The trouble with maintaining two names while preferring one (and I must be clear, both are my real names) is that one day, when your guard is down, or when you are distracted, someone is going to call you by the unfavorite name. You won’t answer, of course, because that name does not register in your consciousness.
They’ll keep saying that name, calling out to you in voices so loud it should be embarrassing if you were aware of it. After several call outs, someone is going to get up from the table just across you, sit down at your table, and pointedly repeat one of your names. The name you’ve always disliked — the name of a wayward saint, a misnomer, an unjust label. A name you could not possibly live up to, try as you might.
He will say loudly, “Ana!” and you will jump out of your skin, look up, eyes glazed with incomprehension. Busted.
That’s when you realize this guy has been saying your other name several times now, and your non-response has become suspect.
So you rush to explain, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you, I was super-focused on email.” Or some similarly lame excuse. He won’t buy it of course, and he will continue to sit there, looking at you strangely.
Pay attention, because this is how you will be found out.
A while ago, I received a call from one of the managers, requesting for employee data. We were on the line for a few minutes, as he was asking very specific information that I had to look up.
Me: Okay sir, that’s the last I have on Mr. ________.
Mgr: I’m sorry could you say his name again?
Me: Mr. _________.
Mgr: Hmmm… Could you say his name again, please.
Me: (Eyebrows knitted) Mr. _________. Did you have another employee in mind?
Mgr: Oh, ah… no, no. I just wanted to hear you say that name again with your accent.
Me: (Right eyebrow raised) Huh.
Until now I still can’t quite figure out if this was a compliment or an insult.
“In the revolution I was dreaming of democracy, freedom. Today all my dreams are food. I want to eat. I don’t want to die from starvation.”
So profoundly sad.
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.