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「服務他人是你住地球應該付出的租金。」– 穆罕默德‧阿里 (拳擊手)
"Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth." -- Muhammad Ali, Boxer
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文/William Blythe

Bathing, as my friends and family will attest, has never been my favourite activity. I am most comfortable in the society of water when it is found in a glass, preferably diluted with whiskey, or some other such palliative. I tread the blurry path from bed to bathroom each morning with heavy feet, and anoint my limbs with the perfumes of that chamber in low, melancholy spirits. The ritual of drying oneself with a towel has always struck me as most unsatisfactory, especially in the winter months, when tiled surfaces assume all the warmth of a witch’s nipples. A profusion of mirrors reveals portions of one's anatomy that one would prefer to ignore. The expanding crater of baldness, usually hidden from view on the dark side of my pimpled moon, materializes from the mirror’s fog with distressing immediacy. Then there is the peril of shaving, an ordeal from which I never seem to emerge unscathed. I persist with these daily ablutions only out of a strong sense of duty to those amongst my company. Alone, man would not wash. I find no reference to bathing in Robinson Crusoe.

Nevertheless, I have been known to abstain from the horrors of soap and sponge for a day here or there. Usually, this is due to the distractions of television or the demands of trains. It was on one such day that my brother sat next to me on the sofa, sank briefly under the weight of his lunch and frowned. His nose, alerted to an uncommon odour, made swift inquiries with the surrounding air and followed the scent directly to its owner. 'You haven’t showered today.' I did not deny it. A gentle conflict of wills ensued, he demanding that I wash immediately, I insisting that I first digest my pasta. By way of compromise we decided to go swimming in the lakes that afternoon.

The lake, or See as Germans call it, was located at the centre of a leafy enclosure, patrolled by young mothers with prams and the very best of Berlin’s homeless. As a provision against the operations of the latter, we strapped our bikes fast to the trunk of a lamppost. Our motives in doing so were perhaps one sided, as there is no knowing what measures mothers may take to provide for their children’s education. This done, we strode down to the water’s edge in the dappled shade, shedding our layers as we went. In spite of the clement weather, the lake was all but vacant. Close to the opposite bank, a couple were acquainting themselves with the mechanics of a rowing boat, inserting the oars vertically into the water in the fashion of a punt. The vessel rocked wildly, to the glee of its captain and the dismay of its first mate. The only other sign of aquatic life was a Labrador that was paddling the deeps, holding its head high above the water, as if straining to be seen in a canine crowd. I dipped a toe into the muddy shallows and shuddered. ‘I’m not going in. The water’s freezing.’ My brother promptly issued a series of threats, the most persuasive of which was a bar on the consumption of all household deserts.

I am a man of gentle temperament whose modus operandi is invariably that of soft diplomacy. I’m rarely known to raise my voice, even when ordering a pint of bitter in a pub crawling with Scottish football fans. I had, however, been looking forward to attacking a small tub of ice cream back at home all day, and was registering a significant rise in blood pressure at the thought of being deprived of such, when I remarked a glistening head bobbing at the centre of the lake. My brother and I broke off our invective and watched closely as the head drew nearer. It was shaggy orb that showed no trace of the barber’s shears, but wore an expression of sated, idle satisfaction. Evidently, nothing was more common to this man than to glide through icy currents on a quiet afternoon while the birds sang and the leaves rustled. Upon reaching shallower waters, his torso emerged from the waterline, followed by his belly, his waist and further down still, all as nature intended, without a thread from the seamstress’s needle. The Germans’ penchant for baring their limbs and appendages to the elements, regardless of prevailing weather conditions, is well fabled. I had walked through parks where members of the aged community lay with legs splayed open to the morning breeze, their full anatomy guarded from view by only a dented broadsheet. There was, however, something different about this solitary figure, wading with deliberate steps towards us. There was the rugged aspect of his beard, which leadb one to imagine what John the Baptist looked like as he headed for land after a long day of dunking heads. There was the curious fact that his right arm had been amputated at the elbow. There was, in addition, the blazing prospect of his erection, which preceded him with stiff initiative. I turned to my brother for council. ‘Let’s not swim today,’ he said with a dry voice, his eyes still fixated upon the approaching specter. ‘And no bar on the deserts?’ He nodded numbly before grabbing his towel and stumbling up the bank to the bikes. I followed with rapid, uneven steps. Nothing good ever comes of bathing. I’m sure of that.

本文收錄於英語島English Island 2016年4月號
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