With a mild, not too rich Indian accent, the dark-haired girl discusses her medical goals and prospects with a man she refers to as “sir”. Her politeness and formal speech suggest that the person on the phone is of higher authority, a future boss perhaps. Lost among conversations and other distracting noises, her words become muffled. Then I hear her talking about the volunteer work she does at the Harvard University Hospital. Impressive, I whisper to Kat, who doesn’t even hear me. I assume that this young student either wants to be a nurse or a doctor. I am sure her parents dream of their daughter being a successful doctor, a top surgeon, a respectable figure. Moments later, after a hard road bump, the bus comes to a halt, waking the boy next to me. The Indian girl politely thanks the man on the phone and says good-bye. Carrying a content face, she gets up from her seat and approaches the doors, waiting to get off at the next stop. Right before she departs the bus, her phone rings.
The blond sitting next to him was busy studying something; it was an interesting read for her, he could tell. He had put off studying for weeks and now he had finally arranged a time to study in quiet. The girl was now whispering into her little, pink cell phone. “I’ll meet you there tonight”, he heard her say. I wish I could ask for her number, he thought, but decided against it. It would be too awkward and she would probably say no anyway, he convinced himself. Just as he was getting ready to start the new chapter, his phone rang, startling both him and the girl. It was his American friend, the one he was dying to see. They flirted and teased each other for a while, and then he told her about the hot blond, lowering his voice significantly. By the time he finished talking, the blond had already walked out, leaving behind a small, torn piece of paper. He looked around, wondering if she would return, then reached for the paper. Written in bright pink letters were a name and a phone number. He smiled and placed the paper inside his jean pocket.
I saw him again, the man who always carries his drawing board to the Barnes and Noble bookstore. Earlier that morning I was getting coffee from the adjacent Starbucks when I saw him having coffee with a friend. He was wearing his usual, unkempt, yet intriguing look, his drawing board right beside him among other things. As I waited for my order, I noticed that the bearded man had begun to draw, swiftly moving his fingers across the board; I wondered if he was drawing the coffee addicts in their bright red, winter attires. Later that evening, I took Shirley Jackson’s bizarre book for a quiet read at the Barnes and Noble. I found an empty couch and took my seat without hesitation. As usual, I glanced around before I began reading, trying to get a feel for where I was and who I was sitting next to. And that’s when I saw him, my favorite artist; he was reading a newspaper on a couch just two feet away. There was no sight of his board; he was only there to read that night.
And I walked out, smiling, knowing he would always be there for me.
I brought him coffee this morning, a medium vanilla latte, hot from Starbucks. I walked the old hallways of my high school, feeling yet again strange and alien. But I walked determinedly this time, making my way to room D-60, my heels echoing in the quiet halls. There I was again, a stubborn writer, standing by his classroom, peering into the darkness. I faced the wall and busied myself, looking at a posted schedule of his classes for that day. “Hi,” a hesitant voice said. I turned around and he exclaimed his hello. I gave him the coffee almost too hurriedly, anxious to see his reaction. He looked happy and let me inside. The sight of orderly desks and chairs was familiar, welcoming even. I had always liked his classroom, the way it was set up, the questions he had on the side board, his unreadable handwriting that covered the boards. The first thing he said was about my publication in the Washington Post. He talked about it enthusiastically, showing me the multiple copies he had made of the piece. I placed my coat aside, sat on a desk, my legs swinging back and forth as I tried to take lead of the conversation. I didn’t say how much I missed him, but babbled about college life and interrupted him on occasion; I had too much to say and too little time since the bell had already rung. I was there to talk, to speak, to see how he was. In the end, I said most of what I wanted to say, although I wished the bell had never rung.
And I walked out, smiling, knowing he would always be there for me.
On a particularly cold November evening, we stood outside in a circle, holding candles, mourning for the Palestinians who had lost their lives. I could feel the numbness of my fingers as I held my candle. I felt numb inside, desensitized by a world that killed and murdered, all under the name of justice. One of the mourners read the names of the dead as we stood in silence. The wind came and we lit the candles a second time. I was thinking of the dead, of the little boy of six who lived a life too short. And I thought of peace, the peace that has failed to exist in this paradox we call life.
Maybe there will never be peace. Maybe there will never be justice. But candles will be lit and people will silently fight.
The aftermath of the rain was pleasurable, a sweet escape, a peaceful, silent, sunny illusion. I was on my way home, inside a tiny bus, quietly reading. The boy in the blue shirt was now resting his head against the window; he too had been bewitched by the tempting sun. I closed my eyes in an attempt to sleep. I too wanted to be caught in the spell; I too wanted to be the sun’s companion. My attempt failed and so I continued reading. The story was too bizarre and strange. I decided to abandon the unfinished story and began looking outside the window where everything was beautifully painted a light yellow.
In the aftermath of the rain, the sun mesmerizes those who willingly get caught in its web of dreams and illusions. I am one of those people and I would like to remain captive.
He is probably right. I have indeed become a fiend, an addict, stubbornly, selfishly looking for ways to please myself. I indulge myself with coffee and tea, with music and dancing, with writing and reading. Sometimes it is only my imagination that makes me delusional, unrealistic, illogical and irrational. But in a world of harsh realities, I selfishly find happiness in being irrational, in being a spoiled, little caffeine fiend.
In a writer’s imagination, stories happen, amazingly woven stories that become too tempting to resist, too tempting to let go of. Perhaps my addiction is to what I like to call my imagination, to the dreams that I am forced to abandon once awake.
No one has told me to stop imagining and I refuse to stop. I will continue to live with my addictions, my imaginations, my world of irrationalities. And I will write because I am an addict.
In the midst of violent winds, mild rain and shattered leaves, we celebrate her 33rd birthday. “This is what I call autumn,” she says, smiling. For her, this is the perfect birthday, one under the falling rain. I decide to abandon the sun, which defines my ideal day. Today is her day; let it be as she wants it. I look at her, at her beauty, at her charisma as a young, sophisticated, wise woman and I admire all that I see. And this is my happiness.
Inside her little house, we blow candles and cut the cake. Mother and father celebrate their daughter’s independence, her achievements and successes. They stand by her, as they have stood for 33 years, cheering her, supporting her, loving her unconditionally. For them, this birthday is a birth of new changes, new beginnings. Now that she is living under her own roof, they will finally let her go.
We leave her as she washes the dirty plates and coffee mugs. We leave her as she listens to the rain, pours another coffee, remembering its aura, its fragrance, its taste as these will be the first of new memories.
Another birthday came and left. There are many more to come, and until then, I will count the leaves, watch the rain fall, and hope for sunny mornings.
I wish Daddy would ask me how my classes are. I wish he would ask me what I enjoy the most, what I enjoy the least. I wish we would sit on the couch and talk. I wish we would talk.
He drives and I watch the road. I tell him something about school and he nods, watching the road, tightly holding on to the wheel. I do not know where to take the conversation, how to end it, how to move on to something new. So I stop; he has not said a word. I have known this man for 18 years and yet here I am, unable to speak, unable to find words. We are strangers who love each other, who watch out for each other, who read each other’s eyes. He loves me as I am his baby girl, and holds my hands, and smiles at my silliness, laughs at my childishness. Would I be asking for too much if I wanted him to talk to me, to advise me, to scold me? Would I be selfish if I wanted him to take me out for ice-cream, for a stroll in the park? Daddy’s words are silent. I have learned to accept his silence as his approval and disapproval, his hello and goodbye. I have learned, like any good little girl. But I still wonder sometimes. I wonder when Daddy and I will talk.
Breathless, panting as she climbs the Stairmaster, Nura looks over her shoulder at me and says life is hard. I play with my iPod, changing to my favorite tune, then look at her and say, “no it’s not; it’s simple. We just like to make it hard”. She disagrees. “Look,” I begin. “It’s true. Life is simple when you know where you’re going and what you’re doing. But when you start building expectations for yourself, when you start wanting to live up to high standards, when you start wanting to please everyone around you, that’s when you complicate things.” She thinks about it, climbs one more step and decides that I’m right.
Climbing the Stairmaster is a challenging task, one that requires patience, strength and control. There are times that you feel yourself losing momentum, and you begin to fall behind, almost on the very last step. But then something inside you makes you move, makes you take two more steps and then you are fine. You have control. You are at the top, gripping your hands tightly on both sides. You begin to realize that it really is simple, that once you know how to pace yourself and set your speed, the task is possible. That’s how life works. If you balance it out, if you take little steps and climb within your limits, it’s simple.
We finish our workout. It has been a long, torturous day, full of routines and expectations. Nura and I sit down, changing into fresh clothes. We are going to take it easy.