We welcome back Jacob Greenbaum with the continuation of his fictional account, "A Tale Of Whoa!" It is as much a story of immigration, displacement and alienation as about love, connection and relationships between humans, a most modern and deeply touching story of the fragile condition that forms part of our lives on this dusty planet called Earth.
Lise was a bit nervous. Her shallow breathing gave her away; she knew that. She hadn’t been this nervous in a long time. But no matter. It was only a haircut, for crying out loud. But would Rahim like it? She was standing in front of their apartment, fidgeting with the door lock, trying to open it.
They, well no, she had been having trouble with it lately. At least her exertions took her mind off her hair, her anxiety, and Rahim. A little twist and she was in.
She ignored the look of the place and went to a mirror. The one in the bathroom would do. It was the closest after all, if you didn’t count the mirror in the hall. She didn’t like the hall mirror. Light on it all wrong, pale white face staring back at her as she left their home all wrong. Anyway.
The sound of her heels on the hardwood floor reassured her somehow. It reminded her of going horseback riding when she was little.
She had to smile looking at herself, coat unbuttoned and hair a bit ruffled by the autumn wind. Shelley had scrawled” I Love You” in pink and purple crayons on the mirror. Lise noticed that the purple heart Shelley drew was lopsided. Oh well. Their only daughter won’t be an artist.
When was the last time I said, “I love you” Lise wondered. Been a while. I used to say it instinctively.
The pink lettering was getting a bit blurry. She was starting to cry as she remembered her childhood. When she was young and going out to celebrate the fact that she was young and relatively unscathed.
She could not say “I love you” because she was not sure if she loved him more than she loved chocolate cake, cute teenaged pop music singers, birthday candles, or hearing “Happy Birthday,” sung to her.
And she knew in her nine-year-old heart that if she said “I love you” to her daddy, he would make a “detour” to a bar to place a phone call to his bookie. And the party, the party waiting for her would wait another year. But if her daddy was insecure about her love for him, he would make an extra effort to please her. So she reasoned in her nine-year-old heart, that to keep silent was the best route to her getting the party she wanted. And the thing was she did want to say “I love you” to her daddy.
Life was already so hard so early out of the starting gate she thought. I’m only nine-years old and have to deal with a runaway daddy. And now, staring at a mirror through tears, Lise was wondering what was happening to her.
She heard the sound of a familiar cadence coming up the stairs to their apartment, heard the version of Day-O made popular by Harry Belafonte whistled surprisingly on key in the hallway, and composed herself, brushing a coat sleeve across her eyes. Good God, she was still in her coat.
“Hey, you left the front door open.”
Lise thought of smoothing her hair, decided against it, and stepped out into the spotlight.
“So what do you think?”
“I like it,” Rahim said, while kicking off his well-worn boots and directing the projectiles toward a corner of the room, where an entrance to the kitchen lay.
Lise started sobbing. Rahim hesitated for a moment, she had been so touchy lately, then strode across the room, and one hand shot out to grab her. She pushed him off. Referee looking in his direction. Not good. She had become his referee of late. He preferred the real referees he confronted playfully playing semi-pro football in Johannesburg, where he was born and spent his youth. The best avenue for a black like him was sport. Unfortunately, he was not good enough for the pros. Now, Lise in their 11-year relationship, as referee, found him not good enough for marriage. She wanted to wait. For what he wondered. Both of them were already in their mid-thirties.
“I’m still in my coat, Rahim.”
“I like your new hairstyle. Nca, it’s beautiful.”
Rahim knew Lise needed encouragement to pursue her dream of being a hairdresser at the upscale shop she worked at part time. The owner also thought she had potential and was considering promoting her from “wash and dry girl” in time. The place, on Eglington Ave. E, was close to home and offered good wages. And Rahim knew Lise was studying so hard.
His eyes moved up to her collar noticing her fingers flitting over the hollow between her neck and breastbone. Like a bird trying to find its nest he thought. Yellow card. She has an odd angular haircut circa Vidal Sassoon. Rahim was concerned about her first foray into cutting hair. Her own hair.
And Lise handed Rahim her house key.
“Honey, would you try the front door lock? I’ve been having trouble opening it. Maybe my key is bent or something. Although I can’t see anything wrong with it.”
He gently took the key from Lise, briefly touching her fingernails, noticing they were bare. Not the usual polish he was accustomed to. He thought of making her favourite dessert. He smiled to himself as he remembered how she encouraged his desire to strike out on his own, advocating he open his own shop one fine day. She thought him the best pastry chef in Toronto. No, in Canada.
He said nothing and later wondered if he should have. He was used to saying nothing more than necessary to women. Being with Lise meant doing and saying more than necessary. That much was clear. Most times, he enjoyed the challenge, but lately he was beginning to feel the old ways were best. He had looked up a travel agency. Maybe a visit home without Lise. A short visit to clear his head.
Just a passing thought. He knew he could never be apart from her or four-year old Shelley.
And she started to sob again watching his retreating back approaching the front door.
Rahim walked out of the apartment in his stocking feet with a little grimace of disgust on his face. Could not a man wear shoes in his own house? Be proud to have shoes? Because in Africa... But Lise asked him to... She cries all the time... But when it was good with his woman, it was so good. So went his train of thought.
He noiselessly closed the door and looked around him. He was alone in the lobby. He raised her key to his mouth and put it to his lips, and held it there for a moment. Then he raised the key up, holding it upright, his fingers tightly curled around it, his arms fully extended upwards in a tent shape. His eyes focused on the horizontal line above their door where wall met ceiling. The key would have to do as his Ofo, his medium of communication with the spiritual realm to aid in times of dispute.
“What are you doing, taking a bath out there?”
At that moment, hearing Lise’s voice with a dimly remembered timbre to it, his heart constricted and he felt sad for what he feared she was returning to. He slid the key in, turned it, locked the door, and then unlocked it easily. At least he still had that.
He walked in with a big smile on his face. “It fits in smoof.” He locked the door.
She knew he was not strong for her because he reverted to his old syntax and South African expressions. Red Card.
She asked him to move his damn boots so she wouldn’t trip over them in the middle of the night.
What was she doing leaving their bed in the middle of the night, Rahim wanted to know. None of your business she shot back with a mixture of regret, sadness, and bravado. Why’d she say that? Why had she hurt him? Rahim was bouncing on the soles of his feet, moving the weight from one foot to the other, and back again. He loved to make love to her, the smell of her body, and her weight in the bed. He didn’t want to think anymore, to debate internally anymore. His bouncing went from lento to allegro. She noticed Rahim putting her key into the front pocket of his jeans.
“Hey, look, Rahim, it’s just been tense for me lately, y’know. I’m just asking you to move the boots out of the corner and put them here”. She pointed the desired spot out with an extended index finger.
“This way when I go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I won’t have to make a detour around your boots. I can take a straight line, the shortest route. And the shortest route is best.”
“Not always,” Rahim said.
“When you have to go to the bathroom it is,” Lise said.
“But you’re not going to the bathroom. Why?” He was moving closer.
“Why what?” She was moving diagonally away from him.
Rahim walked in a diagonal line to intercept her, and then turned to match her step, walking in parallel with her, an arm’s length away from her.
“Ag! Why you?” Irritating the sore.
“Why are you like this?” he said. ” You are deurrekaar, confused. Why? ”
He stopped. He stood straight like a spear. His eyes focused on where wall met ceiling.
Lise stopped. She turned on the balls of her feet. She loved to do that. She looked at him. Him looking at where wall met ceiling. At times like this, he looked so lovely, like a vision from heaven. Was he going to pray for her she wondered? Was he going to give her back her key?
She faced him. Her right hand went to her left inside coat pocket and removed the tissue paper and its contents secreted there. Her hand open to the sky, the tissue paper balanced on her upturned palm. She fully extended her right arm and walked straight to him, with soft footsteps, as if approaching a deer. Their eyes locked on each other the whole time. Was there moisture in his eyes?
She stopped when her toes touched his. She retracted her arm and her right hand slid back to her waist as if opening a drawer.
“Uncover me,” she said.
He opened the tissue paper. She was motionless while he did this.
“I’m taking these,” she said matter of factly.
He recognized them. The image of a phone booth and conversations with Lise in the early days hit him on his head. A soccer ball to the back of his head. Lise was back on antidepressants.
Jacob Greenbaum writes about faith and technology. He resides in Montreal, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright ©2011. Jacob Greenbaum. All Rights Reserved. It is published here with permission of the author.
Publisher's Note: This is a work of fiction. While the author might have been inspired by some true-life events, names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.