Let Your Mind Be by ROSALIA SCALIA
Continued from yesterday ... Part II
The next day, soon after she left for work, he hot-footed it to Lexington Market, arriving before it opened.
Amrit found Rod against the tree behind the rear exit and handed him $50.
“Be right back, man,” Rod said, staring at the bill. “Wait inside after it opens.”
By noon, Amrit realized Rod burned him. He remembered all money he’d lost the same way and decided to find Rod, beat the crap out of him. He rose from his seat in the dining area growing crowded with people on their lunch break when a hand clasped his shoulder from behind.
“Where the fuck have you been?” he said, thinking it was Rod. He turned and faced Qurban, a black fifty in the triangle of his neatly tied red turban catching his red tie underneath his white doctor’s coat.
“What are you doing here?” Qurban demanded. “Using again?” His mouth formed a straight line beneath his moustache, his eyebrows knitted like a dark scar under his turban.
“NO!” Amritpreet lied.
Qurban held his up hand. “Don’t even. You think I’m stupid?”
“You following me?” Amrit asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
“You think the world revolves around you? That I have nothing better to do than follow you? I came for lunch and saw you sitting here, checking your watch every five minutes,” he said, shaking a white sandwich bag he clutched. “Only one reason would bring you here. How many hits so far?” Qurban shook Amrit’s shoulders. “How many?” he yelled. “You better fucking tell me now!” Qurban clenched his jaw.
Amrit’s face reddened, remembering Qurban’s constant presence when he was going cold turkey. “One, yesterday.”
“How much?” He peered into Amrit’s eyes. “How much?”
“Twenty. I got burned today. I didn’t get it. $50.” Amrit’s eyebrows arched outward, his mouth drooped along with this eyes. Unable to look at Qurban, Amrit stared at his shoes.
Qurban took his navy blue polka dotted fifty from his jacket pocket and tied it around Amrit’s head so that it knotted on the side of his face by his ear and hung to his shoulder. “Remember who you are. A lion. Your body is no longer addicted, and you can’t get physically addicted by one hit. A $50 hit will kill you, and if it doesn’t, you’re totally gone after that. No coming back. Your brain will always be addicted. That $50 hit means the goons win, and we lose, but mostly you lose. Are you prepared to lose Noor?”
Amrit trembled. He didn’t want become addicted again. Or lose Noor. “I slipped,” he croaked.
Qurban clenched Amrit’s upper arm, pulled him out of the market to Greene Street. “An expensive lesson,” he said, hailing a cab. Qurban gave the driver money and the address with instructions not to make any stops until they reached the address. He pushed Amrit into the cab, slammed the door.
“Don’t come back,” he snapped, throwing his sandwich bag at Amrit. "Eat something, dammiit.”
At home, Amrit crawled into bed where he stayed all day.
“Fuzzy, shall I call the doctor?” Pinkie asked after she returned from work. She was changing out of her business suit into jeans.
“Not necessary,” he said. He wanted to tell her, but he didn’t know how.
“You’ll feel better after you eat something,” she said, sitting on the bed, stroking his forehead.
“Not hungry,” he said, keeping his eyes closed.
“I miss talking with you.” She kissed his knuckles before disappearing into the bathroom. The sound of water running plucked his nerves, and he blocked it by burying his head under the pillow.
“Are you using again?” Pinkie asked from the threshold of the bathroom, her voice cracking.
Amrit knew he needed to tell her the truth. Pinkie stared at him, her eyes bigger than tangerines, her face solemn.
“No.” He averted his eyes.
Dangling from her raised hand, the Walmart bag. She held the used syringe in the other, and it pointed to the ceiling. She whirled around, receded into the bathroom and locked the door behind her. Amrit lurched out of bed and banged on the locked door.
“I can explain. Please!" he pleaded, wrapping on the door. "Let me explain.”
When she opened the door, her eyes blazed. She pummeled his chest with her fists. “Liar, liar, liar!” she yelled. “That’s why you’ve been in bed for two days straight!”
“Stop!” He caught her wrists. He deserved every blow, however painful on his still tender chest, which throbbed, and she wept.
“Look at my eyes. The pupils are normal. Look, look at me,” he shouted. He coughed, gasping for breath, and she pushed herself away from him. Pinkie’s face, filled with fear and disgust, made his heart contract.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I’m a mess.”
“I am looking at you, and you are a mess. Of your own making,” she shouted. She stomped out the bedroom, slamming the door behind her. Afraid she’d leave, he followed her.
“I’m losing my mind. I don’t want to lose you, too. I slipped. I slipped once. Yesterday. Qurban intervened.” He pulled her into a tight hug, kissed her eyes, her nose, her ears, her lips. “It won’t happen again,” he murmured, holding her.
Pinkie pushed him away. “You slipped? What does that mean? What if every day becomes a day you slip?”
Amrit shook his head. “I don’t want that.”
“Then do something constructive,” she said. “Something has to change. You like to cook. Do that when you’re anxious,” she said.
After he’d recovered from quitting cold turkey, Amrit had volunteered at Qurban’s insistence at the gurdwara, first with the parshaad, and then at the langar - the hall where all are welcome and equal - even recovering addicts - helping to prepare meals to fill the hours he’d spent getting high. That’s how he had met Pinkie, remembered when she’d floated into the kitchen like a pink cloud. He’d been chopping onions, calmed by the slow methodical chop, chop, chop.
“Hey sardar sahib with the onions. I’m talking to you!” she’d said, sounding annoyed. “What’s your name again?”
He hadn’t heard her! So bold! “Not important,” he’d said, glancing sideways to appreciate her arresting black eyes.
“Okay, Not Important, how about I help chop that pile of onions?” She grabbed another knife and reached for the overflowing basket of onions near him. He didn’t appreciate being pushed around by a spoiled desi pink-clad princess.
“Look, Pinkie, go over there and chop garlic instead? Or go help with the chapattis.” He’d pointed to the room’s far side.
"No. I’ve been chopping onions here forever, Mr. Not-Important Singh. Make room for me,” she said, smirking.
He’d moved, and she’d taken her place. He’d waited for her to acknowledge his effort, but she’d said nothing. “You’re welcome, Pinkie,” he’d said, each word staccato, calling attention to her lack of courtesy. She rolled her eyes, and then chopped onions with such speed and skill, he realized that she’d chop an entire bushel before he’d finished one.
“So you going to tell me your name or what?” she’d asked.
“No.” He’d avoided eye contact, but noted a sly smile playing on her lips. Her pink blouse, matching chunni and earrings annoyed him as deeply as her keen knifing skills humiliated him.
She’d grabbed onions from his pile, and he felt incompetent, watching her chop his onions. She’d begun singing at a volume only he could hear, a tune he recognized from elementary school when he’d first arrived in the U.S.
“Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy, was he?” She’d stared at his head. No turban, no patka, no topknot.
Astonished, Amrit had laughed at her cheek. He couldn’t help it, but said nothing.
In a drug-induced haze when a high school student, he’d cut his hair. Being a druggie had made him unworthy of the dastaar, but he’d kept his karra.
As the weeks unfolded, despite their testy dialogue, despite referring to each as other “Pinkie” and “Fuzzy,” he’d looked for glimpses of pink, and seeing her sent his spirit soaring. He’d half expected, half-dreaded her announcing an engagement, but it never came. After raising the nerve to invite her for tea one Sunday, she’d declined, and disappointment choked him.
“I don’t drink tea with men whose names I don’t know, Mr. Not-Important Singh.”
Amrit had laughed. Then he’d folded his hands, said, "Sat Sri Akal” and introduced himself formally.
“Noor Kaur," she responded. "And don’t think you’re dragging me to one of those trendy coffee shops for fake chai.”
The next week, they’d met for tea, but she had brought her own chai masala in a thermos, had poured steaming liquid into two cups, and they’d shared it in the gurdwara’s langar kitchen. To his surprise, when he had first told her the truth about his addiction, she hadn’t flinched, hadn’t judged him. She had listened, absorbing the details of his shameful habit, and said, “Past is past.”
Now two mugs of Pinkie’s chai masala sat cooling between them on their kitchen table, and Pinkie held his hands. Now, after more than three years clean, he had slipped, and Amrit feared she’d leave him. “I’m sorry I lied,” he blurted. “I meant to tell you. I didn’t know how.” He pressed his hands into the table, then covered his face.
“A therapist could be helpful,” she said, taking his hands into hers.
Amrit shook his head no. “I need a job. I need to be busy,” he said, turning his palms upward.
“Maybe you can go back to the university and finish?”
He shook his head. “Let me try the cooking thing,” he said. Until he found a job, he added.
Pinkie lugged her chair to the refrigerator, climbed atop, and reached into the cabinet. “Maybe these will help,” she said. Just as she hopped off the chair, the doorbell rang; she thrust an armful of cookbooks at him and hurried to the door. Books in one hand, mug in the other, Amrit retreated to the living room and plopped onto the sofa.
“Lew Harris to see you,” Pinkie said, her voice tense. The Good Humor Man stepped forward, extending his hand. A strand of white hair fell from under Harris’ cap across the front of his lined forehead, his cornflower blue eyes boring into Amrit, gaping at the cast on his leg, the fading bruises on his arms, smaller than the ones on his torso and legs.
“Mr. Harris, you shouldn’t be here,” Pinkie said. She’d initiated a civil suit against him for negligent driving, among a host of other charges. “You need to communicate only through your lawyer.”
Amrit caught a glimpse of Pinkie’s iron will, masked by her soft voice.
Harris removed his cap. “I want to talk to your husband without the lawyers,” he said.
“Just so you know, I’m Noor Kaur, Amritpreet’s attorney,” she said.
“Then I’d like to talk to your husband in private, unless you can take your lawyer hat off and put your wife hat on,” Harris said. Pinkie suppressed a smile. “I never take my wife hat off, Mr. Harris.”
She glanced at her watch, and Amritpreet knew she was noting the time for the case file.
“I’m giving you the ice cream truck, free and clear,” Harris said.
Pinkie scoffed. “The same truck that nearly killed him? That’s crazy?”
“I understand your husband is unemployed,” he said. “Be a win-win for both of us.” Harris fixed his eyes on Amrit, who bristled. He wanted a job, but not selling ice cream out of a truck! It insinuated he couldn’t do anything more substantial.
“Mr. Harris, you shouldn’t have come here,” Pinkie said, crossing her arms.
Harris ignored her and addressed Amrit. “Giving you the truck helps us both. You see, I’m in trouble for driving the truck without insurance and now for running you over. Even if you win in court, which is likely, you ain’t getting a penny, not one penny. No insurance, no money.”
He pulled a manila enveloped from under his jacket and tossed it and a set of keys onto the table next to Amrit’s tea. "Sell the truck. Sell ice cream. Do whatever you want with it, Mr. Singh. It’s yours free and clear, and it’s outside in your driveway. You’ll find the paperwork in order.”
Tipping his cap, Harris hurried out.
Stunned, Amrit watched the old man leave, but Pinkie grabbed the envelope and keys and pursued him.
“We don’t want your truck,” she shouted.
Harris was gone, but a monstrous truck occupied the drive way. The front porch light blinked on. Amrit’s parents emerged from their second dloor entryway. “What’s going on?” his mother asked.
“This is the truck that hit me,” Amrit said. “The owner gave it to me.”
Daddy-ji examined the truck with a flash light. “What are you going to do with it?” he asked.
Amrit shrugged. "Give it back,” Pinkie said. “This changes nothing. We’re not dropping the case. It’ll be on paper, a judgment against him.”
Continued tomorrow ... Part III
June 6, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), June 06, 2012, 3:00 PM.
Blimey! Great writing ... the suspense continues! This is powerful stuff. I really like the crescendo of surprises in this sad but powerful story.