Read the first chapter of The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe as our hero unwittingly embarks on a European tour like no other…
The first word spoken by the Indian man Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod upon his arrival in France was, oddly enough, a Swedish word.
That was what he said in a quiet voice.
Having pronounced this word, he shut the door of the old red Mercedes and waited, his hands resting on his silky knees like a well-behaved child.
The taxi driver, who was not sure he had heard correctly, turned around to face his customer, making the little wooden beads of his seat cover creak as he did so.
On the back seat of his car sat a middle-aged man, tall, thin and gnarled like a tree, with an olive-skinned face and a huge moustache. Pockmarks, the consequence of chronic acne, sprinkled his hollow cheeks. There were several rings in his ears and his lips, as if he wished to be able to zip them up after use. ‘Oh, what a clever system!’ thought Gustave Palourde, seeing in this Indian zipper idea the perfect remedy for his wife’s incessant chattering.
The man’s grey and shiny silk suit, his red tie – which he had not even bothered to knot, but had simply pinned on – and his white shirt, all terribly creased, suggested he had been on a long flight. Strangely, however, he had no luggage.
Either he’s a Hindu or he’s suffered a very serious head injury, the driver thought when he saw the large white turban that encircled his customer’s head. The olive-skinned face and the huge moustache made him lean towards the first of these theories.
‘Ikea,’ the Indian repeated, elongating the last vowel.
‘Which one?’ he asked, in French. Then, in stuttering English: ‘Er… what Ikea?’ Gustave was as comfortable speaking English as a dog on ice skates.
The passenger shrugged as if to suggest that he couldn’t care less. Justikea, he said, dontmatazeoanezatbetasiutyayazeparijan. This is more or less what the driver heard: a series of incomprehensible babbling noises. But, babbling or otherwise, this was the first time in thirty years spent working for Gypsy Taxis that a customer coming out of Terminal 2C of Charles de Gaulle Airport had asked to be taken to a furniture store. As far as he was aware, Ikea had not recently opened a chain of hotels.
Gustave had heard some unusual requests before, but this one took the biscuit. If this guy had really come from India, then he had paid a small fortune and spent eight hours in an aeroplane in order to buy Billy shelves or a Poang chair. Hats off! It was incredible, really. He had to write this encounter down in his guestbook, between Demis Roussos and Salman Rushdie, both of whom had once done him the honour of placing their noble posteriors on the leopard-skin seats of his taxi. He also had to remember to tell the story to his wife that evening, during dinner. As he generally had nothing to say, it was his wife (whose luscious lips were not yet equipped with a clever Indian zipper system) who monopolised the mealtime conversation, while their daughter sent misspelt texts to other young people who did not even know how to read. This would change things a little, for once.
The gypsy taxi driver, who had spent his last three weekends roaming the blue and yellow corridors of the Swedish store with the two aforementioned ladies in order to furnish the new family caravan, knew perfectly well that the closest Ikea was the one in Roissy Paris Nord, a mere €8.25 ride away. So he set his sights on the one in Paris Sud Thiais, located on the other side of the city, three-quarters of an hour from their current location. After all, the tourist wanted an Ikea. He had not specified which Ikea. And anyway, with his posh silk suit and his tie, he must be a wealthy Indian industrialist. Not likely to be short of a few bob, was he?
Pleased with himself, Gustave quickly calculated how much money the journey would make him, and rubbed his hands. Then he started the meter and set off.
What an excellent way to begin the day!
A fakir by trade, Ajatashatru Oghash (pronounced A-jar-of-rat-stew-oh-gosh!) had decided to travel incognito for his first trip to Europe. For this occasion, he had swapped his ‘uniform’, which consisted of a loincloth shaped like an enormous nappy, for a shiny grey suit and a tie rented for peanuts from Dilawar (pronounced Die, lawyer!), an old man from the village who had, during his youth, been a representative for a famous brand of shampoo, and who still had an impressive head of (greying) hair.
In choosing this disguise, which he was to wear for both days of his trip, the fakir had secretly wished to be taken for a wealthy Indian industrialist – so much so that he had forsaken wearing comfortable clothes (i.e. a tracksuit and sandals) for the three-hour bus journey and a flight lasting eight hours and fifteen minutes. After all, pretending to be something he was not was his job: he was a fakir. He had kept only his turban, for religious reasons. Beneath it, his hair kept growing and growing. It was now, he estimated, about sixteen inches long, with a total population of thirty thousand (mostly germs and fleas).
Getting into the taxi that day, Ajatashatru (pronounced A-cat-in-a-bat-suit) had immediately noticed that his peculiar get-up had produced the desired effect on the European, in spite of the tie, which neither he nor his cousin knew how to knot correctly, even after the perfectly clear but somewhat shaky explanations of Dilawar, who had Parkinson’s. But clearly this was a minor detail, which must have gone unnoticed amid the overwhelming elegance of his attire.
A glance in the rear-view mirror not being enough to contemplate such handsomeness, the Frenchman had actually turned around in his seat in order to better admire Ajatashatru, making the bones in his neck crack as he did so, as if he were preparing for an act of contortionism.
‘Lequel? Er… what Ikea?’ the driver had stammered, apparently as comfortable speaking English as a (holy) cow on ice skates.
‘Just Ikea. Doesn’t matter. The one that best suits you. You’re the Parisian.’
Smiling, the driver had rubbed his hands before starting the engine.
The Frenchman has taken the bait, thought Ajatashatru (pronounced A-jackal-that-ate-you) with satisfaction. This new look was proving ideal for his mission. With a little luck, and if he didn’t have to open his mouth too much, he might even pass for a native.
Taken from The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puertolas
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