Waiting: Part One
Our whole life consists of waiting. Whether it is for a person, a moment, or a sign, it is impossible to avoid the languorous, beautiful act of waiting. Batas learnt the act of waiting from her mother. No, that is not true. She inherited it. She waited when she was born, and her mother was asleep, and her father came from his lover's house. When he arrived, he held her in his arms, and she realized that her entire life would be spent waiting to be held in this way. When she was 5, he would bring her to her room for a nap. He would tuck her in, kiss her forehead, and tell her stories from his travels. It was of foreign cities with people of pale skin and strange dignities. They are not like us, he would say, they have centuries of brutality within them, and you must protect yourself from them.
One afternoon, she waited for him in her room, but instead, she left their house with a suitcase, and she knew it would be the last time she would ever see him. At 10, she sat on her terrace waiting for the postman to bring her postcards from Paris, Munich, Prague, Moscow, following her father's movement on the map she pinned up. At 15, the wait turned into restlessness, she began working after school at an art gallery, learning her father's trade and saving all her wages to search for him. And now, at 20, she left for Frankfurt, with only the memory of her father's back.
Batas found his return address in the last postcard that he had sent for her birthday from Frankfurt. He never wrote his address to her before, as if he was God himself, who spoke but never listened. Her father was a careful man, and she took this peculiarity as a sign that he was waiting for her. She arrived at his apartment and waited for her father to open his apartment door. She waited, and waited, and waited, until a kindly neighbor informed her that he had moved a few months earlier. She roamed the city for a while; attending every exhibition to find his photographs, looking through every book in the library to find his name on a card and walking through the streets imagining that they would walk towards each other. But that is not the way the world works. The world does not grant you your wish, for it knows that your dreams are what sustains you, your desires are what holds you, your devotions are what makes you a whole person. So the world never sent her father to her.
The world sent him instead.
"Can I help you?" He asked. The young man was sitting in between several stacks of books, placing them on the shelf.
"Is this postcard from your store?" She said. She handed him a postcard that he had sent her with the bookstore's logo printed on.
On the back, her father had written, Happy birthday, my love. Remember that there is always some kind of beauty in this world, even if you are a stranger to it. Love, Dad.
"Yes, this is from our store but we don't sell these anymore. They must have bought this last year."
"Oh, I see." She said, "Thank you."
He handed her the postcard back. She looked through the store and imagined her father there. She measured everything by his footsteps, by the things she thinks he was fond of and things he found distasteful, a perception of the world that she was unaccustomed to.
"What are you looking for?" The young man asked her. She had always hidden her true intentions whenever she was asked this question. I'm a student looking for a textbook. I'm a traveler looking for a motel. I'm an immigrant looking for a life. But perhaps because of the intimacy of the bookstore, the warmth of the heater, or its dimming lights, she felt the urge to be completely honest to the young man.
"I'm looking for my father."
Batas lived for him. No, that is not true. She waited for him. She woke up early, prepared sweet tea and a plate of croissants with strawberry jam in the kitchen, and hung his pressed work clothes behind the door. She nudged him, gently, and held him close to her chest until he woke up. She washed the dishes while he read the newspaper, and sometimes he translated to her stories that she should know, but for the most part, their mornings were quiet. If time allowed, they would make love. She wanted her scent to cling to him the whole day. She wanted him to remember her.
"Do you love me?" She would ask him, over and over again. She would follow him around his apartment asking this question. He would brush her off and turn away, telling her how exhausted he was of her love. But sometimes, he would hold her, stroke her hair, and tell her, "Yes, of course, of course, I love you."
"Do you love only me?" She would ask him. He would raise his voice, tell her it hurt him to hear her ask such a question, and light a cigarette. But sometimes, he would kiss her, undress her, and tell her, "Yes, of course, of course, only you."
"Do you know what my name means?" She asked him as they lied in bed. Their hands were interlaced, like constellations, and she looked at him. He shook his head.
"It means limit." She told him, "My mother was asleep after the operation and my father named me when he arrived the next day. I had no name for a whole day."
She knew he was not listening. His mind had travelled far when they talked, and he hardly displayed interest whenever she talked about her past. It was like talking to an empty room, but she appreciated the fact that his warm, faithful body was next to hers. She wanted him to rumage through her past, to acknowledge her pain and tell her, Don't worry, I'm here now. I'm here and I'll take care of you. But he never did. He would rise from bed, shower and dress, kiss her forehead quickly, and leave her for the day. And then she waited again.
She filled her days by learning his language and studying his city. His language was difficult, extensive, and filled with an austerity that she could not identify. It came from a kind of pain that she felt when she spoke her own language. Her language was simple, earnest in its intentions and forgiving in its behaviour. Hers was the language of prey, his was the language of hunters. She looked through his collection of poetry and wrote down words she couldn't understand, phrases that she couldn't pronounce, and characters that she couldn't recognize.
She practiced this in his city. She talked to the shopkeeper who kept his favorite cigarettes and chocolates for her to buy. She talked to old ladies who sat in benches waiting for the evening. She talked to other immigrants who walked around with little notebooks, apologizing in their broken language. She attempted to search for herself within his language, but the more she learned, the more she lost herself.
She tried speaking to him in her language, but he was always quiet after work. She realized his responsibilities, his dedications, his worries, and didn't want her insufficiencies to be a burden to him. Sometimes, she attempted to show him how far she had come, though she knew she was full of mistakes.