Comes and Goes (In Waves)

Earlier this year, I read Things I Don’t Want to Know by Deborah Levy. It’s a first person narrative of the South African writer and her answer to George Orwell’s essay, “Why I Write“. At the time, I was also reading another book in which there is an Egyptian character who is a paying guest at the narrator’s house and spends an inordinate amount of time putting lids on open pots and pans because the narrator and her children are too aggrieved to cover their vessels. For some reason, I mixed up the two storylines, and now I cannot recall where I’d read about this Egyptian man who spoke of how Americans don’t cook proper meals and covers post and pans. But the fact of the matter is that Deborah Levy’s essay has had a profound impact on me. In it she talks about her black house help, her Jewish father imprisoned for protesting against apartheid, the villa in Majorca where she escapes after her marriage has fallen through, and how she used to visit a greasy spoon while in England to do her writing. She says, “I had a vague idea this was how writers were supposed to behave because I had read books about poets and philosophers drinking espresso in French cafés while they wrote about how unhappy they were.” Although I haven’t read any of her books I know exactly the kind of writer Deborah Levy will turn out to be for me. I’ve encountered only too many of the kind, if you will, in the recent past. More so, I already admire her for her words. I think of Deborah Levy today, for the following reasons: 1) I think of her essay on and off, all the time. 2) I’m reading another woman author whose first person narrative I’ve just completed, and something inside me has rattled, 3) I am sitting in a cafe writing about how unhappy I am because I’ve read in books about women authors who have read in books that this is how writers are supposed to behave.

I wish I liked coffee. Sometimes, I really wished I did. I could dunk it down my throat, and it would do to me whatever it is designed to do, and I would saunter off from the cafe having had participated in the herd cultural norm and having figured out everything. But I don’t like coffee, which is pretty much of a bummer and I’m a total misfit in this cafe where I am supposed to be drinking it and appearing to figure out stuff. I always imagine coffee drinking to be the activity where brownish-black liquid flows down one’s throat like a tiny, tumbling river of temporary comprehension. Then, I imagine the person picking up his/her coat and confidently walking out to do whatever they were setting out to do. It’s like a temporary cultural-glue. Sometimes, I want the temporary cultural glue to work for me, but most times I don’t.

Note from Brain to Self:
“Ezra Pound wrote thirty lines for a poem that was eventually two lines. No one said one couldn’t write badly about Paris. No one said Paris couldn’t turn out badly on a page.”

Note from Self to Brain:
“Why are we thinking about Ezra Pound now? That’s for when we talk about Iceland. We’re not talking about Iceland now.”

Mariam was propped up on her window sill waiting for me. Her brown pots were full of cacti that I had planted for her as she couldn’t bother herself with watering plants on a regular basis. I haven’t written about Mariam because she is notorious and probably dangerous. The last time Mariam made news was because she threw all her pots of flowers from her window. Then, she locked herself up and didn’t answer the bell for anyone. Not even me. Stranger things had happened, but when I first heard about the job, not only did I like the sound of it, but also wanted to be braver than others. I mostly do things because I like the sound of them, never have I found myself weighing the pros and cons of an opportunity. This has got me into considerable trouble in the past. When I first met Mariam, she was not a beastly woman as we had all supposed but creepy in a colourful kind of way. I had walked into her blue and white house, with the crucifix on the back of the door, and she greeted me with a smile in her eyes. I recall that I did everything I could to not run away on the very first day. I didn’t want my sister laughing at me, and my parents mocking me telling me “We told you so.” Keeping in mind my possible humiliation, I walked into the unknown which now had become familiar territory.

Mariam perched herself on her bed and looked at the book in my hand. I can’t say I liked her very much, but the sound of my voice kept me going. I despised her for the fact that she spent the first 15 minutes telling me all the things she wanted to do, but never left the house. Not for a single minute. She stayed holed up in her room, which, though neat, was starting to annoy me for she always inhabited it. She spoke of the mountains she wanted to see, the streets she wanted to walk, the ice creams she wanted to eat. But she never did any of those things. All that money could be put to some use, one would think. But no, she hired me to read to her. And I obediently did, until I lost my nerve yesterday. I was reading aloud Women Without Men, which she was enjoying so thoroughly. I was starting to like it, too. And when each of the women characters left their lives at the end of each story, once again she spoke about going to the mountains. It was then that I snapped at her and was very rude. I told her that she didn’t mean anything she said and that she was a cowardly, sick woman who stayed stuck up in her house. And with that, I left. Her small eyes full of sadness haunt me. I couldn’t sleep last night.

Note from Brain to Self:
“You didn’t write today’s blackout poem.”

Note from Self to Brain:
“Is it okay to talk about time as teardrops?”

I’ve started watching Grey’s Anatomy. Again. In some ways, it’s the same old show. I’ve watched 10 seasons of it because this is my guilty pleasure. It’s drama, drama, and only drama. I used to watch it for Christina Yang because she was the most badass woman character I had seen when I first started watching the show 6 years ago. (Yes, it has 13 seasons and counting.) One of the things that struck me is how familiar everything was, and how the characters had become familiar to each other weaving in and out of each others’ lives with delicate ease. The knowledge and comfort that comes with knowing people every day, day on day, is unparalleled. It has struck me many times in the recent past when I look at my people and we know exactly what someone is going to get to eat, in the sharing of the same cup, in knowing when to start and when to stop. I’ve come to love the familiarity. But sometimes I’ve also come to grow weary of it when it asks to be validated. I have decided to steer clear of providing affirmation and placating fears. I’ve been there – constantly guessing and wondering if I was enough, if I will be enough, if I can do something else to be enough. I’m enough. You’re enough. You’re enough if you’re honest from deep down into your bone. Honestly, you’re enough.

Note from Brain to Self:
“Probably a good time to start worrying about the things left undone.”

Note from Self to Brain:
“Leave me alone.”

I was holding his hand. It had been ten years now. He was familiar. We weren’t lovers. We just knew the going was tough and sometimes one needed to be told it would be alright. It felt natural, like breathing. He turned the corner and I saw him go, his bottle-green jacket in the crowd of black. I was probably never going to see my friend again. The butter-yellow sunlight was now receding and I walked home dodging the grey broken road. I didn’t work myself up by thinking of how unbearable it was that no one should want to fix them. It was not my day to rage against the dying of the light. When the black of the house greeted me, for a moment I was surprised to find it empty. The huge mass of books in the middle of the living room was waiting to be placed in the new cupboard. It was the first time I had grown weary of being a book lover. It had taken so much time to dust, sort, and stamp them that stacking them up was the last thing on my mind.

I filled my bottle with water and drank in front of the books not stopping to breathe. I felt a tight knot in my chest, so I stood up, took a breath and it was gone. For some reason, among the books I had found hidden bath salts that were gifted to me by a close friend. It was a glass bottle filled with lilac crystals and tied with a satin ribbon. I decided to take a lavender bath after I stacked the books. I picked up the book nearest to me – my author signed copy of Slow Startle. I read ‘A Difficult Mountain’ again, and once again. The door bell rang.

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