Featured

Welcome

Complex at times, foolish at others and sometimes naive occurrences in a town. Stories seen through the eyes of a child.

img_5308-edited

Welcome to my blog. In my Intricate Beginnings Blog I hope to paint a picture for you about the Intricacies and Follies of my people and town through the eyes of a child. This town and these people exist in my head. I will give this town a fictional name like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Macondo.

There’s a wealth of ordinary hue in my people. I will attempt to bring out their color and flavor in bits and small pieces.

The more I write; the more you read, the closer you’ll come to like and understand my Macondo. And if you still don’t understand, know that you’re not alone. Sometimes, I don’t understand either. In that case, I hope that the words that I use to paint these pictures, leave an impression in your soul.

In between stories, I will also add letters (hand-written letters) sent/received through snail-mail.

Selma is my Pen name. I am as shy as they come. Exposing myself like this will be therapeutic for me. Besides, I want to clean house as these characters have lived in my head for too long. I want to set them free.

I hope to post at least once a week and I hope that the blog-reading community gives me a chance to soar as high as my creative-wings will take me. Be generous and honest with your comments please because I want them.

I really look forward to connecting with you! xoxo S.

d58e1295-bc21-4937-9210-e75188443991

This Old House

…This old house
In an odd way has been my friend
Never had to say I’m sorry
For a birthday card I didn’t send

I guess you’d think I was crazy
If I thanked them for all these years
For the good times and heartaches
For all the laughter and tears
(Poem by Lagaya Evans)

Aww what a mesmerizing sight, I heard myself saying in a voice that wasn’t my own. All the hues of red and brown and Crimson right before my eyes, again that was not my voice.
And this feeling, how can we be flying like this and not feel the autumn chill.  I remember thinking that.
We were gliding over a red barn surrounded by trees. I was not alone. I could feel my companion’s presence but couldn’t see her face. In a weird way, I knew I didn’t need to look. I already knew it was Valerie Moore.

I opened my eyes slightly and saw the silhouette figure of my mother in the dark.
“Risa, I told you that rain was predicted for tonight and asked you to lock the windows. For once I’d like to get a good night’s sleep without having to be bothered by things that I specifically ask you girls to do. One of these nights someone is going to come through that window and take you away quietly. Spare yourselves and me of such an awful ordeal or I’ll buy a lock and those windows will stay closed forever”.
Mom said all that in one go. That was just like her. Always saying things the grownup way. Only she would have the stamina for such a discourse in the middle of the night. Mom was talking to Risa but Risa didn’t budge.

Feeling exhilarated from the dream I was just dreaming I tried not to listen to her words for fear of losing the feeling I was trying to hold on to in my autumn dream.
Valerie Moore was my childhood penpal. We started corresponding before the end of the school year in Third Grade. This particular evening I had just received a letter from her. Valerie lived in Wisconsin. She had a cherry orchard and she had a pony she called Cubby. She and I were 8 years old and both of us had birthdays in September.
Every letter she wrote to me was riddled with eraser holes and consisted of ugly pages carelessly torn out from big writing pads. She told me about learning to milk their cows, and about driving a tractor and about picking cherries.
I have never been cherry-picking and much less never milked a cow in my life.
This time she told me about fall coming and described a foliage scene behind her farm that it stayed in my mind all evening only to resurface in my dream that damp rainy night. In fact, the words I had uttered in my dream had come directly from Valerie’s letter.

The stairs leading up to the attic were dark and narrow and cold. They were enclosed in a small upward-going tunnel and they swerved round so that you couldn’t see if someone was coming down or going up until you were right smack in front of them. It was void of day light and lacked a light switch and even a light bulb for that matter.
Risa and I shared a room up there but I had had no say in the matter. My mother, suspecting my sister to be up to something, used me as a bargaining condition.

“…only if you agree to share the space with your sister,” mother bargained assured that Risa would soon give up the idea. And when Risa said ok without a moment’s hesitation, mother couldn’t go back on her word. And so it was that I ended up sleeping in the attic.

Risa chose the attic because of the way it felt so disconnected from the rest of the house. Perhaps it was because the stairs were completely encapsulated, but once upstairs one could not hear anything going on downstairs. And vice versa. I didn’t like being upstairs but once upstairs I dreaded going down those stairs. I always got the distinct feeling that I was about to bump into a ghost.

We had two beds. Mine was closest to the stairs and Risa’s was next to the windows. Mom let me have a small table next to my bed and on it I kept a small glow-in-the-dark lamp. But the lamp hardly got any real light from outside or from the one dim light bulb that illuminated the room. In order to get any use of the glow, I had to wait for Risa to be in the room for a few minutes before going upstairs. Once under my covers, Risa would turn off the light and then I would get my glow. Good thing was that I fell asleep right away even before the lamp lost its glow.

There were no partitions between our beds so Risa spent her allowance on thick silk ribbons that she thumbtacked to the ceiling boards; I mean lots and lots of ribbons. She made it so that from the top of the stairs, one couldn’t see her bed and also from my bed I couldn’t see her bed. The ribbons were of all different colors and they cascaded from the low ceiling all the way to the floor. During the day I loved looking at the ribbons swaying with the wind, but at night the ribbons grazing against my face or any part of my body, sent shivers down my spine. They scared me.

That night, the rains came strong. There was thunder and there was lightening.
The old house moaned, the old house groaned; the old window blinds rattled uncontrollably. Shrrrrrrooweeee shrrrrrooweeeee rushed in the wind through small openings on the window frame. Oh that howling; how angry that wind sounded. I needed my mother but I was afraid to descend the stairs.
I called out to Risa but she paid me no mind. Closer and closer to her bed I went until I was right above her. She laid on her side, still as a corpse. I could see the shape of her body and even her hair but her face lay hidden under the blanket.
“Can I sleep with you,” I whispered in a groggy voice.
“I’m sssc– scared, ” I moaned still trying to sound strong. I touched her shoulder to shake her but there was no shoulder where a shoulder was supposed to have been. I ran my hand over her body but there was no body there either. And scary as that was, I snatched off the light blanket only to find that two cushions laid where Risa was supposed to have laid.

At that revelation, my eyes got forced open. These didn’t feel like my eyes. The area around my eyes was being held wide open by cold fingers that even my eyeballs felt cold. I couldn’t manage a blink. My mouth flew open as if the ligaments in my neck had been wound too tightly. I screamed but the scream was only coming from inside my head. My voice had deserted me. Almost without thinking I scurried over to the stairs and stomped down the dark stairs as if the ON button had just been turned-on inside me. No time for knocking. I flung the door open. I got to mother’s side of the bed and yanked the covers off of her. I still couldn’t get my eyes to blink or my neck to release the pull it had on my open mouth. I started slapping mother. This woke my father too. He jumped out of bed and turned on the big light in the room. As if this was the cue that I had been waiting for, a loud insistent wailing bubbled from within me. I started to shake uncontrollably and burning tears splattered from my eyes all at once. My voice was incoherent and husky so with exaggerated hand gestures I tried telling them about Risa. But my parents couldn’t understand. I dragged them to the stairs and pushed them towards the attic. Mom got to the top first.
“Risa,” called my mother in that voice she used to let us know that we were in trouble.
“Risa get out here this minute. Risaaaaa! 

But there was no Risa…

Five Teenage Boys I want you to meet

Have you ever hosted 5 fifteen year old boys under your roof? They might just win you over… these did!


Hershey kisses and cotton candy and bubble gum is what my house smelled liked at the end of the evening.

Right after consuming the mouth watering fish-meal that dad labored so hard to catch, they switched gears as if it were their life long mission to indulge in a sweets-binge. First, they started with marshmallows on the grill. Then came chocolate, toffee and chips, then jumbo brownies and colas, and on and on they gobbled. They had a good tummy-fill with intervals of laughter. And by god, I don’t know how they could.

It was a late Halloween party they came to celebrate. I was happy to indulge them. My Halloween decorations hadn’t seen the light of day in years. In fact, the only reason why these boxes and the telltale signs of what lay inside sat next to the front door, was that I was getting ready to donate it all to the church bazaar. Bryan sensed this perhaps and used it as a good excuse for his party plans. Athirst to give my old memorabilia a final farewell too, I decided to go along.

They called it a Halloween party but no one dressed up. The house though, looked splendidly halloweeny in the middle of November. Lucky for me, all my old posters kept their splendor intact. The boys marveled at it and even took pictures which they posted on their social media pages eliciting replies from other friends green with envy. The front door held a warning to the effect of “enter at your own risk”. Our car had scary monster faces on the windows. The trees outside in my yard had pumpkins and skeletons and spiders hanging from them. The yard was dark but for the few demure Halloween lights. And the couch and the table and chairs awaited their warm bodies to come and repose in them, but no one did because it rained!! With umbrellas in tow, they paraded outside and admired the hanging creatures up close. I guess that that gesture is what warmed my insides.

In the wee hours of the morning, even before the rooster arose, Dad had left his warm bed to set out to catch the biggest fish he could find. At around 2:00 dad called to inform Bryan that his big mission had been accomplished. That he was bringing home the biggest one and that he would prepare for him and his friends a nice fish dish fit for kings. And that’s just what dad did. But from the very start, that fish meal was plan #2.

As plan #1 the boys had decided amongst themselves that they would go to the store and load up on meats that they wanted to eat; they were aiming at a hot-pot meal which is very popular here when the weather gets cool. Well that is what they said they’d do but they only got as far as shopping for sweets…Boys!!

If it hadn’t been for dad’s plan #2 and my plan #3 they would have starved. They attacked the fish like barbarians! Truth be told, had this dish been garnished a little more to please adults, 6 adults would have had enough with that amount of fish.

Lucky for them as they were done devouring the fish, the first batch of hot chicken breasts went from grill right to their plates. A hearty salad and wild-rice followed. And then the peppered pork steaks made their brief appearance. Gone in no time!! Yes, I know:- A lot of food!  And then like I told you already, the store-bought treats were what made their hearts sing. Go figure!!

I don’t know at what time they went to sleep but when I awoke in the morning I realized that this time they laid on the futons I had prepared for them, and that wet towels, which prove that they did have time for showers before hitting the sacks, lay on the floors.

My famous pancakes, eggs and sausages were consumed without much ado. They ate and then asked for a ride to the station because it was still raining. Off they went with the geity of youngsters with not a care in the world. Who cares what their report-cards say; they are alive and living!

And where were they off to in this weather you ask? Well some girls had invited them to a dance event and sure enough they didn’t want to disappoint those girls. They gel-led and mousse-d their hair and applied deodorant and cologne.

In the car, as I taxied them to the train station, I had to roll down the window, and upon returning home their cologne was all I had left to prove that 5 fifteen year olds had spent the night safely under my roof.

…and I thought my house would be reeking of boys. Wrong!!

Big sister Little sister Syndrome

Sisterhood. Sometimes we never change and sometimes we never should.

She started calling me long distance more often than before. At the end of every phone call, she’d have me holding my phone over my heart as if this would teleport to her all the emotions she had stirred in me. I was sure she could use a hug and I wanted so much to give it to her. Okinawa and Chicago were worlds apart, and having lived in Chicago for a while, I knew first hand how lonely one could feel on holidays with no family around. That Christmas, I put my family’s celebration on hold and booked myself a last minute flight to O’hare.

With both parents now gone, all we have left is each other. We are hardly two years apart in age, but it’s  not apparent when we’re standing next to each other. In many situations she has been referred to as the big sister. She loved this when we were growing up, but obviously now it annoys her. And while I know that she must wonder what it is that she needs to do to catch up with me, for me, I would like to know where the difference began. We were raised by the same parents who taught us that materialism was the vice of our time. Growing up, this was one of the most important lessons our parents took time to drill into our heads.

“Accumulating more than you need only weighs you down,” my parents would take turns saying.

We get all the pleasantries out of the way in record time. Traffic from O’hare to her apartment was horrendous but that was a good thing; it gave us something to talk about. I set down my small suitcase on her rug and she immediately grabs it and directs me to my room. The bed was too big for such small room. I say nothing. Then looking around to find something to start a conversation on, somehow the words come out the wrong way.

“Gosh Rina, do you run a boutique now too?”

“You like it?” she beams?

“Oh I don’t know, you have too much in there,”I say.

I don’t remember exactly what I said next because my mind disconnected from the room and made a mental comparison to my own small closet back in Okinawa, but it had to have been some kind of protest on the size of the big closet. The closet extended beyond the two doors that once held safe the items within. There are no doors now. Two plastic wardrobes with wheels stand in its stead and these have to be dragged simultaneously so as not to upset the impermanent boards that hold everything together. Either that, or one could dive in through the clothes to get to the ones behind. It is packed like a warehouse back there and like a warehouse, there are handwritten labels to make the finding easier. Its like this regardless of the season and hardly anything in it speaks of the age of the owner.

Together we drag the wardrobes out of the way. She enters and I stand inspecting the wardrobes we just moved, then from inside the closet I can hear her say,

“There you are!!” she says to something inside. She exits all excited, “Look, look do you remember this blouse,” she asks sniffing at  the garment and opening her doe eyes wider.

I don’t remember the blouse but I move over closer as she adjusts it to her body anticipating that I’d be happy about this as well. Instead, I feel my eyes get heavy and the words that come out of my mouth anger her.

“Marina, what is a blouse like that still doing in your closet? You were…how old when you bought that?”

“You don’t remember…I’m hurt,” she says, “you bought this for me the first weekend that I came to live here with you. It’s the same one, I wear it at least once every year.”

“Wear it to sleep, I hope.” I say. “It hardly covers any body parts.”

“Look, even the ribbons are the same”, she says disregarding my remark.

She folds it in the air like a handkerchief and deposits it on the palm of my outstretched hand.

“Gosh Rina, don’t tell me that you really parade around the city in this skimpy thing. You were barely 19 when you begged me to buy it for you. And I remember thinking that that would be one blouse I’d never be borrowing from you. You’re 49 years old now, let me buy you something more age-appropriate”.

“Why do you always put me down like that? Ever since we were little, you always pretended  that you were better than me. What is it to you if I like that blouse? And yes, I wear it to go out and I still get a lot of compliments when I do. I like it. And not because you gave it to me but because it still makes me feel young”. She takes it from me and walks away saying, “you’re just like James, he never liked me wearing it.”

I follow her, “and he is right, that piece of cloth is for teenagers going through puberty –kids testing boundaries and trying to get to grips with their sexuality. You’re going on 50, you’re a mature mother of boys who are no longer teenagers. You should choose clothes that are more becoming. Choose clothes for the material and –”

“Material?” she interrupts. “Yeah, what else?”

“Listen, I’m not trying to put you down, but you’re not that young any more. And you know what, those compliments that you say you get are not well intended. Why are you so naive?”

“No, all bullshit. You’re just jealous that you cannot wear a blouse like that because you’re so flat chested and all. It’s a blouse that requires you show a little more cleavage for it to call attention. It just wouldn’t look as nice on you. I’ll wear it later and I’ll show you.”

“Rina, you told me not to pack any warm clothes; that you had plenty that I could borrow during my stay here. Could we get that part out of the way first please.”

“Let’s do that later. It’s almost time for my Novela.” she says as she takes out a bag of popcorn in preparation for her next two hours of passive entertainment.

I sulk and retrieve to the closet room. The portable wardrobes stand in a conspicuous place and now I cannot close the door to the room. For sure I will not try to move it by myself, I tell my thoughts, I fear it all coming undone. Huh! then she’ll kick me out.

I’ve been a guest in her apartment for hardly 2 hours and already we have fallen into the same routine of our youth. Everyone says that it’s hard being the middle-child, but I’ll tell you, its much harder being the big sister.

Physically,  Marina had always been the healthiest of all three sisters.  She had a bright disposition too. But somehow, she couldn’t hold on to friendships for long periods at a time. Perhaps she was too clingy and insecure; weighing her self worth in her petty acquisitions? Yeah, that’s were I think we started to be different. Maybe.  But if you were to go to Macondo today and mention us, people there would remember Marina as the wise one; the one who was more tomboyish, the one who would take on a dare without thinking out the consequences first, the one who would think out good ways of making money on market day. She would be the one who would climb the trees the fastest and descend with the biggest coconut or the biggest avocados wrapped up in her skirt. The one who would not cry at the dentists’ or at the clinic when we would get our shots.

I on the other hand, would be remembered as the sick one. I developed asthma as a child and missed a lot of school on account of that. School was where I wanted to be most of all, but I never complained about being absent because it gave me the wonderful opportunity to get on with my passion of devouring a good story book and of writing in my diary. And when Marina would come home from school and start a fight out of nothing, I would let her win. Always. I let her win because I felt bad that I couldn’t be there to keep her company at school as big sisters should. Instead I  was here at home hogging the attention of our parents AND reading to my hearts’ content.

“Oh Marina, God bless you,” I say out loud, as I insert my earplugs deep into my ears and I get under the covers. “Let’s be sisters later.”

 

…And though our roots belong to
The same tree,
Our branches have grown
In different directions.
Our tree,
Now resembles a thousand
Other trees
In a sea of a trillion
Other trees
With parallel destinies
And similar dreams.
You cannot envy the branch
That grows bigger
From the same seed,
And you cannot
Blame it on the sun’s direction.
But you still compare us,
As if we’re still those two
Kids at the park
Slurping down slushies and
Eating ice cream.
Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun (2010)

How do you put up with allergies?

       

Not asking for sympathy; just sharing. 

And yes, it’s ok to laugh… 

How are you today? 

As for me, I’m getting ready to face the new season with a little trepidation of sorts. It’s funny (actually, there’s nothing funny about it really) how you can be excited about the arrival of a new season and at the same time dread the same. 

I worked hard on my garden last year and the thought of spring visiting me and my garden has had me in a yippee ki-yay mood. Yeah, it deserves reiterating for uptimum impact: I’ve been ever so excited about Spring this year even disregarding the memory of allergies that accompany it, until the pang that is rampant in my chest (I mistook it for excitement at first) explodes into uncontrollable sneezing. But unlike the relief one feels after a sneeze, this time the relief never comes. And worst still is the hazy lethargic feeling in my head that though silent, sounds so noisy and itchy inside. 

So yes, I have a real love/hate ; hate/love (?) relationship with spring. 

Not my most dignified-self to want to be around with but yet still my most authentic-self!! I have no other. 

I hope you’re spared. I honestly hope that allergies aren’t part of your day in day out routine. I certainly don’t wish this for anyone. 

With a head that feels like an apartment where the guy upstairs walks up and down on creaky floors all day long, a red nose that resembles a leaky faucet and sensitive ears directly connected with your nostrils and palate, (we know that they’re all connected but bet you’ve never “felt” it). Today even the antics of my beloved Don Quixote can’t bring me relief. Can’t get any reading done right now. Darn! 

In hopes of conquering spring allergies, last year I started a couple of regimens, so add disbelief to the pang I feel in my chest and you’ll have a better idea of how delirious this feels. 

But now I’m wondering if the exertion that comes with every sneeze qualifies as exercise. Perhaps I should ask Dr. Oz? I’d argue that it qualifies. Because at the end of the day my muscles are sore. So let me sit here and spend the day exercising… I’ll emerge healthier for it!! 

Skies are cloudless again today. Quite picturesque but a curse for those like me. I think I’ll go gulp down some hot tea. Perhaps that will numb my nostrils somehow and bring some quiet in my head. 

Insidentally, in this part of the world, mouth masks are an accepted item with no diminishing qualities to the dress code. So I’ll make sure to get me an ample supply. 

Writing to you today was the highlight of my day. Thanks for allowing me to release this way. 

Hope yours is a pleasant one. Count your blessings. Good Night. 

Engineers Love Circuses Too

A Circus is No Place for Wild Animals.

Growing up in the outskirts of a sleepy Town, Tyra and her family have had the misfortune of having their house burglarized several times. Once it happened in the middle of the day when her dad was at work, her mother was out on market-day and all the children were in school. Mother would be the first one back home and the scare would take her over to a neighbor’s house to wait until the bus brought the children back home. Another time it was while they were celebrating a party and the doors out back were left unlocked. And twice already when the family was fast asleep.
There never is a good or better time to have someone come in to rummage around in your private space but to have someone in your home while you are asleep has to be the worst time. The scariest too.

After something like that happens, you become keen at spotting whether or not something has been touched and intentionally left behind and somehow everything you touch smells different. Your sense of smells becomes amplified and you know what you know.

That’s exactly how Tyra felt that Wednesday morning in October as soon as she woke up.

She looks around her room. She could smell it. Strange. Everything was like it had been the night before except for that strange putrid smell.

She goes down the stairs where her family is getting ready for the day ahead. Strange again. There’s too much commotion for a Wednesday, she thinks.

“I knew it, I knew it,” she blurts out, “what did they take this time?”

“Who?” they all reply in unison.

“What happened to good morning,” her mother chirps as she plants a kiss on Tyra’s forehead, “I’ll have to get a bag of peanuts at the store this week. Oh isn’t it exciting. They’ll have the tent up by the end of the week.”

“ and the parade will be on Saturday,” Luna interrupts, “I’ll wear my new skinny jeans and purple top that I got for my birthday.

“What happened? Nothing stolen?,” Tyra still doesn’t get it.

“The Circus, silly. The Circus is in town. That’s what happened. Hurry up, or we’ll be late for the bus.”

Like a thief in the night, the Circus had come to the Town of Macondo. Yes yes, that was exciting. But in her mind, only thieves moved around at night.

Tyra was 9 years old with a cultured nose. Their house was the last house built nearly three years ago in a newly developed area. The Circus used to come to this town every year but the three-year hiatus, brought about by the recent economic decline, has caused her to forget all about circuses and clowns and elephants and peanuts.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday zoomed by with new found positive vibes. The stench from the animals which when mingled with the salty sea breeze become exacerbated, slowly slowly become less of a bad stench to those living in such proximity to the circus grounds. Tyra stopped dabbing Vicks Vapo Rub on her nose, with ambivalence at first and then fully determined to stop the practice when her school friends started likening her to smelling like their grandmothers. The last thing she wanted was to smell like her own grandmother who, while sweet and caring, smelled like old pee and Vicks.

“What are we going to do with you and your detective-nose,” her mother would tease, “perhaps you’ll grow up to be a smell-connoisseur,” she’d add.

This always confused Tyra because she couldn’t get a straight answer from any of her teachers about any such profession. And even mother didn’t offer an explanation when Tyra questioned her about it. So Tyra would just dismissed the question much like she would dismiss the idea of how Sanderson Mansnoozie, the sleepy human, was hand picked by the man in the moon for the job of planting happy dreams into the dreams of all the children of the world if only they’d go to sleep. She didn’t like asking too many childish questions because she hoped that her family would stop referring to her as the baby in the family.

In time, I too will get picked for the job of a Smell-connoisseur, whatever that entails, she’d assure herself. Because if Sandy could do it, she was sure she could too.

That Friday the excitement was hard to curtail. October was a good time for circuses as the air wasn’t as humid as it was the rest of the year. Sunsets came too early though, so the parade was scheduled right after school. This was a safari parade at its best. The animals, and oh what animals, wore festive decorations. There were horses and ponies and zebras. There were tigers and camels and monkeys and dogs. The horses wore bells on their legs that jingled as they pranced along and huge ribbons decorated their tails. The acrobats that sat on the horses looked like Belles straight out of a western-movie with their pleated long dresses and plumed-hats. They waved and blew kisses at the crowd.

The elephants, all 6 of them with their smiling faces and long trunks walked on their hind legs and rested their front legs on the waist of the elephant in front of them. They wore fancy belts around their big ears and these were attached to big round rubies and sapphires clustered like grapes that dangled in the middle of their foreheads. And on their legs they wore neon anklets. They got on all fours and went around in circles at regular intervals, much to the oohs and aws of grownups and kids alike. Only the elephant at the head of the group had a long ivory husk and on this elephant sat a girl with a sequenced outfit and a top hat. There was an elegant gold and red cart full of puppies dressed in little girls’ outfits and this was pulled by two young cows. And a couple of monkeys rode in a caged trailer pulled by someone who impersonated The Terminator. The clowns provided the music and the girls on the unicycles looked like tall Christmas trees with LED lights that moved like disco lights. It was quite The Parade of the year and everyone came out to enjoy it. Only, except for the dogs and the monkeys, the animals weren’t real. They were all engineered by the acrobats themselves who believed that a circus was no place for wild animals. The dogs each had their respective owners as did the monkeys and no animal was ever in any kind of danger of abuse or mistreatment.

The next day and the week that followed people lined up to enter the circus tents. Once settled in, they would take out their bags of peanuts. They’d eat some between taking pictures, and talked and clapped as they were entertained with funny antics from the clowns and animal tricks and acrobatics.

Long after the Circus had left, in every corner of the sleepy town, people could still be heard talking and reliving the excitement. The burglaries became less and a new sense of camaraderie was born. All thanks to the Circus.

A Letter to The Universe

Did you ever write a letter to The Universe?


Dear Universe. God. Let me call you God. I want to talk to you today.  My name is Rudolph. I am an orphan. Well, not really, but that’s how I feel. I’m embarrassed to come to you with my petty request when I know that you must be so busy with all the other problems that are going on in the world. The truth is that I feel lonely. The teacher in school told us that when we had problems, whether big or small, we should find time to write a letter to the Universe. I will write my letter but I really don’t know where to send it. She also said that we should do things out in stages and to gradually move from one stage to the next when we write. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. I have also worked on an outline and first I want to tell you about my grandma.

My grandma comes to my room every night to kiss me good night. I am already nine and a half years old and my grandmother still treats me as if I were a little boy. She insists on kissing me every time she sees me. I guess she must really love me a lot because sometimes when she is kissing me and hugging me she hugs me so hard that I can hardly breathe. And many times I have heard her calling me her little orphan. On those times I sometimes see her eyes fill with tears. When I ask her why she cries, she just holds me close and kisses me some more. So that now I don’t want to ask her about that anymore. But I do have other things I want to ask her about.

Recently the other kids in my class have been telling me that I am an orphan because I don’t have a mother nor a father. At home my grandma has some pictures of me as a tiny baby with a young woman whom she says is my mother. I don’t remember my mother. And neither do I remember my father. But my grandma never ever mentions my father.

Grandma used to tell me that I look just like grandpa when he was my age. We even have a whole album of grandpa pictures as a boy. But recently she doesn’t even mention grandpa who died before I was even born.

Grandma is the only relative I have. Or at least the only relative I know. Well besides my mother. Grandma used to read me letters that came in airmail envelopes. She said these were from my mother. Sometimes there were birthday cards inside the envelopes and sometimes there was even money. The letters made me happy. They smelled like bubblegum wrappers even though there was no bubblegum inside. And the stamps on them were rather pretty as well. But recently there are no letters and no money.

To tell you the truth this is the first time I’m writing a letter to a real person. Well, we practiced writing letters in class one week in school and we all addressed it to Mr. Phillips, the principal. I’m sure that it took him a very long time to read all the letters he got. I want to write a letter to my mother to ask her if I really am an orphan.  And to ask her when she ‘s coming back. I’m a big boy now and there’s a lot that I can do. I think I’m missing my mother although I don’t know exactly what it feels like to have a mother. I just figure it must be the same way it feels having a grandmother.

My grandma is good to me but she is already getting old. I don’t know exactly when my grandma sleeps because she is always up when I get up and no where near her bed when I go to sleep. She wakes me up early in the morning and makes me rush to eat my eggs, toast and banana breakfast. Then she shows me where my lunch is in the fridge for when I come home from school at lunchtime. Then the two of us leave together. I go to school and she goes to work. At school, when the bell rings we all have to go back home at 11:30 sharp, eat and return to school by 12:45 sharp for the afternoon part of school.

When I get home to eat my lunch, grandma is not home. I eat lunch alone. But before I eat I always change from my school shirt to an old T-shirt that grandma sets out behind my chair. This changing of clothes makes me dizzy but I do it because it helps grandma. I air out my school shirt and put it on again before returning to school. So all in all I change shirts twice a day; once at lunch and again after school.

When I come home after school I come straight to my room to change from my school uniform to my ordinary clothes. I put my white shirt in a hanger and clip my trousers to the clothes line on the veranda facing the side of the house where the sun is still shining. My school shirt, if it passes my grandma’s sniff-test and it doesn’t smell too rancid, as she takes to calling it, I wear from Monday to Friday.

Here at home it’s just Grandma and me. She used to work at Mr. Scoffield’s in the big white house next to the school grounds. Then, I used to go to meet grandma there for lunch. We would eat lunch together then. But since you made Mr. Scoffield die, she has had to work at a different house. A little far so that she cannot come home to meet me for lunch. She works for Mrs. Vargas now.

Mrs. Vargas is the Manager at The Macondo Bank in Town and Mr. Vargas is a Taxi driver. They have 3 kids. Maurice, the youngest one, is in my class. He doesn’t like to study and says that he will go into the taxi-business like his dad when he grows up.

God, I don’t want to be a bother to you but I want to ask you to help all the people who live here in Macondo, but most especially I want to ask you to make me a big boy soon so that I can help my grandma so that she doesn’t have to work so hard everyday. I don’t know what I would do if my grandma gets sick and dies. So please God, don’t think of taking her from me anytime soon. But please turn me into a big boy a.s.a.p.

I do my homework at the library every night and Ms Gina helps me to review my spelling words and sometimes helps me memorize my multiplication tables. The man at the Taco place next to the library is a good friend of my grandmother. Every evening he calls me to go into his place and he and his wife serve me Tacos and orange juice. His name is Mr. Cholin. I want you to send him a tortilla making machine because sometimes when I’m eating there I hear him say to his customers that he is out of tortillas. If you send him a tortilla making machine he could make more tacos for all the people who come to his place. They’re really good tacos.

God I know that my problems are nothing compared to what the kids in Aleppo are going through. But I promise you this — I will study hard and work well and I will do my best to help people like the people in Aleppo when I get big so please make me big soon.

Thank you God.

Yours truly, Rudolph.

A Stranger in my Hometown

By Selma

“When you take one step out of your hometown, you’re in somebody else’s hometown. So the whole world’s a hometown.” Sumiko Kimura

This is the town that brought me up. The town that saw me through my best and through my worst and the only town where I felt I belonged. I felt safe here. Everybody knew my parents, everybody knew my name or about me. Not because we were famous or rich or anything, but because that’s the way it is in small towns. Everybody knew everybody. It was a good place to grow up. But after the death of my father when things started to get hard for us, the young me left it all behind and developed roots in a country far-far away where no one knew my name or of my existence. Not an original story for Macondeans but the only one that is authentic to me.

This small town houses a big Catholic Church juxtaposed across from the Central Park which is four times its size. The park with its spreading Cohune Palm trees and donated steel benches is a constant hub of excitement for the locals. There are other parks but this is the one that everyone passes through en route to the Farmers Market, to the Public Clinic, to the Post Office, to the Police Station, to the elementary school, to the Town Library, to the Town Hall, to the Bus Terminal and to the Big Chinese Grocery Stores. All the able bodied townspeople walk through this park at least once during the week.

Well, it was here that I saw Conchita.

I didn’t know a thing about her on my way to church that Saturday evening but I noticed the thin pale girl as I hurried along. She sat with her legs spread out and her arms crossed on the far side of the bench while her two older looking male companions seemed to be whispering something to each other.

Perhaps she is the daughter of one of the men, I remember thinking, but why are the men whispering as if she isn’t right there? That’s not very nice, I told myself.

The last bell had just rang to announce the 6 o’clock hour and as I stepped into church the congregation stood up and the entrance hymn began. On entering I dipped my fingers into the marble-bowl of holy water, crossed myself slowly and looked around for an empty seat. Everyone stood so this made it hard to know if a pew was full or not. I discretely walked to the back of the church where empty stools lined the walls. I choose an empty seat closest to the door.

It’s way too far from the alter, so today I’ll skip communion, I reasoned with myself.

If I had made it in at least 3 minutes before the first hymn I would have chosen a seat in the left end; close enough to the alter so that I wouldn’t have to endure the stares of the others for too long when I went to receive communion, yet far enough so that I could render them the same service of staring. But had I been there early I wouldn’t have heard or seen what came next.

The priest proceeded with the usual order of the mass. All in all it usually takes an hour for the service to be completed. We all stood, knelt, sat and participated in every way that was expected of us.

“…Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace” we all recited in unison. And then the kneeling Alter girl rang the little bells and the congregation got on their feet again. Those of us sitting against the wall on stools had no kneeling steps so we remained standing for the duration of the kneeling and standing time.

Conchita walked in with an empty coke bottle in her hand. She dipped it into the holy water and held it there until it got half full while glancing over her shoulders. She nodded and mouthed a big ‘I know’ with her entire face, probably back at her father.

No one partaking in the service inside witnessed the events as they unfolded from outside the doors, but suddenly there were three loud bangs and shattering of glass and an enormous uproar of loud cries. All this within seconds of each other. I coward into the wall as best I could, my hands clasped behind my head and the cushiony part of my arm that leads to my elbows shielding my ears shut. Without warning, my body contorted into a kneeling position on the floor and there I laid, like a cockroach hoping to blend into the wall. I tried hard to keep my eyes open but tears blurred my vision. I don’t think that I opened my mouth to utter a sound but I could hear my crying voice loud and clear in my head going Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God for a long time.

I stayed in that position for I don’t know how long. Then I slowly uncurled and opened my eyes as wide as I could. I immediately thought that I was probably one of the last ones to emerge from the rubble, because by the time I straightened up, the noise inside the church had subsided and the siren outside had stopped. I don’t know when it had arrived, but I could see the lights flashing and I could see that even without having to look outside.

Glass windows had lined the walls back where I had been sitting, but now the walls were windowless all the way down to where I had been sitting. Here remained a boarded up window. I turned my attention to it and suddenly remembered the receptionist at the hotel retelling an old story to another customer.

“yeah, they broke into the church. Unbelievable,” she was saying. “People have no respect these days. They break into the house of God and what can they take? The Challis? The crucifix? What?? And even if they could take that what good would that do them?” she asked rhetorically. “No one but another church would have use for such things.”

I don’t recall her mentioning one window being boarded up. The thieves entered through this window. I came to that conclusion on my own.

I saw a young girl sobbing outside directly behind the window where I stood. This was the only window left untouched. This window had been boarded up with fine Ziricote wood; all the others had their glass shattered on the floor inside and on the ground around the building.

No, wait a minute! I heard myself thinking those words. There are still a lot of people inside. But they were all very quiet now. They motioned with exaggerated hand gestures and their lips seem to be screaming out, but their words bounced off me without reaching my ears. I clasped my hands behind my head like I had done when I first heard the big blast that almost deafened me, I squeezed both arms close to my ears like I had done before. I could hear nothing!! I relaxed my grip all over and still I could hear nothing. Oh my great God, what’s happening to me. I can’t hear a sound! I looked at my arms that had clenched my ears shut and I saw they were bloodied. My knuckles were bloodied too.

I have no relatives living in this town anymore. I have nothing here but the house where I grew up, but I’m not staying there on this trip. I booked myself into a hotel. The big house now houses an Indian family upstairs; the downstairs has been turned into a furniture store by an American couple who live a mile out of town. The furniture store covers three fourths of the downstairs. The other one fourth is where my mama comes to rest her bones when she comes into town. It’s her little apartment. Here she keeps all the memories that give resonance to her married life and roots to her four children. Its a crammed up little apartment that needs regular maintenance that no one is willing to invest in. She is looking after her ailing mother in another town. When she comes to spend some time here, she usually spends the first couple of days cleaning it up. It is only after she has invested time doing this that my two brothers and their families come to spend time here. My big sister hardly ever visits because she is allergic to messy places, and I living in the Windy City in America, would rather have my Mom visit me than the other way around. When I visited her here with my family two Christmases ago, I was appalled at the state it was in, despite all the effort she puts into it to make it look livable and lived in. I promised her that Christmas that I’d return to give the place a complete overhaul and that’s why I’m back here all alone right now.