Fall 2018: Late Bloomer
Experience, we find, is often under-rated. We are delighted to present four pieces by veteran travelers and writers.
Editor: Laurie McMillin
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My Mother at La Fiesta
If you had known my mother, you would appreciate why I’m astonished when I think about this event, an episode during her epic journey, a personal odyssey, if you will. A Southern, middle-class Penelope traveled across the country to reunite with her husband during a global war. Having reached him, she celebrated her thirty-fourth birthday on September 19, 1944 in a San Francisco nightclub. This occurred two years before my birth, and I know as much as I do because of a photograph album she assembled during that decade, part of a collection that came into my possession after her death more than twenty years ago. She never told me much about her remarkable adventure, and she never mentioned the celebration. She wasn’t a storyteller, especially when the story involved herself.
Born Alice Veola Allen in a small Georgia town, she was orphaned early and raised by an aunt and uncle unhappy about having to care for her and two brothers, who ran away from the farm in their teens. As a young adult, she moved to Savannah, where she met Linville Evans. They married in February 1936. At the time she was the bookkeeper for a furniture store, and he worked for a large paper mill. Nearly six years later, very soon after the United States declared war on the Axis powers, he reenlisted in the navy and was assigned as a non-commissioned officer to a cruiser in the Pacific theater. While he was away at sea, my mother lived with the family of her best friend in their house, and she continued to work. Like all those on the home front, she experienced the rationing of food, gasoline, and other commodities that diminished their day-to-day existence. She did tell me about ration books, which held the stamps she needed to purchase meat or sugar.
In August 1944, after taking part in operations in the Marshall Islands, New Guinea, and the Marianas during the preceding nine months, the USS San Juan sailed to the San Francisco naval shipyard for repairs. With extended shore leave expected in its home port, many crew members had invited their wives to join them there. For my parents this would have been a much anticipated reunion. My father’s few surviving war-time letters indicate how much he missed my mother. Each begins “hello darling” and concludes with the phrase, “all my love to my darling wife and sweetheart.” In one letter he writes that he “will be thinking of you every minute until we are together again”; in another he compliments her on a dress she recently made, which he could see in the photo she had enclosed in her letter. His one complaint concerns long delays in receiving her letters, a problem suddenly remedied by the arrival of two dozen at once. None of her letters to him survive, no doubt because a warship’s cramped quarters made retaining them impossible.
Before my parents could reunite, my mother faced a daunting journey. First, she had to plan a coast-to-coast trip on streamliners, the legendary American passenger trains of the era. She would have taken the southern route. In Savannah she would have embarked from the old Central of Georgia Railway station on West Broad Street for a short ride to Atlanta. From there she would have boarded the Crescent, the Southern Railways’ most celebrated train, which she would have taken to New Orleans, one of many cities she passed through for the first time. Arriving at that line’s terminal on Canal Street, she would have needed a taxi to reach Union Station on South Rampart Street. There she would have continued westward on the Sunset Limited, the Southern Pacific Railroad’s famous passenger service to Los Angeles. She probably reached San Francisco via another Southern Pacific train, terminating at the Third and Townsend Depot. Estimates of the time required for such travel today range from eighty to one hundred hours. Depending on connections and possible war-time delays, her journey may have taken longer, perhaps five or six days; it definitely included uncomfortable sleeping conditions and irregular meals. I don’t want to exaggerate the romance of the rails during the 1940s, but my mother, who had never traveled much, must have had an amazing experience as she traversed the country. Although not educated beyond high school, she was smart and observant, and she would have known what she was seeing outside her window. When she returned home after this trip, she never went farther west than Tennessee again.
I don’t know where my parents stayed during their California reunion, but, thanks to her photograph album, I know how they spent some of their days. Among several pictures taken near Union Square in San Francisco are a pair in which each stands alone in front of the Hearst Building and another in which they step off a cable car with other sailors and their wives. Given the number of photographs taken in Golden Gate Park, this must have been a favorite gathering spot among my mother’s numerous new acquaintances. In one photo my parents stand together, her arm around his shoulders, in front of the Japanese Tea Garden; in another, they are seated, with his arm around her, before a fountain. They were photographed together at the Cider Press sculpture and, separately, sitting on a sphinx near the art museum. They lean against a wooden bridge and sit on the ground before large exotic trees. As I review these photographs, I’m reminded that my parents were the same height, about 5’ 8”. Always slender, my mother may have been half an inch taller. In all of these images they look very comfortable together.
My mother’s album also included photographs of them posing with these war-time friends in the park. Among my favorites are one of three sailors standing in front of the same exotic trees and another of four wives reclining together in the grass. An especially sweet photo displays three couples on the lawn: the sailors lie prone, facing the photographer, as their wives nestle above them, with my parents on the left. These men, always in uniform, and their wives, in dresses or skirts and blouses, clearly enjoyed the large pastoral space in the northern part of the city, a secluded setting in which to renew their lives together. Taken with several different cameras and printed in varying sizes and quality, the album’s several dozen black and white photographs testify to the idyllic days spent at a considerable distance from the naval combat continuing in the Pacific Ocean.
These daytime images of San Francisco bring me to the nights of my mother’s clubbing, episodes that still amaze me. Veola Evans was a gentle, polite, serious person. She didn’t drink, smoke, or party, and she didn’t much like those who did, especially to excess. She was more introverted than me and quieter. The mother I knew, a proper Southern woman, preferred spending nights at home with her small family, just the three of us. Yet the album contains proof that she celebrated her birthday at La Fiesta that year. I hold the black and white photograph of her, my father, and two other couples seated at a table, their picture enclosed in a brightly colored cardboard folder, with the name of the club and its location (Bay at Columbus) printed on the front and a date stamp on the back. Inside the folder, opposite the photo, are brief birthday notes written by the other wives she had traveled across the country to meet. In her clear, familiar handwriting, my mother inked their names and “My Birthday” in the cardboard margins framing the picture. With her right arm around my father, she looks happy to be there, but she doesn’t display the broad smiles of the other two women. My surmise is that the club’s entertainment made her uncomfortable.
A map on the cover of the Photoflash Pictures folder, which displays Florida, Cuba, Central America, and the upper part of South America, begins to explain why. An internet search brought up an image of one of the club’s advertising posters, titled “La Fiesta’s Greatest Show.” It highlights “Sergio Orta’s Carnival in Havana,” complete with rumba and conga, the finale of a program including acts identified as Brazilian and Mexican, as well as “the Little Latin Bombshell.” Inesita, a flamenco dancer who performed at La Fiesta, called it “a popular dinner dance restaurant during World War II.” She describes “floor shows with a Spanish and Mexican flavor including Afro-Cuban dance and song,” and, remarking on the “very sexy dances” of chorus girls in “scanty attire,” she implies that some offered more. As my mother sat amid so much Latin sensuality, she must have felt uneasy; but I’m certain that she accepted the environment without too much complaint. She would have understood that her husband needed some exuberant entertainment to help him relax after the tense experiences of preceding months. She would have wanted him to be happy on her birthday. That’s the way she was, even while she was being proper.
For all these years it has been just as surprising that La Fiesta wasn’t the only club she visited in San Francisco. Her album included two photo folders from the “Smartly Sophisticated” Club Lido (also on Columbus Avenue, dated September 11 and 27) and another from the Backstage (on Powell Street, dated September 18), where “cocktails and entertainment” were supposed to create “Memories.” On the later folder from Club Lido, two wives wrote notes about the “wonderful times we’ve had” and cited “this one,” perhaps a suggestion that the night was the last they would all spend together. According to my mother’s annotations on the folders, one couple, Jimmy and Eula from a small coastal town in North Carolina, appears in all the professional photographs and must have been frequent companions. My mother would have enjoyed this new friendship much more than the cocktails or the alleged sophistication. She does not smile as effusively as Eula in any of the club pictures. (My father had reached San Francisco much earlier. Another photo folder, dated August 18, shows him with two shipmates at the Gold Coast, a club located on Market Street.)
These folders also suggest the length of my mother’s California odyssey. Including train travel both ways, it would have lasted almost a month, which means that she would have missed four weeks of work and income. When they parted after the September reunion, my parents did not see each other again until the war ended and my father received his discharge. During the intervening months the San Juan returned to combat operations, including the liberation of the Philippines and battles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, before the ship joined the fleet in Tokyo Bay following the surrender of Japan. From there my father sent a dozen letters, which express his longing for home and his desire for news about family and friends. In one he declares that he “will dream of the good times” ahead. He wrote most of these letters on printed stationery and enclosed them in printed envelopes; both indicate his name, rank, ship, and Fleet Post Office address. Evans Printing Company, which his stepmother managed during later years of the war, must have sent them to him. Each envelope is stamped “Passed by Naval Censor” and initialed. This may explain why he signed Linville rather than Lin, as my mother and others called him, and why he wrote his full name at the bottom of each page.
I conceived this piece during the winter as I began to think about what to do with the photographs, letters, and other miscellaneous items my parents acquired during or shortly after the war. These include The Panther Strikes, a short book about the San Juan, which provided most of my information about the ship’s activity in the months before and after my parents’ reunion. I began writing in March, which is Women’s History Month, without being cognizant until later of a serendipitous connection with the annual commemoration. Although I’m not an historian, I do know that the discipline has moved away from the “great man” approach to examine more carefully the lives of ordinary people, including those who never experienced combat or held positions of leadership that determined who warred with whom and in what circumstances. One result of this paradigm shift has been a greater focus on women’s history.
In most ways, I know, my mother’s experience in 1944 resembles that of many thousands of American women, few of whom have been celebrated as part of the Greatest Generation. As I sought to reconstruct her journey, I realized that she represents many of the women who lived apart from family members during the war and kept working back home, all the while missing those they loved, hoping to receive their letters, and awaiting their return. Whether or not the San Francisco adventure distinguishes her from many of them, it definitely separates her from the mother I knew. When I boxed and sent my parents’ collection to the archive at Florida State University, which had agreed to accept it, I retained one item, the photo folder from La Fiesta. It will keep before me the improbable image of my mother celebrating her thirty-fourth birthday across the continent from Savannah in a Latin-themed nightclub. It will also recall the tenderness that once existed between my parents, which, even as a child, I never witnessed. She told me, after I became an adult, that the war had changed my father.
Jim Evans, Professor Emeritus at a public university in North Carolina, now writes prose to explore his relationship to family, region, and country and considers himself an emerging author.
Three Short Notes from Seasons
[after the Journals of Lewis & Clark]
Cadence flourishing lines leading here all petered out the last rivulet of what was once
a stream in history we were on time coveting grounds the inky road instills
in the sweltering lightly colored meantime bicameral fluctuations
emptying out as of lead the hill that feels the speed in the wind
Thrown off by the maple a fledged or flooded terrain landscape that descends trestle or roadway across favored pacing appearing luminous storm deepened as literally these roads hold down the lyric blend of explosive powders so much setting out wind squeezing birds’ cries in its own words anything is news
Anticipation of the next season tinged w/a populated nostalgia sun’s saturate natural plots as merciful as that a roundness presenting an angle common scarcity loon’s call in parched rural plots acrid bright of mid-day
They proceed apace across the plain cataloging the ruminants their sense of having been rescued intact
“Up north” slow pools of remorse formed on the voyage home in thickness the
summers’ buzz day spread late glory among the least deft of the carnivores
If when looking down the daylight intervenes the sureness of that anniversary
upon the lakes’ edge unfurling poplar tree unfurling stick lily thinking they felt the same breeze
Calm extinction mid-century mist the past west as notes would indicate
they fled the troubles
a spectral morning sun light falling there is this moment animating time
in the wind there was naturally no plan to flower
of smallness cutting back invasive slippage the attempt to get back sounds of
certain words wanting to know what is evident
Jessica Grim is soon to retire from many years’ work as a librarian, and head to Southeast Asia with the Peace Corps for a couple of years. She damn well expects to get some writing done in the mix.
The Jewellers of Goa
Although Ada had passed thirty, she was still going on holidays with her parents, in part to keep her teenage brother company and in part because they could afford holidays in far-away countries, while she couldn’t. This time they went for a two-weeks trip in one of the coastal resorts in Goa. Ada’s parents and her brother found the place much to their taste and in their typical way enjoyed the touristy pleasures: swimming, diving (although this was only for the boys), eating out and feeding cows and other stray animals. To this list Ada’s mother added shopping. Every day, after her morning swim, she took her favourite black bag and went to the village, visiting every second shop she was invited to come into, till her black bag was full and she repeated this routine in the afternoon. She also got her hair cut by a local hairdresser and adorned her hand with a henna tattoo. Ada’s mother claimed that in this way she killed many birds with one stone: indulged in her love of colour, supported the local economy, solved the problem of buying Christmas presents and learnt about the local culture. Ada was sceptical about the last advantage, but Ada’s mother pre-empted her criticism saying: “I don’t strive to be authentic and I don’t mind to appropriate their culture, not least because they are happy for me to do it. Let me be postcolonial and I’m okay with you being woke.” She must have had a point as after several days of these expeditions, when Ada’s mother walked the streets, it felt like the whole village called her by her name. Ada’s father looked at his wife’s treasure hunt with an indulgent amusement, but he didn’t say anything and after some time started to go to the village on his own, with some conspiratorial aura about him.
Most of the shopping time, Ada’s mother spent with the jewellers who were also selling scarves, because buying necklaces, bracelets, earrings and pashminas required more time than buying sweets or fruit and there was a certain ritual which needed to be observed to regard transaction as satisfactory. It required drinking tea, bargaining, albeit slightly (heavy bargaining was associated with Russians who had a bad reputation among Goa’s merchants) and engaging in lengthy conversations, usually about family matters. The jewellers asked Ada’s mother about her job and her family. Most likely this was a way to find out about her purchasing power and whether there was a potential market of female relatives into which they could tap, but perhaps there was also an element of ordinary curiosity. Ada’s mother reciprocated by asking them about their families, the places they were from, their culture and their plans. In this way she learnt that all the jewellers came from Kashmir, to which they returned for two months in a year, they were Muslims and usually had large families. The older, who were the minority, had four or five children; the younger were usually single and had three to five siblings. They were all male.
When she told the jewellers that she had a daughter in her early thirties, they asked her to bring her in. She replied that her daughter did not wear jewellery, but they asked her to bring her anyway, for tea and chat, as their lives were boring, especially towards the end of the season when there were few tourists and the day dragged on. As there wasn’t much else to do in the village apart from swimming and doing things on her smartphone, after a week Ada decided to accompany her mother shopping. She wanted to go to the shop where her mother bought a black-grey scarf and some papier-mâché ornaments but her mother didn’t remember where she purchased these things:
“All the shops and all the vendors are the same to me,” she said.
“This is only because you don’t know them.”
“For sure this is the case, but I don’t mind if they don’t appreciate my uniqueness either. Buying a scarf or a pair of earrings is not necessarily like making love, even if they try to make you feel as if it is. They follow their own rituals and I follow mine.”
The first jewellery shop to which Ada’s mother brought her daughter was on the main street, but on its less crowded part, on the right side from their hotel. It was a small detached building with upstairs and downstairs and a strong smell of burning incense. After saying “hello” Ada’s mother left, as she promised to go for a coffee with an English woman whom she met the previous day in their hotel.
The guy who worked there looked as if he was in his thirties. He was short, energetic and – as Ada expected – persuasive: the type who doesn’t take “no” for an answer. As soon as Ada’s mother left, he moved from behind his counter and shook her hand:
“My name is Kaushal, which means ‘smart’. What is your name?”
“What does it mean?”
“I don’t know, but probably not ‘smart’.”
The guy laughed in a somewhat forced way.
“I am from Kashmir and everything what I sell here is from Kashmir. Do you know Kashmir?”
“Not really. The only Kashmir I know is the one from Led Zeppelin’s song.”
“Sorry, I don’t know it,” said Kaushal.
“Don’t worry, it’s an old song. Even young English people don’t know it.”
“Would you like some tea? I have here Kashmir tea, Turkish tea, English tea, Chinese tea.”
“Kashmir tea, please.”
They sat on a mat on the floor with small glasses filled with the hot spicy drink. Ada’s mother warned her that the tea would not be to her taste, being too sweet, but actually Ada liked it and when she finished, asked Kaushal for the second helping.
“Do you have a husband?” asked Kaushal, putting some dark sweets on a small plate.
“No,” said Ada.
“No. What about you?”
“I don’t have a wife or a girlfriend either. So maybe I can be your boyfriend?” asked Kaushal.
“I don’t think so,” said Ada.
“I’m not looking for a boyfriend.”
“I have other things on my mind, other issues, other plans. And I want to be free.”
“I cannot believe it,” said the jeweller. “Young women are always looking for boyfriends, unless they already have one.”
“This is your problem then, if you don’t believe me,” said Ada.
For a moment there was a tense silence, after which Kaushal asked: “Do you want to look at my jewellery?”
“Not really. I don’t wear jewellery.”
“It feels redundant, like a boyfriend.”
“So maybe you want to look at my scarves. They are really beautiful. Some are made of wool, other of silk. My family in Kashmir is making them. You will not find more beautiful scarves in the whole world than those from Kashmir and more beautiful in entire Goa than in my shop.”
“Okay. I will look at them,” said Ada, finishing her tea. “I rarely wear scarves myself, only one warm black in winter, but I might buy some for my girlfriends.”
“Please do. I will give you a special price, as this is the end of the season and it makes no sense to take them back to Kashmir.”
Kaushal spread many scarves on the counter, saying: “Please touch them. They feel like skin touching skin.”
“Yes, they are nice,” said Ada, but couldn’t make up her mind, as there were too many of them to choose from. But for Kaushal it meant that there were not enough and he piled more on those already spread on the counter.
“Please stop,” said Ada. “It’s enough.”
She quickly took two silk scarves and one pashmina and promised to come another day for tea.
“Just for tea. No obligation to buy anything,” said Kaushal when she was paying him.
“Of course not,” said Ada.
Back in the hotel Ada showed her scarves to her mother, who said that they were indeed beautiful and it would be worth returning to Kaushal’s shop to buy more. But it was difficult to find his shop amongst dozens spread out over several streets in the village, especially as Ada didn’t pay attention to its name. Thus instead the next day Ada headed to another one, whose proprietor sat on a stool in front of his shop, presumably waiting for customers. When he saw Ada, he said “Please come in,” and shook her hand as soon as she entered.
Like Kaushal, he was rather short, with dark hair and dark skin and looked as if he was in his early thirties.
“You are not Russian, aren’t you?” he asked.
“No. Do I look Russian?”
“Probably you don’t, but I want to be sure, as I have no time for Russians. They spend hours going through my stuff without buying anything or offering me prices below my cost.”
“I’m from England. The country of your colonial oppressors.”
He ignored her remark and said:
“We need more English people here, fewer Russians. Why so few English are coming?”
“Maybe due to austerity. The middle classes cannot afford to go to India anymore and the millionaires wouldn’t come here. They prefer to be on private islands or private yachts.”
“It’s bad,” he said. “What is your name?”
“Really? Mine is similar, only longer – Abhinanda, which means joy. We must have something in common.”
“Abhinanda is also a name of a Swedish punk band.”
“I don’t know about it. I don’t know much about western music. How old are you?”
“Thirty-two,” said Ada.
“I’m twenty-six,” said Abhinanda. “Do you have a husband?”
“No. Do you have a wife?”
“No, but my family wants to marry me off when I return home after the tourist season.”
“Are you happy about it?”
“There is nothing to be happy or unhappy about. It is just how things are in Kashmir.”
“Will you bring your wife here?”
“No, I don’t think so. Nobody does it.”
“This job is too hard for women, as it requires staying late at night and utter concentration. One cannot have kids when doing it, because one cannot focus on children and customers at the same time plus the apartment upstairs is too small for a family. It’s barely enough for me.”
“What about single women? Wouldn’t they be good in the jewellery business?” asked Ada.
“There are no single women in our culture,” he responded. “It’s the men’s job to marry off their sisters and daughters and provide for them. But I know in England it is different.”
He was looking at Ada boldly as if he wanted to measure her assets. Although this put her off she didn’t want to leave as she was worried that he might turn nasty if she didn’t buy anything. So she said: “Can you show me some earrings?”
He put maybe thirty on the counter and after five minutes or so Ada chose two pairs, knowing that she couldn’t do so in haste as buying things quickly would only encourage him to show her more and ultimately force her to buy more.
When she paid, Abhinanda said: “Now is time for some tea. I will serve you Kashmir tea. It is like a magic potion.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. I must return to the hotel as we go to Panaji in less than an hour.”
“There is nothing to see in Panaji.”
“Perhaps, but we made a decision to go and a taxi will collect us from the hotel.”
“Okay, but come tomorrow, just for tea. Nobody will make such a tea for you like me.”
“Maybe I will come,” said Ada.
“Not maybe, but sure. Promise. The name of my shop is ‘Hidden Gems’”.
“Promise,” said Ada, although she was thinking that there was no way she would return to this creep.
The next day Ada ventured to the other side of the village, which was less pleasant, because unlike in the other part, where clusters of shops and restaurants were divided by areas of greenery used by cows as their pasture and resting grounds, it was completely built up and full of tacky restaurants with English names. However, she didn’t want to risk meeting Abhinanda again.
She entered a shop squeezed between a large stall with clothes and a tailor’s, which offered to make a dress or a suit in 24 hours. The two men sitting in front of the shop were so immersed in a conversation that they didn’t notice Ada till she asked: “Which of you is in charge of this shop?”
“It’s me,” said one who was slimmer and shorter. The other was rather fat and unusually tall for men Ada saw in Goa.
Without asking, he led Ada to the shop which was pleasantly dark and cool, unlike the jewellery sellers who didn’t seem to use air conditioning.
He switched on the light and repeated what the other sellers told her during her previous shopping expeditions: “All this stuff is from Kashmir. I have jewellery and scarves. I can give you a good price as this is the end of the season.”
Ada thought that this had to be indeed the end of the season as he came across as tired and sleepy. He even had puffy eyes and ruffled, unkempt hair. This made it difficult to assess his age – he could be forty or twenty-five, given that the jewellers in Goa seemed to look older than their real age. Unlike the previous men, he didn’t ogle her, which made for a pleasant change and there was a certain touching shyness and clumsiness about him. She was thinking that it was good that he wasn’t selling china as he would destroy half of his ware.
Unfortunately, his stuff seemed to be of a lower standard than in the shops Ada visited previously. Everything seemed to be mass produced and pashminas weren’t even packed each piece separately, but made a large and rather disorderly pile, on top of which there were two bowls with some unfinished food.
“These look nice,” said Ada, as she felt sorry for the guy. “Is your family producing them?”
“Some, but mostly we collect stuff made by other people in our village and pay them when the ware is sold.”
“Do you choose it yourself?”
“Until recently it was mostly my father, but from next season I will do it myself.”
Ada went through the stack of pashminas and eventually chose one.
“Get a second one and I will sell it to you half price. Also, if you buy a necklace, you get earrings free. By the way, would you like a cup of tea? I will make some for myself. I have here English tea, Russian tea and Kashmir tea.”
“Kashmir tea, please,” said Ada, browsing through boxes of earrings and necklaces. Eventually she chose some simply because they looked better than the others.
“I will take those. Do you also have Christmas decorations made of papier-mâché? My mother bought some yesterday and I really liked them.”
“No, I don’t have them here, but I can get them for you for tomorrow,” said the man. “My friend sells them in his shop in another part of the village.”
“No need, I can buy them elsewhere, I was simply curious.”
He put a teapot on the floor and brought two china cups. When they started to drink, he asked her:
“What is your name?”
“Mine is Tahir.”
“Does it mean something?”
“Yes, ‘pure’. Are you married?” asked Tahir.
“No. What about you? Are you married?”
“You can say so,” said Tahir.
“What is that meant to mean?” asked Ada.
“I was married to a woman last year, but I don’t consider her to be my true wife.”
“She is sick. She suffers from epilepsy and other illnesses. And she is a stranger to me; we have nothing in common. I didn’t want to marry her, but my father and her father were close friends and my father promised that he would marry his oldest son to his daughter. He wanted to ensure that it happened before he died and so there was a wedding last year, because by then my father was very sick. Now my father is dead so I want divorce her.”
“It sounds rather complicated. Wouldn’t it be better to refuse a marriage than to agree to go through with it and then plot a divorce?”
“No, in our culture it doesn’t work like that. The marriage means that she will be looked after by my family, even if we don’t live together. She is currently living with my mother and my sisters.”
“Can’t you bring her here so you get to know each other better?”
“No, there will be nothing for her here. Most of the time I’m downstairs with the customers and she has to be always with somebody, in case she has a fit. If this happens, I might not hear her and she might die before she gets help. I keep thinking about the whole situation and I cannot sleep. I go to bed late, but wake up after two hours thinking about how unlucky I am: trapped here, in the shop; trapped in Kashmir, when I’m home.”
“Things might be better, when you divorce,” said Ada, half-asking, half-stating.
“Perhaps, but then I will be on my own for the rest of my life. I don’t want to marry any girl from my village. They don’t suit me and those from Goa, who are Hindu, don’t talk to us. They don’t like Muslims here. It is only tourists who are friendly to people like me.”
“So sad. Looks like you will stay ‘Tahir’ by name and by destination,” said Ada. She felt moved by his story, but at the same time was barely able to suppress giggling.
“Do you have a free evening?” asked Tahir. “We can go to a restaurant or a disco. I will pay for you.”
“Thanks, but this evening I go with my parents and my brother to the night market.”
“There is nothing special in this market and the prices are higher than here,” said Tahir.
“Perhaps you are right, but we made a decision to go and a taxi is already booked for 6 p.m.”
“So maybe you can come tomorrow. I normally close the shop at 11 but can close it earlier if you want to go somewhere. Almost nobody comes these days anyway, as this is the end of the season and most tourists already have left. Only Russians are coming in, but they are a waste of time.”
“Perhaps, but don’t wait for me.”
“I will wait for you,” said Tahir. “Tomorrow and the following day. And this is my present for you.” – he gave her a bracelet with red and blue stones.
“I cannot take it like that. I will pay for it.”
“No, keep it,” said Tahir, putting it in a bag. “I also put inside a card with my address and the name of the shop, ‘Tahir’s Jewels,’ in case you forget where it is, although it easy to find.”
At the night market Ada and her mother bought so much jewellery, scarves, clothes and bric-a-brac that they vowed not to buy any more, ever. However, the following day her father and brother went diving and Ada’s mother went somewhere with her new circle of English friends and Ada didn’t have much to do except for scrolling through her smartphone, which she didn’t want to do during the last days of her stay in Goa. So she took a stroll into the village, aware that eventually she would end up in one of the jewellery shops. Yet she somehow managed to navigate in such a way that she omitted all the shops she visited before, largely by taking side streets, where there weren’t many shops. Eventually she found herself standing in front of a shop at the end of the street which led into a nowhere land, covered with weeds and cows’ dung. It was practically the last shop in the village and Ada was curious who owned such a place. Apart from being so far off, it didn’t look any different from the other jewellery shops, with a vending area downstairs and a small flat upstairs, where supposedly the proprietor lived. Its name was simply “Kashmir.” Ada walked in, but the light was switched off and there seemed to be nobody there. She shouted: “Hi, anybody there?”
There was still silence and only when she was about to leave, somebody descended the stairs, showing his bare, large feet and then the rest of his body. The man had black hair and dark eyes, but he looked somewhat different from the jewellers whom she met previously. He was taller, had lighter skin, his clothes were looser and he wore them differently, kind of nonchalantly, like an art-college student. He looked gorgeous. Ada hadn’t seen such a handsome man in Goa. Actually, she hadn”t seen such a handsome man for ages.
“Hi,” he said as he moved behind the counter, rubbing his eyes, as if he had just woken up. “How can I help you?” he asked.
Ada noticed that he didn’t sound like the other jewellers from Goa. He sounded almost English.
“Hi,” said Ada. “I guess you are a jeweller from Kashmir.”
“You could say so,” said the man.
“Do you mean you are not really from Kashmir?”
“My father is from Kashmir, but my mother was Dutch.”
“Yes, she passed away several years ago.”
“Oh,” said Ada. “How interesting.”
“Do you want to buy something?” he asked, somewhat abruptly.
“Well, I’m not particularly into ethnic jewellery, but I got a habit of visiting the jewellery shops in the village and I got a small collection of scarves, necklaces and earrings, all special price,” said Ada.
She tried to be sophisticated as she sensed that he was sophisticated too, but he seemed not to notice her efforts.
Instead, he said: “I have all these things here; my family is making them themselves. Do you want to peruse?”
“First jewellery or scarves?”
She was waiting for an offer of Kashmir tea, but there was none, so when he put a tall pile of scarves on the counter, she asked him:
“Can you make me some Kashmir tea, please?”
“I don’t drink Kashmir tea. In fact, I don’t drink any tea at all. But if you are thirsty, I can pour you a glass of water.”
“Yes, please,” said Ada, although she wasn’t really thirsty and everywhere she went she carried a bottle with her which she filled before leaving the hotel.
When he went upstairs to bring her water, Ada looked at the jewellery hanging on the wall behind the counter and thought that some of it was nicer than in the other shops: lighter, subtler, more stylish, although still too colourful for her. But she decided that she would buy something, and not for her friends, but for herself as maybe her mother is right that one needs some colour, especially if one lives in England. She also noticed a guitar propped against the wall in the corner.
“Do you work here on your own?” she asked, when he returned.
“No wife, no girlfriend?” she asked.
“So it must feel lonely here, all by yourself,” said Ada.
“Did you come here to enquire about my psychological wellbeing or to buy my stuff?” he asked.
“Sorry. Over the last week I visited many shops like yours and everybody there introduced himself, offered me Kashmir tea and told me about their family history and their loneliness, so I was just surprised that you don’t go through the usual ritual,” said Ada.
“Maybe because I’m just new to the job. I only started it this year and I’m still learning the ropes. Or maybe I don’t like to talk about myself.”
“I understand. What is your name?”
“Pleased to meet you, Markus. My name is Ada. You have nice things here,” said Ada, putting aside two pashminas and pointing to a necklace hanging on the wall. “I will take it too.”
“Do you want to try it?” asked Markus.
“No, I will just take it.”
She was waiting for him to offer her a second necklace or earrings half price, but he didn’t. Neither did he put the necklace in a nice hand-made cloth bag, but only in a small plastic one and handed it to her. It was time to go but she couldn’t force herself to leave. She also felt as if he wanted her to stay, but was too shy or proud to say so. So she asked:
“Didn’t it occur to you to give your shop a fancier name?”
“Actually, I thought it was pretty fancy. It’s the title of a Led Zeppelin song. I think the song is great. Do you know it?”
“Yes, I do, although I’m not into that kind of music.”
“What you mean?”
“I don’t like rock, especially prog rock. I find it old-fashioned, macho and pompous.”
“Oh,” said Markus. “For me it is not old-fashioned. I wish I could play as well as Jimmy Page.”
“Have you tried?”
“Yes, I was studying music for a while, in Amsterdam and in London.”
“Why did you return to Kashmir?”
“My mother died. I had no proper job and no money. There were few opportunities for me in Amsterdam and my father wanted me back in Kashmir. I’m his only son and I have two sisters.”
“How interesting,” said Ada. “I would like to learn more about it.”
“Maybe another time,” said Markus.
Ada felt a small pain in her heart, but continued: “Can I come another day?”
“Yes, of course you can. This is a shop. The more customers, the better.”
“Maybe we can go out tomorrow evening, when you finish your work?” asked Ada.
“Maybe, but not tomorrow or the day after, as tomorrow I have to go to Mumbai. I can text you when I return.”
“Yes, this will be good.”
When Ada returned to the hotel, she didn’t go straight to her room, but to the reception asking whether they would have free rooms after their planned departure. They had and offered Ada a special price as this was the end of the season – it was in fact less than half of what her parents paid for their accommodation. She didn’t even need to change her room. When she met her mother Ada said:
“I decided to stay here longer. It will be a pity to return home only after two weeks, given that I haven’t seen much of India or even Goa. I can go from here to Mumbai or Delhi and fly to Manchester from there. Besides, I don’t need to be in Manchester to do my work.”
“Do as you please, but do you have money to pay for the hotel and everything?” asked Ada’s mother.
“What if you run out of money?”
“I won’t. And if I do, I know whom to ask for assistance.”
In the evening Ada helped her brother pack his suitcase. It was light, so she added to it all her shopping. Then she went to her parents’ room, where her father proudly showed her and Ada’s mother three suits ordered from the local tailor; two were dark grey and one was black.
“These two will keep me going until my retirement. The black will be for funerals, including my own, so you don’t need to spend extra on my clothing,” said Ada’s father.
“Good thinking,” said Ada’s mother. “Now wait.” She went to the bathroom and when she returned wore a tight red and green dress, which looked very good on her:
“Also made here, but by a different tailor. And I got a second one, half-price.”
They all laughed.
In the morning Ada’s mother came to Ada’s room with an envelope: “Here is the cash I haven’t used. It should be enough for the return plane from Mumbai or Delhi in case you need it. Try not to lose it.”
A couple of hours later Ada waved her family goodbye. Then she went for breakfast, had a swim in the sea and went for a stroll in the village.
Ewa Mazierska is historian of film and popular music, who writes short stories and nonfiction in her spare time. They were published or are forthcoming in ‘The Longshot Island’, ‘The Adelaide Magazine’, ‘The Fiction Pool’, ‘Literally Stories’, ‘Ragazine’, ‘Shark Reef’, ‘BlazeVox’, ‘Red Fez’ and ‘Terror House Magazine’, among others. Ewa was born in Poland, but lives in Lancashire, UK.
Dr. Beat and the Archangels
In Montone, all streets lead to the piazza, and on this warm summer evening I drift down Via Roma for the village dance. Dr. Beat and the Archangels are scheduled to play at nine, but it’s Italy. Nobody seems to notice that the church bells toll nine, nine-thirty, nine-forty-five, and the boys in the band are still fooling around, setting up on the wide stoop in front of the shop where, afternoons, the ladies of the town sit with their needlework, gossiping. The townspeople are drinking wine, laughing, flirting at the café tables. Children careen around the piazza, screaming; old men perch, smoking, on a low wall near the Café Aries. There is the hiss of the espresso machines from the cafes, the clink of cups and saucers, the smell of jasmine. Night falls, indigo blue, scalloped by red roof tiles.
There I am: a woman of a certain age cut loose from the pleasures and distractions of my real life, living for a little while in the novel I want to write. Often, I feel lost in time. I fall asleep to footsteps on stone, ringing anvils, the yowl of a cat: ancient sounds. Mornings, I throw open the shutters of my window and watch the swallows swooping and shrieking, framed in the foreground of a Renaissance landscape. One day, in Monterchi, I stood before Piero della Francesca’s “Madonna del Parto” and saw in the face of the presenting angels my favorite waitress at the Café Erba Luna.
I think of another evening in Montone, watching the sun set from the walled garden outside the cloisters at San Francesco. It was orange, like fire. It hung suspended just above a single mountain peak for a long time, floating in wisps of cloud, then disappeared quite suddenly, leaving streaks of pale orange on the sky. That night I waited for music, too. Inside the cloisters, chrome and white director chairs were set in angled rows on the stone floor. There were chairs for the musicians in one corner, silver music stands, a harpsichord. Potted plants on the floor, on the low wall. A worn Persian rug in the place where the director would stand. La musica da camera, the program promised. Chamber music: music of the room.
The musicians entered, dressed formally in black and white, and it began. I loved looking at them: watching their hands on the bows. I loved the way the burnished red cello glowed in the lamplight cast from the corner of the arched colonnade, the way the sheet music was held in place with plastic clothespins on the silver stands. I loved the sheet music itself, just black lines on white paper; yet a language in its own right, translated into Elgar’s “Serenata”. Vivaldi’s “Le Quattro Stagioni”.
Now the twang of an electric guitar brings me back to the piazza. Tonight.
“Caio,” Dr. Beat hollers to the crowd in the piazza. And in this Umbrian hill town that legend says sheltered Dante in his exile more than six hundred years ago, he and the Archangels begin to play. The Rolling Stones, “Paint It Black.”
Then “Wipeout”, “Louie Louie”, “A Hard Day’s Night”.
Everyone is dancing. The mayor, the gossiping ladies, the green grocer and his wife. Federico, the owner of the Erba Luna Café, leaves his place behind the counter and dances with the Piero waitress, Stephanie. Little girls run and scream, tug at the shirt tails of the teenage boys until they lift them up and dance with them on their shoulders. Friendly Sylvio wheels among them all, marvelous turquoise socks peeking from beneath his trousers.
I have never been so truly happy, I think. The piazza is such a lovely place to be, with its blue-tiled tables and striped awnings. Its peeling pink-faced buildings, geraniums trailing over wrought iron balconies. Church bells ring from the bell tower above this open box of night.
When Dr. Beat and the Archangels play the opening riff of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”, all the times I’ve ever heard or danced to that song flood into me. I’m a senior in high school, lonely, miserable, trapped, singing along with the car radio. I’m a sweaty disheveled college student, shouting the words out at a fraternity party. A young mother, dancing with my husband and daughters in a tacky little country bar. A writer, a traveler, a woman of a certain age—not young.
Cigarette smoke, trellised roses, I scribble. Breeze, iron lanterns, shadows. But the pernicious charm of Italy works on me, and I put down my notebook and dance.
Barbara Shoup is the author of eight novels and the co-author of Novel Ideas: Contemporary Authors Share the Creative Process. Her short fiction, poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in numerous small magazines, as well as in The Writer and the New York Times travel section. She is the Executive Director of the Indiana Writers Center and a faculty member at Art Workshop International.