A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. ~Oscar Wilde

Archive for the ‘imaginary moments’ Category

Of fish, honeymoons and culinary skills

She watched her mother in law place the bowls of food in the centre of the dining table, as she set the table for three.

“Biuli-r daal, posto, maach bhaaja”! said her mother in law happily. “It is Abhi’s favourite”.   Bengali fish fry

She peeked at Abhi, who had just wandered into the dining area, looking completely unaware that his mother had just announced that she had cooked his favourite meal. He had his iPad in his hand, and sat down at his place at the placing it in front of him it. She wondered whether it was work. She did not have to wonder for long.

“Another wicket down”! he announced.

His mother smiled indulgently at him. “Cannot stay away from cricket can you? Can my cooking tempt you”?

Abhi looked at the spread, “Lovely! Biuli-r daal and posto”! he said and started to tuck in.

She started to eat as well, wondering how she could avoid the fish. She hated fish, having always felt that it was the worst part of being Bengali and growing up in Kolkata. Fish was being eaten all around her, and she could not stomach it. Her brother used to love asking their mum, loudly in her presence, whether she had been adopted, as she was the only member of her extended family who did not like to eat fish. Her mum would insist she ate her fish, “It will improve your intelligence”, she would say as she devised new ways of making fish appetising for her daughter.

Her mother in law spoke again, bringing her back from her sojourn to her own family back in Kolkata.

“When are we leaving for the shops”? she asked. Abhi looked up from the iPad.

“Whenever”, he shrugged.

“Over here we have to do the whole week’s shopping on the weekend. Not like in Kolkata where you can just send out the servant to go do your grocery shopping daily”, her mother in law smiled at her kindly.

She nodded and bent back over her plate of food, wondering whether she should tell her mother in law that she had grown up in India, not the bottom of a well. She bit her tongue. She remembered her mother saying “Don’t try to push anything. Take it easy. Your mother in law will be there for a few weeks, try and learn as much about everything as you can, and then work out what will suit you best”.

“Yeah, just shut up for as long as your mother in law is there, and then you can show your true colours”, her brother had grinned at her.

The rest of the would be life lesson had fallen on absent ears as sister had given chase to brother.

She peeped at Abhi again, he was eating happily enough, though not showing much appreciation for the food, engrossed in the cricket match. She wondered what he would say, if she never cooked fish. Not that she knew how to cook, since she had never been interested in learning. Her cousin, who lived here in Sydney, across town, had told her that everyone learnt to cook, it was a survival thing, but she could not imagine herself standing over a stove sweating over culinary wonders. It just did not appeal.

“You know, you have only been here a couple of days, don’t worry, I will show you how to make a few simple things. And then slowly you can learn. You have that recipe book I gave you, just use it, it is very good”.

She remembered with a thud of her heart that she had accidentally on purpose left the book behind in Kolkata. She thought she might just say that the stress of going through the migration process, preparing for the wedding, working at the international company she had been in, had all taken their toll, and she had forgotten. Or she might not. Abhi was still watching the cricket. He did not speak much, even though he seemed happy to answer any questions. She thought back to the times she had met him prior to becoming engaged. He would speak easily and at length when prompted, but seemed to be a man of few words at other times. Actually he had spoken most when it had been only her and her brother in his company.

Later, at the supermarket she wandered around, a little cold in the air conditioning, but looking with interest at the way everything was displayed. It seemed so much smaller than the ones in Kolkata, but she had hardly ever been grocery shopping there, as Bonkai dada would buy their daily needs from the traditional greengrocers at the markets. So she did not have much to compare it with. She could see other glittering stores outside the supermarket, and felt a need to get out and explore there. Her mother in law was discussing what would be the best brand of rice with Abhi. She looked around and said, “I come to Sydney so often that I am now very familiar with the life style here, and I know all the brands. Don’t worry, I will stock up the kitchen for you, and you can just watch and learn.” She turned back to Abhi, “I will buy some plain flour as well”. Abhi had wandered away slightly, but came back at that and said, ”Will you finish the flour? Last time you did not, and I had to throw out the rest, as it got weevils”.

His mum flashed him a big smile. “Not to worry, I have found you a pretty bride. She will make sure no food goes to waste.”

Abhi walked away again, and she wondered whether her mother in law really believed that if she hinted often enough, her daughter in law would start to take an interest in cooking. She started to feel a little desperate. She was taking a few weeks holiday, but then she had to start looking for work, restart her career, start ticking off her to do list, everything she wanted to do in life. Making sure plain flour did not go to waste was not on that list.

She picked up a juice. Nudie, it said. “*Nothing but 20 oranges. With pulp”. She liked fruits and fruit juices. She tentatively put it in the trolley.

“Oh, that is too expensive.” Her mother in law was taking it out of the trolley and exchanging it for another brand. She looked at the prices. It was true, the one she had chosen was twice as expensive as the one that her mother in law had just picked up. She blushed. Even though she would be able to recite all the currency exchange rates, she did not really know how it translated into daily living. As she turned away with a murmured word of apology, she noticed that Abhi was back at the trolley. He picked up the juice his mother had put in, and looked at it, and then put it back in the trolley. Their eyes met, and she felt her cheeks grow hotter, but then he strolled away again.

When they were back home, packing the shopping away, she saw that the Nudie juice had somehow made it home. Her mother in law made an irritated sound when she saw it, “eesh! We bought the expensive juice as well, by mistake. Look, Abhi”, she said going in search of her son, “should you go and return it”?

Abhi was lying on the sofa, legs dangling over the arm rest, arm over eyes. “why bother, its only juice”, he muttered.

She wandered back past him towards the bedroom, and as she turned the corner, she looked back at Abhi. She caught him putting his arm back over his eyes. Had he been watching her?

In the evening they went out to a friend’s place for dinner. “Everyone goes out every weekend for dinner”, said her mother in law. “It is a way to keep the Bengali culture going”. She turned back in her seat to look back at her quiet daughter in law in the back of the car. “Once you have learned how to cook, you can invite every one. I will make a list of all the people you need to invite and feed. I know all Abhi’s friends”.

The food was overwhelmingly good. It made her nervous even to eat it. Everyone made a great deal of her. They seemed genuinely excited to see her. They asked her about her work, her parents, her family, whether she liked Sydney, even though she had only been here a few days. They suggested places for Abhi to take her to, and congratulated her for arriving in Sydney during the best season. They made plans for outings together, in the end she felt she could become one of them. She was very grateful because no one asked her whether she could cook. A few of the women did mention some of their early faux pas with cooking, but everyone seemed to assume that she would be cooking very soon. She did not know whether to be glad that they had not asked her, or irritated that they seemed to assume she had any interest in cooking. In the end, once she could get the issue of cooking out of her mind, she enjoyed herself.

Late that night in the privacy of their bedroom, she ventured to ask Abhi, “will we be going to a honeymoon”?

He was taking off his watch and emptying his pockets of his wallet and other sundry items, but said easily enough, “of course. That’s what we planned, a honeymoon, once you arrived in Australia.”

He went towards the bathroom, but came back. “Mummy is here for another few weeks, but if we can plan it, we can virtually leave for our honeymoon the day after she leaves.”

She nodded. She had waited all these months for her visa, to resign at her old job, come over to a new country, another few weeks would work. She pulled his iPad on to her lap, and Googled “tropical island getaways”.

When Abhi wandered back into the room she was engrossed in trying to decide where to go, he lay down next to her, and leaned his head on hers, looking at the screen. “that does look nice, a definite possibility”.

It was quite late when she weaved her way to the kitchen the next morning, intent on making herself a cup of tea. There was no Meeni Mashi here to bring her tea and biscuits, while she lazed in bed wondering what to wear on a Sunday. She had to rub her eyes a couple of times. Her mother in law was cooking. Honestly, did she ever think of anything but cooking and food?

“Luchi aloo dum for breakfast”, she said, triumphantly waving a rolled circle of dough. “Come and help me fry it, the aloo is already done”. 1Luchi3

She felt like saying “eeesh, na baba”! but came forward docilely and picked up the frying spoon. Very soon her mother in law was happily aghast at her non existent luchi frying skill.

“Look Abhi, I might have to stay longer and teach your wife how to cook, otherwise you will go hungry”!

She had not noticed Abhi had come in and made three cups of tea.

“I don’t think we will, mama”, he said handing the women a cup each, “I know how to cook, I have for the last few years.” He wandered away.

Image credit: http://timescity.com/blog/bengali-cuisine/

http://www.bongcookbook.com/2007/07/phulko-luchi-ar-aloor-dom.html

For those foodies in the readership, who are not familiar with Bengali cuisine (or phrases):
posto: A preparation usually made with potatoes and white poppy seeds
biuli-r daal: A type of lentil
maach bhaja: The Bengali way of frying fish
Luchi: Fried puffed bread Bengali style
“eesh or “eeesh”: A typically Bengali exclamation, with no equivalent in any other language that I know of. It can range from expressing irritation to to expressing appreciation, to expressing satire, and much more. Usually used by women, somehow.
“na baba”: “na” meaning no, “baba” being a word for Father, but when added on to words like no, just emphasises the word, and has no special meaning in the phrase. So “na baba” would just mean “no”.

Lunch in the City

dumpling and chopstickI peered at the menu on the wall trying to decipher the different delicacies pictured. The young man in front of me and those further ahead in the queue, all had little paper menus in their hands which they were eagerly perusing and discussing animatedly. I looked around but could not see where they had got the menus from.

I plucked up my nerve, leaned forward a little and asked the young man where he had got his menu from. He turned to me and blazed a smile, “Oh! It’s in the back there, ma’am’, he said pointing. I turned and looked past the queue behind me. There was a little stand with the menu and pens for people to pick up on their way in. Even as I spotted it, ruing my lack of observation, aching back, and general city life illiteracy, I heard YM say, “Alisha! Can you please hand ma’am a menu”? A young lady standing outside the queue right next to the stand handed me the paper she was looking at, “Here, have mine”. YM reached around and plucked a pen out of the box in front of the queue and gave it to me. “Here you go, ma’am”. Another blinding smile accompanied the words. It felt strange, being called ma’am and being helped so fervently. People are generally impersonal in their help, and definitely do not smile at and call dumpy old ignorant women “ma’am” unless they are paid to do so.

“Here’s your coffee, ma’am”

“I can certainly help you with that, ma’am. May I start with your account number”?

YM was now sharing jokes with his lady companion, who was still standing a little distance away. She seemed a little wary of his buoyant spirits. I surreptitiously took in the very pumped arms visible below the sleeve of his tee shirt, the square thin line of beard framing his jaw, the very short, spiky hairdo. He even had a chain on his belt. Definitely a happening young man of today.

The queue moved on. YM placed his order, I observed closely how he put his tray of cutlery together and jumped when he said to the man serving him, “Thank you for your help, sir”. A bit beyond old school, this. He walked away with his tray, to the back with the others waiting for their food to be served and their buzzers to buzz. I stepped up to the counter, put my order in, duly received my buzzer and picked up my cutlery. As I moved back out of the way, I noticed the absence of both YM and Alisha. Surely they had not been served already?

By the time my buzzer had heralded the advent of my meal on the counter, and I had limped over to an empty table with my tray of food and lowered my aching back on to a chair, I was feeling downright irritable. I was not sure that I had received value for money in my food. The noise level in the food court was making my head buzz. The table next to the one I had sat down at had no chairs and a pile of dirty trays and dishes piled up.

“May I join you, ma’am”?. My skin slid along my flesh. YM was standing next to the table, two trays in his hands, big, unabashed lopsided grin sparkling in his face. I surreptitiously put my foot through the handles of my handbag under the table, effectively securing it to my leg. At my nod, he set down the trays, conjured a third chair out of thin air, sat down, and shook his paper napkin and placed it on his lap. “Sorry to barge into your thoughts, ma’am, but it is so crowded here. Post Christmas sales are a killer don’t you think”?

He was going to talk? Where was Alisha? Had she run away because he talked too much? I looked down at his trays. It seemed there was food enough for two there.

I nodded at my noodles, trying to school the responding grin that tugged at the ends of my mouth. He noticed the twitching at the corner of my mouth. Scooping a dexterous dumpling into his own, he smiled hugely at me with all the appearance of someone settling into a cosy chat.

“Alisha’s been shopping like it is going out of fashion – what a cliché!”, he said as soon as he had finished his mouthful. I had responded even before I realised that I had any intention to. “Which one, the phrase “going out of fashion”, or the shopping”?

He jabbed his chopsticks at me.

“Ma’am, you are right. The shopping is a cliché. But… here we are.”

He spread out his arms expansively, one arm reaching out to over the food of the people at the next table, the other over the pile of trays on the other.

Oblivious of the startled glances of the people over whose plates of food his chopsticks were hovering, he said, “I bought shoes I did not need. Two pairs. How about you”?

Cautious again, I mumbled, “ A few things I need”. Take that, you too much disposable income earner, you, I thought sitting in my judge’s seat.

“Mmm. These dumplings are delish. Please have one”.

My heart jumped out of my body and took off. I eyed him as he tilted his basket of dumplings towards me. His offer seemed innocuous. I waited for my heart to slump slowly back into my body, then spoke haltingly.

“No, no that is fine, I can barely finish what I have”.

“My mom loves these dumplings, must remember to take some home for her”. He was texting something on his mobile. He looked up. “They’re not quite the same reheated, though, are they”?

I noticed he had stopped calling me ma’am. I knew what he meant, though. I had eaten dumplings made by this particular chain before, fresh, and reheated. I nodded. He seemed harmless. Overenthusiastic. Unusual. I did not know many young people who would strike up a conversation with someone so much older than themselves, especially if that someone did not offer much encouragement to do so. The muscles around my lungs relaxed a little.

I felt I could take on some conversation. “Where is Alisha”?

He waved the mobile towards the escalators. “They are having a red dot sale for thirty minutes at the cosmetic shop downstairs, so she ran. Her phone kept beeping so all her favourited products must be on offer”!

He grinned. “Alisha is always buying cosmetics. Handbags. Shoes. Whatchemyoucall’ems… Accessories”.

He put down his phone and chopsticks and grabbed his face pulling it into a grotesque expression of mock horror.

“Oh. My. God. Am I in love with my own mother”?

I felt my face relax into a genuine smile. “It’s okay. You are safe. Most women are always buying cosmetics. Handbags. Shoes. Even Whatchemyoucall’ems…”.

He relaxed, gulped down some iced tea and winked at me. “Thanks”.

Alisha would probably be back soon. I started to wrap up my lunch. The table was too small for three and I suddenly felt awkward again, chatting to a complete stranger about mothers, girl friends and Asian food. I had eaten all I wanted, so put the crockery and cutlery together and added my tray to the pile on the next table.

“Are you done”? YM looked up from his phone which had just tick-tocked signifying the arrival of a text.

“Yes, I have more shopping I need to do. … ummmm…. Thanks for your company”.

I stooped to pick up my bags and creaked to a standing position, pain shooting through my lower back again. I wanted to wind things up now, not have an elaborate farewell.

“Maa says ‘Hi, Happy New Year”.

“Huh”? Maa? Who, Maa?

I squinted back it him, revising my earlier soft impression. Mad. Nice, but mad.

“You have no idea who I am, do you”?

“What”? He had an idea of who I am?

“See I did not recognise you, either, at first. As soon as I sat down, I remembered. …” He smiled up at me leaning forward eagerly, as if prompting me to remember him, show some sign of recognition. He did not see any.

“I am Ryna, Mehul’s son”. He said. Did he sound a little disappointed?

I plonked back down on my seat, fully looking at him for the first time. He extended his phone towards me, and Mehul’s face smiled up at me from next to the text. “Really? Say hi, and Happy New Year from me” . He tapped her picture and the enlarged photo was unmistakable.

I looked back at his face in wonder.

“I remember all of you visiting us when I was still in Primary school. Nagma and Naishi.”

He paused looking away to those years. He looked back at me.

“How are they, Nagma and Naishi? They used to be so quiet. They hardly ever come to the festivals these days.”

He chuckled. “ I used to hate them, you know. Every time you visited, Rumu and I would endure days of torture”.

“Why can’t you be more like Nagma and Naishi?”

“Look at Nagma and Naishi! So well behaved. So well mannered. They eat up all their greens”!

He looked down at his dumplings and began toying with one.

“And my personal worst hate from Maa. Should I get Sabi Mashi to come and give you one of her lectures?

Yes. That had been my personal hate, too. All my younger years of raising two children had been haunted by similar taunts. Many had been the times when I had been told tales of how a threat of a visit from me and my unsmiling sternness had made children clean up their rooms, or eat their greens, or get on with their homework. I had forgotten those years.

I looked at Ryna, seeing his spiky, very short hairdo, his smile, his contemporary facial hair styling with more recognition. I remembered how close Mehul and I had been once, going for picnics together, meeting up at each other’s homes and those of other friends. I saw again those years of slowly drifting apart – from Mehul, as well as others, as my solitary nature took over my youthful desire for companionship. Flashes of festivals and large parties shot through in front of my eyes, with a growing Ryna taking the spotlight. Ryna, the Emo with straight black hair down his face, one eye barely peeping through. Ryna, the Goth in black lipstick, and false eyelashes. Ryna with chains coming out of all kinds of piercings on his body. Ryna suddenly turning up at a festival in a tee shirt and a full tattooed arm, setting the community abuzz with speculations of whether did drugs, or peddled them, or both. His arm was clean today save for a small tattoo on his wrist, now. So that had probably been a joke. I could not see any piercings either.

“I don’t hate you now, though”. He leaned forward looking worriedly into my eyes. “ I hope you understand”!

I smiled, reached out and touched his arm. “Of course I do. It has been a very long time.”

He looked relieved. “I often get carried away and say things I ought not to”.

“Oh, no! You did not say anything untoward at all”, I hastened to set him at ease. “I had forgotten the reputation I had during those years. Parents get up to all kinds of tricks in order to raise their children. We were all making things up as we went along. Look at you! Your mother did such a great job of raising you. I am so proud of you! I know she is, as well. We do talk on the few occasions we get to meet.”

“Really”? He looked so wistfully eager.

“Yes. Really.”

I caught a glimpse of Alisha coming up the escalators. I gathered up my things again. “Please congratulate your mother on her handsome and wonderful son, it has been totes adorbs to share lunchtime with you”. He laughed out loud at my use of fangirl terminology.

As I walked to the escalators, I heard Ryna’s voice raised in laughter, ”I swear! I know her! She’s my mum’s friend! I was not being weird at all!” Out of the corner of my eyes I saw Alisha raise her handbag, and take a missed swipe at his impeccably groomed head. I took out my phone and went into my “Daughter’s Dear” What’s App Group. “Guess who I met today”.

Image credit:http://resources3.news.com.au/images/2014/09/09/1227052/652391-89dac820-33df-11e4-a5d1-b77b5e92bd7b.jpg

The Dawn

girl under tree and sunset

The last hugs were over, the last kisses fluttered, and tears brushed away. As Aara turned and skipped down the stone steps, over the gravel and into the waiting taxi, the last “bye then”, “happy adventures”, “keep in touch” blew to her in the soft breeze along with the warbling of the cuckoos, and insistent “teeya teeya teeeeeya” of the parakeets. Her suitcase was already in the boot, her directions given to the taxi driver. She slid into her seat, and lowered the window, smiling back at the bunch of people waving and blowing kisses at her from the top of the steps. The taxi whirred into life, and rolled away slowly down the gravel path, from the stone building which, along with the people, started to recede away from her.

Aara twisted in her seat, placed her knees against the back of the seat and blew back kisses through the rear window. Somewhere in the recesses of her heart there was sorrow. It was painful to leave behind those who she had worked with for the last twelvemonth. But it was low and soft, this ache. Overflowing in her awareness right now was a sense of fulfilment, of burgeoning happiness.

She looked towards the rice fields away in the East. She changed her position, and peered into the distance. Damjan had said his goodbyes early in the day, he needed to go out with the others to tend to the paddy. He was there right now, looking after the process, his voice mingling with the others as they chanted the age old words, bent over the mud, handling the saplings. She could almost picture him, his red hair flowing down his back his trousers folded up above his knees, bent over double in the ankle deep mud. That was his adventure. That, and reminding everyone in “The Borough” to keep in touch with their own adventures. This morning, he had shaken her hand, and said, as he had, a year ago to the tremulous smile that had fluttered up at him, “Welcome to your adventure.” He had no tears, no wise words of parting, just words of welcome. He had been excited to hear about her new job and opportunity, and had hastened to congratulate her, with almost unseemly pleasure. His enthusiasm at her imminent departure had seemed a little strange even after having worked at “The Borough” for a year. Why was he so happy to see her go? Aara had almost asked him that. Then her remembrance that Damjan was always happy to see progress, and never attached himself to anyone, kept her silent. It was a quality difficult to accept, in a world where love meant attachment, and loyalty meant sticking to another’s side. But one almost came to understand it, when one worked near Damjan everyday.

Aara brought her gaze back to the side of the gravel path, where the solar panels gleamed yellow and gold next to the flowering herbs that grew alongside. The very first day she had come here for her interview, Elpy had been kneeling beside one of the panels, by the side of the path, fixing it, and talking into her earpiece. Aara had assumed that she was on the line with someone who was helping her fix whatever was broken. It was only after she came back here to work, that she learned that it had probably been the other way round. Elpy had likely been helping someone else fix whatever was broken on the other side of the line. She would go about her work, speaking into her earpiece with someone who had called for her help. Anything that broke, anywhere, and the first cry that would resound would be “ Call Elpy”! Elpy, kind, patient, and knowing, would answer, always on her hands free phone, because her hands were busy fixing something else. Even while she attended to her own work, she would work her magic across the waves for someone else. Right now, though, Elpy was back at the steps waving her handkerchief wildly at Aara, though it was too far away to see if she was speaking to an absent person. Right next to her were Diar, and Enaid, still smiling and waving as well.

Diar, who saw everything. Even the tears that Aara hid so well from everyone else. The tears that flowed because she always seemed to do things wrong, or badly. The tears which also flowed when she did do something well, but there was so much more left to do. Diar, who never spoke much, but always just shimmered present right next to her, just when he was most needed, and said the exact few words that set her straight back onto her adventure. It was hard to shed tears when Diar was around. One could not help but see oneself through his eyes. In a few moments he would have her feeling like she was the best initiate that “The Borough” had ever had. She never afterwards remembered exactly what he had said, just a sense of lightness as he walked back to his tasks, and she turned to her own.

Aara could still see the bright green bow on Enaid’s head, even though she had to imagine the giant smile that went with it. She felt again the warmth of it enveloping her as it had everyday for the past twelvemonth. She whisked her scarf off her own head and waved it out of the window. “Bye, thank you, and welcome to my memories”, she said softly.

“We are almost at the main road, miss, please put on your seat belt”. The taxi driver was peering darkly at her in the rear vision mirror. Aara sat down and clicked the seat belt into place. The car turned into the main road, towards the setting sun. To Aara it looked more like a new dawn.

Picture credit: http://anime.desktopnexus.com/wallpaper/504325/

The start of summer

and an attempt at haiku.

I have never been able to compose poetry. Here goes putting myself out there – vulnerable and quaky! In memory of the Kal Boishakhi – The afternoon thunderstorms that are an integral part of early summer which I loved growing up in West Bengal. In appreciation of the beatiful one that hit Sydney today.

waves shimmer in the sun

enveloping heat parched throats

burst of storm wind rain 

kal boishakhi

image credit: http://inktoast.blogspot.com.au/2009/05/meghdootam.html

Gallery

Rainbow Runner

The sun was still below the horizon, the orange and pink tint in the sky not yet reflected in the grey and black water. He reached the top of the hill and stopped, the ground falling away at his feet in a gentle slope, soft and damp, until it reached the sand. It was still cold from the night, the breeze lifting the tiny hairs on the nape of his neck. He felt the hairs on his bare arms prickling. He loved this time. It was quiet. The stirring birds, the runners on the beach near the waves, were all part of a peaceful picture.

He looked down at the runners. Why did they wake so early? Had they all had nightmares all night? Was that man with the huge dog running so fast to escape from a terrible night? Was he scared? Did he ever look behind him to check whether the nightmares had taken solid shape and were chasing him? Was the tall man running because he knew that the rising sun would scare away the shadows surrounding him, in a blaze of brilliant golden light?

There was not a cloud in the sky. The pink, orange and golden hues heralded the onset of another spectacular summer day. He stretched his arms up heavenward, rising up on tiptoe, allowing his toes to wriggle into the damp, dewy grass. He let out a huge sigh, his eyes upwards, where the pinks and purples had not reached the paling blue from the night. The aching shoulders and tight wrists were testimony to another night hunched in front of the laptop. Proof that one did not need to sleep in order to have nightmares. The dry eyes hurting from the constant trawling for jobs, writing, rewriting and re editing his résumé, cover letter and files of work. All those years of careful planning. Of carefully balancing University degrees and part time work. All the advice from the wise and the experienced. All the well heeded counselling from the careers counsellors. The degrees propped up in their frames on the floor next to the well read and beloved books. The published work in various publications. Prestige. Really?

He lowered his eyes, arms and heels. Each bare foot rested completely on the giving grass. He brought his gaze down to the beach. A fluttering caught his attention. Far along, to his right he could barely make out a runner, … golly…

As the first tip of the sun rose above the water, and lit up the beach, he felt a sharp intake of breath, as he watched the runner come into clearer view.  She was tall. She was flying, really, not running. Her long black hair was left loose, streaming out behind her, and down her back. She was wearing flowing pants of a vivid blue. She was in a soft flowing top of some shimmery material also in blue green colours. A gauze of brightly hued purples and yellows floated around her in the breeze and around her throat. She was in sharp contrast to all the others, in their running gear, taut around their bodies, sensible and protective. She was free and, well, flowing.

Was she mad? Even as the thought broke out on the edge of a snort, it disappeared, as did the feeling of derision. She was closer now, loping along with the grace of an Amazonian Jaguar, but coloured in the clothes of an Australian Rainbow Lorikeet. Her mouth was moving, it seemed. He squinted to catch a better glimpse. She had no earphones on, so she might be mumbling, or singing, or… chanting? Praying? She was past him now,  disappearing down the beach on his left. The bright blues and greens and yellows she was wearing, blazed a trail as other runners stopped, and stared. He became aware of the time.

***

When he entered the house, it was quiet. Someone was awake upstairs, but no one was down yet. The weariness of a few sleepless nights seemed a thing of the past. He became aware that his shoulders were straight and his spine upright.

He walked into his room and turned off the light. He pulled the ivory blinds apart to meet the pale curtains. His unslept in bed still seemed uninviting.  He sat down at his desk, turned on the hibernating laptop and opened up the folder containing his résumé and accompanying portfolio.

Résumé. Check.

Cover Letter. Check.

Portfolio of work. Che.. e..ck.

He opened up the email from the famous overseas research institution. “… looking for people … bring about shift in knowledge … can you excite us … enthusiasm …”

That had been bothering him. He was enthused alright. On the inside. How could he excite a bunch of people who were across that ocean next to his home, when he could barely look his Mum’s yoga teacher in the eye without going red in the face, or speak to his sister’s giggly friends without stuttering? He just did not know how.

From his subconscious a picture grew bright in front of him. He typed Rainbow Lorikeet on Google’s search bar and clicked on Images.  A host of bright blues and greens assailed his eyes. He smiled.

 ***

A hand softly touched his head, and his mother asked, “Does the genius want his breakfast now?”

He turned and gave her a hug, “Sure, can I have some freshly squeezed orange juice, please? And some…”

“Okay, Okay!” she sounded a little stunned, probably at his animated response. “Come and help me, I have to leave soon.”

He pattered to the kitchen where Ellie was already bringing her oats to the table and Dad was eating his toast.

“Have you finished your résumé yet?” asked Dad, and then glared at Ellie. She had possibly kicked him under the table to shut him up.

“I am sure he has everything under control”,  murmured Mum soothingly.

He smiled in answer to Dad’s query. “Almost, just jazzing things up a little.”

“Jazzing! Jazzing up a résumé? What are you doing? Splashing it with bright red paint?” Dad’s glare was now directed at him.

“Something like that.” He took the halved oranges from Mum and started squeezing them. “Only, I am using blue”.

His uncharacteristically joking tone shocked Dad into silence. Ellie giggled. He winked at her.

 ***

He did get some sleep that night, but awoke as usual in the pre dawn. He walked down to the beach and paused at his usual spot. The customary runners and their dogs were there. He walked down to the edge of the grass, and sat down on the still damp bench. He felt calm. He had sent in his résumé before he went to bed last night. He wondered how long it would take for them to respond, if at all. He wondered if his gamble would pay off. He had re-illustrated his papers with colour. The graphs and pictures were now bold and looked almost like they had been drawn in for kindergarten, though they were still the same erudite, learned dissertations. He had inserted photos he had taken during his research of his subjects – birds in their full glory, and had captioned them with touches of Pooh-esque philosophy. He had used images and ideas that usually stayed locked inside his head, or in his own private journals because he was a scientist, not a kindergarten teacher. He dealt in deep knowledge, not vibrant colour. He stirred. Really?

There she was! She was here again today! She must have recently moved into the neighbourhood, or else she was holidaying, and staying in one of the houses let out for the purpose. She was again dressed in bright, flowing, rainbow colours. He could not tell if they were the same clothes, all he remembered from yesterday were the flashes of colour. He was closer to her path today, and could clearly see her muscly power swathed in her shimmering clothes. She still appeared to be singing. Other runners turned and stared at her as she passed them, but she did not appear to notice anyone. It felt like she was running in slow motion, but all of a sudden, she had run past him, and was becoming smaller in the distance. He smiled.

 ***

As he pushed open the door to the  kitchen he saw Ellie jumping about excitedly just beyond. Dad was waving a phone around and yelling “…where IS he? GAARGH!! Does he always have to disappear just when… Oh there you are!”

It was his phone. They were calling from San Francisco, and before his voice had a chance to shut down or his brain to freeze, he had plunged straight into the middle of an interview.

Half an hour later, he hung up and looked around. Mum, Dad, and Ellie were sitting at the dining table, quiet,  tense, staring at him. He had not realised that they were still there, or that he had not left the room.

“They want me to go in at 9:30 and meet with the “Head of Research” who is at a convention in Sydney at the moment”.

“I’ll drop you in”, Dad rushed off to shave, presumably.

“I’ll iron you a shirt,” Ellie skidded down the hallway.

Giving chase, he yelled, “Blue shirt, green socks.”

“WHAT”!!!

He heard Mum call out from the kitchen, “Quick, shower! Your breakfast will be ready in 10 minutes”.

 ***

It became a habit to watch out for the Rainbow Runner each dawn. He had noticed by now that she wore different clothes each day, though in the same Rainbow Lorikeet colours. A predominance of green, a lot of blue. Dashes and flashes of orange, red and yellow. Often, violet as well. The clothes were always flowing, not the kind of clothes runners wear. None of the tight fitting “wick moisture away from body” type stuff. No shoes, either, though that is common among runners on the beach. A scarf streaming behind her. She always looked like she was flying, making his heart soar each time he saw her.

Soon, he knew exactly when to expect her, just before the sun first peeked above the horizon. That was always when he spotted her running along the edge of the water in his direction. Then she would be abreast, and then past him, disappearing on the other side, just as the sun popped above the horizon completely. The colours in the sky would be starting to pale, and the sun itself would be brightening to yellow from its bright red-orange glow.

He found a spot on the sand to watch out for her. He would come and sit there, watching the dawn, as he had from childhood. He always knew when to glance to the right to see her approaching. He noticed that the other regulars ignored her nowadays, but his own fascination continued.

 ***

That last day, fully dressed for travel, he went down to the beach at the usual time. He stood close to her usual path, and when she approached, stepped up.

“He-hello”, he said, doing his best to ignore the sweat trickling down his back., telling himself it was a cool morning.

She stopped, and looked into his eyes. Was she aware how hard it was for him to not look away? She was panting a little, but smiled and said, “Hello.”

“I… I… I just wanted to say…”. What did he want to say? He had forgotten. All he was aware that it was vital he said it before he left, and that his tongue was stuck to his palate.

The silence did not feel awkward. She just stood there, still smiling. He noticed the wrinkled corners of her eyes, the grey flecks in her hair, the sun in her smile.

He started over. “Just… just… thank you, and… and… goodbye”. He felt his face crack into a smile, quite unaware of how boyish and vulnerable he looked.

She took a step towards him, and involuntarily, petrified that she was about to hug him, he leaned away, willing his feet to stay put. But all she did was put out her hand. “Thank you! And Good luck”. Her low voice resonated within him, and he knew he would remember it forever.

They shook hands and stepped away from each other.  With another wave, she was off, running again.

He turned and came back home. Dad had just finished putting breakfast on the table. Ellie was securing two orange and red flimsy scarves to the handle of his carry on suitcase. Mum had got the car out, and was just sitting down to breakfast. They were all wearing different shades of blue, and he realised, he was in bright parrot green.

“Come on”, said Dad, “we need to be at the airport soon.”

 ***

lorikeet's imagination

photo and editing credit: My son

The Vanishing Heels

She was just a little in front of him, to one side. Part of her was in the sun, and partly shaded by the roof of the bus stop.  Her pale hair lay close to her head, and flowed down her back, past her shoulders, almost like a close fitting cloak, or a silk head scarf left loose. Her dress reached below her heels, he caught a glimpse of very high heels encasing a slender ankle.

Suddenly becoming aware he was staring, he looked away.  Someone bumped into him from behind and he moved a little to his right, closing the space between him and her. The bus to Sydney still had his doors closed, and the queue behind him was getting longer. People were murmuring amongst themselves , milling around in the purposeful way that people do in queues. He shuffled a little to avoid bumping into the couple behind him, and caught a whiff of a fresh breeze. Surprised, he looked around, yes there was a breeze, and it had suddenly turned very cool. She was very close to him now.  Still standing there quietly, with her gaze fixed at mid distance, head slightly bowed. A single strand of her hair lifted in the fresh breeze and he caught another whiff.  As soon as he tried to put a name to the fragrance, he could not smell it anymore.

He shook his head. He looked down at his laptop bag at his feet and then at the portfolio in his hand. He wondered whether he should take out his notes and go through them again. Everything depended on his presentation today.

“No need.”

He jumped. The voice was very quiet. Very still, like a drop of water falling noiselessly into a deep lake. He could not tell from where it had come. The couple behind him were talking in low voices amongst themselves in a foreign language. They sounded very intense. Not like the still, quiet voice he had heard. She had turned a little towards him, her head lifted, and tilted away from him. As he glanced at her, she looked into his eyes, then looked away to the mid distance again. Her eyes were the colour of liquid light. He was being fanciful. Surely her eyes were not such a light shade of golden? No. It must have been the light from the sun.

His heart was not racing any more. It felt strangely contained. For weeks now he had been living on unadulterated adrenalin. He had forced himself to sleep the last couple of nights, getting some calming tablets from his sister who was a Naturopath.

“ I want to be able to sleep, but don’t give me any thing that will make me groggy.”

“Look. Either you trust me or you get going. I have no time to spend on your distrust.”

“I don’t want to be a Zombie.”

His brother-in-law had intervened. “Leave him alone. You know this is a big deal. Just give him something so he can rest and still be thinking well on Wednesday.”

He had slept. But even in his sleep the swoosh swoosh of his own blood had deafened him.

Right now, though, he could hardly hear his heart. No Thrum Thrum of a racing ticker. No Swoosh Swoosh of frenzied blood.

He tickled his laptop bag with his foot. Had he missed any possible questions? What else could be asked of him?

“You have the answer.”

What? Who had spoken? That quiet voice again, that voice that was neither loud nor soft. Neither of his mind nor of the outside world. Golly! He was going to kill his sister!! He was delusional!!! His heart beat jumped up again and small beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead. He could not bungle today!

She stirred. Flicking back her hair with both hands, like one would move the hood of a cloak aside, she looked up at the sun, exposing her throat to his view. She blew a long breath out, and then looked around. Then, as if aware that he was staring, she turned and looked at him. Her face was expressionless. No. Was it? Was it a calm expression? Or a confident one? Was she about to say something?

He nearly opened his mouth to ask her… what? Before he properly knew what he had been about to do, she had turned away. The bus driver was asking her name and checking it on the list. She pointed it out, and was given a seat number. He heard her say softly, “thank you”, and then she disappeared into the bus. She had no luggage. He forgot to be nervous.

He was in the bus next, and spotted her walking down the aisle looking at the numbers on the seats. He found his seat and sat down. A moment later she was standing next to him again and looking at the seat number on the seat next to his. She slipped into it. Was she stalking him?

“No”.

This time seriously startled, he glanced at her. She had just finished examining the seat belt, and was fastening it. He noticed how long her fingers were, how pale the wrist, and how delicate her movements. Gracious! Was he stalking her?

She leaned back and closed her eyes. Her eyelashes very long, sweeping her cheekbones. He wondered how old she was. It was impossible to tell. Her skin was taut, nary a wrinkle in sight, but she had none of that petal fresh bloom of a teenager. She was definitely past her twenties, but then how much past that? Once he got to thirty, and above, he could not place her in a bracket . She could be any age, but was definitely not a teenager. What did it matter, anyway?

He now wished he had not placed the laptop on the shelf above his head. What if it shifted and fell?

He turned to her and asked her if she could please step into the aisle so he could get his laptop. She unbuckled her seatbelt, stood up in a fluid movement, and before he could stand, had reached up, and fetched the laptop bag down and handed it to him. He smiled and thanked her, and placed the laptop bag on his lap, under his portfolio. She nodded, and murmured something he could not catch. She was already busy putting on her seatbelt, seemingly fascinated with it. She was soon leaning back, eyes closed and palms crossed on her lap. She looked like a painting, almost ethereal.

He noticed that the bus was already on its way. He had missed the small speech about the toilet facilities,  the reminder not to use or abuse drugs and alcohol while on the bus, and that the law dictated that the seatbelts must be fastened.

He could smell her perfume now. Fresh. It smelled of the forest. And reminded him of cool breezes in the dappled sunlight. Of deer and squirrels and possums in a fairy tale setting.

“Fanciful”.

He knew where that came from. It was himself. He was being unusually fanciful. He shook his head again to clear his thoughts. They strayed back to the meeting scheduled for later today.  His fingers started drumming on his portfolio. It made a loud jarring noise even to his own ears.

A soft whistling sound came to his ears. His heart stirred. He remembered the tune. This was a memory. He was not going mad. It was his uncle, his father’s older brother. His uncle would whistle popular and famous classical tunes, while he worked on his latest building project. He would sit hidden in the back, behind the boxes working on his own projects. His uncle never bothered him with questions or advice. His uncle did not even mind those times when he broke stuff,  or set fire to things as he tried out experiments. He smiled. His uncle had trusted him.

“Mark my words. Your son will do something wonderful, and you will be left gaping.”

Today could be the day when his uncle’s prediction would come true.  Suddenly he felt that it was possible. It was possible that his proposition would be the one selected. It was possible that they would see its potential.

“Of course, it is possible.” Yes. That was himself too, he thought, feeling a smile on his face. His fingers were no longer beating out a Morse code of exhaustion and anxiety. They were still. His palms were crossed, identically to hers. He leaned back and closed his eyes, slipping into his first unaided sleep in months.

****

They were drawing into Central Station when he woke up. He felt refreshed. She was awake as well. As he stretched carefully she leaned a little away from him, allowing him space.

They got off the bus one after the other. She looked around, then, virtually in step with him walked across to the pedestrian lights. She walked beside him across the road and entered the same building by his side. Her high heels made a very soft sound, very unlike his sister’s whose clackety clack he had come to hate.

It no longer seemed uncanny to him that she was by his side. She looked at him once or twice, always in that same indefinable way, but he did not try to probe that anymore. He shrugged. She had come from Canberra to Sydney on the same bus, to the same building. So what? He paused in front of the big information board, confirmed that Messrs Young, Young, and Bulle were on the 17th floor, and turned to the lifts. He saw a flash of her dress and heels as the doors closed and the lift rose away. He straightened his shoulders, realised he was still smiling, and pressed the up button.

He did not see her again.

Doggy Dos and Don’ts

Yawn! Stretch, y-a-w-n!!!!!!

I padded out of my room to the doorway of the Big Room. I scratched on the glass. I could see the Family moving around. Ma was talking away once in a while screaming out to Dada and Didi who were not visible yet. I could see that my food had been placed in my little bowl in front of the kitchen, but Ma never fed me. Didi or Dada did. Ah well, I was not that hungry anyway.

A  little point just beyond my reach behind my ear, felt itchy. I pondered and decided it was not bad enough to try and get to. I padded over to  the bowl of water in front of my room and drank thirstily. Sleeping can make a dog really thirsty. I turned and looked back at Ma, who was still thumping food on to the table and stomping back and forth from the kitchen. I knew that if I did my doo-doos here she would be unhappy. One does not make Ma unhappy. Regardless of who feeds me, it is she who is the boss of all things. I ran down the steps to the doo-doo corner.

When I came back, Baba was there and Dada and Didi had come down as well. I started jumping up and down and uttering little yelps. Didi always loves to see me excited. Sure enough, she was bringing the food over. She opened the glass door. I ran to sit at My Spot waiting for her to put it down for me. However much excited I get, Ma has ruled that I only get fed if I sit in My Spot.  Didi put the food down, gave me a squish, and went back indoors with a promise that today, after school, we would go biking. I like biking. Didi rides her bike and I run alongside. Much more my style than trying to slow down when she decides to run.

I finished the food, overturned the bowl to see if any morsels were clinging underneath, and padded back to the door. It was open. I was allowed to go in. Keeping a wary eye on Ma, I went and sat a little distance away from the dining table watching the comings and goings with interest. Baba was bringing toast to the table, Didi was finishing her smoothie and Dada tossed me a crumb.  I quickly caught it in my mouth, but Ma had noticed.

“Don’t feed The Dog indoors!” Why does she call me The Dog? I tried to look as sweet and innocent as possible. But she carried on, “If you don’t follow the rules, The Dog stays outside”. Dada winked at me.  I looked back seriously. I didn’t want to Stay Outside. But what can I do if someone tosses me food?

Ma went off upstairs to get changed and ready for work. Downstairs everyone was engaged in clearing up. I walked to the kitchen door.  On his way back out Baba stooped and scratched me behind my ear just where it was itchy. Aaah! He always knows.  Ruffling up my coat he said, “Don’t go in there! Ma will be mad.” I know, oh I know.

“The Dog can go here”.

“The Dog can’t go there”.

“Not there!!!”

“Take The Dog out and brush him down.” Okay, that’s a good one.

“Will someone clean The Dog’s Do-do???!!!!!!” Well, that’s a good one, too…. I don’t like do-dos to pile up.

This is the worst time of the day. They all go away and I am left to myself. I tell you, making sure that the cats next door don’t come into my garden can pall.

Ma came downstairs, “Has someone made sure that The Dog’s water has been filled up?” Baba replied from his study… “ I have”

“Okay. Bye everyone”

She had gone, waving at me as she went out the front door.

Dada and Didi clattered down the stairs, closed the toddler gate on the bottom of the stairs, and as Baba walked out of the front door, they left through the back door, unlocking the flap door that allowed me to go in if it got too hot during the day.

I walked out to the back gate with them, seeing them off as they ran to their bus stop down the little lane.  I sat down in the shade of the hedge, peering underneath  until the bus came, and they got in.

All around it was quietening down. The morning rush was over. A few birds were chirping from the top branches of the tree. Further away a couple of  toddlers were playing in their backyard, but for the most part the neighbourhood had departed for the day. An unaccustomed creak startled me. I turned to the gate, it was swinging slightly on its hinges.

Gingerly, I stepped out to the gate and pushed against the bottom rung with one paw. It swung outwards. It. Was. Not. Locked.

I  stood, trembling a little, just outside my yard. The path to the bus stop was on one side. On the other side I could see the blue of the ocean. That was where Didi would take me for my run later, along the cliffs next to the big blue, right up to the top, where I would see the sky meet the water and feel the balmy wind.  I stepped out a little bit more. No one yelled. I took a deep breath and had just decided to go for it, when suddenly I heard a distant deep bark.

I dived back in and made straight for the porch. The big ugly dog was out with his deaf owner. Not that I am scared of big ugly dogs. I just don’t like being mauled. I am fastidious like that. After a while I realised that the B.U.D. was going another way today. I quietly made my way across the garden to the gate again.

Step by tentative step, I started towards the ocean.  Soon I felt stronger,  and I was gambolling along the path, my ears flat against my shoulders and the wind streaming through my fur.

It was magnificent! The skies were blue, the birds were flying high, the path leading up from the beach had very few people on it. I met no one who knew me. I heard someone laughing as I streaked past, “Whoa! Boy!” But most of them ignored me, as I did them.

I wandered all day. It was warm, with the breeze just the right amount of cool. I went up and down the pathway on the cliffs till I tired of it, and went back down to the street and houses. This was surely the life! No silly cats peering at me over the fence. No fences holding me in. I slunk under the fence of one house and lapped up some water out of their swimming pool. I scared a tiny dog with a pink bow. I charmed a mother and toddler in the park. I ran around and around in circles with a couple of other wandering dogs.

As it started to get dark, I realised how hungry I was.  I suddenly remembered Didi. She must have come home long ago… It was late now, she would be doing her homework, and I would not get to go biking with her and listen to her sing at the top of her voice at the top of the cliff. I had missed “trick time” with Dada. All the silly little tricks I performed for him, and the treats he gave me. Ma would be getting dinner on the table. My dinner would be in my bowl…

The other dogs I had been playing with had long gone, and the cars were shining their lights as they whooshed past, blinding me.  It was really not that nice being out here all alone.

I turned and came back home.

Ma was the first one to come out. “There he is!” Didi came rushing out and hugged me tight. Dada danced around and Baba smiled at me and said “welcome back”.

Once I had been hugged and petted I walked over to My Spot. Ma was putting down my bowl of food herself. “Tell The Dog to eat properly. Make sure you lock the gate, children.” 

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