pentru ca tot nu mai am ce face cu ea (am scris-o pentru cineva, pe urma am vrut s-o bag intr-un workshop, dar m-am razgandit) o sa pun aceasta bucatica aici…it’s as close to non-fiction as my writing gets, i.e. pretty close, but with at least one shameless embellishment…si nu mi-e jena de ea, dar am sentimentul ca ceva nu ii chiar unde/cum trebe. deci daca aveti sugestii, pleasepleaseplease. (in plus, poate cineva, =sonia again, cred?) ma sfatuieste pe teme de copyright. nu ca is eu marea autoare, dar chiar e indicat sa stiu. multumiri anticipate.
Elusive/Explosive (Nov. 08, 2007, Vancouver)
One would have thought I’d be anxious about my first morning ever downtown; I might be, if I were alone. The fog hangs over the ocean, then as we get closer it comes lunging at the bus, wet and stingy-looking. I’d like to thread my way around the people hurrying to work, burning their lips on coffee. I’m not sad about the waiting hours lined up in front of me though, I should be lucky for it to take just one morning. On the bright side, I’ve got this idea, still unformed, just the right texture. I hope it- or rather she – she’s a female voice in a short story – came to me today aware that I’m going for the U.S. visa interview; that she’s willing to accompany me, ease me through the bureaucracy, and maybe even follow me further.
I smile sleepily on the bus, all the way. I have to be careful with this idea. It’s happened to me before: if I lean too hard on her, or try to pin her down now, the voice beginning to uncoil in my head will switch back into an ordinary memory, of someone I knew long ago, maybe some girl in school I didn’t even like much. And then I have no use for it any more.
At 5 to 8 I walk to the back entrance of the embassy on Pender street, conveniently anonymous but glowing inside. All through the way upwards, to the offices, I can’t help noticing how many non-Caucasians are gathered up here, working and waiting. At the entrance check-point one of the two guards looks Hispanic, but the other one is what I still think of as typical American (are they even Americans, though? they should be Canadians) – tall, blonde, the kind of complexion where the blood rushes to the face easily, that open, boyish face trying to keep serious and focused.
“Hello, and how are you today?” the Hispanic asks; he’s got a bit of a stoop, curly hair, wide grin. “Looks like a wonderful morning.” The other guy keeps silent, a six foot three mound of silence in his dark blue uniform.
“I’m fine, thanks”, I shrug, not knowing if I should ask back. I’m a third country citizen shielded by the aura of a promise; you are someone who stands by a door ushering people in all day long, so you must have a lovely nature and a good sense of humor. How are we supposed to feel, otherwise than fine? As I start climbing the stairs, I add an almost flirty smile for the American boy only. I wonder, does he get that a lot.
In the waiting room where they take our passports and forms, two of the three clerks are Asian and the other one might be mixed race – plump lips and large nostrils. In my line, most people are Mexican, and some an Arab denomination, with those small blue turbans looking like a sock with a big knot right on top (I probably should know what they mean by now). Then, at the elevators, one of the two attendants is black. They both smile gesturing helpfully when I don’t know which button to press. The family going up with me speak a Slavic language and their two white-blond girls cling to their parents’legs, giving me shy glances. Everybody is pleasant enough for a midweek morning, as we pass the second checkpoint. The Hispanic at the entrance joked about the things in my pocket, when I took so much time to sort out and show them every object – “you can leave all this here”, he said, “you’ll be back anyway, eh?” By now I know the drill, and after stepping through the control gate I tilt the plastic tray to pour everything back in my fist and then in the coat pocket. Coins, bunch of keys, bus pass, pen, wristwatch.
The previous group have slumped into chairs along the narrow hall of the 20th floor, in front of the office windows, steeling themselves for the wait. There are about twenty numbers to go before me, which doesn’t sound bad at all, I might even get time to return to the library today. Just a little more, I almost whisper to my idea – we’ve come a long way.
I get fingerprinted at one of the three windows. The woman (Caucasian, auburn-haired) shows me patiently how to press down first the other fingers, then the thumbs, onto the plastic slate. While doing that I suddenly realize the many ethnicities piled up here must be just a representative cross-section of Canadian population. Apart from the queue, it must be the same all over the country. I sit down, hugging my coat and my bag with all the stuff ruffled inside, and think about that for a minute, before launching myself into ambush mode.
First I’m a bit self-conscious about writing here, but soon I stop caring altogether. After all, I have written inside bus stop shelters, on table corners at cafeterias, on benches, leaning against walls. I rush into it scrawling automatically, in long spurts, in desperation to grab the moment, however short, in the most improbable of places.
The week after I arrived I saw a person, Canadian for all I know (during the break at a reading while everyone else was mingling), writing, right in the middle of the throng. I followed her frown, rub her hands, open a notebook crisply on her skirted knees, bite her lips as her pen gathered speed along the page. I looked at her, thinking, yes, I wasn’t wrong, there must be a place for me on this continent. I thought, good thing for us writers that it only takes a pen and paper. Bad thing that sometimes not even a month of weekends fuelled with coffee will suffice.
For this one time, it should work, is my mantra now that I’ve started. It should work, for this one time.
When my number’s called the third time at window 2, I realize it’s me quickly enough to rise and step ahead of the murmurs and turned heads, still clenching my notebook. Across the counter I face a slight Korean guy (can’t tell why I think instantly Korean, not Chinese or Thai or whatever) whose teeth are severely misaligned, but even so he exposes them widely:
“Hello, how are you today?”
“I’m great, thank you.” – I try on a chirpy tone. Maybe you have to be born here for saying you’re great to come easy. Something feels slightly amiss, like an arm going numb.
“Wonderful day”, I add, chipping off even more of the wonderfulness of the day. In a few years, if I stay, I’ll think nothing of it. He’s reading through my form.
“Fine Arts student, eh?” he asks benevolently, checking me up as if to test if I look artistic enough. Hell, he’s not thinking writing one moment, and I feel a sudden urge to strangle him. Fine Arts to him is painting, maybe theater – I try to guess by his eyes which one. I could have put on a colored scarf today, or my peaked cap, at least earrings. I rest my palms on the counter – they do look like somebody’s who could be an artist, my fingers long and ink-stained, and the freshly reinforced corn on the side of my right thumb.
“You want to leave in December? Going to New York? To put on a show?”
“Err…not exactly”, I blush. “On holiday.”
“You’ve just arrived here and already want to go to America? Why? This country is so beautiful.”
“I’m only planning to stay 10 days there”, I say obligingly.
“OK, well,” – he suddenly pushes a sheet of paper in front of me, pointing on it – “now you need to go to this place across the street, buy an express envelope, bring it back here, drop it at window 1. Write your address on it. So we can return your papers by next week. Thank you.”
Taking the directions I’ve noticed with brief, vague horror how narrow his cubicle is. I step out of the hall, turn to my idea, proprietorially, for solace – and she steps back coldly, remote, almost imperceptible. I round a corner, press the button to go down, knowing there’s no holding her back. I’m left on my own. The scribblings in my notebook, on a second look, are almost nonsensical.
The elevator spits me out by the front door of the building this time. Across the street, at the post office, a clerk smiles at my lost face as I go in and open my mouth: “For the visa?”. I nod sheepishly.
Carrying an extra envelope instead of an aura, and after a ten minutes’ wait during which the line behind me has stretched seriously, I greet the Hispano at the entrance: “Hello. Again.”, looking for a sign of recognition. He nods, indicates the tray with a short gesture, then turns to beckon to the next person. My American boy stands on the other side of the control gate, and I move towards him like he is my last hope of humanity, flinging myself across the threshold, arms held almost horizontally. My tray waits: coins, envelope, keys, wristwatch, with the open bag topping it. I smile at the guy again: alright?
He indicates that I should take off my coat, pats one pocket, the second, and freezes mid-gesture. I am turned towards him reaching to take the coat back, one foot on the first step to the elevator.
“What is this here?” he says, in a robotic voice. The first words he’s said to me. “What is this?” he repeats, his hand stopped on the pocket. “What is this?”
“I dunno”, I frown and step back down, and my artistic palm flies over the pocket, almost touching his military one. Silence buzzes grave over the entrance area. The line at the door has stopped moving, a whisper flutters towards the outside, all eyes are on me. The Hispano’s jaw has dropped, his mouth gaping sickly.
“Can-you-show-that-to-me?” the guy asks. I’ve heard this tone in movies, and must have laughed it off as exaggerated: the intimidation tone. He hasn’t upped the volume a bit, but the words come barking at me all at once, open, sonorous. They echo.
“It’s my pen”, I breathe. “Sorry, I forgot it there?”
I insert my hand in the pocket but still can’t reach it, it must be buried deep in the lining, that’s why I didn’t pull it out with the rest of the stuff. Midway through my fumbling, the thought hits: I am a terrorist threat. This is what reality feels like. The fingers stumble, terrified, comb faintly along the pocket corner, and there’s the cold metallic feel, the pointed tip.
The hallway breathes out in unison, a gust of relief.
When I google it afterwards, my first search, “pen + explosive”, doesn’t turn out much, then I put in “pen + weapon” and come upon a site which explains how easily a sharp blade could be hidden inside a pen, and only become apparent once you try to write with it. So I probably should have waited, held the pen for proper inspection – but right then what I do is, I pour the contents of the tray in my bag, not bothering to close it, and run up the stairs on half-melted feet. They let me go.
My hands shake on the envelope on the counter at window 1, leading the pen in domesticated loops. I brought this pen with me from home. I might have thought it really was a weapon, on those days when I fantasized that luminous ideas were seeking me out, offering to be forced into words, which then would change…would make a change.
Did I ever REALLY believe it was a weapon? Not until those 10 seconds there, when this pen managed to keep a roomful of people enthralled, holding their breath. But now I know it’s just a pen forever, and it will never in its life time do a comparable thing again. I walk out alone, there’s a fissure in the sky of this wonderful day. There’s no fissure, the fissure’s in my eye, anyway, water comes pouring down.