Sunday, November 22, 2015


I am gonna set you down gently like a paper boat 
in a river, with a lamp in the fold of your sail.

I will let my tears flicker in the waves 
of the receding light of your passage...

There is no remedy for distance that has 
become a habit over years.
it's only our dying hope to build a bridge 
over the chasms of the past --
But O' my friend, -- make peace-- 
make peace with this.

As – life - as much as you want it to be LIFE 
-- it also dies a thousand times 
before you are dust in the earth - 
So, embrace - the sharp facets of the crystal bowl 
that shows you the world in myriad glory –

But when you hold it in the darkness
of a bleak hour – that of course – 
is inevitable at some point –  it sits coldly 
between your cupped palms 
like – a chiseled piece from an iceberg 
from distant lands – Now - Hold it, 
Hold it until your fingers go numb - and stiff - 
remember the contours of the 
cold cutting edges of this holy grail
it's nectars deep long past gone, leaving a scent
that's unforgettable, yet, quickly melting 
in your deep embrace of desperation
your knuckles turn white
the blue flame of deep cold gashing into your palms..

The only memory with staying power 
is of a printed picture in the frame
Hold on - hold on to that --
sometimes thats better than nothing.
The fact is, pain is a choice over death
and smile - and sip that coffee with friends
and talk about weather and dishes
and the price of a 4 bedroom in a no-man's land.

October 20th 2015 - Baroda, India

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

underground heartbreak

I was on the #2 line, around 11am, heading to Manhattan – reading my book. Being the starting point of the train in Brooklyn, the train was pretty empty, and standing idle, waiting for the signal to move. Couple of things about walking the streets of NYC or riding the subway (underground); no matter how engrossed you maybe in your current activity, you always keep a lookout for the surrounding action from the corner of your eye. So, while I was reading my book, without looking up, I noticed a person get in, come towards to me, stand for a few moments choosing a seat in the empty car before getting ready to sit down. With my head in the book I can only see the hips, and the waist of the person and nothing else. Another unwritten code of conduct on NYC subway is that you pretend you don't Look at anyone. The lavender tee shirt and the gait from a distance fooled me into thinking it's a woman but the hips seemed like a man's. Huh, very manly hipped woman, I thought to myself. Soon enough the person settled down, choosing a seat right next to me. I sneaked a quick peep. I realized it was actually a slender young man with a gentle face, probably in his late twenties. He sat hunched forward, leaning his long forearms on his thighs. From the profile and the way he folded over himself, I could only make out his long blond lashes, a day old stubble and a well built, beautiful back under the tightly stretched tee. The kind that takes time and effort to build. He seemed completely oblivious to his surroundings, he sat there staring at the floor. As the train pulled off the station, he slowly lifted his hands to cover his down-turned face –as if trying to get some sleep on the commute.

I went back to my reading. But within minutes I noticed the wide back curved in a huddle was heaving and shaking noticeably. The man was sobbing! Right on the train, right next to me! Crying into his own open palms, that pressed hard against the face to muffle his sobs. I looked around to see if anyone else noticed. Just one other person. A black woman sitting on the opposite side, facing us, over to the left by 2 seats. The train wasn't packed yet. She met my eyes in a silent nod, her eyes clearly expressing sympathy for the young man. I wanted to reach out and put my hand on the man's back and ask him, Are you okay?, What a silly question!, if he was okay why would he, a grown man, be bawling, even if silently, on the public commuter train? It was a tough call to choose between showing care or letting the man have his dignity. Secondly, this is New york. You don't touch people like that, and you don't definitely get into other people's private space. That well observed 5" invisible glass bubble, the bell-jar around everyone in a public space. It's a weird thing, you could be standing or sitting next to a person, pressed against one other, more intimately than one could bear, yet manage to maintain this invisible privacy shield.

The man continued to sob. Next stop, a big black woman got in and occupied the seat to my left, pushing me off unceremoniously towards the young man with her generous big black bottom, obviously needing more than one seat's worth. Now I don't have to look at him to know he was crying, I could literally feel his body shaking next to mine. I continued to act as though I was reading – despite being acutely aware of him. Didn't know what else to do. Two stations pass by. All seats were taken and some were standing by then. Next stop, more Passengers got in, filling the rest of the space in the middle of the train. At this point the crying man uncovered his face, quickly wiped off his face and hands, reached into his back pocket, and pulled out a cell phone, opens and quickly navigated to a screen. It showed a picture of a man. With a celebrity smile, sunglasses, sun-kissed California kind of a face. I see him press a button. and the screen shows "Delete?". I turned my face away suddenly being embarrassed of my snooping. Granted, I didn't make any effort to snoop, if anything I had to make an effort not to...we were sitting so close, his open phone screen was touching the edge of my book. I didn't want to know his decision. To keep his love or that moment of despair and heart break. It was his moment. It was his very private heart break moment in that crowded train. I looked away and around casually. The train is packed. I could only see the other woman 'in the know', as a bits between the backpacks and winter coats. Our eyes meet for one brief moment when the train jogged, too short and quick before any sentiment could pass in between. I looked up, stared at the ads above the them all twice, to give the young man enough time and privacy. I heard the snap. He closed his phone, pocketed it, and returned his hands to his face like before. His back was still in a huddle, but I noticed it stopped heaving and his palms weren't pressed as hard as before. I know the man was still crying, deep inside but the wave of tsunami has passed.

This time I return my gaze to my book, faithfully and in full focus. I hear the conductor announce, "Next stop, Franklin Avenue". My stop to get off. I close my book, and shoulder my bag, getting ready to leave, and it suddenly came to me. I pulled out my pen and I opened my book to the first page, and write across it, big and bold, "THIS TOO SHALL PASS - 28th Jan 2011". It didn't matter that it was a cliché, and book was a nerdy non-fiction, "The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World'. I know it will get through the 5" glass bubble without breaking it. It was my hand on the young man's back. I quickly dropped the book on his lap, not giving any time for reaction, with lightening speed I got off the train.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2.1.2011 | Two tales of a Snowstorm:


The snowstorm came the morning after Christmas. It raged all weekend long. It spiraled, it billowed, it howled, it flew horizontal, and it slapped you across the face. It raised like smoke from distant wild fires. It was a battalion of miniature blades with wings. It was air bullets with needle heads. It froze the tears before they fell on your cheeks. It made your feet forget who they belong to. It made them forget that they were even alive. It made your fingers blue and your lips numb. But strangely it made you more alive than alive. When the wind slowed it got gentle. It blanched the air to crisp cotton. It sashayed the bushes with white tulle. It powdered the grand oaks and cloaked the evergreens. It layered and layered, softly but single mindedly like a good love. It buried the side walks, it buried the mail boxes, it buried the bicycles tied to the lamp posts, and then the Hondas on this side of the street and the Mercedeses on the other side of the street. If you stood still long enough it buried you too. It muffled the sirens and it hushed the world. It put big smiles on the little faces that pressed against windows with tiny flashing green and red ornament lights.

By the next morning it piled up like white bears sleeping sideways one on top of the another. It covered anything and everything that was left under the sky uncovered. The world got wider with the un-dividing whiteness and unpopulated streets. It brought out the only people crazy about living the moment, the two of them, the only ones who ventured past the south side of the lake in the park that morning.

Spent on euphoria, she slept holding the red wool cap the young man she never met before that morning put on her head, covering her frost nipped ears. The single witness, a pair of black galoshes stood in a puddle of happiness next to her bed.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

1.1.2011 | Two tales of a Snowstorm


The snowstorm came the morning after Christmas. After howling, screeching and spiraling all night long, it piled up like a hundred white bears sleeping sideways one on top of the other. Stretching across the length and the full breadth of all open spaces, blocking and barricading doors, fences, sidewalks, streets and avenues alike.

The voice from this morning, heard after a long long time, all the way from across the oceans, hung inside her. It was reticent, yet soft and without malice. Just like the snowstorm, the day after. And that was enough.

The boulders of snow mounds stayed all week unmoved, until rain came last night. Sparrows came out after a week of hiding, chirped and took quick showers in the big icy puddles of bear shadows. The air smelled of the rain still as she took off her snow boots. Salted and stiff, they stood guard next to the unlit fireplace.

Friday, December 31, 2010

God wears jeans.

"the Christian/God man reminds me of when I was 17 and visited Zambia, where my mum was, the first Sunday, I had to go to church and the priest was so drop dead gorgeous, I started going for daily service. After 3 days my mum sighed and said: You haven't even seen him in his tight jeans yet, why do you think the church is packed, everyone sees God now!"

Disclaimer: This one is not by me. Written/told by ms.B.B. It was so good I had to post it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Matilda Behind the Wheel


Matilda was fearless. Well, almost. Except for centipedes and cabbage worms, she didn't fear too many things. But if you ask me, she was more clueless than fearless. Not stupid, but clueless. Even at 26, yes, at Twenty Six, growing up sheltered, she hadn't seen enough of the world to know and understand fear. Or the consequences of not having it.

Matilda was not her real name either. But she would have liked it if her parents had named her Matilda or Margo or even Maya, but her Father was from SriLanka, so, he named her Mridula. 'The mild-one', 'the gentle sort', in Sanskrit. Mridula? Do I look like a Mridula?, Mridula would ask her reflection in the mirror. You see, she had a reason to question it. She and almost everyone who came into contact with her could see, she could be a sweet girl on occasion, and you could reason with her with a sound argument, but MILD? That she never was. Her father died early. Mridula didn't have a chance to ask her father why she was named that, or many other things that she badly needed answers for. So, she did the next best thing. Introducing herself to people that didn't know her from before as Matilda, or Mattie. Might as well, as most people in this new country couldn't say Mridula properly anyway.

New country, The U.S.A. Yes, Matilda was relatively fresh off the boat. To be precise 1 year and 7 months. There was a much longer story to tell, a lot of flash-back and heart break to cover but that's another chapter altogether. So, let's just start from the day Mridula landed in the Big Apple. Well, there she was, armed with six hundred forty five dollars cash from her baby-sitting gig and another 78 dollars left over from a sales girl job 5 months ago in the Midwest, a brand new drivers' license from State of Illinois, proudly peeping through the plastic window a men's wallet in her purse, a practical gift from her cousin's husband, and a small suitcase of ill fitting clothes that she inherited from her cousin sister in the suburbs, including the knobby oversize beige sweater and the bubblegum pink cap with ear flaps and a pom pom on top she has on, Mridula, a.k.a Matilda landed in Williamsburg. It was the early 90's. This now ultra cool hood wasn't gentrified yet, and the white folks hadn't ventured past Graham Avenue. And Morgan Avenue was the, 'whoa!-you-got-off-the-train-where?' stop. But it didn't matter to Matilda. She was yet to understand what 'good' and 'bad' hoods meant and where those borders lie. She was like this character from that Pedro Almodovar's classic, Penelope Cruz in 'Volver'. Not pretty or busty like that, but just in her determination. In that fiercely stubborn self reliance and taking life full on. All she focused on was survival. Getting a job. Getting herself back on her feet.

It was early that year, actually to be precise, on the first day of the new year, when the snow under her feet crunching like a pile of potato chips, fingers were numb even inside the patagonia gloves, the mercury standing at -16º F, and the breath was blowing white clouds, the air smelled of stale booze from street wide parties ringing in the new year, in the hours before dawn, Matilda slipped out of the apartment. She took the Blue line from Pulaski to O'Hare, bought herself a one way ticket to New York, spreading all the money she has on the ticket counter, counting it bill by bill to pay for it. The money left in her embroidered drawstring pouch was exactly 78 dollars. And a lucky brass rupee coin in the secret chamber of its lining, from her mother, never to be spent.

Matilda specifically chose the first day of the new year, to mark an ending and hopefully a new beginning. Plus, she knew her husband would be pissed drunk that night, dead asleep until noon next day. Now, did I mention her heart break tale ridden past, well, on that, just a brief note. She had run away from a marriage of her own choosing, the man she chose for herself without dowry, turned out to be a real wanker, so, now she was pretty much on the streets, figuratively speaking, with hardly any money, or any ready means to support herself. Except that, she had a life line, a cousin, from her father's side, and a fairly new implant from UK, on Long Island, New York.

Now one could argue, why didn't Matilda just turn around and go back to SriLanka, her home land. Couple of things.

One. She couldn't afford a ticket home and she was too proud to ask for it from anyone, let alone her wanker husband. She told herself, she would rather jump off the Sears tower before she would do that. Besides, she felt she couldn't make anyone pay for it, it was her mess. It was hers to clean up.

Two. It will be too much of a scandal and sizable damage to her family name, returning home like that, what would she be? Without a husband? Soon to be Divorced. Divorced! "Your only daughter, DIVORCED???" Imagine that repeated a thousand times over...she couldn't do that to her poor widowed mother.


"First thing you need to do is get a driver's license". Said her mettlesome cousin sister who took her in. "You need to get some computer skills if you want a real job", advised her gentle brother-in-law. Red rimmed and puff faced, crying over her spilled milk and Cheerios, Matilda took it all in. Not fully understanding, but determined still. For the next 7 months, she poured over library books and swapped work hours at the local community college to learn pc skills.

As for her driving lessons, it was an odd choice to take them from her cousin who drove on the wrong, I mean, left side of the streets until as recently as 6 months ago, and was used to doing roundabouts anytime she has to do a right turn. Nevertheless, this determined pair has decided, they can figure it out. Both right turns and parallel parking the American way. So, Matilda's cousin once a week, squeezed time between her 2 boys both under 9, and her insane medical residency, taught her driving on a big Saab station wagon, in the big hospital parking lot behind where they lived. It was fairly vacant and conveniently close. Now what was even more odd about her training was that it entirely took place in the parking lot. Not once on the actual streets. But Matilda did study her state Driver's manual with utmost concentration.

By the end of Summer, Matilda thought she perfected her 'driving skills' and for her credit, her parallel parking was pure perfection. What she didn't realize was, there was a whole lot more to driving than the moving back and forth, breaking and accelerating, making turns, shifting gears and turning the wheel all the way to the left and then all the way to right to get it perfectly in line with the white chalk marks of the parking spots.

But, most incredulously, by the time leaves were about to turn, she got herself a Driver's License and relative mastery over colorful pie charts in Excel, and neat left to right fading swipes in Powerpoint. Now you may wonder, how did she ever pass her driver's license test? Here's an interesting side story. Even though she wasn't pretty or busty, there was some kind of weird power to her tears. Not that she was manipulative or could do it on a cue. In fact she didn't cry too much or too long over things, with one exception, stupid men in her life. But as it turned out, they would appear just at the nick of time, no, not the men, the tears, on their own, like self appointed guardian angels to save her miraculously from all kinds of situations. Something about her eyes, people just didn't like them welling up like that, it gave them an ominous sense of their basement being flooded and all their childhood memories being ruined. They just gave in, melting in those tears like salt in water, granting her wishes, drivers licenses and jobs with uniforms. You'll see what I mean by that as we get deeper into the story.

First, The Drivers license.
The Gods would not have been that kind if she had tried to get her license in NY state. But as it turned out, since her 'permanent' address was still located in the midwest, where things were milder and people were kinder, it was stipulated that's where she would be tested. So, off went Matilda flying back to Chicago.

When the car was finally brought back to the DMV station, the examiner's face was grim and stone faced as if he was mugged at gunpoint. From the tightness of his jaw, Matilda knew, she blew it. There was a bit of honking from couple of other drivers on the road, but still, she didn't exactly know what she did wrong or where she failed. The thought of going back to Long Island, to her well wishing yet exacting cousin, with yet another big failure filled Matilda with despair.

By the time the DMV man finished his report, and turned to her, Matilda's face was a sea of huge tears. Tears big and round rolling down her cheeks fast and furious. She looked at him with those berry black eyes, drowning him in salty rivers. The DMV man was stunned. He couldn't get himself to handover the "fail' report to her. More than that he didn't know what to do with her or how to handle the situation. He had had candidates be disappointed before, but none like this. He knew it was wrong and probably a crime, to let her out into the world with a license to get behind a wheel. Nevertheless, cursing under his breath, the DMV man tore up her previous report, quickly scratched a new one, and literally threw it at her face and threw her out of the car. So, there was Matilda, beaming a grateful 4 inch grin on her still wet face, half bowing, gushing Thank you, Thank you, having managed to finagle a drivers license, a license to kill if you ask me, just with the sheer power of her tears.

By the time Fall came around that year, Matilda felt pretty well equipped to face the world on her own. Around mid October with a small suitcase and a shoulder bag Matilda got dropped off at the Port Jefferson station, by her brother-in-law and the 2 nephews she baby sat, waving her goodbye. The fall air was cool and crisp, just right for Matilda's maiden voyage, her brand new life in the big Apple. She managed to locate a friend of a friend in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who agreed to rent out a room for 1 month.

"You need to get (village) Voice to find a job", informed this artsy friend of a friend. "You can easily find a place to rent, get Voice", assured the friend's friend's moody roommate in one of her good moods. Next day Matilda got her hands on this said treasure trove of opportunities, The Village Voice news paper. She sat down with her Coffee cup and a piece of paper on which the night before she wrote down the list of skills /'jobs' she could do. The list read;

The Village Voice indeed was a treasure trove. Matilda couldn't believe what all can be sold or bought. The last pages of the fat short news paper especially were a revelation. After 3 pages and 12 circled possibilities, Matilda's found an ad that God himself placed it for her. Otherwise how could she explain it? It was an ad for one-on-one tutoring, someone wanting to learn TAMIL!!! Her mother-tongue! Matilda couldn't believe her luck. Who? How? Why? How in the world? What are the odds, Matilda thought, God has put this ad for me, she was convinced. Well, that God was a Veronica. She sounded really sweet on the phone, thought Matilda. It so happened that this Veronica, a white Northern Jersey girl was hopelessly in love with an Indian boy, specifically a Tamil boy. And Veronica wanted to snare his heart by serenading Tamil Songs, especially the duets by Rajni Kanth. This was definitely God's doing, now Matilda was without a doubt.

The Following Sunday Matilda opened the door to find a young boyish man, in a pale orange Lacoste polo shirt, bulky grey wool vest, and navy slacks, red and grey Columbia Alpine jacket, grey sneakers and closely cropped beach blond hair. Small but beautiful clear grey eyes. Deep set. She couldn't figure his age, the fuzz on his upper lip was too wispy, as if it was never shaved, but his smile was of a grown up. "Hello! I am Ronnie!...umm, Veronica" said this boyish young person with the same sweet voice Matilda heard on the phone when they made the deal.

Matilda was stunned for a moment not knowing what to make of her new employer. Veronica must have been pretty used to that shocked expression she sees on people's faces on first introductions. Luckily Matilda's mother taught her good manners, to be polite, to be always be warm and welcoming to strangers and friends alike. Despite the initial awkwardness, and 2 cups of tea later, Matilda found Veronica to be a very nice young woman. Despite the fuzz, and even without makeup, she had an attractive face. Pretty smart, some kind of software specialist by profession. And generous too. $20 per hour, 2 hours, every Sunday at Noon. Even though it puzzled Matilda immensely, why such a nice woman would dress as a boy, behaved like a boy, except for the pitch of her voice; she didn't question Veronica's request to be called 'Ronnie'. That she understood. And Veronica was more of a Ronnie than Veronica anyway. But then she did wonder, how can Veronica expect to attract that Indian boy 'Josh' with these boyish looks? She thought there was a serious flaw in Veronica's plan. Matilda wanted to tell her, about the Tamil boys, what she knew about them from back home, what they would want...But she didn't want to be rude.

Over the course of next few months Veronica, I mean, Ronnie and Matilda developed a genuine friendship. Two oddballs who perfectly understood each other or liked each other enough not to ask uncomfortable questions. Matilda never commented on Veronica's geek squad getup, and Veronica never enquired about Matilda's past. The lessons were fun. Matilda was hardworking and Ronnie was a quick study with a good sense of humor.

By now Matilda has found a second gig as well, an evening sales girl shift, as seasonal holiday staff at Crate & Barrel. Winter was getting dark and cold fast. She also moved further deep into East Williamsburg, where people took her to be Spanish as long as she didn't talk, and she could get a slice of pizza and a small guava juice for $1.50.

It was the week before Christmas. That Sunday, Matilda suggested to do the lesson at a restaurant, because she wanted to teach Ronnie about ordering food in Tamil. Ronnie insisted on treating Matilda to the meal. After all it was practically Christmas. Matilda made a fuss but agreed in the end, and proudly presented Ronnie with a hand-knit wool cap she bought at Union Square. She couldn't afford the matching pair of gloves. The Sunday lasagna lunch special came with complementary glass of white wine. And then 2 more wines were ordered, followed by a lot of good cheer. Matilda wasn't used drinking much, one glass was more than enough to make her merry. It was a moment, when both Matilda and Ronnie genuinely went past fearing judgment from each other.

Ronnie took the chance first. "I don't like being a woman". Words that came out rather forcefully as if they were waiting for a long time to come out, and have been rehearsed a few times over.
"I know", says Matilda.
"I don't like being a woman either. You know, men in my country have much better life. It's no fun being a woman.., at least here, you don't have to give dowry!" Matilda consoled.

"NO. I don't WANT to be a woman", said Ronnie, looking intensely at Matilda watching for her reaction. As expected, after half a minute of sharp attention, the penny dropped. Matilda quickly sat up straight in her chair, her eyes widening a bit,
"Whatddoyou mean?" "You mean, You mean, you are like, like gay?", and before Ronnie could answer, Matilda quickly blurted, "I like only men."

Matilda felt the urgent need to state her own preference, suddenly feeling more awkward than their first meeting and clearly embarrassed by her own unease. She treated the topic of gays like she did the stock market. It was one more new thing she came to know after coming to US. Something she knew existed but in a very far off manner. Nothing to do with her life.

Ronnie broke off the tension with an unexpected laugh.
"You silly, I don't like girls." her eyes smiling wickedly, sensing Matilda's assumption.
Matilda inquired, relieved with a shy smile returning to her face.
Ronnie teased, "You think you are that cute, huh? You are aarright, but I don't dig chicks".

The jovial comfort returned. Over the 3rd glass of wine while Matilda listened with her wide-eyed fascination, Ronnie confessed about her plans for a sex change, and her obsession with the gay Indian boy, who has been disowned by his parents, now living with his German boyfriend, Eric. The three of them work together in a fledgling start-up company.

Suddenly a lot of things that puzzled her about Ronnie fell into place. One of the first being, Ronnie's voice. Some of the subtle changes that came over the months very gradually. Matilda noticed off late it cracked like a teenage boy's. It wasn't sweet and high pitched anymore like it was when they first met. And on the rare occasion Ronnie took of her bulky vest, Matilda could see that she has bandaged her chest, practically flattening her noticeably large breasts. Something Matilda who is not so lucky/not as well endowed couldn't figure why anyone would want to do that.

Matilda didn't know what a sex change was, it completely boggled her mind and her knowledge and understanding of sexuality was put to test. As it is it took her a while to wrap her head around the concept of gays & lesbians. Now, this was altogether another wild, alternative unknown universe. Matilda couldn't understand how a girl can become a man. It was too complicated and too freaky. She didn't want to know too much about it. But she understood Ronnie's impossible love for that Indian boy, and her desperate desire to be who she wants to be, whatever that may be.

When it was her turn to spill the beans, Matilda still held on to the secret of her disastrous marriage, but shared her anxiety over finding the next job. 3 more weeks for the end of her seasonal gig at C&B. Matilda, being the resourceful that she was, quickly reeled off all the things she can do, including her driving skills and Ronnie, who was already a man in temperament, took charge of finding a solution, "You can drive, right?" inquired Ronnie. "YES". "And I have my license", Matilda proudly flaunted it. Right there and then a serious plan was hatched.

At the end of the January, Ronnie's surgery, the first of many to come, was scheduled. Ronnie's company would need an extra hand at the office, especially for driving back and forth doing deliveries, and since Ronnie would be out of the office, and Josh doesn't drive, Eric would be overburdened doing everything. Ronnie felt confident that Matilda would win their hearts in no time, and once she was back from her surgery, she could convince Josh (the Indian Boy) about keeping Matilda longer, if possible until she finds a real job and Eric was not too much of a problem. Once Josh was in, he would be in. During this trial/experiment, Matilda could stay with Ronnie, there was a nice pull out couch in the den, plus, it would be great to have her in the house, to help Ronnie while she/he recovered. That made Matilda even more happy. To be able to help Ronnie back. It was a done deal.

Matilda was over joyed. She managed to sublet her room, with the help of (village) Voice again, bribed her old room-mate with a sumptuous desi meal to adopt her 3 foot Ficus plant. Matilda packed up rest of her belongings back into the bags she came with, except for a new addition, a second hand RCA Radio+CD player, no bigger than her Rogets' Dictionary.

True to her word, 4 Sundays after Christmas, Ronnie came to pick up Matilda in her Black Ford Explorer. Matilda full of gratitude, put all of it in her hug, and this time it was Ronnie who was embarrassed and gently untangled Matilda and put away the box of milk sweets. Spiderman bobbed back and forth hanging from the rear view mirror. Matilda hugged her over stuffed shoulder-bag on her lap. The ride was long. The roads got wider and houses grew more far apart. Ronnie played her home made tapes of Tamil Songs. Windows down, singing at the top of their voices, bubbling with excitement the duo set off for Montvale, NJ.

Matilda on the Road.

To be continued.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Short Novel

10/14 - 10/21 | A chapter for a novel

My first stab at fiction ;).
Disclaimer: story about nobody I know, based on nothing I experienced...


T H E - R E T U R N

Chapter -1

George sat there meekly looking the gray cold tiles and matching gray carpet meeting exactly where the beige front desk rose from the floor like a mushroom on a moldy day. Palms wet and clammy holding on to the plastic 'leather' folio, he just sat there. The quick sharp looking young woman, who could easily be less than half his age, answering the phones in a musical sing song voice, "Barry, Boyd & Partners, may I help you?".

He tried to make himself cheerful, trying to tap to the rhythm of her voice. Hanging his head low, he tried to move his feet, noticing how bulgy his shoes looked. That's his best pair still. His eyes focusing and noticing all the tiny cracks, the bruised gray matte areas of peeled off leather even a thick coat of waxy polish couldn't rescue. Suddenly he felt such affinity for those old, used shoes. He felt an immediate camaraderie with them. He felt like a good old shoe that worked tirelessly, worked with such loyalty... Loyalty. The word he carried all his life like a mantra now filled him with intense disgust akin to self-hatred. The nervousness about the interview left him, instead his mind filled with unspoken rage and steam.

That was what he was. LOYAL. Even in his last job, worked like a dog for years. And what did he get for that? A slap of a check, a mere 6 weeks of severance pay and a typed note on corporate letterhead. 8 lines long. Not even signed by the man he worked for. Wishing the very best in his next endeavor. Next Endeavor? Who fucking says next endeavor while you might as well drive a knife through...Fuckin'assholes...

Mr. Wilson? Mr. Wilson?

George quickly pulled himself, to standing up, dropping his case on the floor, making it's contents fly out and spread out on the floor. His resume, letters of recommendation and samples of his work. 8 x 10 Kodachromes from the late 80's and more recent digital print-outs on bond Letter paper. No matter how carefully he kept them, some of them got dog eared from being handled in so many 'good opportunity' meetings. Before he scrambled to pick his papers, he looked up, to meet the eyes of the woman, holding the door, half open while blocking the open half with her skirt suit black hose figure. Her eyes were not friendly or unfriendly, just the typical HR manager eyes. Impatient, yet a bit vulture like, scanning, quick moving up ad down, data being processed at lightening speed.

George knew his interview was over even before it began. There was no point picking up the papers in a hurry or make a funny remark about his klutziness to 'connect' with his interviewer. Somewhere he read, the decision to hire pretty much happens within the first few moments of a meeting. He couldn't bother anymore. He knew it was a 'No'. The woman probably made that decision even before she called his name, while he sat there contemplating his shoes. His mind automatically calculated the money and time he put into this meeting. Dry-cleaning $16. Kinkos prints $37.50. Subway +NJ Transit $13.75. Haircut $4, Shoe polish, $5. He didn't even bother to total it. After that moment it didn't matter. What or how he did the interview. He didn't even feel the earlier anger. It was just gray, an even, non descript gray, the same shade of the carpet under his feet.

At 52, George Wilson looked of retirement age. His eyes were misted glass of faded blue, staring out of the NJ transit windows. He has the kind of face that one can't quite remember. He could probably rob a bank without bothering to wear mask and get away with it.

Sometimes one would wonder looking at certain people, how did they, let alone find someone, manage to get them to marry them!..George was one of those. He was married. Once. A long time back. He had a wife and 3 children. Two, his own, he likes to believe that they were, and one, his wife brought into the marriage from a prom night. In fact that's how he snared Angela. She was way beyond his league but her unwanted pregnancy and her catholic upbringing made her a negotiable deal. He shadowed her much of the time anyway even before she got knocked up, so it wasn't too much of a shock when they announced their engagement and within-a-3-month wedding date. Of course there were people in the know and a few tongues that wagged.

He remembered the first few years of his marriage. Now it seems like it all happened to someone else. He was one of the few people in Fort Smith who landed a real 'professional' job right after college, working at an Industrial Engineering firm and brought home more than most in that town. That must have sweetened the deal for Angela. But he didn't care. He was just silly happy having Angela walk next him while he pushed the super market cart, and swelled with pride, when people stopped to touch and and inquire Angela about her equally swelling belly, when's the baby coming? He made himself believe Angela was his, and the paternity of the baby is a very small price to pay. In fact he couldn't believe his luck. To able to touch her, too see her naked body in the shower. He never could see her under the covers. She insisted on turning the lights off whenever he wanted to claim his rights as her husband. His WIFE. Angela W I L S O N. It was as if he accidentally found someone else's very fat wallet and decided to keep it for himself, knowing it's wrong. That fear of losing this stolen stash kept him quiet even when he shouldn't have. All 13 years. Until that night in April.

When he left Arkansas in a hurry, George didn't bother with the baby pictures or any prized possessions. He slipped into the night as if he was going out to take a leak. Except he cleaned up his savings, all of 3,833 dollars and 54 cents the day before. Well, in the 60's it's a tidy sum, tucked away between his overalls and his tidy-whities, a tight roll in a cotton hand kerchief, it nestled next to his limp penis, as he huddled in the back seat of a Grey Hound. He didn't think or plan too much. The panic of and the fear of evidence leading up to him terrified him. That was it. That was the last time he saw his family.

In two decades that went past, he didn't try to know what happened to them. He tried not to think about them. Try to shut it with a sharp snap of a book every time his mind opens a page in it. But it's a like a car accident one has witnessed, that terrible image with all it's slow motion monstrous detail gets burned on your retina, not leaving you even when are asleep. Strangely more than Angela, it was the kids. They were just babies. He still remembers the way their soft heads smelled of Johnson's baby oil and sweet corn in spring. The hair softer than silk, wispy, peach-fuzzy, and on a bright day more golden than Belle Point at Sunset.

For weeks after his run, he expectantly scanned the papers for the news. Waited on the dreaded knock on his door. But strangely nothing ever showed up or nobody came looking for him in his basement apartment in the Bronx. By the time the panic wore off and he found a way of supporting himself, got all legal and up and up, his self as it existed before has been obliterated. He could have been dead for all he knew. That fact made him laugh wryly. It was ironic, he fled to save his own life and in the end he is dead anyway.

He tried hard to remember the good times, if he had any since his run. It was 9 years ago, when he first got a break in his work and then Giana happened. Giana... George repeated her name saying it aloud but softly, rolling it around in his mouth, like a sweet licorice candy, caressing the syllables with his tongue 'Gee-Aah-Naah'. He liked the fact that she has the same initials as he did. He didn't bother to change his name, despite being on the run. One, that's the only thing of himself left. Two, it was too common a name for it stand out. Three, he figured if they did come looking for him, that will be the end, he didn't have a fight left in him.

"Excuse me, Can I sit here?" a young voice pulled him out of his reverie. He looked up to a young man, probably in his late 20's, half leaning, balancing the weight of a briefcase and an overnighter. "could I take this seat?" young man asked again. It's may I, George said to himself, suddenly noticing the bus was full and only the seat next to him was left unoccupied. There were a 4 others who chose to stand in the isle rather than take that seat next to him. "Oh, of course!". George pulled himself close towards the window, making more than enough room for the young man to sit. The young man sat down heavily for a slender built, relieved to put his bags down and give his back some rest. He leaned back adjusting his seat, turned around and smiled. Clearly a preamble. This rather shocked George. He was not used to commuters 'conversing'. No, not around here, in New York area. In that narrow confined space between the seats, the young man managed to stretch his hand out and said "I am Dan". He smelled of aftershave. Mint and citrus. But not the usual, cheap kind. His smile open. George shook his hand still mildly shocked, "George Wilson".

- To be continued.