Saturday, May 18, 2013

EDUCATING Z - Chapter 26 - 30





26.  ROWING   TEAM

            Monday morning, the first day of sophomore year, Z having gotten used to late nights and late mornings through the previous year was blinking at the sunlight flooding into her room. Someone knocked on the door. A disheveled Brit kid was looking for tea bags and had been directed to her room. She had arrived the previous night and was jetlagged and hung over and needed black tea, lots of sugar please. Z was quite sure some tea was in order and asked her to sit, introduced herself, was delighted to hear her name repeated back to her with perfect enunciation, and the British import introduced herself while Z made tea, literally. This girl was chockfull of words and details even while hung over and about the funniest person in the world. Z was amazed by the flow of language and ease of communication and the complete transparency this girl embodied. This girl was all the Britcoms on PBS fast forwarded to here and now. It was a treat to gather the first fruits of culture shock this teenage sage was experiencing. She, like most people who come to America for the first time, found it a place so far removed from the America of her imagination she was rattled, no matter how witty she might otherwise be. The Brit wit was clearly out of her comfort zone. Tea downed she ran off to get ready for the day. She was a first year on scholarship studying among other things landscape architecture, hoping to work for a movie house or a fashion house some day. She knew what she was doing, for in her three waking hours on the vast American landscape she had noticed the lay of the land from air and on the ground, the placement of buildings, the styles of architecture, the color of sunshine, the age of the mighty oak trees, the French sounding names of the streets. If you can do that at eighteen straight out of high school it bodes well for your future as a set designer perhaps on a Spielberg movie or something.
            Z took pause for a moment in the middle of getting to breakfast to think how the mention of tea had sent an unknown quantity to her door. Racial profiling worked for once. One time Ma had sent her to the local grocery store for milk, garlic and parsley. The checkout lady giggled as she corrected her entry, saying it looked a lot like cilantro so she hadn’t realized it was parsley. “Ya, you could make some serious mistakes in life putting racial profiles above all else. It has its place in the world at this time in history but it will completely stop working in a few hundred years, if the species survives a few hundred years,” Z thought as she got herself a not so clean bowl to eat her cereal out of with an, “Oh well, dorm life.”
            Z and the Londoner crossed paths a few times through the week exchanging a sentence or two. Then Saturday morning at breakfast time eating the customary cold cereal Z realized a lot of people were looking her way, or just above her head, looking in disbelief, the girls looking in disbelief, the boys in awe. Z thought she might want to think she had a halo around her head being such a good girl all week, as she had seen it happen in cartoon shows. Then she heard a soft British accent behind her, “Z, may I borrow your jacket for a wee bit?”
            “Sure,” said Z thinking perhaps the girl had spilled something wet on her shirtfront and needed cover to walk back to the dorm, and that probably explained the ogling males.
            “Thanks a million,” the girl said as she slipped on the jean jacket and ran.
            A little later Z found out that on her first weekend in America the  European had made the classic mistake of thinking no one wore restrictive clothing on weekends in the land of the free and the home of the brave, especially not since the feminist movement, surely if they did not back in old fashioned Europe. It took a little while to bring her up to speed. This was the deep south. The Bible belt. Moreover nowhere in America did one walk about without wearing restrictive clothing. And bras were never really burned by feminists, not in the sixties, and not since. And to not worry. She wasn’t the first to make that mistake and would most likely not be the last.
            Over the course of the next few days the Brit kid had hauled back several boxes of snorkeling gear, down parkas, snow shoes, skis, rappelling gear, from the UPS store across from the library. Her Mum had shipped them to her as she didn’t want her buying a whole new set with American money. The girl was ready and eager to re-conquer America from sea to shining sea. She’d put up a calendar on her wall with all holidays and off days highlighted and a map of the USA. She had frequent flyer accounts set up with a couple of airlines, the Greyhound and the Amtrak. She was asking all around if anyone wanted to go to Lake Pontchartrain for the weekend. That explained, in a quaint way to Z, why the sun never set on the British Empire for years and years and years.
            “Man, and we never left Fairview unless a relative died or got hitched outside city limits,” thought Z.
            And so, even though the dissimilarities were many, the group of girls that spoke a similar language, one of sisterhood and the pursuit of excellence, became a sorority with no name. One was Catherine, Catherine the Great they teased her for her expansionist attitude and Russian ancestry, because she always forgot a book or her shoes or scarf or something in other people’s rooms. Her roommate had thirty percent of the room only by the end of each week because Catherine would’ve spread her stuff too far and too wide. Guilt would take over and she’s clean up and apologize every single week. Julie was Chinese. She came to the sorority by way of violin and Shakespeare. She was a lot like Midori but hated the reference so they spared her feelings. Iravati was the other Indian kid in the wing who, over a period of time gravitated toward the group needing a common wavelength for social interaction to be meaningful. Melissa played chess with Catherine sometimes and took the same classes as Iravati (often shortened to ee-ra), math and science. Clare, the British girl hung out with them even though she was a year younger and a freshman. She might just’ve been the smartest of the group, finding her way through the world both feet firmly rooted in reality and greeting the world with a confident smile.    
  
27.  FEAST   OR   FAMINE
Sophomore year began to sink in bit by bit about ten days into the year. Z was surprised by the ease of these ten days as compared with the first ten days of freshman year. She had fallen into the swing of things in a minute. What a difference a year can make. And a new fact began to make itself known to her. The empowerment she had experienced from going numb had a new ally. Her head had turned into a machine. It floated a bit above her shoulders defying all norms. It was a work of intricate wheels within wheels with a face to one side. It had its downside though. Messages from the other senses took a while to go through the new and overly sophisticated routing system and often got lost. The bugs had not been worked out of its programming yet.
‘Divide and rule’ was an apothegm she’d heard thrown around a lot but did not recognize it as it manifest itself in her own life, in her own person, her own psyche.
The eyes saw everything through a film of gel. If she woke up in the pitch dark of night she’d pinch herself to be sure was alive and not dead. If she looked in the mirror it was to check for evidence of good hygiene and general presentability. She stopped seeing Z in there so she was afraid to look too closely at the stranger in the near distance in her room fearful of whom she might find.
The nose was getting sharper however.
The ears stopped hearing the melody so much and turned themselves more toward semantics.
The taste buds were fried.
She had lost the ability to tell between hot and cold like a leper.
CRACK!!! The fractured pieces of Self Other Time Space cracked once more into littler fragments but with a difference. Half the fragments were bright and half were dark. They tessellated into a harlequin pattern. The big fatuous ugly wanton agnostic genderless hairy disembodied Hand of Fate had rearranged them so, so she could no longer tell who she really was, or for that matter tell accurately what time it was, or where exactly she was, or with who.
The pattern must have had a subliminal effect on her for on a whim she wore a dress with a harlequin pattern on it, looking like a maid-in- waiting or she-jester to a queen of diamonds in a pack of playing cards. Conquered people tend to be witty. And highly suggestible.
 The conquered are controlled through fear and confusion. They cannot tap into their strengths for they do not recognize their strengths when they see them. They have, by now, been ridiculed for their strengths, their strengths turned inside out, and held in contempt for their failings so many times they have little self worth to lean on. Beaten yet again they learn to fear and trust those they perceive as more powerful and more knowledgeable than they. As the master’s gaze lands on something, the slave’s gaze follows there too. The eyes follow the eyes, the footsteps the footsteps, the ears the ears, always a little behind and in the spirit of service and obedience. They live to improve themselves and to please the eagle-eyed and the very discriminating master, in awe of the powers of discrimination and self-assuredness. And thus they learn to focus on their limitations. Given their ability to burn things with focus, as they turn their candent gaze toward the perceived and real flaws in their make up they end up burning a hole in their own protective outer shells letting the world in, letting all and sundry look into their souls. As more light from within shines through, more limitations are slapped upon them.
As the limitations go on mounting, they are convinced they are not this and they are not that; they cannot do this and they cannot do that; they can never be this and they can never have that. They hear their Masters’ voices in their heads all the time. Eventually they own their blots spots scars and dark pasts and presents and futures. The evil ones steal their power as easy as they steal candy from babies. Mark my words, they do steal candy from babies. And shoplift. And fudge on their taxes, cook the books, whittle away from the family coffers, tell lies with a hand on the holy text, so on and so forth.
  The balance of power shifts to the one who can inveigle better. It is all perception, baby. Never fact. Mainly fiction. Or rather, facts rearranged to present a reality that serves the Master and enfeebles the enslaved. And Z, who had patterned her personality after her mother’s, had never even heard the words ”Shut up bitch” or she might’ve said them to the Queen of Diamonds when her self control was flagging. She was so tired by now, her emotional reserves spent completely, her self control was teetering on the edge quite a bit these days.
 The fear the Transparents carry about is obvious to the world at large. Little do they know in this world, fear has no place. Only strength respects strength. God, our Creator, has stored within our minds and personalities, great potential strength and ability. Prayer helps us tap and develop these powers. But then this someone in a jester suit had abandoned prayer for a while now. The God who had served her up this smorgasbord of defeats in life could not possibly care for her, could he?
Mid-terms came and went. Julie transferred to Julliard with a promise to be back for Spring Break. She had to pick between accounting and music and the brave little girl picked music in the face of hostile criticism from family. She said she’d have time to work on an accounting degree in the evenings, and would they please send her a little money for those evening classes.
The new addition to the sorority with no name was Rachel, a Gweneth Paltrow waiting in the wings. Until she met Bill, a strategist waiting in the wings. But that’s another story. A nice one too.
In the winter break Rachel asked Z and Melissa if they would like to help with a minor political campaign in Olympia, Washington. It was just something homely, her parents were working on it, it should be fun, and a nice change from the Bayou. They both agreed. Iravati was going to Pennsylvania to her Uncle’s place. Catherine had a baptism and a wedding to go to. Clare was going spelunking in the Lost World caverns in West Virginia.
“In winter??!!” they asked.
“The price was just right,” she replied.   The girl knew no fear.
And so Z saw Washington state for the very first time in her life. It is so beautiful you almost have to close your eyes. The break was refreshing beyond belief. Rachel’s parents were the best, Mommy and Daddy, away from Mommy and Daddy. You could fall apart in their backyard and they would give you no grief over it. And they fed the kids rather well. They knew exactly what balance to strike between being parent and being friend to the adult child. The parent was protective, firm, clear, saw things from the perspective of who has given birth, and knew where to draw the line; the friend was a homie. It was probably a reflection of the balance they had achieved in their own personalities. You felt completely at ease with yourself when you met them, even if you were a painfully awkward youth so tired of struggling with your own concept of your own self, you hadn’t exactly had the time or the energy to figure out the world.
 Political campaigns are a lot of fun. You needn’t know a thing about them but like a football game you’ve been watching for a while you get drawn into them against your will. And then there are the personalities. Muffins they were not. And thank goodness for Rachel’s parents’ standing in the community, nobody dared breathe a word out of place around these young and impressionable girls. There was a pouty Miss Ouri who griped about the rain, the glue on the envelopes, etc., etc., etc. She presided over the girls’ activities, simple craft projects, for the first couple of days. She was niggling about the pieces of the banner that didn’t connect, ”I cut them to perfection. You did not put them together just right.” Another time a porcelain vase broke in the room. Must’ve cost $4.99 at the most, but she had to gripe about it for hours, until Melissa said, ”Why? O, Ming pottery that must’ve been,” and ended the sniffling. They began a little of the real campaign work like making phone call, telemarketer stuff. Then it was three days off during which they went through a whirlwind of Christmas parties. There they met Bill. Or rather, Bill tripped over Rachel’s dress or shoe, crashing onto the chair next to hers, apologizing profusely, and laughing a lot. Fireworks are hard to miss and hard to conceal. We’re talking Monte Carlo pyrotechnics. By the end of winter break every body knew. She had hoped to keep her parents out of the loop but that was so not happening. On the last day there the girls cooked dinner for the family and Bill, lamb shanks with oregano and wild rice with mushrooms. It was too late to be shy Rachel had surmised. Her sister had just come home. It was time to make introductions. She was at William and Mary. Land of Nod was beckoning at ten. Nessie was on the Discovery Channel. They served some Baked Alaska for dessert and Melissa and Z made their silly little goodbye speeches and withdrew to let the family have some alone time. They flew back to their routines the next morning.
January consisted of exams. February was only twenty eight day so it helped. And there was the mystique of the world famous mardi gras. The previous year Z had ended up holed up in her room during mardi gras owing to some poor choices in food and sleep patterns and the awful feeling of the possibility of running into people she knew from campus at the parade. How disgusting to come face to face with a teacher on Bourbon street.
This year she was celebrating a birthday on Fat Tuesday. How bad could it be? She’d be with her friends, sample some gumbo, try the king cake, make certain the girls didn’t have one too many Sazeracs. She hadn’t counted on Clare saying, “Look, Z is sampling the soup and licking the cones for once.”
“It’s my birthday, moron.”
Nobody ever gave Ira any trouble over her asian weirdness. They declared open season on Z. Iravati totally knew it. She had this masterful knack of going from social butterfly to fly on the wall in a nano second. She ducked all the teasing, a smile on her face, enjoying the spectacle of Z’s mind becoming playground for the sorority on brew. “That”, thought Z to herself, ”is my goal for this year of my life – to learn to fly under the radar. It must be soooo peaceful under there.” Z had, since she was born, been a human magnet for bouquets and brickbats. She elicited a response no matter what room she walked into. And hated it.
No one had informed her yet that choices made under duress are usually bad ones.
March was ho-hum, April, more of the same.
In May the plans for the end of the year celebrations were advertized. Somewhere in there was HWMBF’s name. She thought it might be a flyer recycled from the previous year and the corrections were not made for the here and the now, but who knows. It did leave something to be looked into, when the time came around. There were exams to study for. The end of the year came along. It was time to go home.


28.. CLARITY


            Z sat in the library a late wintry afternoon too tired to study, reading yet again some Charlie Brown, when her eyes were drawn toward a bound publication by the University Press lying face down on the table among a scattering of magazines and books some sloppy brat had left behind. She reached for it for no reason except to close it, help out the library help who would be doing so after a long, long day. She almost jumped out of skin as she dropped the book a few inches onto the table as it shut giving her the briefest look at the page it had been left open to. She knew who that name belonged to. Her fingers trembled as she feverishly looked for the page again. Mysterious and invisible lenses creating major distortions had begun floating before her eyes as she glanced at each page completely forgetting there was such a thing as a table of contents. As her breathing returned to normal and her heart slipped back down from her throat into her thorax she stopped the insanity and looked in the right place and proceeded to the page in an orderly fashion. It was an article on something she knew little about but she read it any way, a letter at a time, her eyes moving attentively over each curve each straight each junction each squiggle of every letter. She was completely besotted by the clarity of thought and expression. She understood completely every thing she read. It was like the five pages in question were illuminated. And somehow that had helped her gain access to their meaning. She sat down, shut her eyes, and felt her mental furniture rearrange itself in her cranium, windows being opened, fresh air wafting in scented and healthful, sunshine too, a clock chimed in the room, she had been transformed, born again, a new and improved Z, a more adept at understanding the written word than ever before Z.
            She had never guessed at this in a year and a half. HWMBF had brought into her life a certitude and a clarity born of it. It had happened so slowly she hadn’t realized it was happening. If she so much as breathed a word of this to another living or even non-living thing they’d think she was crazy so she never did share this revelation with any body. It just amused her and intrigued her by turns. She tossed it around in her head and studied it. And wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. It was like she had found a magic toy part prism part periscope part magic brush part golden compass part telescope part microscope part spaceship part deck of magic cards and so on. This was fun. By and by it became too much fun to keep under wraps, so in the most socially appropriate way possible she began sharing it, obliquely, in metaphors, via analyses of whatever it was that was the topic of discussion or food for thought. Denied the emotional aspect of the experience, given her disposition, her decisions, her premonitions, and the heavy duty grieving post loss of Ma and Kaku and home, she put her all into teasing out the intellectual aspects of love, loss, hope and healing from what was given to her. Good choice? Bad choice? No one really knew. She was often told she was cold and emotionless and needed to cry. But if the tears don’t come should you chop onions? She tried. Didn’t work for her. Thomas Hardy couldn’t make her cry! The Blues had no power over her. Alcohol made her sick, REALLY sick, from her one experiment with it, albeit a forced experiment, having to guzzle down some beer to make her very sweet and kind neighbor happy who had been more of a mother to her than anyone else in the weeks following Ma’s passing.
            Z’s voice began to change. Very perceptibly. Her speaking voice grew old and weary. Her singing voice got very finely tuned, smooth, mature,  in emotion-rich in sound, and sparkling. Suddenly she knew what the words meant and why they were strung together the way they were and why a note followed the one before. She had been allowed into the hallowed space of creativity that resides in the artist. That was a divine space and she dwelled in it in awe and thankfulness. She couldn’t understand what good she had done to deserve this blessing but loved it and accepted it whole heartedly. Her fingers touched the violin and it sang, soared, danced, like it had a life of its own. Her art had surpassed her and she stood in awe of it. She knew she was an instrument of peace and accepted that responsibility with genteel humility, not knowing again why she had been chosen but felt good about it.
            This wouldn’t last forever but three years of this magic filled her with love and awe and wonder enough to see her through plenty. Of course she did not know now but this was a bounty. She, a green stick split down the middle, would bloom where she had been planted, two branches reaching for opposite directions an illustration of the dualistic nature of life, giving shade bearing fruit, the Giving Tree, eventually.
            A year and a half from that day in the library there would come a day sitting on the patio at a dear friend’s house when she would find this thing this awesome clarity magnified manifold if only for a few fleeting moments and once again it would come seeking her out on a cold winter’s day bright with sunshine and laughter many many years from this day. It would come after her mind so murky it had become dark as pitch and devoured all hope all happiness all capacity for attaching right value to people and events everywhere. That kind of confusion is so thick you lose all instinct for self-preservation and walk into death traps if you are asked to. You have no idea when your dignity is being assaulted. You lose your ego to a point you could be convinced of anything by a little fudging a little conniving. The world joins in this game of minimizing brutalizing testing ridiculing you and you are so past caring you don’t know if you are dead or living. It is one of the saddest things that happens to people.
 Maybe we are born trailing clouds of glory. In this life we have to relinquish the old to be ‘born again’ and relive some of that magic that came with the stork flapping his wings. Just don’t be embarrassed about needing to learn to walk again or speak again. It will all be good.

29.  TO  SHATTER  THE  SKY

Decorated war hero who is mentioned in many history books for his bravery lay dead on the living room floor, three of the four Sorbitrols he usually carried in his pocket still there, his last conversations with family about how much better he’d feel dead than alive. He was home alone at the time, the T.V. was on, he’d been watching “Amistad” while drinking a cup of tea, the newspaper was next to him as usual, and he’d rented “An American Tale” for his sons. The family was just plain angry with him. Why did he not look for a cause to believe in? Was he not happy they would have a daughter soon, Tsangpo, once the papers were done? He’d promised his wife every time she was pregnant that if they’d have a daughter he’d buy her diamond earrings but they ended up with double trouble and he never did buy her any diamonds. He would’ve soon. Why did he not advance in his career? Why did he make every mistake in the book and out of it? Why would he not look at the glass as half full? God had given him so much, so much of everything most people can only dream of, so why did he hate his life and drown it in alcohol and smoke? Why did he walk about this earth like a soul lost in the desert? WHY?
Why did we, his family, who professed our love for him by berating him every time we saw him for drinking too much and smoking too much never stop to ask him why he did what he did? Why did we never let him speak for himself and listen with the “love” we professed? Why did his “friends” egg him on to his worst escapades knowing full well what it would eventually do to him and his children? Why were we so mean to him? He was never mean to us.
Each question burned a hole in her consciousness as she prepared to go home to the funeral the family had known was coming but was nevertheless shocked at its coming so soon. All those buddies who had poured him drinks, double with ice, after they had been told that the doctor had said it was poison for him were there to sing their eulogies and to pay respect to the surviving family. His sons were trying to be men in their preteen years. His mother was inconsolable. His wife looked lost, never one to make wise choices, needed help with little everyday choices now. Z saw herself in the boys’ faces and knew how useless words would be at this time and place. This moment was what it was and had to be accepted for what it essentially was – an end of an era and the beginning of another. She just hoped the world would be kinder to them than it had been to her. They were very much younger than she had been when she had lost Ma.
But the world will be what it is. Vultures will look for the wounded too young or too weak or too stupid to move to a safe place. Vipers will nest where eggs are for the taking. The Good Eggs never have the instinct to hatch in time. And so goes on the list of the bad things that would follow in the dead Hero’s wake. He had lived the life journey of Hercules of the Greek tradition, his labors completed, his sacrifices made, his mistakes made, his accolades won, he had worn the shirt dipped in poison and we all knew it now for sure. This is just how this story plays out with the Herculeses of this world, give or take a labor or two. That’s how the wheel of time had turned again. And yet again we watched and waited. Just a little late we found him lying on the floor. He had been all alone smoking his last cigarette. Once again we forgot this is not the dress rehearsal, but this is real life. We watched him drowning and yelled at him then for not knowing how to swim. He watched us too through the frayed veil of tears and self-deception that was giving way to complete despair.
“If only we had figured this out just a little sooner we might have saved his life,” thought Z. ”We’ve  lost so much in losing him we’re afraid to even think what might have been if he had just survived this darkness that had taken over his life.”
The buzz among the shloka spouting faction of the family was that her little cousin R had been born on janamashtmi, Lord Krishna’s birthday, and had hence caused Kaku’s untimely demise, the rationale being that those born on this auspicious day carry a curse that causes the maternal uncle’s early death, just as Krishna had killed his barbaric uncle who was a monster.
Z remembered one night the summer before when he was very drunk yet very lucid and calm he had said to Daddy, his big brother,”I know why bhowdi died. You killed her. I will die too,” and he smiled a sad knowing smile. He knew that that remark had made its mark. Then he saw Z was in the room so he smiled at her and asked, ”How is aamaar shonaar Bangladesh? Studying hard? You ought to.”
The family was doomed to repeat history. Why? WHY?? WHY DIDN”T WE SEE IT COMING??? ARE WE BLIND??? ARE WE EVEN HUMAN???
Z took the boys under her wing all summer and saw to it they had someone to talk to when they were feeling emotional, and did her best to help them catch up with their grade level in reading and math. She found they gave her so much more in return than she could have ever given them. They made her sit in the sandbox against her will. They made her watch the stupidest movies ever and the laugh track they provided could’ve been bottled and sold as an antidote to the worst case of sadness ever for millions. They made up words every time they played scrabble and awarded themselves made up scores. They taught her to laugh, to live, to lighten up, and helped her lose a lot of the gravity that had kept her from being her age. She’d begun to feel she was eighty-seven and a half before the boys snapped her out of that mindset and reminded her she was of their generation. From then on she resolved to deal with life with a sense of humor. On the day of her cousin’s birthday she invited his friends and all the children in the family to a surprise party and was most surprised herself when the elderly couple from next door walked in unannounced to bless the boy on his birthday and then turned to Z, ”Beti, life is a series of adjustments and you are in charge of your own happiness. You will succeed in life. Tum koi maamuli cheez thode hi ho.”  That piece of encouragement found a special place in her heart and was almost a motto for the years to come. It would take a very resolute entity to kill her laughter or her love of life.
Thaakumaa had regressed into her youth and childhood it seemed for she much preferred the company of her grandchildren to that of her children and the neighbors. Z and her cousins loved that about her. She told them funny stories of the old country. She shared their every joy and pain. She taught them all to sing “Tumi Ekla Cholo Re”, and “Aamaar Shonaar Baangla” which made Z sad sometimes because her uncle had called that ever since one day, when she was three, he had caught her singing that in front of the mirror. She’d hated it then but now she missed that. 
At the end of each day they all they all went their separate ways to deal with the darkness alone each in his or her own way. Thaakumaa prayed and cried and talked to herself a lot awake and in her sleep. They boys fought violently at times. Z cried and sometimes she couldn’t. Daddy drank like there was no tomorrow and spoke nothing to them that they wanted to hear so at the first sight of him returning home they’d slink away to other rooms. If Z said one word to him about anything that needed to be done, he’d ask her to take care of it. If she did, the step mother would say, ”Live like a guest. You are a guest in this house.” If she did report anything of this to her father, he’d wince, then smile, “See how tough she is. She will make it impossible for you to come out of your room.” Z had been watching the business come apart as the step mother completely sidelined daddy and took over the reins. Daddy reported to her every minute detail of every interaction he had with family, customers, and persons he should not be interacting with, like a child reporting to his mother the details of what had happened that day while she listen very carefully. It was obvious she had cut a deal with him, and there was something very strange about this woman, or what woman would lap up the sordid details of her husband’s misdoings with such unusual interest. And just how weird was Daddy to choose to be with a person like her? She took control over the employees who were hired for reasons other than their talent for selling wood and treated them like chattel. Ma had been such a contrast, looking out for the employees and their families like they might be her own, helping with doctor’s bills, books for the children, and such necessities. When Daddy said his new wife was entitled to her bad behavior she knew exactly what he meant. In his third year of marriage now he drank most of the day. It was difficult to find a good time to talk to him because he never was completely sober. Relatives and friends took Z aside and advised her to jump off this sinking ship. There was trouble brewing big time. The boys were not cared for at all. It was a good thing Aunty S and Uncle V decided to adopt them. It would take Z a good part of the year to stop making excuses for Daddy, to see him for who he had become, realize the father she knew was dead, accept and grieve that, and move on to seeking a life without the first family.
If only Ma and Kaku had known they’d shatter the sky as they left earth behind them they might’ve felt differently about dying. But the uninitiated knows only so much. Pain like love conquers all.
30.  WORDS   ARE   SILVER

            Mama had a little accident working in the kitchen, a little fall on a wet patch on the linoleum, and was told to rest her back. Z being in town was the LP’s chauffer two weeks. Rink side was an awesome place to be. The LP was working on a routine set to a Strauss waltz. This was quite an experience for Z. There’s a certain something in the air around people who are on a mission. This was a group of people dedicated to their craft and it was in some way like watching Degas painting ballerinas or perhaps Strauss writing his music. Z had her gloves on, a wool jacket on, and was still a bluish shivering version of her, thrilled to be there. The LP was a consummate performer. All those years of practice showed in the first fifteen seconds, and now Z knew why she and her parents had given their all to this endeavor, in the face of intense criticism from the extended family. There had been the ignoring, the ridicule, the harsh indictments, and this family had dealt with all of that with a smile and a nod and a “pleasure to have met you”.
            Just when the LP could do no wrong in Z’s eyes, something happened. Z heard, albeit a tired and wrung out LP since her mother had been unwell for ten days, offer something like a rebuttal to one of the coaches’ corrections. The coach looked sad and tired and did not persist.
            When they got out of earshot Z said, ”Do you ever think before you talk?”
            “You just talk. Why do you have to think before you talk?”
            “You sincerely mean you don’t think before you talk? Is that why you were so rude to your teacher? You might want to apologize soon. Here she is trying to help you and you are talking back to her?”
            The LP had by now realized she had made a booboo. “It just happened. I wish it hadn’t. Sometimes this just happens to me. And she the kindest person this side of the Mason-Dixon line.”
            Z thought to herself, “In our family it’s encoded in our genes. We succeed at work and fail at life, all because we’re running our mouths.”
            After a while Z thought she’d give the LP a little gift of a didi-ism, a little mental gimmick that she’d devised one afternoon when a very sagely friend in high school, Nalini, had asked if thought preceded speech, or vice versa, in her life, leaving her with a quote from some where “Do not speak unless you can improve the silence”.
In Z’s imagination a nice little box took shape. It was studded with gems and lined in black velvet. She dropped every word that crossed her mind into it and the words landed softly as silver coins. She closed the lid, waved a wand over it, and then opened the lid again. If the coins remained there, she said what she had planned on saying. If they had disappeared, she imagined they had turned into golden silence.