My father should never have had a son. Nor any children at all for that matter. But this is not an option for our people. Or I should say it has not been until now. He tried his best to be two things: a father and a scientist. He succeeded as equally as he failed in each of these efforts, with absolute precision. The result is that I spend most of my hours wondering why I’m alive.
Purposeless, I wander around the empty corridors of life’s hallways. I sometimes open doors and stick my head into rooms. I even walk in one or two to check out the wallpaper, the paint on the trim. But mostly I just walk past door after door; past the infinite choices. I examine the stark grey interior walls of life’s dusky halls.
He is still alive.
Even now he looks over at me with glassy, wide-open eyes, but he shows no recognizance. He veils me with his illness. And I am filled with a nauseating, selfish apathy.
No one knows my disconcern. I wait on him dutifully and assist him when he is in need. Soon I will change his urine bottle and then I will drain the fluids from the plastic bulb affixed to a long tube which veins byproducts from his entrails. I am a model child.
But I am cold and dry to him and his illness. I am incapable of reform or catharsis because the bastard went and got sick during our angry years. We havenÕt begun to want to resolve. (He gave me my stubbornness.) I hate his fucking attitude and I haven’t forgiven him for my youth.
He took it from me.
He knows, too. Behind those glassy eyes he knows it is too soon. And he’ll decide. Once again he has control over our relationship. He’ll decide if he lives so we can heal old wounds or if he leaves so his part of me rots for the rest of my life.
I don’t hate him. I must love him or I couldn’t be driven to such deep emotions. I don’t hate him.
I can say clearly and truthfully (and here I must be honest or I am more lost for it) that I don’t like him very much. I’d never have chosen him. I’d never spend time with someone like him. But that could be because of what’s happened since I was born. Maybe there is a somebody like me with different teeth and bones who would. A woman with less calcium and more osteoporosis.
If I had him for a class, I wouldn’t be like the students of his who parade in here with get-well-soon cards and flowers and plants he may never see if they’ll die before he does. I wouldn’t be one of the students whose name he knows who’s been to his house for barbecues and to help him plant roses or okra in the garden.
I know what a bullshitter he is. I know it’s so deep he’s even fooled himself. I wouldn’t be one of the students who spends my idle hours learning even more from the fantastic wealth of knowledge he has to give, to teach (I acknowledge that much is true — he’s got an incredible memory). I’d never want to sup from his vast table of words and equations or chew fat from his multicultural polyglothic plates.
No, I’d recognize him early. I’d come to class, do what I’m told to do. No more no less. I’d see him for what he is. I’d never fall into his net of worship and gardening.
This story is an old sigh. But wait, I must tend to my father. The old man’s bladder has impolitely intruded on his linens and across his already-stained hospital gown. He’ll need a bath.
I have been cheated by my vagina (I use the clinical term here in the hospital, call it what you will but if you’re playing me you better have a sweeter nothing than that) and by my bloody, crimson blood.
Not by the monthly, moonly blood of my insides. But separately and coldly by first my lack of a cock and second by an ageless river of blood known as Hindustan. The Brahmin Rive De Sangre of my past. Multi-cult-you’re dead.
“Hey Tikku-Tikka!” comes a voice tinny and thin. His only friend has come to try to cheer him out of his catatonia. “Yene pa? Sowkyum, ah?” he speaks in our native tongue before continuing in their adopted language, “Why you are always sleeping only, sir? Don’t you know vinter has long since uppity-gone and spring is coming?” He winks at me as he continues to speak to my unconscious father. “Now only is the time to rise out of your silly hibernating.” Each of his ‘t’s’ are hard, the way the British emphasized them through Brahmin teachers. He and my father studied together years ago. They speak the same language.
“And Shanti, what yaaah?” he says to me, “Beautiful girl you are like a spring flower only – like lotus.” He tries to make me smile and dutifully I give him a tiny corner of my cheek.
“Doctor, sir,” I ask — my father is lucky his closest friend is a specialist — “How is my father?”
I am to the point. I am to the point when it is just stupid play-acting for me to beat around the bush.
Dr. Subramanian or “Dr. Subi” as all his American friends and patients call him whispers across my father to me, “Hold on, Shanti, Subi-Uncle will make this good. Give it time.”
I want to scream into his face, “Oh you fat fuck! It’ll be made good like you made my brother good? Like you made my mother and father’s marriage and my family all made good?” but instead I say in my finest South Indian accent (readopted for my request), “Will you please stay here for some time for me? I must go to the toilet and then … I am feeling hungry.”
He looks uncomfortable in his ill-fitting suit with the idea of sitting here away from his Mercedes not on the way to his tee time (or his tea time) at the club.
“Never mind,” I whisper.
“No, no,” he replies, wagging his head like a googly doll, “go ahead.” And I leave this room for the first time today.
The sky is a flame. Twilight is my hour of peity. All these long weeks, these purpling, pinking moments have marked the passage of my servitude. One. Two. Three. Four. They say prayers are heard and answered best at the end of a worthwhile day.
What bullshit. There is no machination or imagination behind any of this. Time just sweeps along and we stupidly with it naming things: sun, sky, clouds, God.
I am hurt and angry and impossible to assuage with talk of prayer. Only the sweet angel Time can cure me, Time so vast and beautiful … fucking sexy draped across the sky in quick-sinking sunlight.
I will come. I will come. I am. Oh, I’m coming. I’m coming. Oh God! I’m coming in Time … in Time.
I am not fingering myself. The hands, the lingering fingers of the sun tickle my insides as he fades away. “Rosy fingers of dusk” is more like it. There’s time to clean myself up before I go back to his bedside and to night.
My brother hated me. He loved me too much like I love my father and so he hated. He hated, too, all of the boys who came to try me. He hated the attention and the eyeballing and how I’d suck on my little finger and laugh. (“It’s not a pinky, silly, it’s a brownie!”) How I’d have any boy I wanted while he got only the Mexican girls.
The white boys, the black boys, the Mexicans, they all showed an interest in broadening their cultural awareness. They all looked, saw and learned what da Gama opened up to the West: the legs of the most beautiful women in the world, opened up for sale by a tiny Portugee with an overaggressive cock.
“ohhhhhhh, de la India!!” said the gas station attendants, “Y porque tu puede hablar espanol?”
“Oh, no,” I’d giggle, “just un poco espanol.”
My brother hated them and all the American men who took me from him. No, not just me – todos las mujeres de la India. No wonder he was so fucked up.
Listen sisters, a poem. A poem for my Indian sisters:
You’ve come so far
and I’d be the last one to say
but please turn on your backs
for our Indian brothers today
Give them good cheer
they are alone and afraid you see
because they don’t want any of these bitches here
and they can’t have you or me
Sometimes I dream that he had gotten away. That the letter never came and that he had gone out West. In my dream he’s gone. And in my dream other letters come. There are stacks of letters from the Golden State in my dream. I read them as I pack them into a small, brown valise.
“California is like heaven,” he writes, “or home. The ocean my dear Shanti, it is our mother. Our father, the sun firing infinite jets of love into her belly gave us life …”
and other letters: “We are all here … black, white, brown, yellow and peach. At night we trickle, laughing secretly down the dormitory halls of this city and we make love in colorful combinations.”
And in the dream as I read and pack these silly, naive letters one by one into the valise, I know that I am going West, too. I’ve jumped aboard the freedom train like my parents did before me only this time it’s stopping further still down the line. Stations further from the bloody fucking cult-you’re past. You’ve lost us already.
Tonight, without telling me, the good doctor Subi-Uncle will pull the plug. My brother is dead, my father dying and me? I’m free and free and free as el vallejo de San Joaquin in the Golden State of California.