Na laram gham

Driving back to my corner of the Bay Area this afternoon after dropping HijabMan off at the Oakland Airport, I merged onto the familiar Hwy-24 from 880, and, as the road curved down and then up again, the fog and gloom suddenly gave way to sunshine, and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud in my car. I turned up the volume on my Red Hot Chili Peppers CD, pushed the button to slide open the sunroof, and held my right hand out through the sunroof for the next two miles. I hadn’t done that for a while. It was the kind of perfect moment that you may not necessarily remember later, but you realize how beautifully, simply perfect it is at the time.

I remembered a moment like this from last winter – a different CD and a different car (my father’s SUV), but the sunroof had been open then, too, the stereo had been turned high and I had smiled widely at the unexpected sunshine and fellow drivers stuck in afternoon traffic beside me, and the thought that had come unbidden to mind then, as now, was in Pukhtu: Na laram gham. I have no worries. Because the things I really need in order to be happy are simple, I suppose, as they were today: sunshine and warmth, loud music, the taste of mid-morning ice cream still fresh on my tongue, an encompassing view of the mountains I love, and laughter echoing in my ears from a few hours spent in Berkeley with friends, in this case, Somayya and HijabMan.

Last November, I had been driving home after dropping my father off at the Oakland Airport, and, while I’m usually his chauffeur of choice when he leaves on/returns from business trips through Oakland, that had been no business trip. That time, he had been flying down to Southern California for his former colleague and longtime friend Mr. R’s wedding in Long Beach.

My father had driven to the airport while I lounged in the passenger seat and kept a watchful eye on the speedometer. “Daddy, you’re going ninety miles per hour!” I exclaimed at one point, whereupon he slowed down and joking replied, “Now, wouldn’t that be some way for me to go and die? Ninety miles per hour in a freeway smash-up!”

“That’s not funny,” I had snapped. “Bean and I spend just as much time on the road as you do, and we probably have the same chance of getting into a car accident. I don’t think that’s amusing; do you?” He was suitably chastened, and I felt bad for my snappishness, so I changed the subject and we spent the rest of the drive reminiscing about my father’s friendship with Mr. R.

Mr. R is Hungarian-American, and we all loved him as children, even though he had a tendency to mistake my voice for my brother’s whenever I answered his phone calls. He had an old, wise, and complacent cat named Heidi, and a dog named Lampoush. When my family moved back to the Bay Area several years ago and we children reunited with Mr. R, we were heartbroken to learn that Lampoush was gone, replaced by another, albeit just as friendly, dog named Bundi. But we recovered soon enough, after Bundi came to dinner with Mr. R one evening. The dog’s high spirits had us in gales of laughter as he ran in lively circles throughout our dining room and courtyard, his tail wagging incessantly behind him.

My childhood memories, which revolve mainly around frisbee and table soccer, are filled with images of Mr. R hunched over the foosball table, trying to maneuver the ball without spinning the handles, even though spinning was shamelessly allowed in my family. He would follow a particularly intent shot with an “aieee!”-sounding grunt, and we kids would giggle and chorus, “‘Aieee!’ means ‘ouch!’ in our language!” In the summer, he would invite friends to his home in Belmont and we would tag along with our father. While the men played softball, we three would munch on pizza and occupy ourselves with the exuberant Lampoush and unruffled Heidi.

The fall that we returned from our eighteen months in Pakistan, we kids sat disconsolately on the sidewalk in front of our school one afternoon after our father had apparently forgotten to pick us up. Close to an hour after school had let out, an unfamiliar long, shiny black SUV pulled into the parking lot with Mr. R at the wheel and our father waving out the passenger-side window, and we jumped up in delight, all resentfulness abandoned. My father and Mr. R were laughing like gleeful kids themselves, and I remember envying their easy banter. They looked so physically different – my father with his slight stature and his dark hair and beard, and the ruddy-complexioned, reddishbrown-haired Mr. R who looks like he was probably a football jock in his younger days – but their ease and camaraderie with one another highlighted a deep, long-lasting friendship that has spanned decades.

When Mr. R called to invite my father to his wedding last winter, my father had been characteristically silent about his decision for a few days. And while I had been admittedly surprised that he would consider flying down solo to Southern California for a wedding that the rest of the family couldn’t accompany him to, there had really been no question of his not going. It was obvious that he would go. To do otherwise would be unthinkable.

Driving home in last November’s sunshine in my father’s SUV after dropping him off at the airport, I realized that that’s the kind of friends I want – the kind who, if they were to say, “Come visit, even though you’re a bajillion miles away and I know you have a life and all,” I’d think nothing of promptly saying, “Hell yeah!” and dropping everything and going.

Which, come to think of it, is exactly what HijabMan recently did for Somayya and me. Thanks, buddy. It was good times.

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