Missed you much, Blogistan. Going through my Drafts folder now, and finishing up old, half-written posts I had never got around to publishing. Here’s one from last month; excuse the slightly disjointed nature of it. More are coming. I promise.
13 April 2008
We returned from sunny San Diego yesterday, only to find more than enough warmth in the Bay Area as well. I’ve been waking up these last couple of weeks to the scent of orange blossoms pouring through my open bedroom windows (from the tree in the courtyard outside my room), and I’d be hard-pressed to name a scent I love more than that of citrus. Lotions, perfumes, candles, leaves, even furniture polish and air freshener – always citrus.
It’s quiet without my mother puttering around the house. For now, I prefer it this way. She gets to spend a few weeks with family in the motherland, and I will have extra time to focus on, and actually do, the multitude of things I need to get done – or so I tell myself. I think back to the tense discussions – and silences – that preceded her departure. My father arguing that a country with now-regular suicide bombings and militant attacks was no place for her to be. My mother pointing out that her brother was sick, perhaps dying, even, and asking her to come.
“Do you understand how poor they are?” said my father. “They don’t need you there. They need money; that would be far more helpful to them right now.”
And my mother, sticking her ground for once, replying sharply, “Maybe if you had brothers or sisters, you would know what it’s like to want to be with them when they are so ill.” I can’t even conceive of how painful it must be, to lose one’s mother, brother, and sister, all within the span of just a few years. She wasn’t in Pakistan when her sister died, and regrets it still, I know.
And so, the battle raged for weeks – the daddy-o stubbornly declaring he was looking out for the ummy’s health and safety. The ummy being fierce about her intention to go one minute, then meekly backing down the next. And I, angry at having to be the inadvertent go-between for two people who just couldn’t seem to communicate properly, but mainly angry at my father for always professing to use arguments of logic and practicality yet failing to understand that some things are beyond logic.
“She hasn’t been back in six years; at least let her go and spend a proper amount of time with her family.”
“What are you, her lawyer?” the daddy-o tossed at me one day.
“Yes,” I said. “Since you don’t seem to think she can make independent decisions, I’m going to keep arguing for her.”
“Why do you always make me out to be the bad guy?”
If it had been my parents or my siblings, I would have gone in a heartbeat. I told him so. Why couldn’t he see that? Of all people, he was the one who taught me that family comes before everything, that whenever something happens concerning my family – whether happiness or sorrow – I’m supposed to drop everything else and GO.
He and I were not on speaking terms for much of the last few weeks. He thought I was being impertinent and illogical, not properly thinking through the logistics and safety of ummy’s visit to the motherland. I thought he would being his usual “My way or the highway” damn stubborn self. “Fucking ridiculous,” I raged to the sister and Somayya. Meanwhile, the ummy teetered between hope and despair for weeks, wondering if she would make it to Pakistan, and even if she did, would her brother still be alive?
Even after her passport photos were taken and the application submitted for renewal, even after the new passport was sent back via express delivery and arrived on our front porch less than two weeks later, there was no guarantee she was actually going until the daddy-o sent me a casual, concise email saying her roundtrip flight (he insisted it had to be roundtrip, not open-ended; this was another thing we fought about) was booked, and could I drive down to Fremont to pick up the tickets sometime that week?
I was more than happy to.
And I was happy for her when she finally left from SFO a few days ago. “Thay un sharaab dewun ne, tha thu akkhi, ‘Nay!’ ” called out the brother in Hindko. And if they give you alcohol, just say NO! It was his advice on how to respond to solicitous flight attendants. It was also the last thing she heard before walking away, and the timing was impeccable; he managed to turn her tears to laughter.
So, the ummy is finally gone. And the tension, too, is gone from the house. The daddy-o is outside in the yard right now, probably humming Pukhto songs as he fixes the sprinkler system.
The theme today seems to be sunshine colors, citrus scents – things that envelope me with comfort and a quiet joy.
This morning, as my yellow shirt hung on a hook at the back of my bathroom door, I peered at it closely, puzzled. Was that a screen-print of waves? Or palm trees? Or was it some sort of skeleton? I stared at it, bemused and intrigued. I sit on the couch in the living room now, dazzling yellow outside my front window – daisies? What are those flowers called? Sunshine spills indoors, and my still-damp hair smells of tangerines. Weeks later, Somayya would shower in my bathroom and speak approvingly of my “apricot” shampoo. I would stare blankly. “It’s tangerine.”
“No,” she would say quite confidently. “It’s apricot.”
I would be silent, and unsettled. It’s not like me to mistake non-citrus fruits for citrus ones – not even orange-colored apricots.
But the next day, I would email her triumphantly, “It IS tangerine shampoo! And apricot facial scrub. What did you wash your hair with yesterday? The apricot scrub?!”
She would reply, “It’s ULTRA amusing to me that we’ve been having this discussion of what type of shampoo’s in your bathroom since yesterday. Such madness!”
Zana has just dedicated a yellow-sunshine photo to me, which makes me smile so much. I’ve spent the morning reliving my childhood through Mukesh and Takkar songs, and just now, via flickr (of course), I’ve found a fun song for today: Everybody Loves the Sunshine. It’s early afternoon now, and I have the living room windows wide open and am listening to the birds outside singing right along with this sunshine song.
I’ve also just finished a little reminiscing session on Zana’s photo about her “blud.”
“Vat is this ‘blud’ business?” I demand. “I require explanations.”
Zana provides the urbandictionary definition: blud – mainly used in the uk, “blud” comes from bredrin (brother), or blood brother.
I was going to say, I’m jealous and I wish I had one of these “bluds” in my life. Then, I realized I DO. But he now lives all the way on the other side of the freakin’ world. Bastid. Still, I spoke with him this morning over the phone, and it was so nice to hear his voice. So rocking to have rockstar “bluds” in our lives, who are constantly making time to check in. Alhamdulillah for that, and for dosti [friendship]. =)
As we continue swapping stories, I add:
Since we’re sharing “blud” stories, mine texted me the other night with, “Cracker, stop cracking around and get some sleep. It’s morning at this end,” and that made me laugh my ARSE off. ;)
Zana is pressurizing me to add “arse” to my vocabulary, since that’s how the Brits speak. I must say, it doesn’t work so well here in Amreeka, though.
“Enjoying the sunshine state?” teased A via this morning’s phone call.
“Always,” I said, a trifle smugly, gleeful at the 70 degree temperatures. So what if he’ll never let me forget that I mistook Florida’s name for California?
In the middle of replying to emails now, it amuses me to realize that I’ve spent the last few weeks giving my friends advice (solicited and otherwise) regarding academics and love and career. I who hate drama, who don’t discuss boys, who can’t even pinpoint what sort of job or graduate degree I want. But, the other day, I had an epiphany – I’ve been advising other people as a means of actually just advising myself: To take a chance on something if I feel it’s worth it, to make the effort, to open up and share vulnerabilities and failures. To let go, let things work out, to be optimistic – as I told a friend recently – that the scary bits will soon be over and there’s just good to come after that. To not limit myself and just take risks sometimes. To just say YES.
As Somayya my love emailed me a while back, It’s ok to be scared, but don’t be so scared that you’ll stand in the way of good things happening to you. These days, I am beginning to realize I should just go ahead and base everything around this wisdom.
Sunshine aside, practical things call – like my state and federal tax returns, which still need to be filed. As I type this, I’m missing the Afghan Culture Show at UC Berkeley, and boulani from my favorite Afghan restaurants, just so I could focus on this drama. I hate filing taxes, but I love the idea of tax refunds, and this is my incentive.
The daddy-o comes home from running errands, and brings fresh strawberries, shortcake, and vanilla ice cream. I find a can of whipped cream stashed in the back of the refrigerator, and we make this our lunch, talking companionably about Haroon Bacha and Sardar Ali Takkar and the new flowers my father planted today.
Weeks after this day, my little nieces and nephews, having spent the afternoon picking oranges off the tree and rolling them across the courtyard bricks, would burst through the back door in a flurry of giggles and shouts. “Boboji! We brought you a present!”
“What is it?” Charmed, I would look down at their outstretched, grubby hands.
The littlest niece would present me with a palmful of leaves, half a dozen of them, thick and glossy green, held between her fingers like a miniature fan.
“Maaltay waalay bootay nay pathar!” Leaves from the orange tree. Touched, I would take them from her, hold them to my nose, and inhale deeply. Citrus leaves smell just as beautiful as citrus blossoms.
Even more weeks later, a little girl would visit my home with her grandmother, and I would offer her a plate of cookies, hot and fresh from the oven: “Do you like chocolate chip cookies?’
She would stare at me, wide-eyed and unsmiling, green peels in her hands, yellow pulp in her mouth, and her grandmother would laugh indulgently and explain, “She likes sour things, and these lemons from the tree in your backyard.”
I would recall all those afternoons in my Pakistani village, sitting in the courtyard with a basketful of lemons and limes between my knees, half a lemon in one hand, rubbing salt into the fruit with the other hand, sucking out the sour juices with glee. Citrus, in its various forms, has always been my favorite.
And so, I would laugh and set the cookies in the center of the table, closer to the adults, and hand the little girl a tangerine instead.
[Post title from the song of the same name by The Long Winters, a group that I love and whom I was first introduced to years ago through erstwhile blogger, The 15 Minute Hipster.]