Toronto without Broom

25 03 2009

I feel old. The faint flickering of headlights reflect on the windowsill of this one-room apartment. The walls are made of pitted cement painted a flat lifeless white and the floor is checkered black and white vinyl.  I had to buy everything because there was nothing in the apartment when I arrived save for a crude couch/bed contraption that provides me with a corner of the room that is marginally more cushy than the floor itself to sleep on.  I am right across from a university and the young college students in their earthy scarves and carefully mussed hair spill out of doorways as though they belong here.  A homeless man walked by with his empty shopping cart and he smelled like a tangle of weeds.   I am grateful that the apartment is clean at least.  No weird odors. The grocery store is a block away.   So is Sears. That turned out to be more than I bargained for as I found myself schlepping home forty pounds of sheets, blankets, milk, bread, tuna, bananas and various cleaning supplies.   Tomorrow is my first day at the new job. The adventure begins.  I know I should be feeling more excited but the whole world feels so empty without Broom here.  A video phone is a poor substitute for a warm Broom wrapped around me and both of us defying alarm clocks and cold winter mornings to hold each other a few minutes longer.   Just before I left we had a two day marathon of yummy biryani for breakfast lunch and dinner.  We made up songs about leaving Calgary and going to Toronto and we crammed two big suitcases with as much stuff as we could.  We made fun of the crazy bipolar weather and pulled all of the cushions off the couch and put them on the floor to cuddle and  watch our favorite TV show.   These are the things I miss.  Small normal things we do together that are so mundane but leave gaping holes in my heart when I’m away from Broom.

I miss you terribly, B.  I wish you were here to make these dull white-washed walls come to life with your smile.


Coming out

13 02 2009

Broom is in the other room calling her dad. She didn’t want me to be in the room with her. Why do I feel like I’m the one coming out? Stay tuned…

Earth below us

14 10 2008

The storm clouds have been gathering in the Broom and TG household and this afternoon, hurricane force winds made landfall. The past six months have been constant chaos, moving, changing plans, changing again, moving again…and we’ve each been handling the stress in our own way. But today the last straw fell onto the wagon load and we both just snapped. We’ve had fights before, but this time it felt serious. Like a realization that we’re dealing with forces way bigger than we are and we’re not in control of the outcome. Just before we fought, I was running an errand at the grocery store and on the way home, I was suddenly overcome with a strong wave of homesickness and as that bittersweet sadness crept in, I realized that I didn’t even know precisely what I was homesick for. Where is home? I’ve been moving around for so long now, I miss the idea of home more than any actual home. I’ve gotten used to getting used to things, and I crave familiarity.

Broom and I have talked about this before, how we’ve been trying to find a country where we both feel at home and that will also accept us as a couple. And in our search over the past few years, we’ve both felt a little homeless. So we always told each other that our home is with each other. That’s where we find the small bit of familiarity that comforts us. But lately I’ve been so ill I’ve disappeared into myself to recover and couldn’t be that home for Broom and Broom has been so stressed she’s withdrawn and couldn’t be that home for me. The solid ground we thought we had, fell out from under us and both of us seemed to realize it at exactly the same time. It was a free fall. I’m sorry to say that I did not react well (a dented packing box can attest to that, where I kicked it really hard–twice).

Broom and I managed to find our footing again, but we’re both a little worse for the wear. As I read Broom’s account of what happened today I find it ironic that such desolate loneliness struck us both at exactly the same time as though we felt it from each other. I guess we must be soul mates even when hundred mile an hour winds threaten to tear us apart…

Happy Birthday Broom!

7 10 2008

Dearest Broom

I remember the first birthday I celebrated with you. There were oceans and continents separating us, but I found a local sushi place that would deliver and ordered long-distance. I was going to surprise you but then I realized that you needed to be home when it arrived. So I had to ruin the surprise. Your first reaction was that I had ordered too much food and you made me change it to half the amount, but you were still happy and surprised. What you didn’t know was that the sushi was just a decoy for the real surprise which was a huge bouquet of bright autumn flowers and a poem I had written just for you. I was sad that I couldn’t be there to see your face when it arrived while you were eating your sushi. Today as we celebrate together, it feels as much like my birthday because I get to see your reaction in person when I surprise you with your birthday gift. I love you broom and I look forward to a hundred more birthdays in a hundred more lifetimes.


Shopping for clothes – India 4

14 09 2008

Broom was immune to my pleas for mercy.

“I’ll just sleep. ” I said through lips that felt like super putty. I tried to shake off the haze and bring her into full focus. “You guys go without me.” Broom rolled her eyes and lifted my arm. It slid out of her grasp like a limp eel. She clucked her tongue in that way she does when she’s getting impatient and annoyed. And then she unleashed that terrible weapon. The one thing that could motivate me to drag my rag doll limbs out of bed and wobble into my clothes with great grunting effort. It is the thing that works on absolutely everyone from every culture and every walk of life. The most awesome and powerful force in the known universe. Guilt.

“My mom took half the day off so she could spend time with you and you’ve been asleep all afternoon. ” She said matter-of-factly. “She’ll be hurt if you don’t come out with us tonight. ”

We drove through streets teeming with brightly-lit shops and stuff-wallahs showing off their wares at traffic lights. Broom’s dad dropped us at the entrance to one of the newly built shopping centres and drove away to find parking. We showed the contents of our purses to the security guards and then made a beeline for Broom’s favorite clothes store. One whole floor was dedicated to kurtas, patialas, salwar kurtis. I was drawn to the bright patterns and soft brilliant colors that adorned every rack like a moth who had just discovered lanterns in the darkness. Broom’s mom was eyeing each of the kurtas I picked out and commenting on the choice of color or the particular pattern. “No that is not your color.”, she said when I held up a rust colored shirt with bright yellow leafy patterns bordering the collar. “try this one.” She pulled a deep emerald green shirt from another rack. I held it up to Broom and she screwed up her face and said “Such a dark green. It’s too depressing.” I sighed and thought it would be a long night.

As it turned out, the time went by very fast. Before long, Broom’s mom was enthusiastically picking out outfits that she thought I would like. She asked me if I wanted to try the patialas to go with some of my shirts and she said that the puffier more arabic style were in fashion. I was infected by her excitement and decided to try them.  After all, I thought, I really didn’t have any clothes that were good for the stifling humidity and heat.  She had the sales staff running all over the store to find particular colors and sizes that would match the Kurtas I had already picked out. I left the store with 3 large shopping bags of new clothes, excited to be wearing them on the trip to Delhi the next morning.

Shopping for Clothes – India 3

14 09 2008

The first several hours after arriving in Mumbai are obscured in hazy clouds of jet-lag and involuntary naps. Broom’s mom had laid out two nightgowns for us to change into after our showers. It was a small thing, but I remember feeling very grateful. When Broom’s mom came home from work she greeted me with a warm smile and a hug as though I was part of the family. Or at least such vague, hopeful thoughts flitted rebelliously in the back of my mind. Perhaps she was only greeting me as she would greet any other friend of Broom’s. I kept reminding myself not to read too much into anything.

I remember eating a delicious lunch of marinatedBombay duck(which is actually a fish, not a bird, for those not familiar with maharashtran cuisine). During the meal, Broom kept secretly prompting me to compliment her parents on each of the various dishes. Not that I needed much prompting. Everything we ate was delicious. After lunch I have no recollection of climbing the two flights of marble stairs to Broom’s bedroom. Nor can I remember collapsing on the bed. What I do remember is that it was dark outside when Broom tip-toed into the room and woke me up with a stolen kiss. She brought Chai and glucose biscuits on a tray to help ease the transition out of that sweet jet-lag induced dream state.

“Come on.” She said, “We’re going shopping.”

Meeting the parents – India 2

31 08 2008

It has been 3 months since I’ve seen Broom. I have two suitcases of gifts for her parents. I wince at the thought wondering if they’ll think I’m trying to buy their affection. But most of the things I brought were requests carefully relayed through Broom.   I did bring a few things extra, though, that I thought they might like.  There are two messages from Broom on the cell phone by the time i make my way down a seemingly endless corridor after retrieving my luggage. It will be so good to see her, I think. And then I think, I need to be careful not to show it if her parents are there. When I finally emerge into the daylight of Mumbai I call Broom. She starts to tell me how to find her but I already see her there. Her parents are not with her. I’m relieved but also hating the delay.  Broom sees me then and smiles. All my worry fades into a distant compartment and the only thing that matters is that I’m here with Broom, finally.

I imagine us rushing toward each other bollywood style and embracing in a passionate and yet not too suspicious manner. But my daydreams are shattered by two realities. The first is that I have two heavy suitcases and a carry-on that slows me to a snail’s pace as I drag them through the swamps and pot-holes left behind by the morning’s monsoon showers. But why isn’t Broom rushing toward me, bollywood-style, since I obviously can’t manage?  Maybe she’s stopped loving me in the 3 months we’ve been apart. I quickly suppress that unthinkable thought. And then I see what has stopped her. The airport attendants have apparently decided to round up every cart on the planet and transport them to god knows where at this exact moment. There is a line of luggage carts two miles long  and a dozen men trying to keep them moving like a slow train between me and Broom. We look at each other helplessly and start laughing.  There is no end in sight as if the gods themselves willed us to be separate at this moment when we most want to be together. “Welcome to India.” Broom says with a sardonic smile. She turns to one of the attendants and says something in Hindi. He nods and stops the train of carts. They break the line and motion ceremoniously for me to walk through. I feel a bit silly, like some queen they’ve stopped traffic for.  And then Broom and I are together at last. A quick, but firm embrace and a  kiss on the cheek that an observant person might notice was a touch too long. Not bollywood but good enough for me.  The attendants who stopped the line of carts are still watching us.

The drive through Mumbai was by turns frightening and fascinating. Frightening because being in the back of a cab deftly weaving in and out of traffic and narrowly avoiding toddlers, dogs, cattle and unknown obstacles in the road at top speed in Mumbai is a little like experiencing death-race first hand. Fascinating because everything is so new and different that my senses cannot decide which of them should have my attention. I found myself hopelessly unable to take it all in but totally in my element. I am most content, I’ve discovered, when I’m immersed in experiences that threaten to overwhelm me.

At one point we’re stopped in traffic and there is a truck in front of us with furniture crammed in chaotic fashion under a canvas canopy. There is something odd about the furniture though, I think in a haze of jet lag and sleep deprivation. Wooden chairs, table legs…but those aren’t table legs. “oh my god there’s a person in there!” I say out loud without thinking. It was such an odd image, like someone had thrown a dead body in the back of a pickup with a bunch of furniture.

“What are you talking about?” Broom says. I motion to the truck in front of us, but she doesn’t see what I see. “There’s a man in the back of that truck!” She stares at me with a slightly concerned expression as though I’ve taken leave of my senses. “Yes there’s a man in there. So?” I mumble something about it seeming strange that’s all and Broom shakes her head. “Bloody firang” she says affectionately. I feel incredibly foolish. Broom kisses me on the cheek and squeezes my hand.

When we finally pull up to Broom’s house, she dials a number on her cell phone. “Papa, we’re here.” She says. The butterflies begin again.  Broom is always talking about how perceptive her dad is and I am suddenly afraid that in one glance he will know everything.  And then he is coming out of the house. He has a slightly worried expression. He is very handsome for his age. Broom had said he was a metrosexual and I can see evidence of that in his perfectly-groomed beard and manicured nails.  He embraces Broom as though he hasn’t seen her in weeks. “What took you so long?” He asks admonishingly. Broom rolls her eyes and clicks her tongue. “Papa, I’m 30 years old. Stop worrying.” He smiles indulgently and turns to greet me. Should I shake his hand or hug him? He extends his hand and smiles. There is an inscrutable expression in his eyes. I wonder what thoughts are going through his mind. “I’ve heard a lot about you” he says. “Come. You can have a bath and we’ll have lunch. Mama is still at work but she was going to come home for lunch.” he says. As we go into the house, he says suddenly “I waited to marinate the fish because I didn’t want to greet you with smelly hands.”  I am oddly touched and I think maybe everything will be okay.