Happiness comes in simple realization and love sells, only because we buy it. When I told Iphigenia that her idea of building a school of alchemy and potions to revive an ancient art form was not a good idea, she fumed.
Old toyshops always smell like dust. I am so doubtful of myself most days, that I even question my ability to smell this dust. Can dust actually smell like something? These toyshops have more dust than hardware stores. Almost like a time lapse of a thousand memories, these dust particles behaved like small, coiled purrs of lost calls and last chances. That day, when I entered, I felt strange. Not the hesitant – being judged – kind of strange I feel when I walk into someplace new, but a very nostalgic strange. This was not my place to be in anymore. A large pile of notebooks sat near the entrance. They’re new, untouched and smell of fresh ink and dry dye. I’ve always dreaded the 7 am ringing of the alarm on the first day of school. But that’s perhaps the only thing I’ve dreaded. From stepping into the fresh, tepid school smell everything was so delicate again. Words and numbers filled up these notebooks, the heaviness of the bag reduced as the days numbered by. An ease of familiarity always revolved like a cocoon around me. I looked towards my right. The toyshop has a huge image of a deity. A garland hangs from the portrait. I had forgotten how our God’s looked. I tilt my head, reflecting upon how now I pray with my eyes shut with only a singular voice singing itself out of my heart. I now, always am praying to all-knowing big man up there. Yet doubt sometimes fleets through me whether not adorning Him with garlands will angry him. After all, now, I don’t have any image, it’s just a voice, it’s is just a feeling. How do I even honor those?
I wait till my mother decides which gift to choose. A family friend has delivered a baby girl. I watch in anticipation as we decided between orange, pink and blue baby sets. I measure the size of her t-shirt. It just fell an inch short of my palm; the size of her body equivalent to the lifelines on my palm. I watch as he gift wraps with sticky tape and shiny paper. Everything is ordinary, everything so mundane. Yet I feel myself hypnotized by those thin boxes tightly wrapped in transparent plastic towards my far right. I shuffle and pick one board game. It promises 50 fun games of delusional fun. I had something like this once. 25 boards filled with two-sided fun found in the attic of my old rustic home lying unscathed deep within those huge drums we used as storage. The drums hoisted high on pedestals, almost like they didn’t wish to be found. Games, I remember my father telling me had travelled all the way from America. He always remarked how the games were like the backgammon. Just like dominoes they passed from one house to the next. When the gift wrapper opened itself in Mumbai, the game tugged itself between its suburb and city and finally making way to town, our home. Town where the townies live, town where the townies find 15 boards instead of 25, and one dice instead of two. Town – a safekeeping remote junction of used property and endorsed history. ‘Town’ where luck shines only once; where heavier the rent the higher is the gamble. Where legacies withdraw like lose foils and where all houses eventually became homes. Yet that toyshop reminded me of something indescribable. Something which I realized while staring at that open box of board games: it is a love that has remained.
Slowly, I shut the box. I pay. I walk out of that dust and into the open odorless prism. The dice, the pieces, the rules, everything is still so strong in my mind. I try to walk on the white line at the side of the board. I am a triangular disdain. I walk straight, missing the turn for my street. I come back, more vigilant now, making sure that I don’t miss it again. And then, I see it. I see something which had been there all my life, something which is full and complete in all its totality. I see ‘Saudade.’ I scribble over the dust with my bare fingers. The bi-lingual persona in me thanks for those extra lessons as the Portuguese somehow translates itself to English. A bike passes by and honks at me to move. I begin walking home and look back as I whisper those words out loud, “Rua Des Saudades.”
The road of the love that remains . . .
“I’ll always stand against the iron brass gate, the same gate which is laden with tiny rusty starks and thin lines of forgotten memories. I don’t wake up for dawn. I just don’t sleep the whole night for my nights are always spent pondering and over-thinking. Sometimes, while I stare at the singular white threads of light and mist I wonder if there’s something more.
And, I see that extra when a bus with loud music drives by. It’s the glitter of that moment. It’s the slight glaze of a more sporadic and a more spontaneous joy.
It’s like the gleam of a sparkling diamond. A diamond, which is a secret to me. An oasis or a mirage, what can I say? ”
For the first 107 years, I’d been stagnant.
I’ve been void. I’ve been layered in corsets and petticoats. I could only nibble of my cream off cakes – eating the whole cake, so out of question. The vanilla icing so tempting, but I always desperate to not break bones. A bite gone out of place – any bite gone out of place, the tummy flesh would churn more. A generation and the millennium all forgotten, they’re mouths shut while their eyes gleamed. I knew that Barbie copied grandma because they both dressed the same! Damsels in distress: I would also wear the crown that fit around my waist – “corset.”
For 107 years, I’ve learned how to keep myself away from the ‘evils’ of freedom and fainting remedies. I smelled salts, right before I knew I’m off to hell. I worked, in large, large, large pleats of silk and frill and satin. The household work done right all the time. I deserved a trophy. There was so much metal underneath that thousand Swarovski diamonds couldn’t measure the weight. I smile though distraught. The red blood so pinkish on my cheeks, the rose’s juice so silvery on my lips – the paleness masked underneath the powder and blush, my grief never singled out; “I so accomplished.” The ‘curtsy’ definitely the most hilarious social propriety, my waist always so tightly caught between threads and ribbons on fire. And then you bend and tilt and move. He speaks through his handshake. Him so gallant and courageous, there’s France in the air. He smells like Russian Vodka mother warned me about. But what do I do? My docility always threatened me to break free. All threats come true one day, this one too challenged to, on a day which was so against feminine heights. How could I even talk? My best friend nausea, always so tightly bound to me. He thinks I blushing, I’m shy. Not there’s no awkwardness about me, I’m friendly and lively – but the corset understands nothing – it only increases blood pressure. Cheeks turn red, my cheeks – always so flamboyant, but trust me, you’ll see how detached my eyes are. He thinks he can climb up the balcony, but I’m no Rapunzel. My hair is always in a tight, tight bun and in it I sleep with drained consciousness. But once in a while, I let my silvery ends lose; those nights when I shy more profusely – he knows he can come up now. I prefer those serenades and ballads; the orchestra always, always evokes Shakespearean tragedy and heroine like fantasies in me. But most importantly, the white, lose nightgown lets me breathe. *Oxygen in, Oxygen out*. I feel so free, I feel so brave. Oh dear Grandma, how did you even tolerate these tight strings?
Just get me out of this dress! All that’s skinny isn’t so pretty.
My fashion sense was a 107 year old aesthetic rebuke. Now, I don’t do fancy dress. I don’t dress up in gloves and serenity. I don’t play Elizabeth Benet; Austen has been put to bed. I am more like my mother I realized. I’m experimental, I’m different. I can’t be still; I’m not serene. The age of my ancestors sometimes reminds me of brightness and fluency. But their delicacy doesn’t thrill. I am instead hundred. My wardrobe and I are an intricate collection of slight patterns and lace layers. I like gowns and diamonds – until chokers don’t suffocate. Nevertheless, I believe that I am a 100 year old Lily which wants to believe that it’s a dandelion. I want brilliant, but I’m stuck in arrogance. I’m cutting off floor sweeping layers the length is to my ankle now. I prefer khaki, the wars beginning. The skirt will be shoved in and I will wear pants. Trust me, there’s nothing more comfortable than denim. I walk around in bloomers sometimes and sometimes, I’m all in for long beach skirts. I haven’t forgotten fragrance, so I add perfume to my florals sometimes. I jam in leather jackets and chill in comfy loafers. I survive assignment nights with pajamas and bridal showers with crisp wedges. I already know what shade of red my graduating gown will be – but I’m still thinking whether black will stand more in solidarity with my ancestors protests and slogans. I’m no hippie, but there’s something irreplaceable bohemian in me. I can’t do browns and grey’s, but you’ll always find me in corporate pants and warm blazers. I still believe in full length blouses and body hugging dupattas which wrap around my head as I sit in prayer.
Trust me: I’m 18. Yet I live with a fashion stagnancy of a 107 corset bending attitude and a top-off of another 100 year old crippling demand of fashion experimentation and denim comforts. I am a visual story which foregrounds the future and highlights your past. I’m skin and I’m young. And I’ll always choose to be this figurative blend of avant-garde and antiquate 207 year young teenager.
I am bejeweled by the idea of the pastry having a fluffy top a crisp base. I am enchanted but I am not good. I am dwelling yet I am disappointed. I am ordained, I am excited. I want to get moving – I want to keep looking. I don’t want clique, yet I am a whole shell of mainstream. I am crab, I am turtle. I am a window and I am also the pane.
“I see your pictures sometimes.”
“Huh?” I ask.
“You keep posting pictures with your dead-husband.”
“It’s a little . . . disturbing.” She’s uncomfortable now. I can almost sense her hesitation. She’s wondering whether she has crossed the limit or whether this is the chance to break into the cold, ice-hearted Vianne Zedala.
“Are you mad?” Jayle asked.
“Mad no Angry yes. Interested to talk about it, no.” Kim replied curtly.
“He’s serious about this not cleaning up thing right?” Jayle asked carefully.
“Yes. He doesn’t even give me an explanation. He just walks right out of the house Jayle. I thought moving in together would be the beginning of our own firsts. He does a lot, but I don’t feel appreciated because it’s more like living with a roommate than my boyfriend. Cleaning up after someone is the biggest signs of love and he doesn’t show me that” Kim stopped breathless. Her hands flung in the air, almost as if she was too exasperated and frustrated to care. Two highlighters flew across the room and hit the glass walls of her cabin. They didn’t create any noise, but the small ‘tut’ of their impact raised the intern’s eyebrows outside. But Kim was too occupied to care. She looked at Jayle expectantly.
“So you’re saying that you’re this annoyed but you haven’t said a word to him?” Jayle asked speculatively.
“Well, Yes. What am I supposed to say? That, hey, Roy, I love how everything you do is so neat and tidy – but everything that you do is so neat and tidy only for yourself. Would you mind tidying up for me too?” Kim exclaimed. “I can’t do that. I’m not a baby. Besides, I don’t even know why this is getting to me so much.”
“Okay, Kim. I need to get back to work but sort stuff out before you go home okay?”
Kim nodded. This had been her third day at ranting and anybody would get tired listening to her. She went back to work but thoughts of Roy floated through her mind. When they’d decided to move-in together, everything seemed so simple, so in control. She didn’t have to set the alarm every morning because he did, and he didn’t have to buy groceries all the time, because she did. But, this whole cleaning up thing was getting to her nerves. Kim checked her reflection in the laptop screen, her brunette hair highlighted with red, her mauve lipstick on point and the collar of her blouse so well ironed – she was everything an accomplished 23 year old should be. Yet, something missed so profoundly.
She drove her Chevrolet to the apartment Roy and she had decided. They both keen on the specifications of the house. The architecture and space mattered more to Roy and the storage, Feng Chui and number of rooms mattered more to Kim. Kim didn’t miss her previous bedroom, there no sense of independence there. But here as she lay next to Roy, everything sort of fell into place. Her liberty, her zeal and her own wishes comforted so blissfully by the soft duvet and satin of their new bed sheets. Sometimes, they danced to jazz music he played from his phone; they danced bare feet on the wood and ate chocolate dipped strawberries for midnight snacks.
Some days like today. she sat in his white shirt, his arms wrapped around her. They stared at the city from their windows; the city lights bright and enchanting, his comfort so warm yet freeing.
“How was work, Kim?” He asked gently twirling her hair.
“I didn’t work much today.” She sighed. She wished she wouldn’t have to tell him about her conversation with Jayle. The dinner had been good, they had washed the dishes together, they had a soap water fight, they had a warm shower – life was promising good things and good times.
“Hmm?” He asked. She turned to him, “I was just preoccupied with your thoughts.” She placed her hand in his hair and massaged his scalp smoothly. He placed another strawberry in her mouth. The sauce dripped down her chin and Kim visualized this to be one of those Hollywood scenes. But Roy did nothing. He just sat there, eating.
“Well” Kim turned to him, a thick line of chocolate still dripping off her chin.
“Well?” Roy asked.
“Just hand me a tissue.” Kim sighed. She took it, cleaner herself up and walked towards the bathroom. Cool water splashed across her face. “This would be one of the worst reasons to break up with someone.” She spoke aloud.
“You’re thinking of breaking up with me?” Roy’s voice startled her. She saw his reflection on the mirror as she grabbed the hand towel. “What are you thinking, Kim?” He asked again.
“It’s nothing. Let’s just sleep.”
“No.” She turned to him. His expression angry, his eyes sad. “You haven’t been yourself lately. It’s been just two weeks since we’ve moved in, but you’re – so distant. You get offended by things I have no clue about. You don’t communicate. Today was one of those days when everything was going great and you just walked out.”
“You don’t get it.”
“I don’t get what Kim?”
“That you don’t care enough. You don’t do the small things for me.” He stared at her. She didn’t even realize what she uttered. True or not true, she was angry. And besides, this was the half-truth so there shouldn’t be any guilt confessing.
“How should I show you that I care? I do everything possible.” Roy accused.
“You don’t clean up after me.” Kim replied haughtily.
Kim folded her hands. A weight seemed to be lifted off her shoulders yet it seemed like a huger one was being placed right there. “Y-you come from work. We behave like a normal couple, we eat – but after we eat, you never clean up for me. You only do your thing. You only, only think about yourself.”
“I told you that this was how it was going to be.”
Kim’s mind drifted off to the times they discussed their moving in. He had stated simply that he would never clean up after her. She had agreed to it without any bother; it was just one simple rule from his end, compared to the ten others she laid for him. But now, in her zoned out state – she remembered all what happened the past few days. The day when a biker splattered brown blobs of dirt over and Roy just zoomed away, that day when she had to bake a cake for Jayle’s birthday and she came back to the same messy kitchen she had left with Roy’s dinner plates drying in the corner. The evenings when she came home to find only his side of the bed made, his closet tidily organized and his shelves so neatly arranged.
“It’s not a big deal, it’s not even a huge issue – but Roy, you need to understand that I feel so inferior and so unworthy compared to you. I feel like an imperfect slob.” Kim said. They exchanged expressions. She watched him climb into bed and sleep.
“I’m scared, Roy.” He didn’t reply. She walked down to where they were sitting, his plate and his side tidied now; her tissue, her share still untouched.
“It was when I was ten I realized how stupid my sister was.” Kim stared sleepily at Roy. Her eyes heavy from sleep as she realized that she had fallen asleep on the sofa. Roy sat next to her, dawn breaking on his face. His eyes and the sky, all so red.
“My mother would come home night after night intoxicated. Neither the bottles nor her behavior changed. It didn’t matter if she would drink Jack Daniels or Johnny Walker. It didn’t matter if it was tequila or Smirnoff. She would always be drunk.” Kim touched Roy’s hand to comfort his angry tears. She watched as he wiped them to continue.
“My sister, stayed up night after night cleaning her vomit. She would dirty the house, that house that always smelled like antiseptics and dirty blood. My sister was studying for her SAT’s that night. She had them three days later. She was brilliant, Kim. She was older, smarter and so in control. She never complained she always cleaned up.” He stopped. He looked her straight in the eye as he spoke the next words, “But that night, maybe big vocabulary words and algorithms got to her. She left herself lose as she tried one bottle after the next. M-mother had passed out, she didn’t even realize as she, her child died in an unwanted confrontation and stupidity.” Roy paused.
“I woke up next morning to them. They both looked like corpses, but only one woke up.”
“I’m so sorry Roy.”
“That’s when I decided I would never clean up after someone. I do love you Kim . . . but maybe I don’t love you enough or as much.” His truth rang like church bells in her ears. She nodded. She didn’t cry she didn’t say anything. She just comforted him as he hugged her on that sofa that smelled like home.
“Didn’t sleep last night?” Jayle asked mischievously. Assumptions were better than truth, she thought as she smiled tightly at Jayle. Kim worked the coffee maker, brewed the beans and filled a cup. Something had changed in Kim last night. Something that made her feel more free, more independent and definitely more proud. She sashayed around in her heels and finally replied,
“I will never let him clean up after me and not all red eyes mean sex-filled nights, Jayle.”
She gulped her coffee and walked right out. That cup needed cleaning.