Last weekend I went visiting Syam in LA.
His whole house was a mess. There was a piano that he hadn’t touched in months. There was a dust-coated guitar propped up over the piano. Musical endeavors to make up for a culturally wasted youth.
He must be 36.
The kitchen was bustling with activity. We were three of us, Jude, Johnson and me. We had flown in from across the continent. There were three other women crammed into the tiny 2 bedroom apartment in Culver City.
It was my first time in LA. I was thrilled to find lemon trees laden with juicy tart lemons all over the neighborhood. It still seems incongruous. How can a commodity that is sold in supermarkets be left alone in public in such copious amounts?
But there they were. Lemon trees, in slightly dusty neighborhoods, with adobe houses.
Also, somewhere inside Syam’s house, there were a couple of husbands and a couple of kids too. It was chaotic.
The first night we all sat up till late.
Johnson had his witty remarks and social skills. He was good with kids too. Patient and caring in the face of their insistent demands. I was seated on the large couch taking up the majority of the space in the living room. Occasionally smiling at the eldest who was asked to go play in his room when he wanted to put together a Lego star wars puzzle.
His hands crossed, his lips puckered and eyes downcast – “Nobody plays with me” he whispered.
I still didn’t move.
Johnson, bless his heart, spent the whole next day, building the puzzle with the kid.
The next day brought Jude, with his nostalgia and practicality.
All three of us were still subdued at seeing Syam debilitated so much. He still had his lucid moments but the pain was apparent. Stage IV lung cancer is not sparing in its fury.
It is unrelenting. Inexorable.
The times when he curled into his easy chair – whimpering for his wife, not caring about the rest of us – if in any other circumstance would have been melodramatic. And the sight of them, completely still in each other’s arms, is an emotion I shouldn’t forget. The younger one was banging away at a Tarzanian drum, the elder, searching for a lost puzzle piece, the closer friends helping out, the visitors reminded of their insignificance.
Lemon trees, it struck me, not only can survive untouched on footpaths; they can flourish.
The prawn curry turned out to be spicier than can be tolerated by chemo deadened tongues. The feast was tastier than any I had in years and the messy chaos of the house seemed comforting in its claustrophobia.
I think I might have gotten tongue tied with a rush of emotions at watching the inexplicably functioning family. I definitely felt a general sense of sadness and hate but what I was left with was happiness. I never knew sadness can bring about joy. It came bubbling up through a trough of pity and fear.
Unluckily all three of us had a cold that we had caught when traveling. It stung our eyes and made our noses water. We might have unknowingly passed it into their household.
We took the elder kid out for grocery shopping later that evening.
As we were hunting for watermelons and ice he ran up with an eager frown on his face.
“I want three glow sticks for Halloween. Two purple ones, one for me and one for dad, and one green for mom. Baby is too young for it.”
“Go on, pick them up”
“Can you call Amma, so I can ask if it is ok?”