It’s the last week of October and it feels as though we are sliding treacherously into an early Kabul winter. Dusk falls faster now, it edges out the last rays of an afternoon sun that slinks away earlier and earlier each day, its warmth swallowed up by the descending cold.
I’m a girl from the tropics, so I like to defy the advances of winter. Off work, I sling my duffel bag of dirty clothes and head to the laundry in the advancing darkness. The pavement is icy now, I can feel the coldness seeping through the flip flops I insist on wearing. The numbness registers as pain on the soles of my feet. A small matter, I think. There is virtue in a little sacrifice.
There are no street lamps here, so I walk by the light of my iPhone, turned down towards the ground. Overhead, I hear the metal whine of our helicopters trying to rise from the ground. Rotor blades whirr, slicing through the night — whack whack whack — metal attacking the cold air. Just over the T-walls I can see the lights of Kabul blinking, the city laid out like a sequined blanket. It looks pretty, yes — but of course, I know better than to trust the sparkle.
I stuff my laundry in the wash, pop in those plump detergent pods. A week’s worth of clothes. I use up two washers for this round. Forty-five minutes to let the machine do its job, then I have to come back, yank my clothes out and transfer them into the dryers. Through the window of the laundry room, the dark outside has become an indigo kind of blue, and the edges of things have turned blurry, like an ink stain.
I know the temperature is going to drop a few more degrees in the next hour. Almost six years in this place, and there’s no getting used to it. The cold still goes straight to my bones.
Don’t leave me now, you might love me back
Distance is fine, I know you can’t care
And nothing is big like that
You don’t see me now, I don’t see you back
One day I’ll be fine with that
You don’t leave me now
Do you love me back?
“At other times, she could feel her loneliness descend like a nuclear fallout, a whiteness that obscured her completely.”
Of all the dalliances I’ve had, this boy is the most, shall we say, puppy dog like. Maybe it’s the age thing, the younger they are, the more needy they seem.
The distance doesn’t help, of course. I find myself giving out reassurances that I may not be able to sustain, so I stopped giving them. Unsurprisingly, this did not go over well on the other side of the ocean. There was radio silence for days. And then there was that one night we were messaging, when he sends me a missive: “Tell me you do not love anyone.”
That made me pause, mid-key. I’ve just been given a sort of ultimatum, and the skittish girl in me wanted to run, fast. But then I thought, if I do not love anyone, that makes for such a sad life. If I do have a love and it’s someone else, that will not be palatable to him as well. Maybe it’s the grammar that needs work, some nuance lost in translation, but I get the feeling he is looking for something that may not be there. And so, there is no happy answer to that bit of chat, no emoticons that can ease the heart into believing all is well.
That’s the flip side of asking for the truth, you might learn more than you care to know.
I can’t quite figure it out when men tell me, “you’re curvy.” Is it kind of a backwards compliment or is it veiled criticism? The reference to curves could be a slight poke at the extra poundage I’ve cultivated from having had two humans pushed out of me, or it could be a somewhat vague appreciation of my over all abundance.
So which is it — are you saying I’m curvy-fat or curvy-sexy? Choose carefully.
I made a friend during my stay in Istanbul. He is Muslim, a kind, hardworking man who is devoted to his family. He wonders why I travel alone. He can’t believe that I don’t have ‘a man that’s responsible for me.’ He would always remind me to be careful when walking around town alone, to be watchful, that not everyone is kind.
When customer traffic is light at their restaurant, he would leave for a few hours of break and walk with me through the streets, pointing out things of interest, local hangouts, places to avoid. In one of our leisurely strolls through Istiklal Caddesi, we came to a stop at St. Anthony’s Church, a Catholic church right in the middle of the shopping district. I told him I stumbled into that church a few days ago, that I stopped and took pictures. He smiled and told me he goes there sometimes with his prayer beads, takes a seat, and passes the time away in a dark corner, meditating.
That surprised me, and I said the obvious, “But that’s a Catholic church.” He chuckles at that and looks at me as though I am clueless. “No one tells me to leave, they let me sit there and relax. It’s all the same to me.”
I had nothing else to say to that. We walk on until we come to our little street corner and sit down to have some tea. It takes me the entire glass of tea to let that sink in.
A religion of sameness. That would really be something.
I didn’t die at age 40, much to my dismay. You know how it is — at age 22, 27, even 30 — you think you know so much, you think the world has become so tiresome. You think that you’ve seen it all, experienced everything life has to offer, and that 40 is a good age at which to end it.
I used to think that at 40, I would have accomplished a lot. I’d be at the top of the career pile, have a couple of grown kids, done some charity work for the conscience, cultivated lifelong friends. As a know-it-all in my 20s I thought, my god 40 is so old, I don’t want to live through that.
How little did I know. I’ve known all along that grown ups do not have all the answers, that was obvious to me even at a young age. You see the adult mouth agape and lacking the words, the eyes tinged with fear of the unknown. So I didn’t really put that much expectation or anticipation to growing older or wiser.
And age proved me right, today at age 40-something I’ve learned that the more you know, the more you realize there is a whole other lot you don’t. I’ve passed the big 40 a few years ago, and I’m seeing there is life beyond it. We’ll see how the rest of it goes.