Mr Canada

Fiction

One morning, a year after my family’s arrival in Canada, I stood in our basement, looking at my reflection in the mirror. The powder blue shirt I was wearing was part of my work uniform and it made me look sallow, a pallidness intensified by the neon light above. The mirror was a collection of reflecting squares stuck together on the basement wall, in an area that had once been the bar. Some of the squares were missing and I saw myself in fragments. I could see my head, but not my neck, my left arm but not my right; my left leg was missing too.

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In that disjointed mirror was a view of my basement bedroom as well. The plastic wood-veneer panelling, which was supposed to create a warm cosiness, did not absorb light, like real wood, but reflected the neon tube above. The carpet was a worn lime green. My bed was a box spring mattress that was here when we bought the house, a rickety desk from Towers was shoved up against a wall.

It was the summer of 1985, a hot summer. As I walked towards the bus stop, the summer sun beat down a yellow heat that glared off the pavements 
and the concrete apartment towers. Someone had knocked over a can of pop on the pavement and wasps were thick on the blood-black liquid.

There was a queue at the bus stop on Finch Avenue and I took my place at the end of it. Sweat had begun to collect in the space between my knapsack and the back of my shirt. The synthetic material resisted moisture and the sweat trickled down to my waistband, soaking the edge of my underwear. This part of Finch Avenue had no shade to it. The spindly trees—which grew in squares of cut-out pavement, imprisoned by iron bars to prevent any desecration to them—were no taller than I was.

My bus ride to Finch station took thirty minutes; from there, I had another ride north for forty minutes. By the time I boarded my second bus, I could feel a tightness across the back of my neck from the heat and gas fumes.

As the bus trundled up Yonge Street, I stared out at the strip malls and used-car dealerships, coated with sickly yellow sunlight. It had been a dry summer and the grass along the side of the pavements was burnt brown. 
I glanced at my watch. I had been on the bus for only ten minutes but it felt like an hour. I closed my eyes; there was still a while to go. The vastness of Canada, the enormous distances that lay between things, was something my mind could not get itself around. It recoiled from the notion—the interminable distances—like some physical affliction.

I imagined what it would be like to be that hand, resting against the heat of his thigh.

When I next looked out, I saw brown-bricked apartment buildings in the distance like forbidding mountains and, before them, the Hillcrest Mall—a long, low windowless building that reminded me of a penitentiary.

At the mall stop, the bus filled up, people standing in the aisles. A boy of about seventeen stood in front of my seat. As the bus began to move, his hips swayed towards me and then away. I glanced at the bulge of his crotch, which pushed his fly slightly apart, revealing the zipper. I longed to see the boy’s face and I looked sideways and then quickly upwards. The boy caught my glance by accident. My eyes hurriedly slid away.

He was handsome, with a glowing tan and whitish blonde hair. He had put his hand into his pocket and his knuckles pressed out the material of his jeans. I imagined what it would be like to be that hand, resting against the heat of his thigh.

The bus was pulling up a hill. We were going into the old village of Richmond Hill with its narrow main street, the low buildings on either 
side run down and dingy, the windows dusty. A billiard room here, a dime store there, the town hall in need of a coat of paint, a strip joint named Girls Galore.

My stop was the next one. I got down and began to walk east along High-Tech Road, past car repair garages, a socks factory, a piece of wasteland with knee-high grass growing in it.

I had a job at the New Richmond Motel in housekeeping.

The building had a mock Tudor facade and sat on a large tarred lot, a few dusty shrubs along the edge. Behind the building was scrub land, 
and beyond that warehouses. The motel was owned by an Indian family, the Lalvanis, and had been built in the 1970s in anticipation of commercial development along High-Tech Road that never materialized. It would have shut down were it not for the business provided by Girls Galore. Most of the motel’s occupants were strippers who lived here permanently.

When I came in through the front doors, I was enveloped in a smell of stale cigarettes and old beer. I went down a dark hallway with more fake wood panelling on either side, the shag carpets a grubby orange and rust. Mrs. Lalvani and her older son, Haresh, were in the glassed-in office behind the reception desk. The younger son, Deepak, was on duty at the desk and he gave me a timid smile as I went past him.

I went down a dark corridor with rooms on either side, the odour of cigarettes and beer compounded by the stink of old hamburgers, congealed fries and dried pizza crusts from cartons of fast food the strippers had shoved outside their doors last night. At the end of the corridor, steps led to the basement. I went down and made my way along another corridor with bare cement floors and overhead neon lights, towards the laundry room, from which I could hear the sound of dryers and washers.

Geetha, who was married to Deepak, was in charge of housekeeping. I entered to find her folding towels. She looked like she had not slept last night. Her baby had probably kept her awake, or perhaps she had stayed up late 
to help with the cooking in their communal home. The Lalvanis lived together in a large house in Richmond Hill.

“That stupid Laura has not come for her shift. No excuse, nothing.” Geetha barely glanced at me. She continued to fold towels, slapping them on the counter. “These bloody Canadians, I tell you, a bunch of good-for-nothings. Thank God they have us immigrants to keep this country running.”

Geetha had a handsome face with sharp features, a sparkling stud on her haughty nose that flared with contempt when she said “Canadians” in her Indian convent-girl accent.

“Hurry, hurry, Shivan.” She waved her hand at me. “Don’t stand there like a damn fool. Get started on the second floor. There has been a checkout.”

I began to pack the cart quickly with towels, sheets, pillow cases, soaps, shampoos and toilet paper. I checked to make sure the bottles with the cleaners were full. Then I attached a garbage bag to one end of the cart and rolled it out into the corridor.

The strippers would not wake until lunch time, so the morning was usually slow for me; just a few checkouts. In the afternoon my work sped up, though it was never that hard. Most of the women did not want me to do a thorough cleaning. They would often open their doors, sleepy-eyed, hand me a tray or some dirty towels, take fresh ones and tell me that was all 
they needed.

Though the women had lived in these rooms for a long time, the Lalvanis never referred to them by their names. They were known by various physical or racial characteristics tagged onto the word rundi (which I had learnt from Geetha meant “whore” in Hindi) — the red-haired rundi, the tattooed rundi, the French Canadian rundi, the black rundi and so forth. When addressing them directly, they called them “Miss,” with sibilant contempt.

I was making the bed in the vacated room when Geetha bustled in, her gold bangles clanking. She had seemingly come to help, but I knew she would just stand around complaining about her mother-in-law, whom she referred to as “that bitch.”

There was a smell to her of rancid hair oil, old sweat and lilac talcum powder.

She walked around the room, moving objects on the table for a while, before she began to speak. “You won’t believe what that bitch told me last night. She said that her son had lowered himself marrying me, and she regretted being in such a hurry. That she should have held off for a girl with a better dowry and more educated. ‘More educated for what?’ I asked her. ‘Did you want your husband to marry a doctor so she too could come here and work as a servant in a hotel?’ I told that bitch it was a pity we Hindus didn’t follow the Muslim custom of paying the bride’s family a dowry rather than the other way around. Because certainly they should have paid my parents for letting their daughter marry that Deepak.” Geetha’s lips curled up. “Such a lame excuse for a man.”

Deepak was skinny and short, with a bony face and receding hairline. He scuttled around apologetically and was cowed by his older brother, Haresh, who often yelled at him, calling him a pig or a buffalo. Haresh had the round self-satisfied stomach of a pasha, a luxuriant moustache, pink lips that looked like they had been touched with gloss and a constant superior smirk on his face, except when he was barking at someone. Then his moustache would bristle, his eyes flash. But even he was humble before Mrs. Lalvani. She was an obese woman, her arms bulging out in tiers beyond the sleeves of her sari blouse. There was a smell to her of rancid hair oil, old sweat and lilac talcum powder. I had never seen her leave the armchair in the office. She sat still as a toad, watching everything with her beady eyes. All decisions and requests were brought to her. She would listen and then either nod her approval or wave her palm fan in a dismissive gesture.

At first, I was awed when Geetha told me of her confrontations with Mrs. Lalvani. But I soon realized it was only to me that she voiced her angry fantasies. I knew this because of her meek demeanour before Mrs. Lalvani, and because Geetha longed to bring her baby to work, but Mrs. Lalvani would not allow it. Haresh’s wife, a little mousy thing whom Geetha referred to as “that oil rag,” stayed home and looked after her five children and Geetha’s son.

Geetha had got to the end of her tirade and she rounded on me, her anger spilling out. “Shivan, you’re doing those corners terribly. For God’s sake, don’t you learn any bloody thing?” She pulled out the sheet. “Hurry up and re-do them.” She stormed out.

I was somewhat used to Geetha’s flashes of temper.

When I went down for lunch, she was doing inventory. “I brought you some biryani I cooked last night, Shivan.” She continued with her tallying. “Made from a recipe my mother taught me.”

“Um . . . thank you Geetha.” I wheeled the cart to a corner. This was her way of making up for berating me earlier.

After she had finished her work, she took the container with the biryani and heated it in the microwave, setting two plates out. She also put a saucepan on a burner to make chai.

Geetha always waited to have lunch with me and engineered the schedule so that Laura, the other housekeeper, had her break before or after us. During our time together, she would ply me with questions about my life here in Canada and my past year at university. She had studied English literature at university in India and, since I was doing the same here, she liked to discuss the books I had done. Geetha led a cloistered life, shuttled between their home and the motel. She had not even done the obligatory pilgrimage every immigrant made to Niagara Falls. When my family had gone a month ago, she had been agog for details on the falls. I brought her back a souvenir plate, which she kept displayed in the laundry room.

I fabricated my life, making it more interesting than it was. I had not made a single friend at York University. It was largely a commuter campus and students did not hang around after classes; there was little evening life. But, as far as Geetha knew, I had made lots of friends in university and was constantly doing things with them. I pretended to be familiar with downtown Toronto, though I knew it sparingly. Geetha, like me back in Sri Lanka, 
had been seduced by American films and so, before coming here, she had imagined that people in the West led a life of cafés and art films and browsing in bookstores. She believed people in downtown Toronto lived that life, and I assured her that it was so and that, furthermore, I too led that life, when I was not working at the motel.

• • •

A few days later, I received news from the Ontario Student Assistance Program. They had awarded me a grant of $1,500, far exceeding what I had hoped for. Not only was my tuition covered, but there was also enough 
left over for my text books and my metro pass. With the money I had saved this summer, I no longer needed employment.

When I walked into my first checkout, the next morning, I immediately smelled shit. The floor around the toilet bowl and the seat were spattered with diarrhea. With a sound of despair, I hurried out to get the cleaners and slip on my gloves. Then I began to scrub the mess, flecks of green and brown and red diarrhea sticking to the sponge. A heavy anger coursed through me. The diarrhea had congealed and required extra effort before it could be dislodged. Now it was time for the bathtub. The hole was plugged and I drew out a gob of hair and dirt and something greyish that might be semen or snot. I could feel the rough texture of the hair through my gloves, like pliable wires.

When I was done with the washroom, I went and sat on the edge of the bed, my hands clasped, staring out of the window.

Geetha found me in this position. “Shivan!” She yelled. “What are you doing? Is this what I pay you for, to sit on the bed and relax?”

“Shut up.”

“No wonder you take so long to finish a room, you’re becoming a real lazy Canadian. Do you think—”

“Shut the fuck up!”

I leapt up from the bed and glared at her.

Her face flushed. “Who the hell do you think you are? Do you . . . do you want to get fired?”

“Fired?” I cried, my voice cracking, “I quit.” I pulled off my rubber gloves, threw them on the floor and stormed past her. At the door, I turned to her. “You can take your job and shove it up your arse.”

I hurried down the corridor, pushed open the back door and went to stand in the parking lot, by the dumpster. I was shaking from the encounter but, as I leaned against the wall of the motel, a sense of exhilaration began to take hold of me. I was free, I was free.

After a while, I went back inside and made my way down to the basement to collect my knapsack. As I drew near the laundry room, I hoped that Geetha wasn’t there, so I could leave without having to face her again.

She putting laundry in the washing machine and, the moment she saw me, she dropped the sheet in her hand and came to me. “Shivan, I’m sorry. I should not have spoken to you like that.”

“Um . . . that’s okay Geetha. Sorry also for what I said.”

“I’m not much older than you, Shivan. Only twenty-seven. I see you attending university and going out downtown and I . . . I envy you. This life I lead here, it’s not what I expected at all. Some mornings I wake thinking I’m back in Bombay and then it sweeps over me that I am here. I cannot tell you how much effort it takes to get out of bed.” She began to cry. “I’m so miserable here, so miserable. I wish I could go home, but I can’t, I can’t. 
I have written to my parents and explained my situation, but they will not have me back. They don’t want the shame of a divorced daughter. So, I’m . . . I’m stuck in this miserable life.” She rubbed the heel of her palm across her cheeks. “You cannot imagine how much I look forward to your coming to work, how much I depend on it. All those stories you tell me about your life, it really gives me a strange hope, just knowing that everything in Canada is not as awful as this Richmond Hill. I . . . I hate myself when I yell at you, but I feel so grateful that you allow me to do so, that you simply take my venting.”

She cried harder, her shoulders shaking and, before I knew it, she had put her arms around me and was weeping freely. I patted her back awkwardly, the front of my shirt getting wet.

When she had calmed down, she pulled back and gave a shaky laugh. “Sorry for the melodrama.”

“Ah, no, Geetha, don’t worry about it.”

“So you won’t quit, will you?”

“No.” I struggled to smile. “I . . . I guess I won’t.”

• • •

Over the next few days, Geetha told me about her life with the Lalvanis. 
It was everything I had always suspected—her loveless marriage to Deepak, her fear of Mrs. Lalvani and Haresh, the fact that, after a hard day of work at the motel, she had to stay up late doing household chores. I already knew that Geetha was not allowed to have her son with her, but now I found out there was a more sinister aspect to this story. Haresh and his wife had produced five girls. The arrival of Geetha’s son, Manoj, was thus greeted with much delight by the Lalvanis. From the start, Haresh claimed the child as his own, addressing it as beta, son, and referring to himself as bappa, father, when talking to the baby. Geetha was frightened that it was only a matter of time before Manoj’s cot was moved into Haresh’s bedroom.

Listening to Geetha’s stories, I felt that something needed to be done. 
I decided to ask my oldest sister, Renu, for advice.

Renu had spent a couple of years at university in Sri Lanka before arriving here. In that time, she had come under the influence of a woman professor who was a feminist and soon Renu, who always loved a cause, was deeply involved in women’s issues in Sri Lanka. She had enrolled in the Women’s Studies Program at York University and begun to volunteer at the Women’s Centre on campus. She was the only one among us who had made Canadian friends.

I went into her bedroom, one evening, while she was studying and sat on her bed.

As I described the life Geetha led, Renu’s eyes sparkled. “Shivan,” she declared, when I was done, “Geetha simply must get out of that situation.”

“But how, Renu? She has no money of her own and a son to look after.”

“Yes-yes, but this is not India, nah. There are facilities here for women in her situation.” Renu began to tell me about women’s shelters and the various government programs and services that were available. I listened amazed, and a hope began to grow in me that Geetha could, indeed, escape her current life. Renu searched around in her satchel and produced a pamphlet with a list of phone numbers that Geetha could call for advice.

Geetha was also wonderstruck by the help out there for a woman in her situation, and she pored over the pamphlet, her eyes wide.

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Renu had warned me against pushing Geetha in any way. Geetha evidently needed to feel “empowered” to act for herself. Yet, as the days passed and Geetha did not bring up the subject of her escape, I grew impatient with this advice. Finally, when we were at lunch one day, I said, “Geetha, have you thought any more about getting out of here? Have you phoned any of the numbers in the pamphlet?”

Geetha was silent for a moment, looking down at her hands, then she raised her eyes to me. “But Shivan, what am I going to?” Her stare intensified. “I mean, what would I have to hope for, once I have left here?”

I was uncomfortable under the intensity of her gaze and I blurted out, “But what about the fun of downtown, the life you want to lead, the life you dreamed of leading when you came to this country?”

“And who would I lead it with?”

“Well, I’ll be there, you can count on me.”

“Can I Shivan, can I really?”

“Yes,” I said, though something inside me was beginning to wilt. “Of course you can.”

“Well,” Geetha smiled mischievously, “before  I consider this any further, I would like to sample this downtown life you speak so much about.”

“But . . . but, how will you get away from here?”

“I’ve been thinking about it. Tomorrow, there is a community wedding in Ottawa that my in-laws are going to attend. They will be away overnight. Only Deepak and I are to remain here, running this bloody place.” She wrinkled her nose contemptuously. “I can get that Deepak to co-operate.”

“But . . . but what about your son?”

Her lips twisted in bitterness. “They’re taking their grandson to display him.” She reached out and squeezed my arm. “But, anyway, let us do this, Shivan. It would be marvellous.”

I had no choice but to agree to it.

On the bus ride home that day, I thought about my predicament. I really knew downtown Toronto very little. The CN Tower and the Eaton Centre were about the extent of my knowledge, and neither place resembled the Toronto I had described to Geetha.

In my tales about my life downtown, I had spoken of two places that I had heard fellow students mention—Kensington Market and Queen Street. I decided to call the TTC information line and see if they could assist me. The young woman I spoke with was very helpful, particularly when I told her 
I was a tourist. She immediately gave me the location of Kensington Market and how to get there, but when I mentioned Queen Street, she asked, “But, sir, which part did you have in mind? It is a very long street.”

“The . . . the part that has lots of fashionable cafés and bookshops and other nice stores,” I replied.

“Ah, sir, you mean Queen West.”

She then gave me alternate directions to Kensington Market that would take me through Queen West.

The next day, when I arrived at the hotel, Geetha was waiting for me. Unlike the drab, old polyester saris she wore to work, she was dressed in a crisp white cotton sari with a pink and gold border. “Oh, Shivan,” she said, when I came into the laundry room, “I was so excited, I could barely sleep last night.”

She had already set Laura, the other housekeeper, to do the rooms, and we went back upstairs to the lobby. Deepak was behind the reception counter and, when he saw us, he began to wring his hands. “Oh, dearest Geetha,” he pleaded, “please do not go. What if my mother and brother find out?”

Two black men with dreadlocks and red, yellow and green tams were playing a drum and a guitar, singing a reggae song.

“Why would they, you silly man?” Geetha replied. “Are you planning to tell them?” She glared a warning at him and Deepak cringed.

Geetha patted his arm as if he was a doddering old man, “Nothing is going to happen. Shivan is just doing me a little favour. Bringing a little pleasure into my life.”

She winked at me and I grinned back. I felt good for the first time about what we were going to do.

I had carefully memorized the instructions on where to go. Even so, once we had boarded the Queen streetcar going west, I began to feel anxious as I gazed out at the tall, dour, concrete buildings all around us. But the streetcar passed University Avenue and we left those buildings behind, and I saw that we were in “Queen West.”

Geetha was staring out with unconcealed curiosity and, trying to keep my demeanour casual, I too looked around avidly at the quirky shops we were passing, the second-hand bookstores with their wooden floors and large windows, the whimsical shoe shops, a comic-book store. I was surprised to see something that I had never expected to find here in Canada—pavement stalls. They were lined up on the sidewalk, selling jewellery, gloves, scarves, strange foreign clothes, incense and shawls from India, tie-dye shirts. Two black men with dreadlocks and red, yellow and green tams were playing a drum and a guitar, singing a reggae song. The sidewalks were full of pedestrians, strolling, buying from the stalls, a man and a woman dancing to the music. Here it was, the America of our dreams.

We got off at Spadina Avenue and walked north, then turned onto Kensington Avenue. We were in the market and stood gazing at the scene before us in wonder. The stores on either side of the road had stalls on the pavement, and so most of the shoppers were in the street, strolling along, ignoring the beeps of trucks and cars trying to get through. I felt as if I was back in Colombo, in the bazaars of Pettah. And moments later, as we walked down the road, I smelt the odours of home—the earthy raw beef and chicken in the butcher shops, the tang of salted fish hanging on hooks outside a Chinese shop, rice in large gunny sacks. The grocery stores had vegetables I had not seen in over a year—thin long brinjals (unlike the fat round Italian ones we made do with from Price Chopper), okra, bitter gourd, snake gourd, yams and—I stopped to stare, a wave of homesickness rising in me—rambutangs and mangosteens.

Geetha too was regarding them with delight. She insisted on buying us a half dozen rambutangs, ridiculously expensive at $3 each, which we sucked on as we continued deeper into the market. Along with the grocery stores, there were also bakeries, and we paused frequently to gaze at the window displays of pastries we had never seen before. There were also a few tiny cafés, packed with young people who were dressed in outlandish clothing and sported various types of hats from bowlers to tams. Some of them were completely in black, their face covered in white make-up.

Turning a corner, we found ourselves on a street that sold second-hand clothes. So far, I had lacked the courage to go into any of the shops, but these clothing stores had their wares on racks out on the pavement. Geetha and I began to go through them, any reticence we had overcome by the cheapness of the garments. We rifled through the jackets and scarves and shirts. When Geetha saw me trying on a hat in front of a mirror that had been propped outside, she said I looked great in it, like one of the singers in Duran Duran. This was the exact image I had in mind. Geetha insisted on buying the hat for me and I wore it for the rest of our day.

In the market, we discovered a bakery that sold Jamaican patties and we bought ourselves one each and walked along munching them. When Geetha was done, she slipped her hand into the crook of my elbow. “So, this is your first time here too, Shivan.”

I turned to her surprised and she laughed. “I saw your jaw dropping open a few too many times.” She squeezed my elbow. “What is your life really like, Shivan?”

She asked with such goodwill, such openness, that I found myself telling her about my loneliness and my inability to make friends at school. When 
I told her how I used to visit the American Centre in Sri Lanka, and how the university prospectuses had made me imagine a splendid campus life here, she threw back her head and let out a peel of laughter. “Oh, Shivan!” She kissed me impulsively on the cheek. “You’re such a silly boy.” But then she admitted that she too had visited the American Centre in Bombay and 
been seduced by fashion and lifestyle magazines. Now it was my turn to tease her about whether she had hoped to be a fashion model or a bohemian artist here.

We had been walking in the direction of Queen Street and, when we reached it, we continued towards the pavement stalls we had passed before. Geetha was particularly taken by the silver jewellery at one of them and, 
in consultation with the Chinese woman who sold them, she tried on a pair of earrings. As I watched her, I felt a warmth of affection towards her. It felt good to have finally confessed my loneliness to someone. Geetha, aware that I was looking at her, smiled at me and moved her head from side to side to solicit my opinion on the earrings. I nodded my approval and she promptly bought them and wore them for the rest of our trip.

On our bus ride back to Richmond Hill, we were silent, staring out at the dreariness all around us—a wasteland that was being prepared for a townhouse complex, construction vehicles with giant teeth gouging muddy earth; an electrical field crisped brown in the summer sun, detritus scattered about it—an over-turned white plastic chair, some abandoned pipes, a gaping Styrofoam box.

Once we got off the bus we made our way along High-Tech Road to the motel. The moment we reached the parking lot, Geetha let out an exclamation and clutched my arm. I followed the direction of her gaze and saw the Lalvanis’ van. We looked at each other, then hurried around to the back of the motel and slipped down the stairs to the basement.

Haresh and Deepak were waiting for us in the laundry room. On the table in front of them was Geetha’s son, lying in his car seat asleep. With a cry, she rushed to her son and took him in her arms. He awoke and began to cry. She turned to Deepak, “What happened?”

Before he could respond, Haresh let out a bark of a laugh. “What do you care, you unfit mother, gallivanting about while your son was sick.”

“He . . . he had a bladder infection so they had to turn around and come back.” Deepak gave his brother a cowed glance.

“Has he been to a doctor?” Geetha demanded, rocking her son to calm him down.

Again Haresh laughed. “Don’t worry. We love and care for your son, even though you might not.” He turned his gaze on me and his lips curled in anger. “I want you to get out of here before I break your arm.”

I glanced quickly at Geetha, who nodded. I hurriedly left.

When I came into the lobby, Mrs. Lalvani was in the glassed-in office. She saw me and raised her hand to get my attention. She crooked her finger 
at me. I hesitated for a moment, then went to her, rubbing my hands against the sides of my trousers.

Mrs. Lalvani indicated for me to shut the door. I did so and went to stand in front of the desk. She looked me over, as she languorously fanned herself.

“I am also being young girl,” she began abruptly. Her voice had the cracked quality of an adolescent boy. “I am also understanding funs and good times.”

She appeared to be waiting for some response and I said, “Um . . . yes, Mrs. Lalvani.”

“You are only seeing fat old woman, ah, but one time I was thin and pretty girl. Living in Lahore with parents and family.” She held up her hand. “Five children, three sisters, two brothers. Very good life we are living. Father doctor and everything. Then partition come.”

She looked at me to see if I understood about the division of the Subcontinent into India and Pakistan. I nodded.

“Everything we lost, leaving Lahore in big-big hurry on train.” She held up one finger. “Only I survive train killing by Muslim thugees. I am hiding under seat and see mother, father, sisters, brothers all killed. Then, later I go to Uganda and marry husband who is living there. Soon-soon Idi Amin is in power and again I lose everything. My husband die from heart attack, and I must come here to make life with sons and sons’ wives.”

Again she appeared to be expecting some response and I nodded, not really sure why she was telling me all this.

As if she had read my mind, she said, “But I am not forgetting ever, what it is like to be young, like you. Like Geetha.”

A smirk spread across her face. “So you are showing my daughter-in-law good times, ah. You are like tour guide, no.” She suddenly giggled. “I am calling you Mister Canada, you are such expert.”

I smiled gamely.

“Good-good. You must keep showing Geetha fun times. Everyone in families must be happy, nah?”

She smirked again at the surprise on my face. “Bring me souvenir from Toronto on next visit to downtown.”

“Yes, Mrs. Lalvani.” I struggled to gain control of my features.

She waved her fan for me to be gone.

The following morning, when I came into the laundry room, Geetha was waiting for me. I told her what had happened yesterday and she told me Mrs. Lalvani had given her permission for further trips. She seemed strangely worried. “That bitch has something up her sleeve, and I don’t know what it is.”

“Maybe she’s changed, Geetha. She told me that she has never forgotten what it’s like to be young, even though she has suffered so much.” Since our conversation yesterday, I felt sorry for Mrs. Lalvani.

Geetha shrugged. “Perhaps that old bitch realized she had pushed me too far. That she must bend, if I am to stay with Deepak.”

“You plan to stay with him?”

A look of disappointment had involuntarily crossed my face. Geetha laughed when she saw it. “Oh, Shivan, you are so funny.” She squeezed my arm, then kissed my cheek. “Don’t worry. I’m just lulling the old bitch into complacency while we make our plans.”

 


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