Narayana (pronounced nuh-RYE-in) has been on the Berkeley street scene seemingly forever, at least since the 1970s when she first hit town as a teenager. Small and girlish, Narayana is the eternal waif, even now as she’s pushing into her mid-50s.

Narayana is slightly retarded. Or maybe more than slightly. Suffers from some kind of brain damage. Stares out at the world with a cross-eyed and unfocused expression. She’s not really capable of making coherent conversation. I almost never see her talk to another person. She’s mostly a complete loner, living alone in her own strange, strange dream world.

Mostly Narayana is soft-spoken, exuding a child-like innocence. But periodically she turns “witchy,” incessantly talking to herself in this angry, guttural, incoherent rant.

My friend Duncan was enamored with Narayana back in the 1980s. And he would buy her art tablets and pens and they’d have drawing sessions together. Narayana would scratch out these crude, animalistic portraits of different people, working from photographs. And Duncan would publish the drawings in his TELE TIMES zine.








To this day I don’t know anything about her background. Where she came from, or who her family was (if any). I don’t think anybody does. Including Narayana. She is a person without a past.

Periodically one of the social service agencies would get Narayana a cheap room in a welfare hotel. And she would be indoors for years at a stretch.

But sooner or later, she’d be back on the streets again. Slowly wandering from nowhere to nowhere. Staring out at the world with childlike wonder. Lost in her dream.

A painting by Narayana — a self-portrait — on the People’s Park mural.

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