Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ludmila's Broken English


For her, it was the longest, most scary journey. She had traveled so far away from home, without anything well-planned or corporeal awaiting her at the other end. It was such a long way away that all she could think of were the people she had left behind; the innumerable times she had said goodbye to her friend; the most reticent last mornings with her parents, who, though they felt she needed the journey, didn't quite comprehend her anxiety, her ineffable need to be near them, when every day and every night, her existence ostensibly precluded them from its rigors and its daily hazards. To them, it was very important. They wanted her to discover and reaffirm her roots – the events, and people, and places that her parents said were the entirety of what made them who they were, their Identity. They said it was the very ground upon which they lived their lives together. Living in the Montreal was only a demarcation, an accomplishment of geography. It had nothing to do with the place they grew up in, occasionally reminisced about, sometimes derided, but always used as a point of reference; like a thermometer that measured their sensibilities and judgment, what their values essentially were. And like a thermometer, it drastically altered its readings, oscillating vertiginously between extremes of affection and hate, contentment and disgruntlement, hope and dismay upon the slightest provocation. She needed to return to the city of their birth, to join college there, not so much as a excuse to let the her inculcate what was theirs as young people in their own times, but as a means of letting her know that it was okay to have values that differed from those of her friends back home, that it was all right to have obfuscated and incomplete ideas about what the native people thought acceptable and normal, and that is was, in fact, acceptable to be someone born of parents like hers: Workers, immigrants, people who lived in one city, one country, and performed the daily life of another.

In college, finding people to spend time with was the easiest thing. She would never have thought that, but it was the least enervating thing. Erstwhile caricatures, hitherto images of crazy people in her head, suddenly become full bodied, fully intelligible beings, people she identified with and looked up to. They impressed her with their sociability, their astounding intellect, their grasp of her feelings and emotions, the ways of their world. She was made to feel like she needed to step up and invigorate herself, to keep up with them and their keen sense of living. It was almost ridiculous but she felt a vague kind of repentance about the way she had thought they were, about the exaggerated fear and resentment she had thought she would feel. She didn't feel like that at all. It was very different.

At home, however, everything seemed to made to dissuade her from liking her what she had. The family she lived with, her own as per the directions left to her by father, were inestimably far removed from the people she met elsewhere. They were reticent, disengaged, snide and very often plain stingy and reluctant to share their home with her. They didn't quite know if they felt they were obliged to keep her. Possibly they were, and possibly she felt it too. But everyday, with every little encounter in the house, at the dining table, in her room on the top floor, through the door as she quickly rushed past them in the morning on her way to classes, everything felt laden with a quiet kind of anger. An unspoken antagonism only she could articulate, not them. A silent kind of loathing that made her want to scream at them and tell them that they were insufferable.

But she could never do that. The place, the family, the arrangement, everything had been ordained by her parents back at home. She couldn't try and find other means of dissociating from them. Everything was already decided, she only had to play along and uphold the delicate balance that their respective feelings were predicated on.

In the afternoon, she went to the Ridge, where she sat and watched people as they went by. She had always learned to sketch her visions, people and places she saw and contemplated. She wanted to sketch them too. These people that walked in the park and along the road so purposefully, so determined to reach somewhere, to find something Important to do. She liked looking at them. She felt a sense of relief, that she wasn't them, she hadn't the need to briskly walk and find someplace to be. She knew that at the end of the road, they wouldn't find anything Important to do, that they would silently, lugubriously go back home and surrender to their empty beds. She wanted to sketch them.

They were not difficult to draw. Most of them had some remarkable features – long chins, heavy beards and mustaches, long, pointed noses, thick, hairy arms, and the women had prominent chests, and thick legs and strong arms. They were like the figures that the famous Latin American painter made, whose name she could never recall. The figures were huge, larger than life and bulky out of proportion, they were fat and so big that frightened the imagination. She liked the figures because they abjured all that was acceptable and skinny and emaciated. But she couldn't remember his name. Another thing about the people here was that they were very proficient with names. She saw the people that crossed the place where she seated herself and felt them marching their way into her sketches – big, lusty, amply-fleshed figures with swarthy shading that covered their skins. It would be perfect.

She drew them and kept making additions to her book. Everyday, after class, she singled out someone to draw and mimetically placed him in her notebook, until eventually she had a whole tome of them. It was an accomplishment, and a certain contentment crept into her daily that she knew none of her subjects ever discovered at the end of their brisk march to Importance. She felt that she knew that she had got what they were looking for. And oddly enough, it was something her parents would never understand either. That sending her away and designating her place in this new world would not be the beginning of a new-found empathy, but, instead, the conclusion of an old rectitude to say that she was different.

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