Thursday, April 21, 2016

Our different worlds

Janet bought a pair of shoes before she left, shoes she thought she'd wear in Colombo. Nothing super fancy, but decorative and fun. She spent a good amount of time thinking about, fantasizing how they'd look with different outfits, if there was ever a dry afternoon or evening in Colombo and the occasion called for their slight dressiness. She bought them in Boston. Maybe they were $30 or $50. Maybe they were closer to $100. But whatever they cost they were "on sale" and not a huge amount of money. By our standards. 

Turns out we got away from that cesspit they call Colombo. We had expected university functions, embassy functions, State Department engagements. They never materialized or maybe they would have, if we chose to stay in that environment. Instead we moved to the East. Arguably heaven on Earth. The most beautiful place you can imagine. No embassy here. Only thirty years of war to show for itself. 

But it turns out the shoes were too "snug." They pinched. They impinged in the wrong places. At the wrong angles. What a shame. They were cute. Not Boston cute. Not Batticaloa cute. But cute for an imagined Colombo. A place less dusty, muddy, shitstrewn. What to do?

You have a lovely wife. You live in the cottage that was her dowry amid her family, her female relations. They are so charming. We visited one time and were served like monarchs. Treated like royalty. We sat. We reclined. The womenfolk assembled on the floor in a group as we watched your wedding video. The first hour of it, that is. Our visit that afternoon knocked you out. Couldn't show for work the next morning. 

Our visit knocked you for a loop. You were too done in to show for work the  next day. Who were we? What were these pale personas you brought to your abode, the sun blazing outside in sparse bushes. You fed and pampered us. Finger bowls and serviettes and rare dishes with veggies you'd bought that morning. An afternoon that stretched on. A motorbike visit to the beach, to drink king coconut juice. Your niece carried the knife in the front of your motorbike. I was in back as you drove, carefully, down pitted unpaved lanes with barbed wire on either side. This was the second or third time you were ever on a motorbike! The next week you crashed and had to stay in bed (!) sleeping for a week. You guys look at your bodies and their strengths and weaknesses so differently from us. Or we look at our bodies and their strengths and weaknesses so differently from you. 

You are not paid that much and your wife stays at home. Not a lot to spare. Both of you praying for her to become pregnant. For her to be a mother. The rare wonderfulness of a husband from Colombo, Wattala, with your several words of English and not able to write Tamil but/and some money from a job overseas for several years but enough! You had to come home. Even in the hinterlands, even off the paved roadways, even in fields of ladies fingers (okra) and chiles your wife's biological clock ticks. And you question me (!) sir, how many times does it take until I can make a baby? How many days after "clean clean" can I plant the seed that will turn into a baby?

So the shoes. What is Jainthi's size? Would they fit her? Would they become not a shoe to "wear to temple" as we might, but a 
Kind of Dorothy's ruby slippers at the Smithsonian? The thrall of the village? Not something to wear but to venerate?

Janet thought of giving you the shoes for Jainthi before she left. But would it leave her, Jainthi, feeling beholden? There's little you can give, besides your lush hospitality. That knocks you out. Who knows what happened to Jainthi over these weeks after this effort, this unleashing of hospitality, as you lay in bed recovering? Why and how is it that the poor know to give, how to give? We were never invited among the rich and rampant elite of Colombo! Here where there's so little to give you give. And how can we give in return? How can we offer an incredible pair of pumps to a girl who goes barefoot almost all the time? By choice?

You are going to the Shanthi Cinema tomorrow to see "Theri," with the Tamil actor Vijay. We saw it last week. But how much fun would it be to see it again, not necessarily with you but knowing you are in the crowded audience with extended family and their children, still on New Years school recess. Maybe we'd meet by chance and decide to have lunch together. Maybe I could bring Jainthi the shoes. 

No comments:

Post a Comment