dirt in an ordinary alley, instead of a grand upscale mall or with a high-rolling wheeler-dealer. For I was not looking for the most expensive, the most beautiful, the largest pearl. No. I had seen them all. The orange ones, the black, the purple, the huge ones. But I knew for certain I would know it when I ran across it. That's all I knew. Something inside would tell me: "Okay, this is it. You don't have to look any more."
But now I was more disturbed than ever. That same 'something' told me there was a connection between the wayside black bag, the slight man, and my search for that one pearl. Tiriayuti, seemed to be branded in my skull as I tossed and turned in the bed. I had been lying awake for a long time, watching the moon cast crisp shadows on the table and rug.
Tiriayuti. Tiriayuti. Haunting, repeating, driving me crazy. That name - how could I remember such a weird word? Recently it was hard to recall what I had for lunch, who I was with, what was said.
"Tiriayuti, Tiriayuti," I finally said out loud, then threw the blanket and thin sheet to the floor. A burst of energy jolted me to my feet, leaping toward the window.
Yesterday's events flew by in an instant. Downtown, people rushing around, no parking, no stopping signs everywhere. Suddenly, one way traffic heading toward my small convertible. I made a sharp left turn and found myself in a shabby alley between large office buildings. No people, no cars, nothing. Then a side door opened and a slight figure came out carrying several large cardboard boxes.
I stood by the night window and looked below. A lone skateboarder thump-thumped across ridges of the sidewalk seven stories below. Why had I pulled up to that slight figure of yesterday? Why had I not cruised by, pretending I was not lost, moved on like that skateboarder below?
"Store?" I said, again pretending I could speak little English. This man looked Asian. Even the boxes had script writing from some foreign land.
"Store," he said. His eyes popped wide open and I noticed a sea of white with very dark circles staring at me in friendly expectation.
He put down the boxes and with a very thin, but strong arm, gestured toward a space between buildings.
"Store," he repeated. Then, using universal hand signals, indicated that I should stay put until he secured the boxes. Then he would escort me to the store.
"Tiriayuti," the sign over the store window, should have been a warning. What did it mean? I knew an elementary amount of pearl lingo, since I was in the business. Mutiaran meant 'pearl', 'ikan' fish.
I had heard many names and words spoken by Asian merchants, but this name, never.
The slight man, compared to a Westerner, looked a bit malnourished and his clothes were old and very simple. A faded white shirt, dark, plain pants. Hair straight and basic. Expression mild and somewhat innocent. I had been fooled by innocent looking merchants and dealers before. But there was something different about him.
Bleary eyed after a sleepless night, I ventured back downtown. I parked my car in a covered parking garage and walked, hoping to find the alley, the store, the slight man. I did not dare ask anyone. Besides, in this area, few people spoke English. It was a kind of international trading center and most exchanges were done with the eyes, the hands, the shoulders and most important, the money. That always talked louder than any other language.
I almost missed the entrance. There, as unobtrusive as if it was a hot dog stand, was the door to Tiriayuti. As I entered, I felt like I was floating in a strange universe. When the slight man appeared, as if by magic, I was not surprised.
"My friend," he said, smiling brightly. "I am glad to see you."
I did not object, nor find it strange, that he invited me for tea in the back room. I had not even indicated that I wanted to buy anything, not today, nor yesterday, during my first visit. All I had done was look around. There had been no questions, no offers to sell something, no sales clerks to hover over me.
When I finally left Tiriayuti, I felt a relief. It was as if a thousand pounds had been lifted from my shoulders. Had I ever felt that good, that free?
You may ask - what about the black bag? Yes, the slight man decided the mechanical and battery driven novelties in the store were not selling. He put them in a large bag and gave them to a worker to give to his children. The worker, annoyed at the noise and click-clack of the toys in the bag, had ditched it on his way home from work.
What about that special pearl, you may ask. The slight man, who knew pearls better than anyone I had ever met before, gave me the answer. He told me of a giant oyster, an ancient one. It was found by fishermen and is millions of years old. It has a large round object in it. Nobody will open this oyster. He told me that I have found what I was looking for. He said what I was looking for I was looking with. He said the perfect pearl cannot be seen. It cannot be touched. It comes into being because of irritation. Without irritation there can be no pearl.
Today I carry my pearl with me wherever I go. Fortunately nobody can steal it. It is safe in the belly of an ancient oyster, in a well-guarded museum somewhere. Fortunately, when irritation in life gets me down, I know it's an opportunity to grow, if I choose to see it as such. When someone asks me why I am so serene, I just smile. What can I tell them? Tiriayuti?
I do not go downtown any more. I have no reason to. If you go, don't be surprised if you find no gloomy alley, no slight man carrying cardboard boxes. Don't be surprised if there is no store called Tiriayuti. You will have to find your own downtown, your own messenger and pearl. In your own time. In your own way.