The International Writers Magazine: Life as an Immigrant
‘Pineapple!’ Of all the eccentricities I have had to get used to in this new country, this is probably the most vivid: A crazy man sitting next to me in a coffee shop, suddenly shouting out ‘Pineapple’ to no one in particular. Sure, we have all kinds of loonies back home too. Loads. But none of them blurt out names of tropical fruit while benignly sipping tea in a crowded business establishment in the middle of the day. I would blame it on not drinking coffee, but I have been here long enough to realize that alternate caffeine isn’t the only reason.
There are other peculiarities I have witnessed during my time here: the healthcare is good but everyone has bad teeth, locals inquire about the weather as judiciously as tourists despite the clouds nearly always bursting with rain throughout the year. People pay for a good breakfast but admonish the expensive food for being lackluster. Healthy diets are discussed vigorously while smoking cigarettes. Women are diverse and attractive, but lose all exoticness when they speak in posh local accents. The pale ethnics own more pets and having less children. The old architecture is mesmerizing but there’s new graffiti over which is what draws crowds. The streets are filled with many colors of skin but the shade of choice football league is paramount (I still spell without the u but don’t call it soccer at-least). Warm beer even on warm days … the list could go on.
Still, I like the place enough. But such oddities ensure that I wouldn’t want to
spend the rest of my life here. Thankfully, I have a girlfriend who isn’t from here either.
I have been waiting for her for over an hour now. This, I confess is an oddity true about women from anywhere. But I can’t blame just her: there’s a protest gathering just a few blocks away. Another thing that makes up this metropolis village. No matter what it’s about; terrorism, taxes, tea or any other subject… if someone is dissatisfied, you can be sure it will be a debated (English isn’t my primary language, mind you) into a political issue. This week, it’s about rigid abortion laws on a neighboring island. My girlfriend is probably swerving her way through passionate activists, careful that she isn’t struck over the head by a bohemian feminist wielding a picket sign: My fetus for your testicles! Deal?
In my adopted homeland by Jus Soli, they’d use a more ambiguous term like nuts. Americans have always been criticized for desecrating the English language, but in this case, I side with the former colony.
I don’t mind waiting. I’ve done it before; many times. But right now, my unflinching patience is being tested from within: A toothache. It started three days ago. But it has since grown from an inconvenience into now forcefully having to remove shoes and rubbing my feet against each other. I know. That won’t make the pain go away. But the sensation of polyester wool currents being generated between my toes in this perpetually moist climate is the only discreet distraction from pain at this point. Maybe that crazy guy could randomly shout the name of another fruit again. That will hinder me from my molar as well. The manager hasn’t asked him to leave. No one pays him any attention.
‘Hey, sorry,’ she arrives and kisses me on the mouth. My tooth hurts more now.
‘What aaare you drinking?’ she asks. This, I have learnt, is her way of telling me to ask her what she wants to order. Oh, she also tends to add a’s, inflating the words she speaks, perhaps to compensate for the in-minority developed cold country she comes from, that unlike so many nations of the world, does not contain the first letter.
‘Latte. What should I get you?’ I say slipping my shoes back on without her noticing.
‘Is that a Brazilian nut?’
She doesn’t like my sense of humor. I haven’t learnt that yet.
I wait in line and order a cappuccino for her. She drinks that mostly when we come to one of these places; an aesthetically pleasing assembly line spawned furniture lounge of supposedly fair trade sourced wood and leather serving over priced beverages. There’s many of them. Even the music is the same always – Jazz. Pleasant. Easy. Not enough to distract me from a toothache though.
On my way back to our table, I notice the crazy guy eyeing her. I try to give him a telling off stare, but he’s not even looking at me.
‘You didn’t get aanything to eat?’
I walk back to the counter. The well-trained uniformed girl greets me like I am someone important, and worthy of knowing. She doesn’t recall that I ordered a cappuccino from her three minutes ago. Like many mothers, my mother too said I was handsome. No one has ever called me ugly though. This is the curse of being normal in appearance: forgettable.
‘Cheesecaake!’ my girlfriend remarks as I set the ham sandwich on the table.
I repeat my tour yet again to the ordering station and return once more. She takes healthy bites off the cheesecake. I let the sandwich lie. She coquettishly offers me a creamy sampling from her fork. I nod no. She hasn’t considered or asked about my tooth even though I told her about it two days ago.
‘Do you want to go for a movie after?’ I suggest.
‘I wonder if the closest cinema is right where the protest is happening?’
‘What protest?’ she says.
She must have arrived from another line or the station ahead and walked back. Peculiar (I learnt this word recently and never miss an opportunity to use it, even if just in my mind).
‘Anyway,’ I say. ‘Which one?’
‘Aanything. Nothing heaavy.’
This is a warning. I took her for a Bergman screening last. Wild Strawberries. She liked the name. Not much else.
‘How about that new one with Hugh Grant?’ I say. I hate Hugh Grant but we haven’t been dating for that long and must make amends. I can’t watch Bergman with this tooth anyway.
‘Oh yeah!’ she says, excitedly. ‘Mindy thought it was aawesome.’
Mindy is her best friend. And also the antichrist.
‘But you’ll get bored,’ she admits.
I’m touched. She really does take my feelings into consideration, sometimes.
‘I won’t.’ I lie.
‘You sure? We could just go back to my apaartment. I have to study for thaat test next week too.’
‘Whatever you want.’ I say, relieved.
The crazy guy is now staring at the untouched ham sandwich on our table. In a corner, a television on the wall plays an international news channel on mute. The reporter in front of the camera isn’t too far from where we are at all, covering the abortion issue. The reporter is a man. Again, odd.
On the screen, even without sound, the event seems larger than life. The center of the universe depends on it. People shouting, crying, rallying, talking fast and staring hard. For the next two minutes, this is truly a moment in history; before the weather forecast kicks in.
It’s going to rain in Buenos Aires, just like here. My girlfriend’s been there. I want to visit someday. With her. I speak the language; just like her ex.
‘You really liked Argentina, right?’ I say.
‘It waas ok.’
That’s not what she said on our first date. Ohh! It’s even better than Paaris. I remember. I shouldn’t. That’s the key to lasting relationships. Happiness.
She’s polished off the cheesecake. But still looks great. No compensating additions required in her figure. Always exercising. People stare at me more when we’re out together though. ‘How did HE get…?’ is what they whisper to each other. I don’t know the answer to that. She’s never criticized my mediocre physique. Just for that, I think she might love me. I certainly do her. But haven’t told her yet. Maybe just before the holidays. That way she won’t meet the old flame when back home: ‘Aalonzo’. I can never forget his name either. Maybe he’s originally from Argentina or at least in part. The world has grown too small to belong to just one place. Flipping demographics in this city are testament to that reality: New subjects, same old Queen.
‘Should we go?’ she says, picking up her bag.
I return the tray of empty glasses and plate, but leave the sandwich. Crazy guy is still looking at it. He doesn’t appear homeless; dressed normally, touching on middle age. It’s as if the sandwich is a shrine, and he’s praying to it. Weird how some people turn out.
I should pray more often. Even Mindy, the devil, goes to church every Sunday. Probably takes up everyone’s confession time. She’s been trying to get my girlfriend to breakup with me for a while. ‘How did YOU land up with him?’ she has scolded my girlfriend in the past; in my presence. Like I wasn’t there. Speaking about me in the third person.
It definitely adds perspective to the subject. Just like news coverage through a TV channel can reveal a humdrum event to be more significant, Mindy too, can see what my girlfriend and I can’t: that ours is a bad relationship. You have to be outside of something to know what it’s like, otherwise you’re too wrapped up in becoming it: crazy.
We go back to her apartment. To my disappointment, we don’t make love. She has a headache and has to study. She blames it on the cheesecake. The two reasons ensure I don’t see her for the rest of the week.
I go to the dentist finally. Turns out I need a root canal.
‘You really shouldn’t wait for things to come to this,’ the doctor, who people never call doctor, lectures me whilst his assistant adds gravitas by nodding.
A few weeks later, I see my girlfriend holding hands with a handsome guy outside a cinema near the coffee shop. They don’t see me across the street because they’re too busy giving each other cavities. They walk into the cinema theatre. Another romantic comedy is playing. At least she won’t be getting back together with Alonzo. This could explain why she came from a different direction on the day of the protest. Could she have been meeting this new guy then before coming to see me? What could they have been doing?
We break up before the holidays without seeing each other. Mindy passes on the message. ‘You have to be realistic!’ are the nicest words she says to me out of many. Mindy is right. One can get hurt where one doesn’t belong. I ask Mindy just one thing: ‘How was the last Hugh Grant movie?’
‘I hate Hugh Grant,’ she says. This confirms why my girlfriend was late on the day of the protest: she was watching the Hugh Grant movie with her Mr. New.
I graduate. Get a job and a wife. Settle down in this place. Years pass with aging. I lose both wife and job. I’m trying to get another job; they’re easier. I’ve always tried to look after my teeth since then, and failed. On the upside, that has taught me that I wouldn’t make a good father and so have never had any children.
Now I’m by myself in a coffee shop that has spent money in design to look old, just like the new one from when I was in University. Even the same Jazz music plays, but sounds better with advances in acoustic technology developed locally by an engineer from an Egyptian background ( The Pyramids: sometimes the work travels through the ages along with genes) .
Abortion laws, attitudes towards smoking, political parties, even the weather, along with the flow of language, have all witnessed change: only the pain of losing first love has remained static.
A well-trained young man brings my tea to where I am sitting because I do not dye my grey hair. I don’t notice him because I’m trying not to remember my girlfriend from those many years ago.
‘Anything else, sir?’ he asks bowing down.
© Gotham Mamik March 2014
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