Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Somewhere in the cosmos, there sits an old-fashioned switchboard, the kind with long cords and plugs. The operator is not quite sane in the way we humans might choose to interpret the word. But she’s creative and I expect she has her reasons.
Over twenty years ago, she pulled the connection between me and Val, me and Anjum. Val, with her husband and boys, began country jumping the way some people change neighborhoods. Val didn’t want her kids to grow up thinking North America accurately represented the planet Earth.
One cord out.
Anjum, who was the third corner of our contented triangular friendship, returned home with her husband to Kashmir. “I’ll come to see you in India some day,” I promised. I so wanted to see her in India. I longed to walk in the places and meet the people of her endlessly mesmerizing stories. I wanted to see what kind of place could produce a person of such grace, intelligence and warmth.
I wrote to her and the letters never arrived. I know this because finally, she charmed a Canadian visitor to India and forwarded a letter to me, via tourist, to be mailed in Canada. There she is. I’m looking at the picture she sent right now: Anjum, a few years later, kneeling beside her little brown-eyed son. A boy as breath-takingly beautiful as his mother. But as I examined the letter back then, I realized that I couldn’t make out the return address.
Two cords out.
Over the years, I think of Val and Anjum. Whenever there is unrest of some kind in India, I worry about Anjum. When the earthquakes came, I wondered if she was there, if she was alive, if she was alright.
Today, the phone rings at my desk and it is my ex-husband with a message. Val has called and left a number. She and Anjum have been trying to find me for a long time. She says to tell me she is with Anjum and Anjum is flying to India today. She has cancer and it’s bad. “I’m sorry, “ my ex says, “to have to call with such bad news.”
I dial and the operator connects those long discarded plugs. Anjum and I talk over each other at first – both so eager we can’t hold on. The cell phone has an echo and a delay. Finally, she says “I’ve been thinking about you for weeks.” And I blurt, “Anjum, I never forgot you. I couldn’t read your return address. I couldn't write back.” She tells me the doctors have done what they can and now she’s going home. I try not to cry and I fail, utterly. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“I know,” she says, “I’m sorry too." Then she brightens a little. She sounds like yesterday to me. Surely we saw each other yesterday. "I’m not giving up. I’ll see you two in India.”
Val calls back a few minutes later. She’s driving around Long Island on no sleep and she’s an emotional wreck. She’s trying to do errands – change US dollars for Anjum, buy things they need before they go. She’s lost in a strange city and she’s trying not to weep too. It’s been 3, 4 years since they diagnosed our Anjum. She’s had the full meal deal – all the horrors medical science can offer as salvation – surgery, radiation, chemo. “But the hope is gone from her eyes,” Val says, “It’s the first time I’ve seen the hope gone.”
I’ll see you in India, Anjum. I’m already there waiting, sweetheart.
Posted by LJ at 5:31 PM