Thursday, December 27, 2012

Who We Used To Be

There was a sense that time had stopped even as I watched it march along in every calculable way. I kept my forward motion, but inside I remained inert. I had only a vague, wisplike memory – or maybe a dream – of what it felt like to be fully etched in reality. Those days when I met people, I thought about them as the children they might have once been, before they chose their cover-ups. Before the uniformity of childhood, the uniformity of recklessness slowly left them. 

The surly teacher whose only solace was the range of violences she meted out to the smallest of her charges – who was she as a little girl? Were her fingers singed with a wooden cane too, until she wrenched out a shaky tune from an instrument she didn’t understand? Why was this barrel-chested, eminent man so easily incensed by the slightest of slights? Can a pipsqueak with wobbly cheeks really be riven into this kind of inventive malice?

My own mother. A single calendar cycle had brought her jowls and taken away her knees. Her horrible singing, too. Now she sat by the window drowning this new silence in tepid cups of coffee. When I go back to the village now, they still tell me how the young boys used to follow her around, this mysterious, angular creature formed by the hand of a doting god. To be spoken to, even reviled by her like they so often were, was to have a blessed day. Don’t I have any photographs of her on my smartphone at least, they ask. Why does she never come back here? She keeps very busy, I say, letting them invent her as they please. They nod approvingly.

I thought about who we’re born, who we decide to be and what we ration of our true selves to the world. When does fact give way to mythology? Had I really always been a mute spectator inhabiting the fringe world, or was I imprisoned there? Might I be a dancer tomorrow, a jester the next, simply by willing it?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The New McDonald's

This evening my mother returned from church, marched straight into my room (she doesn’t do knocking) and said “Let’s go to Mac-dough-gnarled.”
A new one has just opened around the corner from my house and its proximity is exciting.  

“I was just about to go for a jog,” I say.

She stares at my day-old nightie, then at the paused, agape expression of President Josiah Bartlet on my computer screen, then at the empty cake carton on my desk.

“I’ll be ready in five minutes,” I say.

Once we get there, we make a few noises (“so big, looks so small from the outside, but so big”, “crowded, must be minting money”, “price of houses in this area will now appreciate”), I order food while she looks on proudly* and then we try to find a place to sit. She heads straight for the table by the window.

“Why here?”
“Why not here?”
“Everyone can see us.”
“Who everyone?”
“No one can see us.”
“This is glass, of course they can see us.”
She shakes her head and chuckles.
“Why so much walking these days,” she asks after biting into her veg burger, making a face, putting it down and scooping up my chicken one.
“What just? Everything just just all the time.”
“You’re still walking all the way from your office to the station?”
“Legs don’t pain?”
“You like pain?”
“I like it.”
“Boy called you?”
“You called him?”
“It’s over?”
“You are so proud.”
I stare at her, slurping at the coke, and suddenly I’m angry.
“I’m proud? How am I proud? I’m not proud enough! If I was prouder, my life wouldn’t be so crappy.”
Now she looks amused and I’m getting angrier.
“Don’t smile,” I spit at her. “This is your fault!”
“I see.”
“I ALSO see! Now I FINALLY see. Everytime anything has ever happened, what have you said to me – no tell me, what have you always said to me? ‘Let it be baby. Try to understand baby, you be the bigger person baby!” I am now talking loudly and in a grating drawl. “I am sick to death of understanding everything. I don’t want to be the bigger person anymore. I want to be the smaller person. I want to be the SMALLEST person.” 
 She is not smiling anymore.
 “I want to kick and scream and throw tantrums,” I keep going. “I want to not care about how anybody else is feeling. I want to say anything that comes to my head and then conveniently say sorry for it later. I want to do that.”
“So do it,” she says quietly.
“NO!” Shouting whispers.
“I can’t. I’m stuck with who I am. I am fucking stuck.”
“Talk properly.”
We’ve both abandoned our burgers. The remaining fries have gone limp.
“Do what you want, baba. It’s your life now. I have taught you what I knew, rest is your choice.”
“I’m sorry,” I tell her, suddenly fighting tears. The bright lights, the grotesque newness of the place, the insipid filth on our tray – it’s all too much.
She looks away.
“Do you want ice-cream,” I ask her. She has developed a real sweet tooth in recent years.
“No,” she says. “I’ve had enough. Let’s go home.”

We walk back, but not in silence. Our hurts we inflict on each other, are left inside the door of the new McDonald’s around the corner from my house. Now we are discussing Mrs Sarkar from the fourth floor who is very “ghamandi” and never says hello to my mother, even when they’re in the same lift.

“Do you say hello to her?”
“Why should I?”
“She must be thinking the same thing no?”
“Let her bloody think.”
“You are so proud.”

We look sidelong at each other, grinning.

“Shut up,” she says.

*Does this happen to you? Do your parents appear to glow with pride while watching you order food at a restaurant? I’m guessing it’s either to do with some middleclass notion of “Look at us, ordering another less financially successful human being to bring us our meal” or a parental notion of “My offspring, who is paying for this meal, can form articulate sentences!” I couldn't say for sure.