Rumors of war were troubling my mind. Every day I read another news story about the president's mania for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Last fall I met a man who predicted that the war with Afghanistan would launch an apocalypse. The other day I sought him out to learn what war with Iraq might bring.
I'll call him Tariq, because he knows too much to reveal his identity. He's a parking lot attendant at a cabdrivers' restaurant. That's where I found him, guiding taxis in and out.
"You want to hear what a madman like me has to say about the war?" he laughed. "This is the beginning of the hundred years' war. Don't you know, it began on September 11. They have been fighting ever since."
We sat on an old car seat, where Tariq explained more. Slender, white haired, long bearded, he emphasized each point by shaking an index finger.
"The war will involve a great power," he said. "The United States is a country that has done a lot of great things. Now, this was all written down in Grimms' fairy tales. Grimms' fairy tales were not written for children. They are for adults. The Grimms told a story about seven men who were trying to cross a river. The river was very deep, so to see if they could ford it they all waded in holding on to a spear. The man in front was wearing a hat. He was holding the spear very lightly, and he let go and drowned. But his hat kept floating ahead. So all the men behind him followed it, and they all drowned. The United States is the man with the hat."
Tariq pointed to the cloudless sky. "Do you believe in life on Mars?"
I said I wasn't sure. I'd heard of microbes living there.
"Mars is frozen water," Tariq said with great passion. "They have all gone to live underground, inside the planet, the way we will have to after the war. The earth's crust has been destroyed many times. The United States will destroy it with a nuclear bomb. These are not original ideas. This has all been written down in books I have read."
Tariq is a well-traveled and well-read man. He has worked as a schoolteacher in his native Trinidad and as a cabdriver in Canada. He has studied the Bible, the Koran, Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Daniken, The Cosmic Forces of Mu by James Churchward, and The Third Eye by the Buddhist mystic T. Lobsang Rampa.
I had not heard of The Third Eye. "You have not read that book?" he roared. "Then you have not read! I have read an entire library!"
However, he had not always come to the same conclusions as other readers.
Who will survive the war? I wanted to know. "After the war," he said, "there will only be a few thousand people left--a few black people, a few white people, a few Indian people, a few Asian people--and together they will form one race, the race of Tan, which will live in peace for a thousand years."
Tariq took a pack of cigarettes from the pocket of his jeans. Then he removed a notebook.
"I am not from this planet," he said. He fell silent to let this sink in. "I am from the planet Erra. That is the opposite of earth, because the word for earth is 'Terra.' I know this because I saw a spaceship--it looked like a bright silver star with the word 'Erra' written on the side--and then I saw a road that stretched far ahead. I could see for 30 miles, beyond the horizon. I heard a deep voice that told me, 'Go to the crossroads, turn right, and follow the straight road.'"
Tariq opened his notebook. It was the size of an address book and contained many phone numbers and penciled notations. "I met a woman here in Chicago who was also an alien," he said. "She was a white woman, but she was only using the body of a white woman. She wrote this in my notebook--'We are not human beings having a temporary spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a temporary human experience.'"
Putting the notebook away, Tariq said, "I can tell you are an alien as well, because you want to know so many things. These people here"--he indicated a cabbie walking out of the restaurant --"they are commoners."
I thanked Tariq for the compliment, but told him I really wanted to know about the war.
"The aliens are watching us, and they always intervene for the best," he said casually, as though we had nothing to fear from the future. "Like in World War II."
But only a minute ago, I reminded him, he'd said the earth's crust would be destroyed and few people left alive.
Tariq waved his hand.
"That is a long way off," the old man said. "I don't have to worry about that."