Each separate key
Turned deep golden hearts to stone
The poet’s soul stirred
Gaze through, butterfly
I laugh in utter freedom
Whole, with you- sister
Childhood lay revoked
Stealing from the neighbour’s patch
Apples juicy red
Each separate key
Turned deep golden hearts to stone
The poet’s soul stirred
Gaze through, butterfly
I laugh in utter freedom
Whole, with you- sister
Childhood lay revoked
Stealing from the neighbour’s patch
Apples juicy red
I still remember the day when I couldn’t find my bearings the way they do in the movies because it felt like a big tragedy unfolding all around me. Falling in love wasn’t like a shower of pure rain mingled with the lilting music of violins playing against a backdrop of dancing people. It wasn’t a medley of every melody I’ve ever known. It was a tumultuous raging storm brewing inside my soul and exploding through my skin. I wasn’t swimming, I was sinking and there was very little to hold on to.
The little key ring I’ve still stored away isn’t magnificent or magical. It’s plain cute, some might say ordinary. But if I had to anchor the length and breadth of my emotions into a single object; it would be that little piece of glittering metal smiling up at me. I cannot afford to lose it. I cannot even afford to carry it around anymore because it makes me feel so exposed. In this world of transience I fight every day to find something to hold on to. Because the thought of letting things go is unacceptable. It may be a challenge to hold on but my soul finds it much easier that others do. The ordinary key ring reminds me of day when I had resolved to let go of something I needed but didn’t yet know I did for the sake of something I am so happy I gave up now! It saved me from a fall I might not have survived.
We keep relics and objects that define us tucked safely away into the nooks and crannies of our life, too scared to acknowledge that we have attached abstract importance to things that are only physical manifestations of nature and have no emotions, no memories.
When I got off that train a week ago, I wanted more than anything to capture the essence of what I was feeling into something real. Memories fade out of our mind and we are left with a lingering scent we cannot quite place, flashes of scenes we remember, resolves we made and sounds we shared. But sometimes it’s hard to find things to attach these abstract thoughts to. Memories float away and out and there’s nothing we can do but hold on to an object; any object we feel could define us, define those moments.
The helplessness will pass too. Because guess what? If good things are transient, so are bad ones.
A story about love. Love can be anything but love can be everything too.
Wallace wrapped the earrings up with his own hands thirty years ago on that very day. He hadn’t known then whether he would ever come back and touch them or whether they would blend into the obscurity of a hundred thousand other untold stories. All he had known back then was that they were all he had.
His wife had called them ‘little drops of heaven twirling on a golden rope like a circus performer’. They were tiny glimmering gems set atop a silver ring dangling from the slivers of golden thread wrapped exquisitely together. When Wallace had first seen them, he had been twenty-three and madly in love with the woman who was to be his wife.
Sarah used to be a performer at one of those little art theaters which aired sober versions of popular musicals but brought them to life with the childlike patience of an affectionate old aunt. Wallace would be there at seven every evening when Sarah would come out in her peach pinafore, her eyes sparkling with both excitement and love and her face lit up under thick layers of runny make-up. She couldn’t quite move the rest of her face but he didn’t care. He knew that when she lay next to him every night in nothing but a thin negligee, she was beautiful and at peace. It had been the perfect love-story to tell their children.
And the earrings were all that remained now. Wallace didn’t know why he had come back when he had planned never to set foot in the place that was alive with so many memories of a woman he had given his heart and soul too. But back now, after all these years, he looked at the emptiness of the deserted house, at the bare walls which had once been alive with the kind of warmth only a woman could bring to define a home and he didn’t feel the way he was supposed to. He didn’t feel remorse or the pain that had kept him up through the nights. He felt peaceful because. As if he had never lived in this house. As if he had never known Sarah. As if this had all been a dream and he had woken up after all these years only to realize he didn’t remember half of it but whatever lingered made him happy. He smiled and wrapped his hands around the testament of love- the only thing he was going to carry from then on.
Sarah’s hands had become bony and her face had shrunk. The beauty was still there but her eyes sparkled like diamonds. Wallace held her hand in disbelief. Like holding on to it would make her stay. He couldn’t let her get away. Not like this. Not this soon.
‘I’m sorry Wallace,’ she was saying but he held her hand against his chest and shook his head like a little child.
‘Look at me, please.’
Reluctantly he lifted his face and looked into her eyes.
‘I have less than a month left and I can’t leave you like this. I want to leave you with memories but I want you to be happy and you cannot be both. So I have something I want you to do.’
‘What?’ he asked, not trusting himself to utter another syllable.
‘Throw away everything you have of me. All of it. Every single thing. And leave, go far away to a new city, a fresh start, a new life and maybe new love’
Wallace looked at her now, as though she was crazy.
Over the next few days he tried to make her see how crazy her plan was, how absolutely unrealistic. It wouldn’t cure a thing, it wouldn’t change the truth. But she was so adamant, he had to give in. And after she died, he sold all her stuff and left everything behind. But he never sold the house. He couldn’t.
The girl felt woozy. She was sure love wasn’t meant to hit her, not after what she had seen her parents do to each other while they’d been in it, but she couldn’t help it. He was older and had some freckles, he had curly blonde hair and wasn’t all that tall but when he sat in front of a piano, she forgot all about that. She forgot how, when she had first met him as a little girl with pigtails, he had stolen her favourite pie from right under her arm and made off with it, grinning foolishly back at her while she cried. She forgot how he had been mean to her when he was the jock kid at school and she was a fresher with braces and plain clothes; how he wouldn’t even acknowledge her in the corridors and make fun of her if his friends did. She forgot all of it when she saw him again, after five years of drudgery, playing piano like his fingers were on fire and his soul bursting with heart-wrenching agony. And when she waited to speak to him afterwards, he smiled at her and talked to her like she was real, not an abstract wisp of smoke floating somewhere in the background of his life.
Fred met her almost every day after his show and it had taken her three weeks but she knew it now. She was in love. It was going to be disastrous, she was going to die but she was in love and nothing could be done about it. She didn’t think he loved him. She was very drab still and though her clothes weren’t patched together anymore, she dressed for convenience in dark dresses of plain tees and denim with her hair pulled back. She was experimenting with lipstick now but walking into a store and asking to see one was intimidating too.
But the wooziness made her heart feel full. It wouldn’t matter, ultimately, whether he loved her or not. There was nothing good to get out of love and she knew that and she thought Fred did too. They had a secret midnight corner where they would smoke up and watch dreams swirl by and then they would get up and walk about it under the starlight. She loved it. It would be enough.
Fred took her hand in his that night though. Her heart fluttered like a butterfly and she looked out at the stars but he was bending forward and when she looked down, her face was inches before her. Slowly then, he leaned forward for a kiss and his lips touched hers with the tender fury of the tentative first taste of love. She swooned and grew pale but kept kissing back now, with an urgency she couldn’t define.
She felt happy when she went home that night. Fred did love her. Things could work out and then he would play for her every night, after they had tucked their children into bed. She told herself to not be silly but the thoughts wouldn’t go away and she sang herself to sleep, feeling blessed.
The next morning she found a note inside her bag she hadn’t noticed before. It was in Fred’s scrawl and read, ‘The last three weeks have been wonderful. It is true what they say; you find love in the strangest places and when you least expect to. But love is a chain I am not willing to wear. Not yet anyway. And I have places to see. So I am catching an early train out of here. I hope you don’t see this note before I’m gone. I hope you don’t try to find me because it would hurt me to hurt you but I’d do it if I would have to.’
No, no, no. She thought. She couldn’t let this happen. Her drowsiness was gone in an instant and she grabbed her wallet and keys and ran out the door. As she ran, she thought, don’t be silly you don’t even know which train he took. He’s probably gone. Forget it.
But her feet refused to listen and she ran all the way to the station, breathless for a last goodbye. She searched everywhere but there was no sign of the man she loved. As she turned to walk out, she realized, to her frustration, there were tears in her eyes. She let them flow, accepting them freely as she walked. People were staring at her but she didn’t care. It was cold and she felt hurt but she didn’t care. She would have kept walking if the old man hadn’t stopped her.
‘Why are you crying, young woman?’ he said and she noticed he had kindly eyes, thick-rimmed glasses and a mass of curly hair which were blonde like Fred’s but fading with age.
She didn’t reply but stopped and a fresh river of tears fell down her eyes.
‘Tears of love?’ The old man asked with a knowing smile.
She looked up, defiant and willed herself to stop crying. ‘Maybe.’
‘What is your name, Miss?’ he asked her next and for some reason, she couldn’t help but tell the truth.
‘Sarah’ she said and looked at him just in time to see a flicker of emotion pass behind the wisdom of his aged eyes before he masked it again. She understood then that pain in love was universal without exception and this man had too, in his own way, experienced something he wouldn’t talk about. Or couldn’t. Because it would never make sense to anyone else.
‘Maybe I was wrong.’ The old man was saying. ‘Maybe I can’t hold on to something I never really had. But love cannot be chained, can it? It always flies away, one way or the other. That’s the truth.’
She raised her eyebrows again. He had said the very emotion she had felt behind the lines of Fred’s letter. ‘I-I don’t know’ she stammered but he wasn’t even listening to her. His eyes were glazed over and he was mumbling.
‘I thought my memories were noble but memories are just that- the past. You can hold on to them but time will still erode them away, one chip at a time. They become pathetic shadows after a while.’
Sarah stood silently, out of politeness, more than anything but the old man seemed to come to after a while. He looked at her and reached within his pocket. He took out a small paper bag and thrust it into her hand with the vicious force that only old people possess when they’ve let the passion of their youth reach their hearts again.
‘I want you to keep this. You’re Sarah and that’s special. Remember that. And remember to look for love and cherish it with reverence.’
He turned and began walking away. Sarah unwrapped the packet and saw a pretty pair of earrings inside. She looked up.
‘You didn’t tell me your name’
The old man stopped but didn’t turn back.
‘Wallace’, he said and then walked away.
I found their skewed objectivity quite appealing. It was that time of the day when the streets were full of people returning after a full day of work. I saw literature in that. In the fine print of the greasy overalls and large work shoes of factory employees, the immaculately manicured hands and uniformly tanned skins of beautiful women whose hair were tied in high ponytails or buns as a sign of their officious and compulsive ambition, in the corporate ties and shiny shoes but sagging faces of the brilliant young gentleman. I loved every bit of it.
There was a cafe. Now, I wouldn’t want to tell you its name because my anonymity is too dear to me. Dearer than the thirst for fame. So I’m holding back on that little piece of information, if you will. Anyway, there was a cafe. It was quite disastrous too. The coffee was too weak, the music was the kind of international jazz that has stray notes of pop in it because that’s apparently what the young ‘uns listen to nowadays. The chairs were dilapidated and the floor was covered with a tattered brown carpet through which you could see the broken wooden paneling down under. But I went there because it was shady.
You wouldn’t know it. There are two things that are most important to a devil’s advocate writer like me. The first is anonymity and the second is shadiness. I deal with them both on a daily basis. I hunt out inspiration like others do money. I smell it and then I drink it. But I need shady place. And this place is the shadiest of ’em all. I notice I’ve used shady a lot. But its not time to go back to school yet. My anonymity protects me. I think you see what I mean to say now.
Anyway this shady cafe is on a busy junction but the delicious thing about it is that it’s kind of invisible. That’s because it’s got these huge and phony showrooms on either sides. The kinds that look like glittering palaces where only the really rich dare step. You might want to walk into one but I promise you, half an hour later when you walk out, you’ll feel small. Small and damaged because these places suck your identity and give you the kind of perception that makes you want to kill yourself.
But this keeps my little cafe safe, thank heavens. I wouldn’t walk into such showrooms myself but I’ve seen the expressions of people who’ve come out of there. They mask their horror and shabbiness and their poverty but their hearts are broken. Most poor folk don’t bother with my shady cafe when they’re done but then there are those who do. Oh sweet Lord, how I love those people.
Let me tell you about this couple for instance. I was in my regular spot, drinking the disgusting piss that seems to pass as coffee in this shady establishment, when they walked in and sat on the table next to mine. As you might have guessed if you have any sense about you, my table is right next to the giant glass window. It’s never clean but that just serves as an advantage. Everything I see outside is somewhat opaque but they can’t see me either.
So this couple came and sat on the only other window table in this cramped little slice of heaven. My brain starts to fizzle immediately. The details of their manners! The woman looks like a borderline prostitute. Dark lipstick is smudged untidily across her thin lips and her hair is in a net. She’s wearing something maroon but her body is quite deliciously curved. She looks like the kind of person who starves herself for days on end, eating nothing but lima beans for a month or two until every single bit of her oozing flesh is tucked right in. She has tacky rings on her fingers and her brown eyes look dazed. Drunk, maybe. I feel disgusted but that’s what I love. Disgust keeps me going. Without it I’d be like a car without engines. Wouldn’t know how to function.
I tear my eyes off her to observe her beau. Beau would be too fancy a word. I settle for philandering husband. He has on a dirty brown coat with sued patches and his checked shirt is tucked too high up into trousers that look like they haven’t been washed for days. His hands are greasy and his nails have dirt under them but his woman is leaning forward in animation. Whatever they see in each other, they seem quite aptly paired. I fall back and call over the waiter.
‘Yessir?’ he says in a bored voice. He knows me too well and he knows I know him too well too. We’re all peas of a pod in here.
‘I’ll have another one of these. And get me some bacon,’ I say, pointing towards my empty cup.
‘Yessir’ and he’s off.
I turn back to my couple and get ready to listen in.
Apparently the woman is chugging on about something. The man seems somewhat bored but also aware of his helplessness. Yup. He’s a definite philanderer. I smile. I love this breed. So much of dissatisfaction. So much of manhood. I make a bet to myself that his wife’s fat from childbirth, wrinkling from age and sickened by menopause. I win.
‘So it’s not about ya’ wife or ya’ kids or any of that,’ the woman is saying, quite loudly. Her voice is hoarse but it still has a husky sexiness about it. ‘I mean, I knew from the start that ya’ family comes first. Bu’ I just thought I knew you better. Y’know?’
The man grunted. I was surprised he bothered at all because she didn’t seem concerned with him at all and anything he would say would only spur her on. Trust me, I know pal, I told him in my head.
‘Bu’ what’s done’s done and now there’s no need’t regret. Y’know? If you’ll jus’ gimme them bucks, I’d leave you in jiffy. I know a clean place where they do this kinda stuff, no questions asked.’
Now the man leaned forward. ‘But you can’t do this to me!’ he said and I smiled. I could see what was happening here. ‘You know I don’t have any money! I’m in debt for heaven’s sake. I thought you knew the odds of somethin’ like this happening. I didn’t! I never expected this and I can’t raise a child now anyway. You’ll have to think of somethin’ else!’
The woman rose, her voice was shaking now and she was trembling. She clasped her hands together and I noticed how long and pointed her nails were. And they were painted deep green but it was the kind of green that shimmered ostensibly under the slightest light.
‘Thinka somethin’ else, he says!’ she exclaimed in anguish. Her eyes were starting to well up and her smoky eye makeup was getting smudged. ‘I’ll tell ya how to thinka somethin’ else, you bloody beast!’
She reached into an ugly grey purse and I leaned further in my seat, excited.
Just at that moment, my waiter returned with weak coffee and steaming, greasy bacon. He settled the plate in front of me with the same vacancy in his movements that utterly exhibited his boredom. By the time he cleared up my old cup and took off, the moment was gone. The woman was putting something back into her purse triumphantly and her guy was white as a sheet.
‘Take tha’, you unfaithful piece’a shit,’ she crooned. I cringed but I could take a guess about the contents of her purse. The man was leaning backwards now, defeated.
‘But I have no money,’ he repeated as though that ought to settle everything. There was a pause while they both looked at each other; at an impasse.
Then his shoulders lifted slightly. He seemed to have thought of something. His eyes sparkled a little but the woman couldn’t see it. ‘Fine.’ He said and his voice had a decisive edge to it. ‘We’ll do this tomorrow. But gimme a day to sort things out. I’ll come with you. Is that okay?’
I reached out for my coffee and took a sip, feeling my stomach turn.
The woman seemed happier now.
I phased out and picked up a spoon.
There seemed to be reconciliation underway at their table.
I dug a fork into my greasy bacon and swallowed the damn thing right up. It tasted like vomit and I felt my bile rising. I swallowed back and called the waiter over to settle my bill. My couple seemed to be doing the same.
They got up and left a minute before me. I took my time but I was done for the day. Then I got up and put on my overcoat. By the time I was out in the street, the couple was turning a bend, way ahead of me. They were holding hands. I turned the other way and walked off.
It was in the papers a week later. Her photo. Found murdered under a street lamp on a quiet street. I took a double take as I studied her features in the photograph they had fished out for the media. It said there that she was a theatre actress. An actress who slept with the director, perhaps?
But I’ve told you I love anonymity and shadiness. This was my print and the rest was up to the police. I don’t know why they never figured out who did the killing. Maybe that man was way to clever for them. He hadn’t seemed like a murderer to me, his features had been tired and burdened with age. But desperation makes people do weird things, right? Who knows. Certainly not me. Nor is it my job to know. I’ve done my duty and this story is out there now. You decide.
Gonzo journalism? Erm.You be the judge. Thanks for reading.
Derek thought he held the whole world in his arms when he held her. It began with a simple kiss but soon turned out to be so much more than that. He felt like fireworks were playing a riot in the sky above him and bloody hell how!
The second time he met her, she looked adorable in a blue dress, stars shining in her eyes. He couldn’t resist; the kisses became louder and harder still. He found himself breathe in her hair, they smelt like roses and lavender and her skin was the most delicate thing he had ever touched.
That’s when he first asked her her name.
‘Delilah’, she replied simply in a voice with a lilt that seemed to entice him and tease him at the same time. He didn’t need to hear another word. She was pouting her lips and he bent down to kiss them but for once she pushed him away, laughing.
‘Aren’t you gonna tell me yours?’ she asked.
‘Derek’, he replied, too busy to reply, too busy to notice how big and round her eyes became when he uttered that one word.
‘So Derek. What do you do?’ she asked innocently. She was like an angel and soon he was telling her about his job in London, the long hours, the commute, the expenses and above all the loneliness of it all.
‘I can’t talk to just about anyone. And it’s just hard’, he told her.
‘Well let me make it a little easier for you,’ she flirted coyly and wrapped her arms around him and he forgot all about the world outside for a long time.
The next morning he packed to leave. He left his toothbrush behind, thinking, ‘I’ll be back here soon. He thought about how grand it would be, then took her leave gently.
When he finally got to the city, he took a cab to work and entered the gigantic glass building with its glossy floors and perfectly lit hallway. It felt like heaven for a change, not a concrete prison.
He entered his cabin and took a step back. There was a note on the door. The handwriting was beautifully curled and simply read, ‘Derek’.
Deborah, he thought in a heartbeat, dropping his coat to the floor as he delicately picked up the note.
Opened it. It read, ‘You gave me a beautiful weekend. But I cannot belong to you. I can belong to no human being, Derek. I’m just not meant to. I can’t tell you why we met or how lovely it was but I thought I’d leave you a goodbye present. Don’t try to find me. Deboraaah.’
As he contemplated the way she had spelled out her name, something changed. Suddenly, he heard fluttering. His stomach lurched as the floor of the room began to shake in gentle waves. He held on to his desk for support but suddenly the envelope that had contained the letter burst and a thousand butterflies fluttered out.
Red, orange, green, blue, purple, yellow- all colors of the rainbow and possibly more fluttered out of that envelope and flew around his cabin, reaching every corner. Unafraid, free. Some of them reached out to him. Sat on his arms. Others fluttered out of the open window but many many more just swirled around and around in a magnificent display of absolutely stunning colors.
Derek watched with his jaw dropped.
His office door burst open and a colleague walked in.
‘Holy mother of God!’ the colleague exclaimed.
And suddenly, Derek was laughing out loud. And he just couldn’t stop!
On one of my sojourns to a newly opened night canteen where we can satiate our midnight hunger pangs, as I waited for my scrambled eggs the lights went out for about a minute.
Instead of staring impatiently at space or screaming out in indignation, I chose, in that moment, to stare out of the window.
The night sky greeted me. Down below and far away, city lights twinkled the way they always do. But up above the stars shone in silent magnificence.
It saddened me to imagine that there is that world out there at night. We never think about it anymore, captured as we are in these artificial holes; a limbo made of unnatural light and electricity and speed and virtual worlds whilst there is so much more beyond that window.
How afraid we are of what the night holds! How helpless if we’re ever left out in it to fend for ourselves. How dependent we are on this collective knowledge, collective development that has given us these unnatural, unreal indoor worlds. Could we ever survive without them? Could we ever have to?
Strange questions are invoked in the most stunning of minutes.
Then the lights came back on; I took my scrambled eggs and returned to the wonders of the online world!
November thrives on a hint of chill and a promise of despondency hangs in the air as warmth dies, the days grow shorter and dusk is replaced with a fading twilight. Looking out my window, I see a blue, blue world with bits of mist hanging in the horizon. Suddenly, things crop into my head. The life I’ve lived so far is probably not enough to write home about and there’s a lot more of the future to come than the past but already, there’s been so much that has come and gone and changed and morphed that it gets overwhelming at times. As burdens add up, I refuse to see my life as anything other than a poem that I’m living. Every time I feel a flow of words inside me, I become that poem. And I cannot help but express it in words.
How unnatural are words to us? When so much can be contained in a smile, a laugh, an echo or just a longing desire for someone or something that’s far away? Memories engulf us and no matter how succinct or how encrypted our expressions, they cannot replace the feelings that actually make us turn towards them.
These flowers gave rise to a surge of tangled emotions inside me. There’s something about them that’s beautiful and sad, ancient but breathtaking. There’s death in them but also life or the promise of life. There’s hope and there’s dust. They are fading but they exist. They are breathing but they are drained.
And so these flowers invite me to think: why are they there? Who put them in a cemetery that is 150 years old? Was it someone tracing their lineage as far back as they could? Or was it someone who lived far, far away and came back to visit a childhood reminiscence; a symbol of all the stories they heard from their grandparents, of all the haunts their imagination traveled through when they were children? Or did someone visit the cemetery in search of an old lover, only to find them dead and buried? Did that person cry at the thought of a missed life, a dead relationship? Did they leave the flowers their as a one-time salute to a love that refused to thrive? Or perhaps it was someone who came to the grave to apologize for all the things they didn’t do when they could have, for the sake of that build-up of regrets that life inevitably drops into our lap, the older we get? Maybe those flowers were a tribute to a life fully lived or a fond memory of an uncle who died young or a mother’s painful recollection of losing her child and wishing it was she who was dead instead.
Traces are everywhere. The dead silence of a long-forgotten, hidden corner where you shared your first kiss. That bridge where you could stand for hours with someone you loved and just stand, interlocked in silent wonder. The trees under which you share a good laugh or two with a friend but a year from now none of you will be there to miss it. Things change and places do too, we move away but we leave a trace of ourselves behind; on our most-traversed road, in a classroom or a lobby or a frequently used elevator.
It’s strange that a bouquet of dying flowers can speak so much. They can make you think about your life and the wonder contained in it. We can look at the world around us and feel divinity and we may or may not interpret it to be God but the very act of feeling awed or inspired or wonder-struck by our world is enough for us to know that what our senses understand is a lot less than what our minds see.
Perhaps those flowers were the resigned last signature of someone who was dying and wanted, for the last time, to see what it would feel like to be on this side of the world. Perhaps they were a lifetime of happiness contained in a single relic. Maybe they were somebody’s favourite flowers, now covered with cobwebs and buried under the half-death of autumn but had once bloomed in the spirit of love. Maybe they were just a simple goodbye. Or maybe, just maybe, all those flowers ever were or could be was a simple act of politeness by someone who wasn’t related to any of it, far removed by miles or thousands of years and yet moved by the painful beauty of an old graveyard. Maybe that person walked amidst the graves, thinking about all the stories that they contained but could never tell because there was nobody left to remember. Maybe that someone then felt an overpowering urge to somehow pay an ode to the transience of existence. And maybe this visitor then left those flowers there, knowing fully well that they would decay and die as surely as she would, as surely as all the people underneath these gravestones had but just the fact that they had ever existed and been there at all, was worth something. Maybe that is why it was important. Maybe that was all that needed to be felt. Maybe those flowers were there to replace all words.
The same story can be told from different points of view. Here’s my story, explanation follows:
Wanda was overworked that day. Her job at the diner was a hectic eight hour shift, after which she picked up her ten-year-old son from school. It was only at night when she finally tucked him into bed, did she get any time to pick up her books from where she’d let off the previous day. Night school was brilliant; she loved it because she was passionate about studying and had never had the chance or the money to. But watching her son play with numbers and letters and discover new things on those inanimate pieces of paper that made up a book, urged her to take up some books of her own. So she got together a bunch of women who, like her, wanted to learn but did not have the means and they shared their sons’ and daughters’ books every night and lay down the foundation, slowly. It was her secret. It was all she wanted.
It did make her sleepy in the mornings though, she realized as she served coffee to one of her regular customers. She liked this old man; he was always quiet and unassuming and he left her a good tip everyday. She yawned and tipped the mug a little too much, spilling some coffee on the table in front of the old man.
‘Oh I’m so sorry’, she said, feeling flustered and apologetic. Her night life was making work so much harder. ‘I’m really sloppy today’.
She gave him her best smile as she attempted to mop up the mess. The old man just smiled at her, somewhat sadly, she thought. It made her feel worse. As she turned away, she could feel his eyes watching her and it made her slightly uncomfortable. She could not understand why. But she shrugged it off and decided to throw in a muffin for him, on-the-house .
The cook watched his waitress approaching. He felt his heart swell once more.
He had admired her for so long but hadn’t realized what he was feeling until recently, when she told him she had set up a sort of night school for some women in her neighborhood.
So kind and thoughtful and sensitive she was! He wished he could tell her that. He wished he could help her out but she would never listen. He was chubby and balding and although he could whip up the most sumptuous desserts, that just wasn’t what she wanted. Once bitten and twice shy, he supposed. He hadn’t had no chances at love. Or luck, either.
He watched her take down an order or two before making her way over to him. She flashed him her gorgeous smile as she shouted out the orders. He nodded back at her and prepared to watch her turn around and return to her post while the oven warmed up for the morning, but instead she stayed.
‘I feel really bad, Herb’, she said. ‘That old man looks really sad, don’t you think? Can we throw in a free muffin for him? I mean, I know you don’t do that unless it’s a special occasion, but…’
She waited for him to reply.
He looked towards the old man, who was staring intently at a piece of paper on his lap.
He did not like that elderly man. He could not place it. He never saw that man, except for an hour everyday when he came in to sit in a corner and eat poached eggs and drink his coffee. But there was something there. Herb knew he shouldn’t judge strangers and it was important to be kind to the elderly. He did not want trouble.
But he did not like that old man.
‘Sure’, he said, smiling back at the waitress he madly loved.
The old man stared intently at the letter he held in his hand. His wife was dying. She probably wouldn’t make it through another week.
He wasn’t sure whether he should be happy or sad. On one hand, cancer was a slow, painful way to die. And that was quite a way for her to go. He did not want it to end so soon. On the other hand, he would finally be free of the burden that kept her clinging on to him, holding for dear life while he tried to pry her fingers open so she would just let go.
It had always been like that. He had regretted her since the very first day of their married life. He hadn’t thought marriage could be so nasty.
There was no love, no support, absolutely nothing. Just an empty expansive hollowness and wanting to hurt each other all the time. Through the decades of their childless, unromantic union, he had prayed for a savior. For something to make the torture go away, without the accountability.
If there was a God who answered prayers, he would have to be half-deaf. His prayer had been heard but too late. What’s a seventy year old man supposed to do as a widower? He couldn’t think of much.
Then again, he thought as he watched the perky little waitress returning with his breakfast, a muffin perched on the very top of her tray, smiling kindly at the elderly man she saw in front of her, he could always find ways.
He smiled back.
I suppose this theme was meant for a heart-warming story but I prefer to add a spin in the end. And I’m sorry for turning the old man nasty, but the first idea that popped into my head when I read through the Weekly Challenge, was to flip it all around. If you read through and liked it, please let me know! Thank you. 😀
Ever since I can remember, terrorism is something we’ve heard of in the news and far off and away. When 9/11 hit USA, I was nine years old. I remember my dad coming home from work and going, ‘Turn up the news, something big has happened.’ I could not comprehend the magnitude of what had happened completely, though I did watch the towers collapse in horror, replayed a million times on a million different news channels.
A few months ago, I developed a sort of curiosity that made me delve into the 9/11 footage on the net. Separating fact from fiction is difficult and falling deep into the world of conspiracy theories such as Loose Change much easier, but no matter what your take on the whole situation, the thing that I could not deny as I watched footage on YouTube is that lives were lost in a horrifying way. Thinking back to or trying to put the pieces of this mystery in any way, takes a toll on my mind. Thinking of the implications and the experience of everyone who was caught in that nightmare gives me shivers. I stopped exploring only because it gave me goosebumps to think about the whole thing.
When terrorism hit closer home in November 2008, I was old enough to follow the whole thing on television and watch the reports with my own eyes. That was, I think, the first time my eyes opened to the possibility of getting unfortunately caught in a situation for which you are not responsible in any way and out of which you may never come out alive. If there is a God somewhere, why will he blindly sit and accept the sacrificial murdering of innocent men, women and children for a cause that ultimately makes no sense whatsoever? The 26/11 attacks were India’s own version of 9/11. They were an attack on the Indian elite, in the swankiest parts of Mumbai through the renowned Oberoi Trident and The Taj Mahal Palace hotels, as well as on Nariman House, the Jewish community center.
Terrorism awakens communities to threats that are global, perceivable and very hard to fight. How do you threaten someone who is not afraid to die? Is there any way to do that? Terrorism makes us question our safety, the safety of the people we love, the sanity of bringing a new person into this world when life is so harsh and cruel.
It’s not easy to think of these things and not be affected. Last year when a girl in Delhi got brutally raped and it was all over the news, many of us treated that as an eye-opener. Rape cases abound but some hit you straight in your heart and it hurts when you confront the reality of the reasons for certain restrictions being placed on us girls everywhere. But the alternative is so much more horrifying.
Anyway, the point I am trying to drive home is that no matter how much we separate ourselves from the history that shapes a country, we’re all prisoners of the times we live in. No matter how progressive our personal belief systems and thought processes, we cannot ignore the world we grow up in. Not one hundred percent. Not all the time. We all surrender in some way or the other.
A few months ago devastating floods hit North India, causing countless deaths and a lot of destruction. We were passing through my hometown that week, on the way to New Delhi to catch a flight back home. Just as we were exiting the city ,a bunch of policemen started hailing taxis to the side of the road. They said they’d been instructed to enroll all available taxis for service in getting the stranded tourists back from the higher flood-struck regions of . So they were emptying all the people out of pre-scheduled taxis and very rudely instructing the families within to find their own means of transportation. Now we had a flight in the evening and though we had a few hours margin, we definitely could not afford to trudge around with our luggage and find alternate transportation.
We did manage to get through finally and the taxi driver was instructed to report back for duty at the earliest possible time the next morning. However, the incompetency and absolute inability of governments to provide adequate relief work came glaringly to light for me through this incident. What kind of a relief operation enlists commercial taxis on a moment’s notice? Where are the funds going? Where is all the tax money being fed? Questions we’ve always asked take on new dimensions when we face such incidents up close and personal.
Advice from a twenty-something who has no experience with kids. Cheers.
Let’s just talk about the elephant in the room for a bit. No please, I insist.
If you’re a young adult in middle class India, chances are you know you are suspended in this world that’s neither here nor there. In short you’re in this zone where you are privy to all this Western stuff over the Internet, through the TV and through books but you live in a country where certain things that you’ve accepted and see as normal, aren’t really conceived to be that way by others. Mainly grown ups, yeah.
The Birds and Bees
So Indian parents have this thing. I know I’ve mentioned it before but they are grossly uncomfortable with having that talk. Yes, I mean the birds and bees talk. They seem to think that if they don’t talk about it for some reason, it will just go away. Haha. Well that’s a nice state of denial to live in. But it doesn’t happen. Kids are smart and information is at their fingertips. Here’s an option. Choose one of the following: I’ll leave my child in the hands of the internet and expect him/her to surf through the multitude of sexual information they find their and somehow know everything there is to know and then conclude that they don’t want to have any sort of relationship until they’re twenty seven and I tell them who they should marry (and it will probably be some random stranger or a far-off acquaintance they haven’t exchanged five words with but they should then spend the rest of their lives together and do intimate things. Whatever, it’s all cool. At least their heart never got broken.) Or you find an appropriate time to get over your own discomfort and sit them down and take them through the paces of love and life and relationships and sex and let them know they can approach you with related problems so you can provide them with necessary guidance, but at the same time you tell them to exercise prudence.
Let’s face it, if you go with option one, your child is going to go out there and do his or her own thing after a while and you won’t have a clue. After all, you cannot monitor a twenty-something 24*7. But if you choose option two, chances are they’ll trust you enough and see you as a friend they can approach before they do anything stupid. Don’t kid yourself. Your child is going to experiment. He is ultimately going to dance to his own beat and if you put a full stop sign in front of him, he is going to turn and find a way around it. But if you channel his path and give him gentle nudges, he’ll come around to your point of view more easily. You know how tempting the forbidden fruit is. Everyone wants a bite.
So. Even though I have absolutely no authority to do this, I’d like to lay down some ground rules for how to go about this whole process. Many Indians want to shut their eyes and ears to what they see as the ‘Western influence.’ Yes, Western divorce rates are at an all time high. Yes, Indians generally respect and care for their parents more than Western children do, even though these relationships may sometimes border on the psychotic. Yes, rebellion is less of an issue here. But let me tell you something, all these things will turn right around if you turn your back to it. If a song is playing on the radio and your close your ears and mumble to yourself, you won’t hear the words but your child in the backseat still would. So embrace the fact that you can find a point in the middle. Taking in positive Western influences that make our society more open as a whole and empower individuals IS possible hand-in-hand with keeping with the values and ethics that Indians take so much pride in. So here goes. Grab a cuppa.
1) When your kid starts to ask the questions you dread, don’t try to deny them the answers. Start with a very simplified, kid version of the truth and stick to it until more questions start to come around. Go one step at a time and it’s okay if you don’t prod too much. Keep a straight face and be gentle with reality! But please don’t go with a stork-equivalent tale. That will just make them sense your reluctance and find alternative methods to seek the truth.
2) You know what, the media these days is full of stuff you wouldn’t want your children to see. We Indians are bashful about kissing or any sort of gentle intimacy in public. Even grown-ups prefer making crass jokes as they skirt around about the truth instead of going with a simple, ‘Aww, that’s adorable’ once in a while. So when you watch that movie which seemed so family-friendly at first and a kissing scene inevitably crops up, don’t change the channel. I know you want to, but just hear me out.
If you do that again and again, your kid will get curious. And then he’s gonna find out somehow. Children talk to one another, they are quick with television and you cannot sit on the couch behind them every time they say they are watching that innocent cartoons. Even animated stuff can be very enlightening nowadays. Case in point: Despicable Me 2.
3) Okay take a deep breath and we jump into the uncomfortable stuff. When your child hits puberty, things are going to get really ugly. By now, if you’ve kept an open relationship with your children, their questions could sometimes make you squirm. But hey, if they’re still asking you questions, consider yourself lucky. This is your chance to keep a tab on them in a way that they won’t suspect. This could be your only opportunity to cross the border and be their confidante. Bask in it. Tell them what you would support and what you would most definitely disapprove. Be strict but gentle!
4) Then will also come the time when you need to have a love talk. It’s just a word I coined. What I mean is: love governs our lives and yet there are no guidelines for them at all. A friend once told me about the wonderful way in which their parents approached the subject of love, bringing it together with the subject of physical intimacy in a way that made the whole thing sound divine. The parents told this friend that the physical things will only matter when coupled with love. And so you should wait until you can responsibly undertake both before you make a move either way. I think it’s a nice way to tell your child that though the remote control of their life is now shifting into their own hands, it’s still going to make sense to not be heady and hasty.
4) When they get to college, you’re going to be out of the influential zone. From there on, they are mostly going to have that voice you helped nurture in their head instead of your actual, physical voice from when you were standing behind their head. Breath deep and trust that they know the importance of things like abstinence and responsibility. You still need to keep tabs sometimes; independence can get to people’s heads but if you raised your child fine and did not approach love and sex as taboo, you will probably have less to worry about. They’ll get back to you with the truth. They’ll be balanced and wouldn’t want to be rebellious.
Hey, who said parenting is easy?
This post lay half written in my drafts. I think I preach about this topic quite a bit here and there and it sounded too out- there and forward in its approach. But this Weekly Challenge was just begging for me to finish and hit the Publish button. So fingers crossed!
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