Tuesday, May 14, 2013

EDUCATING Z - Chapters 1-5

Snapshots from the Life of Z

   This story begins when Z is eight years old, then moves very rapidly on to the high school and college years, and on.
    This is a story of one who is a product of displacement and acculturation, but then who isn't a product of displacement and acculturation? In the strangest of ways we are all wayfarers, walking a lonely path, in an unknown country, making friends as we go along, picking up some gravel in our shoes, traveling by boat sometimes, sometimes by train, sometimes taking the high road, sometimes not. It is also a treasure hunt. I hope you will find all the book titles, movie titles, and song lyrics woven into the text.
     Z is a Bangladeshi-Indian-American version of "Everywoman." She is first cousins with Ankita(the LP of American Desi Girl) from "Bloom Where You Are Planted." Mama is her favorite aunt. Z's Daddy and Ankita's Papa are brothers.

     Hope you enjoy reading her story.


            There was much ado about nothing in Z’s eyes as the family quarreled over protocol at Uncle L’s wedding. “How does is matter who sits where at the dinner table? What a tempest in a teacup,”thought Z.
            But families are funny things. Siblings meet after twenty years sometimes and behave like little children again confusing the next generation. This was the twelfth night at uncle L’s place, getting ready for what would be the last wedding of the generation, and everybody was here, decorating, cooking, making phone calls, and so on, labors of love, with their baby brother finally getting hitched.
            The children slept in the attic all ten of them, a slumber party to remember. There were the scary stories, family folklore, and baseball card trading, bond-building, and such.
            Z was falling asleep sitting on the floor leaning against her bedroll, admiring the strings of lights all aglow and some twinkling around the skylight window in the attic. There were lights all over the house, the house having been decorated the way homes in Calcutta or Dhaka are adorned for a wedding. Z was drifting thinking, ♫” You would not believe your eyes if ten million fireflies lit up the world as I fell asleep. It's hard to say that I'd rather stay awake when I'm asleep because my dreams are bursting at the seams.”♫
     At about three in the morning she woke up or imagined she did to the sound of something rustling outside in the yard. Then she saw a glow outside the window. The window was too high to look out of but she could see the sky at a certain angle if she tried. A blue shimmer appeared on the ceiling and said,”Hi Z.”
     “Hi”, replied Z, fascinated by this creature.
     “Love it here?”
     “Yes I do.”
     “Life isn’t going to be one long party you know. There’s school again in the fall, then winter, then spring. Summer won’t come around again for a long time.”
     “I know.”
     “Enough about that. I’m really here not to chitchat about the weather but to ask you a very important question.”
     “And what might that be?” asked a nervous little eight year old Z.
     “Would you like to be happy in the first half of your life or in the second half?”
     “What a stupid question,” thought Z. She said, ”All my life, please.”
     “Now that is not the right answer. You can only pick a half.”
Z thought for a second, always having been taught by Ma against her own judgment, that dessert must be eaten after dinner, deferred to the implied lesson and said, ”Second half. All’s well that ends well.”
     “It shall be as you like it. The first half won’t be so bad though so ♫don’t worry. Be happy♫. It’ll be a comedy of errors rather than a true blue tragedy. See you around.”
      The following morning Z woke up and put that down to a surfeit of candy saying, “This was just another midsummer night’s dream. I’m reading fairytales all day long and eating too many sweets. I wonder if I’ve caught fairytalia?”


            Yesterday was Sunday, a beautiful sunny sunshiny Sunday. The family went on a picnic to the park, parents, cousins, uncles and aunts. When they had eaten and were gloriously full, Uncle N started making a little paper boat with a page he tore out of his magazine. He set it in the still waters of the little lagoon by the grassy knoll they sat on, away from the drifting water of the stream. But as if by magic his little boat caught the wind or the wave and was drawn to the faster flowing water and went downstream anyway.
            By and by, Auntie M made a boat that had a blue and yellow sail and a hull made of fine print. Cousin Z was transfixed by her Ma’s boat as it went downstream rather quickly and disappeared round the bend. Uncle N’s boat was right off the mark a quick one too but it got caught in the tangle of overhanging branches of some willow trees. The wind in the willows set the boat loose. It started to spin as it reached midstream and disappeared out of sight.
            Cousin Z decided to make her own boat. She thought it would be like Ma’s or Daddy’s but it turned out quite differently. It behaved differently too. She set it on the water’s edge, a little red white and blue boat that smoothly glided to the middle of the stream and sped away.


           Z (the family called her so because they hardly ever saw her awake) would walk home from school every day with her friends. They’d stop at the curb and talk and laugh and carry on about the happenings of the day. Then at five o’clock they’d head home. Z would spend an hour answering her Ma’s query,”How was your day?” while she served herself some supper and then put herself in bed promptly at seven each night. That was when her Daddy got home from his woodworking shop with a big smile and a loud guffaw. Ma’s weak smile would meet Daddy’s big smile and the two would awkwardly fall to the floor as they had unwittingly collided.
            All evening in the sitting room Daddy got louder while Ma got quieter until dinnertime at nine. Then Ma would come to life again, serve a lovely meal, clear the dishes, and get to bed.
            Everyone slept peacefully for a few hours until at four, quiet as a mouse, Z arose to brush her teeth and start the day with homework, while she looked every now and then for the line of light on the horizon promising dawn.


            After school, just where the sidewalk ends, a huddle formed as it did every evening, consisting of Z and her friends X and Y who were sisters, close enough in age to be best friends and to hang out with the same group of friends, and W.
            W was steaming mad over some issue in the newspapers where women were being treated unfairly and condescendingly, for being the “fairer sex”.
            “I’m a feminist,” she declared after a long, mostly incomprehensible, and loosely- connected-pieces-of–poorly-organized-logic speech.
            “Why are you a feminist?” asked X, the oldest of the band of sisters, a very glamorous, amorous, recently broken up diva.
            “Because women are equal to men and the men need to be informed of that.”
            “Don’t bother dear. It’s a waste of time. He has just one thing going for him, you’ve got three. It’s no contest. Women are not equal, we’re superior.”
            Z about fell on the pavement laughing.


            It didn’t happen often that the LP would have an emotional meltdown. Being on the spot on a regular basis had toughened her up over the course of her young life. Today was an exception. She fretted and fumed and refused to eat lunch until Z took her aside and asked what the problem might be.
            “I did something so stupid I should crawl under a rock and hope to die.”
            Z, always fastidious about language said,” It’s either ‘crawl under a rock and wait to die’ or ‘cross my heart and hope to die’.”
            “Whatever Zeee. You know what I mean.”
            “What eating you?”
            “Can’t tell.”
            “That’s helpful.”
            And they fell into sister shorthand but to no avail.
            After a while Z gave up prying and said,” Whatever it is, imagine that a great big Regret Egret gave you a gift, a single feather, a reminder of what you did wrong. When you’ve figured out what the best resolution might have been for that situation, kiss the feather goodbye and let it go.”
            “Listen to me now and believe me later.”
            “Where do I keep that feather, for now?” asked the LP finally buying into that story.
            “Night stand, desk, under the mattress, any old place you’ll remember it each day.”
            “Do you have any egret feathers with you?”
            “Oh, yeah.”
            “How many?”
            “A whole boa.”

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