Sunday, January 30, 2011

My Lover Girl!!!

The concept of a best friend becomes clichéd, trite and blurred after a while. From the girl who shared her ruler with you in grade school to the queen-bee you loathed to follow (Aliya). Even that innocent friend you loved but had nothing in common with (Shela). To the ambitious harlot who taught you the value of life in you’re A-levels (Afia) and the head-strong and sexually adventurous friend who among threesomes and clubbing during college taught you how to be a strong and independent woman (Jenny). But can we ever forget that first one? Whom we depended on for everything and confided anything in. For me that person was Alisha. A hard-knock heretic from the streets of Bronx. We met in my O-levels and right away, she began to introduce and then guide me through the charms and thrills of rebellion and recklessness. I always say that my life can be divided into two eras; pre-Alisha and post-Alisha. My pre-Alisha days were boring, mundane and strictly by the good-girl book. A quiet follower with self-esteem that hung as low as my tightly knotted braid, yet still a misfit around cousins or friends who lived by customs and traditions. The kind who read digests and saved their dance moves for Shadees and Dholkis. Later in Froebel’s, I was a misfit again in another spectrum where I could never even dream of tasting the intimidating life of wild partying and unapologetic rebellion. But it was Alisha who first recognized and then unleashed the caged lioness within me.

Why Yes!

According to folklore, Alisha and I first met as innocent babies in America. Our parents had shared an Iowa apartment building so in some dusty album, lies a photo - faded into a sepia tone - of us. I, in a hideous birthday frock and a solitary bow on my head bawling profusely at the camera, while besides me, among many other girls, stands an eager girl with two neat plaits and a gap between her toothy grin.

The next time we met was a decade later as my rudimentary life passed before my very eyes. The only exhilaration in my days was scribbling code names of crushes in Econ books or when girls like Aliya allowed me to follow them. That late Sunday afternoon, I spent my youth on the floor of our terrace; my hair soaked in oil and reading the Tete a Tete section in You magazine or the funnies in US. My father, rocked in his chair peacefully enjoying his Sunday cigar. My mother also, occupied with something utterly brainless. After answering a phone call, my father returned to the room with the cordless in his hand and announced that he had just gotten off an overseas call with a forgotten Indian friend from his Iowa days. The friend’s daughter was moving to Pakistan and we were requested to check in with her every now and then.
‘Wait…I thought he and his wife got divorced?’ My mother sneered with judgment.
‘Correct. I think she lives with her mother in New York while he lives in Florida but they have both decided to send their daughter to live with her Aunt here. She had a few play-dates with Padash when they were little. It wouldn’t hurt for us to do our small part.’
‘To hell with it’ Mama’s response, so typical ‘What do we care. I wouldn’t even call them friends, they only lived in our building. Besides, I never approved of their marriage. A Hindu married to a Muslim. Of course it was going to end in divorce.’
‘That is not our concern. The man’s teenage daughter is moving to a new country for the first time and he is reaching out to anyone he knows. We should at least make sure to take her out to dinner once. Padash can give her company and that should suffice.’

It was more or less settled so we obediently resumed our lazy Sunday rituals. Such useless banter between my parents hardly ever interested me, but my ears had only perked up at the mention of my name. Sure, the entire rebellious cross-cultural Romeo Sharma and Juliet Khan romance was mildly intriguing but otherwise I was not the least bit amused at being pawned off to an evening of small-talk with an ABCD. Someone I had only once shared a crusted, outdated photograph with but such was expected of us by our parents. At any given point we could be asked to carry on conversations in kitschy drawing rooms if strangers fell in our age range.

We picked Alisha up a few nights later from her Aunt’s apartment and took her reflexively to the Islamabad Club. Besides the usual formalities, very few words were exchanged between the two of us in the backseat. I was bowled over by her sex appeal, though. The girl had the total package; runway height and long curly hair with symmetrical ringlets. Most of all, she had a body to die for, the kind that could land moneyed jobs as sexy body doubles for Hollywood starlets. Though, the gap between her front teeth was still prominent, it added character to her captivating persona. For those of you who would like to visualize what Alisha looked like, I have posted a few pictures on my facebook of an actress who looks exactly like Alisha. Since some readers complain of a lack of visuals, for now dopplegangers should do.

Dinner was cordial and we sat across from each other exchanging meaningless niceties. Papa asked a few questions, Mama grilled her with many. I could sense Alisha’s growing discomfort around my mother’s cross-examination but she still danced around the topics of skepticism fairly tactfully, especially when asked about her sudden move to Pakistan. I decided to rescue the poor soul and offered to give her a walking tour of the club which she immediately and graciously accepted.

Although the evening wasn’t as awkward as I had expected, we were both pretty sure that nothing would become of this introduction. Incidentally, fate brought us together a second time - sans curious parents - at Sogo 2000. This time, I was having dinner with classmates and spotted Alisha dressed more scandalously sitting in the booth across. Irritated by my whiny company (Aliya) I decided to invite Alisha over and we both found solace in each other’s presence. Neither of us could stop talking that night and to my friends it appeared that we were long, lost, best friends. I could sense the girls in my booth eye her half-shirt, tight jeans, nose ring and curly wet hair disapprovingly boxing her a ‘slut’. But a girl like Alisha made it known immediately that she was not one to care about what the world thought of her! And it was exactly this unapologetic demeanor of hers, as she sat swearing like a sailor and smoking like a chimney that attracted me and intimidated my friends.

After that night, we found ourselves talking on the phone more and soon we were even hanging out. We started with lunches together and later began to spend the day at each other’s houses. Mama was dead against this burgeoning friendship between her daughter and a ‘loose-type’ , religiously confused girl but that very contention became the first of many future arguments between us. Maybe it was teenage angst or maybe it was just my surprising ease around Alisha but I did not back down and in the end as much as she resented it, Mama had to relent and accept Alisha as her daughter’s new, best friend.

One day, locked up in my room and smoking cigarettes from my window, Alisha divulged the truth behind her sudden move to this country. You see, Alisha had an inherent streak of defiance and a knack for chasing trouble. The epitome of a bad seed she had all the traits; low grades, drunken car crashes, suspension from schools, drugs, sex. You name the sin, Alisha had experimented with it. As she rapidly spiraled out of control, her parents watched helplessly. It was around those days of drug infused partying and rule breaking, that she also began a torrid relationship with a popular drug-dealer on her block. Romance turned into business when she offered to sell his goods in her school. Never one to follow rules, she also decided to pocket some of the profits for herself omitting the detail from her boyfriend. Soon, after a few bad deals, word of her scam got back to the head dealers who were infuriated. To Alisha’s luck, before her boyfriend could even confront her, he was arrested by an undercover cop which bought her the time to flee to her father’s house in Florida. So fed up were her parents with her obdurate ways by now that a decision was made there and then to send her off to Pakistan to live with her Khala.

Her past aside, she was the sincerest friend I had ever known. We not only had fun together but she never once belittled me. In fact, since she had worked at a hair salon in the Bronx, she gave me my very first make-over (even though the end look was more of a Bronx hood rat). Mama was livid when she saw my conservative braid replaced with a perm and blond streaks. My disobedience with my mother continued and I finally even convinced my parents to let me get my nose pierced. Those who once knew the conservative looking Padash would often remark ‘Padash ko dekha hay? Co-ed school ja kar tu kya patakhee ho gayee hay? Woh shareef see larkee tu lagtee hee naheen!’ My male cousins would gossip amongst each other ‘Yaar who to parties sharties sab kartee hay ab…par khul gaye hain, bilkul out ho gayee hay yaar!’ Funny thing was that I didn’t care. In fact, I liked it. No longer was I the invisible girl in the background. I had become a woman strong enough to scandalize the world and not care. As long as Alisha was besides me, we would keep on marching, smacking our chewing gums loudly and sticking a middle finger at the world.

When Alisha started school at ISI our lives became even more fun. Her school mates instantly fell in love with her gregarious ways and in no time she was getting invited to all the city’s hottest parties. Every weekend I would beg for sleep-overs at Alisha’s just so we could sneak out with strange boys or her ISI friends to dance the night away on smoky dance floors. Alisha’s best friend at ISI was a Dutch girl called Cookie. She sported a shaved head and had a penchant for liquor and weed. The 3 of us became an inseparable trio and word spread fast about our crazy, partying ways. In school, I would overhear whispers about us and I couldn’t believe that I had gone from the shy, timid girl in a braid to a wanton party-girl who now put the wildest of my school’s burgers to shame. In a matter of weeks, I had gone from being the intimidated one in the background to the intimidator in the limelight. I would relish the awestruck expressions of my school mates when they watched Alisha and a goree ganjee pick me up from school with songs like Gangsters Paradise blasting from their cars, cigarettes and swear words dangling loosely from their lips. If friends like Shela disapproved or Aliya envied, I chose to ignore them because I was having far too much fun for it to stop. We wouldn’t just sashay around on the dance floors, but would be allowed, invited and thus march straight up to the exclusively secret stoner rooms at Isloo dance parties circa 90s. An esoteric room restricted only for the hardcore stoners or for couples who scored more than second base. Only the trusted and the socially mature were allowed inside these translucent rooms, hence also the ones who enjoyed a higher level of elitism in the high school food chain. More wild, more trustworthy, more experienced and fearless than your average burger. Sure, I too would find these rooms frightening to no degree as I would watch Alisha and Cookie chug bottle after bottle or when strangers passed around joints and conversed about the greatness of Jimi Hendrix. But I hid it all pretty well and like a chameleon I blended in on those couches, cigarette in my hand and ensconced cozily between youth high on ‘really good sh!&t’ or couples making out ravenously.

Sometimes I would stop and look at myself and fail to recognize the person I had become. And other times when we smoked to the crooning melody of Cranberries, Oasis, Lil Kim or Gangster’s Paradise, I knew that youthful innocence had long departed from our lives. Lives were once the perfect paradigm of innocence and virtue but in a matter of months they had morphed into a melting pot of problems unimaginable to your average bystander. Clueless, parents and elders assumed that lives of urban youth in Pakistan were simple, privileged and straightforward. None looked close enough to notice the depravity that really lay underneath this ‘ingénue’ life. Problems no longer meant unrequited crushes on brothers or secretly despising the queen bee. Our problems were far mores serious, like the time I held Alisha’s hand in a dingy abortion clinic or when I nursed her into consciousness from her alcohol poisoning and OD in a bathtub of a house party. I remember the dauntingly thumping beats that wafted from the dance floor at sunrise fused with the carefree and inebriated giggles rising from below while I frantically tried to resuscitate my best friend. Even those random late-night phone calls from her asking me to sneak her my parent’s condoms before a date. How I would to keep a straight face while Mama and Baba sat at arm’s length watching a drama and oblivious that of ‘I will leave the Pak studies notes on my gate in 5 minutes’ was actually code for ‘Sure, I will sneak the Rough Riders in the mailbox for you.’ And somewhere along the way as I immersed myself deeper in life that consisted of wild parties, sneaking out and surrounding myself with a cloud of illicit substances and dissolute friends, I had foregone any effort to make friends at my own school. In Froebels I would count the hours while I passed time with acquaintances long enough for the day to end. Then I would dash out to Alisha’s car while the rest of the school watched.

When Alisha decided to visit another family member in Karachi, she returned a week later in love with both the city and a new boy. Determined to move there she now found Islamabad agonizingly boring in comparison.
‘Oh my God Padash, you have no idea’ she would constantly rave ‘Islamabad’s a dead graveyard compared to Karachi. That city is the closest thing to New York here. The people are more liberal, the parties are wilder, very little judgment, cuter boys, beaches, and everywhere you go you’re around celebrities and models…I wanna move there so bad!’
I brushed her infatuation aside as puerile musings of someone seduced by the glitz and glamour of the City of Lights. After all she had moved to the US equivalent of a suburb i.e Islambad. However, I should have known that once Alisha was determined to attain something, she made sure she got it. Just a few weeks of complaining about Isloo and some begged phone calls to her mother, Alisha was soon packing up for her move to Karachi. The boy she had met there was a well endowed, androgynous art student at the Indus Valley school of Art and she wanted more than a long distance relationship now. I was devastated. Maybe I had gotten so used to having her around that it was now hard to imagine a life without her. She tried to console me that she was only a domestic flight away and it would never interrupt our fun. And true to her words (and maybe because of her wealthy boyfriend) she came to Islamabad almost every other weekend. The girl was literally partying from city to city but the weekends she came to Isloo, we started exactly where we left off, partying to our hearts content.

Still, it just wasn’t the same without her in the same city. Also, now a stranger in my own school, I jumped at the opportunity to take my O-levels ‘prep’ leave early just to stay home and away from people I no longer knew. I spent my days watching Star TV, pretending to study and even began a one-sided relationship with a neighbor called Ahmed. (Happy Effing VD to you too!!!) It was on one such night when I got a call from Alisha. I could tell by her tone that it wasn’t going to be our usual cheerful conversation! After beating around the bush she finally disclosed that she was moving back to the States at the end of the summer. Her parents had now decided that it was time for her to come home for good. I burst into tears the minute I hung up, not only because I was going to miss my best friend but I couldn’t imaging living my life without her. I had never even thought of it. When she came back to Isloo the next weekend, we went for dinner at Pappasalis and smoked our cigarettes in depressed silence. Though my only concern was saying goodbye to a close friend, Alisha had other worries on her mind. She feared for her life and was unsure of what fate awaited her back in the Bronx. Her ex boyfriend and the dealers she had wronged had their own scores to settle with her and they could go to any lengths. But then all of a sudden, Alisha had another one of her crazy epiphanies.
‘Come with me!’ her eyes lit up ‘I’m serious, you have a visa for America, why don’t you run away with me! You don’t like it here anyway and we can live together. Imagine how much fun that would be!’
Just to lighten the mood or oblige my distressed friend, I decided to play along. On the back of a cocktail napkin we charted out an entire flowchart detailing my runaway plan to the States. All I had to do was grab my passport when I got home, gather up all my saved pocket money, purchase a one-way ticket to New York and I would be on my way. Once togethere, there would be no holding us back. We would get an apartment in the Bronx. Even better, we would get one in Manhattan. Then, we could spend our lives clubbing and working effortless jobs as hairstylists or waitresses. We could even run away to California and work the streets of Sunset Boulevard hoping to meet Richard Gere or Hugh Grant and then live our lives as Pretty Women. By the time our bills were paid, we decided to tame it down to a simpler and more realistic version. Turning the napkin over we scribbled a fresh and more basic plan. This summer, Alisha would move to the States. 2 years later, I would apply to colleges and meet her up there.

The summer after my O-levels, I went to live in Karachi for a whole month. Part of it was to get away from home and the other part was to spend Alisha’s last few days in Pakistan with her. The night of her flight back home, we stayed up all night at her Aunt’s place, smoking, eating Slims and Coke and listening to ‘You are not alone’ by Michael Jackson. Once at the airport we promised each other to always stay in touch and not digress from our plan. She promised to send me an aerogramme as soon as she reached New York. After I watched her catwalk away into the departure terminal, I let her driver drop me home. I wept in the backseat as the sun rose around me and the same Michael Jackson song played repeatedly in the car.

I never heard from Alisha again. The day we held each other in tears at the airport, was the last time I ever saw her. I returned home after the summer expecting a letter from her but one never came. I rushed to the phone each time it rang but it was never her. I tried to busy myself with a new life; A-levels at a new school called UCI, a fresh start, a new chapter. Even met some great new friends but there was never a day that went by without a thought of Alisha. Truthfully, I exhausted every option in the book to find her but all efforts were in vain. Almost two years later, before I headed off to college, I spotted Cookie at a dance party. She no longer sported a shaved head and for the first time I noticed her true European beauty. Standing there poised with equanimity, a cigarillo in one hand a drink in the other she looked like a blond replica of Dita Von Teese. I made my way towards her and she too seemed pleasantly surprised. Not long after Alisha had left for Karachi, Cookie’s diplomat parents had gotten posted back to the Netherlands. We reminisced about our crazy days and she she was back in town only for a few days to reconnect with old friends. When I finally brought up Alisha’s name, all she gave was a rueful shrug.
‘That girl just vanished off the face of the earth. I thought at least you would know something about her since you guys were like best friends? I never heard from her after I left Pakistan.’

Today as I finish writing this column, I listen to ‘You are not alone’ on youtube. The song I would listen to endlessly every night praying for Alisha’s safety. All that remains now are cherished memoires and two photographs. I am looking at them right now on my desk. One, faded and old. Two little girls in pink frocks, and ribbons staring at the camera with missing teeth. Innocent. Strangers to each other and oblivious to the difference each would make in their future lives. The other photograph has more color. No longer strangers, no longer innocent. Teenagers with bandanas on our heads and leather jackets on our shoulders, we lean against a wall with our thumbs tucked in our jeans. Our faces hardened and the nose rings, the black nail polish, the bright red lipstick all force us look no different than a pair of hoodrats. Still the picture brings a smile to my face and reminds me of some very happy moments in my life. Funny thing is, in a fortuitous and round-about way, I have arrived exactly where we had once planned on the back of a Pappasalis napkin. Two years later I fled to a more liberated life in the States. And though I hadn’t strictly followed the flow-chart, I still ended up four years later in not just New York City but in this exact borough of the Bronx. I would be lying if I didn’t confess that everyday that I step out of my apartment, I don’t think of running into Alisha on these streets. Sure she could be anywhere in the world but maybe she is still right here in the Bronx. What if she is living just down the block from me? Will our paths ever cross, on these sidewalks, the subways, the hip hop clubs or in crowded bars? I wonder what she would look like. Would she even recognize me? Most of all, I would get to stop asking myself the same dag questions. Is she alive? Is she locked up? Is she married? Kids? Is she working a suited job in a fancy Wall Street firm? Has she left her past behind? Or is she still running the streets like before? Maybe she would want to just hear about me. Of everything that happened after she left. And I would tell her everything. Tell her to admire the woman I have become. Because it all started one night when I was first introduced to an unassuming girl from the States called Alisha.

* The two images in this blog are dopplegangers of what Alisha looked like and not Alisha herself.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

An amazing film that brings tingles of optimism towards the end

New Years on Eva’s Couch!!!

Happy New Year to all my wonderful readers and the few haters who are probably reading these lines and will later wash this sin away by repenting through invective diatribe in the comments sections. But more importantly how was everyone’s new years? Mine was great and I spent it partaking in what has become an annual ritual of spending NYE in Washington DC with my 60 year old friend Eva. A former privileged yet ambitious trust-fund baby to an erudite Radcliffe student, a 70s hippie in San Francisco then a Studio 54 fixture in New York City. Later an ascetic waitress in Amsterdam and then eventually a successful DC attorney. Now, she fulfills her days as an eccentric landlady of a quaint row-house in Dupont Circle. Always attired in flamboyant caftans and piebald headscarves; Eva has developed an intimate relationship over the years with both her tenants as well as weekend guests such as myself. All endearingly referred to as her ‘munchkins’. Also every year on new year’s day, she throws an amusing dinner party for her self-appointed family of munchkins. Her ‘logical versus biological family’ as she likes to quote from a book. An eclectic mix of strangers who have slowly become my family as well. It all started one evening when whimsical Padash decided to take a chance on crashing an entire weekend on a rather peculiar 60-year-old woman’s couch.

Why Yes!

I first heard about couchsurfing at my friend’s cocktail party. As we all gathered around to sip our Martinis and nibble on cleverly crafted ceviches in a modish loft in Hells Kitchen; I found myself engrossed in a conversation with a backpacker couple from France. Not only the most underdressed attendants at the party (refreshing in this uber, self-consciously magniloquent crowd of Manhattan) but also amazingly the only happy and content pair of Parisians I have ever met. As they carefully detailed their plans to backpack through America and then make their way on to Latin America, I assumed they had met my friend at a study-abroad program in college. Until they informed me that they had only met her a few hours ago.
‘Oh, we are just couchsurfing with her?’
‘Couchsurfing?’ I looked up at them intrigued. They in turn ironed the visibly axiomatic conundrum on my face by describing a popular concept among nomadic travelers: couch surfing. Thanks to dot com, now also a burgeoning online community. When I got home later that night, I immediately signed up with an account but really didn’t think much of it. I have to admit that even with all my impulsive escapades, the concept seemed a little unbelievable if not risky even for me….the most dissolute of all infidels.

Now a little about New Years. It’s interesting how many of us develop our own traditions on new years eve. I remember lying in bed as a kid barely trying to stay awake past midnight while the cacophonous revelry from my neighbor’s parties wafted and beckoned me through the walls. I always thought that the newly married Yuppie couple next door were the coolest people I had ever met with their exciting and alacritous lives that I both envied and admired. Around midnight, when I would hear the raucous drunks chant the countdown, I too would repeat the numbers on my lips lying still in the pitch dark room; 3-2-1…Happy New Year!!! Once I reached the ebullient years of my teens I was finally attending NYE parties with friends. The only night when we were ever allowed to extend our curfew beyond midnight because well…how do you really celebrate new years without midnight? A fairly strong case, so even the parents acceded to this logic and sanctioned us the liberty to stay out for an extra hour. But the nights soon began to follow a rudimentary routine; same people, same songs and in many instances the same living room cum discothèques. College offered a little bit more thrills with exciting NYE memories in Times Square, Vegas, Karachi but the year after graduation I found myself living in New York and desperately wanting to do something unusual. If nothing else, I wanted to get as far away as possible from not just the over-hyped ball-drop but also the City entirely. With a flooding influx of tourists from the Midwest in ‘I Heart NY’ T-shirts, I wanted nothing more than to get away from Times Square, Manhattan…even the Burroughs and New Jersey altogether. It was also the time when a nascent phenomenon called Express Chinatown buses appeared on the horizon with a promise to transport absconders between DC to NY. Merely an esoteric secret among frequent and thrifty travelers in its early days but several New Yorkers and Washingtonians were already availing the cheap fare for economical and spontaneous getaways to neighboring metropolitans. So almost every weekend with just 25 bucks, one could trade fashion snobbery for political snobbery, showbiz for bureaucracy, subways for Metro, Broadway for Capitol Hill, Empire State for Washington Monument, Grand Central for Union, credit cards for government IDs and cocktail napkins for sophisticated business cards. Needless to say, I too jumped on the Chinatown bandwagon and headed straight for a land where the men came in suits and the women…well they did too! For the first 2 years, it was a perfect setup! A friend was at graduate school at GW and wanted to spend NYE in the Big Apple watching a stupid ball drop. I was more interested in other forms of balls, so we agreed to swap apartments for that weekend. We arrived at each others abodes probably around the same time and retrieved our keys from the hidden spots – under a mat or buried in a potted plant. I personally got the better end of the deal when I stepped inside a capacious grad-housing room which literally overlooked both the Watergate and the Kennedy Center. I even enjoyed my NYE, bar hopping and clubbing with friends from undergrad who had trekked down from their own basement apartments in Virginia and Maryland, while I only had to stumble, a stone throw away after a night of dancing and debauchery.

Now you can all understand my dismay when my friend finally finished her Masters and subsequently moved to Tanzania to save the world or something. Even though, I no longer had the DC hookup I still craved my ritualistic NYE getaway to the Nation’s Capital. I had just started battling with this predicament as 2005 neared its end when I thought about my couchsurfing account. Feeling slightly more intrepid than normal, I sent out a few emails to potential DC hosts and made it very clear that I was coming down only to spend time with other friends and wasn’t really looking for a DC tour-guide or a BFF for that matter. One particular profile that caught my eye was of an extremely aged yet amiable looking woman smiling radiantly at the camera with a mottled scarf tied around her white curls. The caption under her photograph: ‘You want to see the museums? You want to stay home all day? You want to stay out drinking all weekend…by all means…be my guest!” Bingo! Tambola! Sure, the difference in our ages forced me to think twice but the lines that followed read ‘Old in dates but young at heart.’ If nothing else, she promised to be an entertaining person worth meeting. She replied almost immediately the next day and her emails were as laidback as the smile in her pictures.

I arrived in DC a day before New Years overwhelmed with a growing sense of uncertainty. Still, I followed her instructions from the bus stop and took the metro down to Dupont Circle. A quick stroll through the spacious blocks and I soon arrived at an oddly welcoming red-brick townhouse nestled on the edge of its neighborhood. No sooner had I rung the bell when a poised woman with a seraphic face answered the door. A cerulean caftan hung loosely over her cadaverous frame yet was immediately convalesced by the warmth in her smile, ‘Hello munchkin, welcome to DC!’
‘Oh, I’ve been to DC a few times before!’ I disclosed after introductions were exchanged.
‘Oh sweetie, I didn’t mean the acronyms for District of Columbia,’ she jauntily waved her hand in the air as she led me through the house ‘I meant Dupont Circle. You see there is Dupont Circle and then there is the rest of DC. Two totally different worlds my friend and that, I hope you will soon discover.’
Immediately, I knew I loved this batty old woman.

When she finally showed me to my room I graciously thanked my lucky stars. The woman’s eccentricities aside, I was getting a pretty sweet deal for free and I began to love the concept of couchsurfing even more. The couch Eva magnanimously offered was actually a cushiony futon in a small anteroom adjacent to her own bedroom. I even got my very own bathroom. A grateful grin on my face as I plopped down on the futon and stared at the contents in front. Neatly folded sheets besides a spare set of keys left especially for me. Sure, the woman’s level of trust in a complete stranger was commendable if not unrealistic but I figured she had garnered this faith over years of perfecting the role of an adored and revered landlady to aspiring yuppies, hippes, bureaucrats and non-profiteers. The house, quite commodious with a common lounge as well as a communal kitchen, which I was free to use.

‘Darling, I just put the kettle on….don’t know what your plans are this evening but would you care to join me for a cup of tea?’ Words I would learn to cherish for many of the following years. But that evening in 2005 was the first time I heard those words and I acquiesced only out of courtesy because I did not want to come across as a boorish New Yorker. And yes, I was also planning to take her out to a couple of meals as couch surfing etiquette recommended but such cold and token gestures have stereotyped us far too long and I didn’t want to appropriate them for this seemingly winsome and amicable lady.
As we settled in the lounge for a cup of Celestial Earl Gray, I immediately realized that she was by far the hippest 60 year old I had ever met. She too flashed me an appreciative smile every now and then as if to display a reciprocal approbation.
‘So what are your plans later honey?’ She inquired politely as she sipped her tea. One of the few people in the States who still served tea in cups with matching saucers. Reminded me of evenings spent in Islamabad drawing rooms.
‘Oh I’ll probably just catch a quick power nap and then go meet up with some friends.’
‘Sounds like fun. I’m afraid I’m too old to stay awake past midnight.’ she replied. And then later when we finished tea, she got up and declared ‘Well, make yourself at home darling, I should run along and get ready. Josh is meeting me in an hour.’
I guess the inquisitive twinkle in my eye wasn’t entirely as inconspicuous as I had hoped because she immediately followed it with a chuckle, ‘Oh no sweetie, Josh is one of my munchkins. Used to be my tenant many years ago when he was just a scrawny small-town boy from Texas excited for his very first internship at the HRC. Now the boy is all muscle and protein and lives in his love-shack of a studio on 17th street. That’s him right there.’ She pointed at a photograph of herself with a handsome man in a perfectly proportionate torso and a gaunt face. The inscription ‘The Mrs. Madrigal to my Mouse’ scribbled lovingly on the frame.
I smiled, slightly confused at the dedication.
‘Its from the Maupin series. A lot of my tenants think I remind them of a fictional character. I take it as a compliment, I adore Olympia Dukakis.’
‘Alright munchkin, I am off to doll up for nothing. Josh and I go to a bear happy hour every Friday. It really is a barrel of fun and I would ask you to join us but it’s also very tragic in some ways. An evening with a room full of devilishly handsome men with perfectly chiseled and hairy bodies but all pawing each other instead of buying this pretty, single gal a drink.’
‘Trust me,’ I replied with a knowing smile ‘I get my heart broken at least 10 times a day, I live in New York remember.’ I thought of Dario and missed him! I knew he would joke that Eva reminded him of an older, wrinkled version of me in curls and a caftan.

I must confess I thoroughly enjoyed my stay with Eva. I could come and go as I pleased and the times spent together were truly savored as amazing company. New Years Eve was also a blast and not just that year but even the years that followed. I would wake up from my evening nap, have a cup of tea and maybe even watch an old French film with her before heading out to meet my friends in Dupont, Adams Morgan or Georgetown. We would party till sunrise and after the usual munchies stop at the Diner or Bens Chilli Bowl I would amble back to Eva’s house in the frigid cold. Tip-toeing into my room and cuddling up on the futon to sleep till 3pm the next day. Waking sluggishly up to Eva knocking and inquiring if I wanted to join her for some afternoon tea.

I had the privilege of getting to learn a lot about Eva’s life and it not only baffled but impressed me. The photographs she showed me with reminisced fondness added visuals to the stories as we sat and talked for hours; finishing entire kettles of tea only to make some more. I would sit back and hear her tales with awe and wonder. She would often pause to jokingly comment that if death were to come and take her away this minute, she would go sashaying behind because she had already lived a beautiful and prolific life. Born and raised as a young privileged girl in Bethesda, Maryland she was brought up with strict Jewish values. The youngest and only daughter of 3 brothers, she followed a conservative and unassuming demeanor like most girls in her neighborhood. Always dressed in plain tunics, plaits in her hair and with older brothers off at Harvard; she spent a reclusive childhood studying in her room and taking breaks only to treat herself to Russian literature. Always a bit of an ambitious zealot, she decided at a young age that she too was going to follow in her brothers footsteps and attend an Ivy League school. True to her word, she got accepted into Radcliffe in the early 70s and after her parents relented to her pleas, she immediately moved to Boston. The first year of collegiate life were spent in academic bliss but just as quickly the charm of an exclusive education began to fade. The cookie-cutter norm she had surrendered to left her jaded instantaneously. It was around that time she befriended a bunch of college dropouts at Harvard Square and began to spend much of her free time in a ramshackle house down the street from her dorm. The smelly habitat was housed by an emerging breed of youth known as hippies that led a fairly hedonistic life, immersed in sex, drugs and the cause for peace. Though she was initially treated as a misfit by the inhabitants of the house, Eva became determined once again to gain acceptance by members of this subculture. By the end of her sophomore year, she had not only become a devout hippie herself but had also fallen in love with an older male member of the house. A Harvard dropout who spent his afternoons smoking hashish and indulging in perennial harangues about peace and love. He was also intent on moving to San Francisco and so it seemed only natural for Eva to follow her first love to the Bay as well. Unfortunately, her parents stepped in with the stipulation that if she did not wish to be estranged, she had to finish her degree. So Eva complied and stayed back only to fulfill her promise to her parents. However, the day after she graduated, she packed a bag, booked a one-way ticket and migrated immediately to San Francisco.

Her first few years in San Francisco were a fused blur of both bliss and acid. She moved into an artist’s commune with her boyfriend and developed her own little family. That was the first seed that planted the concept of a logical vs biological family for Eva. A few months later, she married her boyfriend in a spontaneous wedding ceremony at a public park. A wedding she describes as an exchange of vows followed by a massive acid and hash fueled orgy. Indubitably, it was no surprise to Eva herself that the marriage barely lasted longer than a good high when her husband forgot all about his passion for peace and instead spiraled deeper into heroin addiction. They divorced at the end of the decade with very little contention or remorse. Ready for another fresh start, Eva decided to move back to the East Coast. A free-spirited girl she had befriended in the commune shared Eva’s sentiments of being too disillusioned by this desultory lifestyle and followed her across the coast in pursuit of change too. The girl possessed her own set of aspirations which included modeling nude for Andy Warhol one day so the only logical option was to pick New York City. The first few weeks, they began to live with kind strangers following the exact same drug infused routine they had tried to flee from in San Fran. And although they never got to set foot inside The Factory, they did however, in their search for Warhol, manage to sneak into Studio 54 on a few nights. ‘A few very lucky and over dressed nights’ Eva recalled as she giggled over nostalgia of running around the nightclub like groupies desperately hoping to rub shoulders with celebrities and Celebutaunts. Still, they never got to meet Warhol, but did instead find their golden meal tickets at the club. Right before getting kicked out for squatting in stranger’s apartments, Eva’s friend scored a modeling contract (an unsuccessful one which led to her getting dropped by the agency) while Eva met and fell in love for the second time with a rich Italian lawyer. A senior partner in a Manhattan law firm who first hired Eva as his assistant, later courted her at fancy restaurants and then eventually proposed and married her.

Her first few years of marital bliss were glamorous and opulent. They lived the high life among NYC’s elite. They traveled around the world and around that time, she even visited her family in Bethesda who sighed with relief to see her married and doing well for herself. A life they had always hoped for her, the opposite of the nomadic life of a commune hippie she had once chosen for herself instead. In order to improve her life further, Eva enrolled into school at Columbia and soon graduated with a law degree. The picture perfect life of a wealthy socialite soon lost its charm also. Once again, Eva found herself beckoned and seduced by the sinful strobe lights of drugs and parties. No sooner had she passed the bar that she divorced her husband and moved in with friends once again. NYC no longer offered her the thrills she once received since the nightlife scene was now saturated with young Club Kids running amok on Special K. In the back of her mind, Eva knew she would eventually end up living a mundane life so as her last treat to herself; she booked another one way ticket. This time to Amsterdam where she lived off her trust-fund for most of the nineties. She worked as a waitress in a café not for income but only to meet interesting strangers. Her life in Amsterdam was mostly boring and uneventful but it was something she had always aspired to do. A few years later, she packed up her dreams and moved back home to Maryland. Before she knew it, she was working a rudimentary job as a Public Defender in Washington DC. Although she worked most of those years she invested in a house in Dupont Circle: the same house I would visit every year. Soon, she began to rent out the rooms to fresh college grads on an aimless path to life, only because they reminded her of herself during her youth. People she felt most comfortable with. Naturally, her tenants soon became her munchkins worthy of nurture and they all became one big, happy family. Even when her tenants moved out of her house, they all remained good friends and new tenants became new additions to this family. And in that diverse mix, I too was embraced as not only a munchkin but a ‘logical’ family member as well.

On New Years day, Eva has a tradition to invite all her munchkins over for a dinner party. Her infamous, ‘Dress As The night Before, Dinner Party’, where everyone is expected…in fact mandated to wear what they woke up in!

The first day of 2006 when I sleepily crawled out of the futon around 3pm in sweat pants and a tank top, I could hear Janis Joplin from Eva’s room drowned out by her louder humming. I washed my face and walked downstairs – sneakily throwing on a sweatshirt – to make a run to the nearby liquor store for a party favor.
‘Why you look so angelic darling’ She greeted me with a wave of her spatula ‘A lot more put together than my other munchkins I’m sure. Feel free to help yourself to some tea.’

I made a quick run for a tray of Baklava and a bottle of Chardonnay and then joined Eva in greeting her friends as they arrived. An astute 30-something female arrived in Power puff pajamas, a blackberry and a bright smile. I learned that she once surfed Eva’s couch and then rented a room at the house throughout law school at Georgetown. Now a successful attorney, she lived in a chic loft but would always return to Eva’s house when she needed to be around ‘family’. She also told me that Eva had cut her a deal during law school: for every ‘A’ she got, Eva would dock a 100 bucks off her rent. Josh arrived with an even chirpier smile dressed in flesh-hugging jeans and a tight muscle shirt with the words ‘Morning Wood’ printed cleverly on the front.
‘That’s what you sleep in?’ I joked ‘You cheated!’
‘No actually he didn’t darling’ the lawyer girl laughed, ‘The boy probably hasn’t gone home since last night. Prove me wrong Josh?’
‘Guilty!’ Josh giggled as he sat down to join the rest of us.
Within minutes, we were devouring a delicious meal of Paella and home-made sangria. Even for a minute it did not feel like any of us were meeting for the first time. I had immediately been welcomed as part of Eva’s family of munchkins. We joked around as if we had known each other for decades. We even raised our glasses in the air to toast for families of friends versus families of blood and then took pictures together.

It has been 5 years since my first New Years dinner at Eva’s in 2006, yet I return back to her Dupont Circle row house every year as if going home to visit family. Over the years I have become closer to all the members of the house; with new ones who come and go. I have gone dancing on 17th street with Josh who calls me his ‘Bollywood princess’ and I have had long interesting conversations with the lawyer girl about men, careers and relationships. Most of all I have not only slept on Eva’s futon but spent hours drinking tea and conversing with her about her amazing past and her beautiful presence. And every year without fail, we gather around the table for the consistently themed ‘Dress As The Night Before’ New Year’s dinner party.

When we are thousands of miles away from our biological families and the home we left several years ago, we arrive at a point in our lives where we find ourselves surrounded by a new family altogether. A family away from family. A family of friends. And among those many families I have made in this world, Eva and her munchkins…have become one of my favorite ‘logical’ families.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Two’s company, Three’s even BETTER!!!

Back as a teenage girl, I had harbored a pressing need for a boyfriend. Any boy with a car so we could swap saliva in the backseat. Dreams of secretly calling him to say ‘Iloveyou’ a few times and buying mushy cards from Anybodys inscribed with cheesy sonnets. We could share ice-cream spoons at Yummy 36 or be spotted by the gossip mongers of Isloo high-schools when we canoodled in the back booth of Pappasalis on a Friday night. My first quick fix for this urge was an anti-climactic loser called Salman. Most of you have already read about him and my other tragic ex-lovers in ‘Happy Effing VD to you too!!!’ so I wont bore you. Today however, I am the total opposite from the Padash who once desperately yearned and prayed for a boyfriend. Now, I sashay down a path discovered gratefully in college. Never carry sand when you can live at the beach? All that’s needed in life are a few close friends. They can quite sufficiently fill the companionship void and as for the sex part…well pretty girls can never be devoid of such an indulgence, if they so choose to seek. For a girl like myself with no regard for societal rules, men soon become synonymous with New York subways: one stops in front of you every 15 minutes and depending on how you live your life…or your commute, you can ride one all night and a different one back ;) So perfect was this eureka that I soon found myself turning down several eligible and handsome suitors only because I had tasted, savored and was now hooked to a phenomenon called ‘my freedom!’ The wise like to advise that someday, when I get older, this juvenile outlook on life will begin to loose its charm. And by no means do I refute that prediction! But for now, the former desperation for steady boyfriends has morphed into a strong aversion to nouns like ‘relationship’ and ‘commitment’. Why I do this requires Freud, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre to scratch their heads and deliberate over vodka and Maui Wowie blunts but how I arrived at this lifestyle is something I can probably attempt to answer. A stir-fried concoction of various incidents and people. But somehow the first person who always comes to mind is my best friend from college: Jenny!

Why yes!

For those of you have followed my columns closely are well aware that not only did I have rotten luck with boyfriends in the past but I wasn’t always blessed with finding loyal friends either. No doubt, both deficiencies stemmed from my own lack of self-esteem so there’s no one to blame but myself. When not spending my life in the shadows, kowtowing to queen-bee’s such as Aliya, I was settling for a superficial and invisible association to popular crowds only because of Daddy Padash’s wealth. Sure, among that shallow mix a few good apples like Shela made cameos in my life like needles in haystacks. But still, even with a heart of genuine gold, Shela and I were just two different souls. She was the quintessential good girl; an epitome of chastity and virtue while I stifled a rebellious soul repulsed by convention and piqued by inquisitive tastes for an eclectic array of unmentionable sins. I guess, Afia would come closest to that perfect best friend but we all know from (Afia from Karachi Company) how well that turned out due to my own idiotic insecurities. Needless to say, by the time I headed for college, I was determined for a fresh start. Another chance to start on a new page and do it right this time. I had imagined college to gift me with that perfect dreadlocked/mustached boyfriend and with him or maybe without him, I would explore my sexuality, my spirit and myself. Well… it didn’t go exactly the way I had charted it out but sans the dreadlocked lover I still managed to hit the nail pretty close to its head. My soulmate, I soon realized wasn’t someone with dreadlocks, a moustache or even a penis. It was in fact someone who loved me unconditionally, was there to comfort me through hard times, taught me, mentored me, held my hand when I needed and never dared to judge me. That person was a beautiful and sure soul named Jenny. Before I had ever seen an episode of Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, Girlfriends or any other clichéd fairy-tale of a sitcom, it was Jenny who educated me that love comes in many shapes and forms. You can never feel alone as long as you’re surrounded by good friends. And sometimes, all it takes is just one.

Just one column on Jenny would never do justice to our relationship. In truth, a large part of my life that helped shape who I am is attributable to our friendship and the lessons I learned from Jenny. Before meeting her, I was merely a confused, spoilt and inept girl with little self-esteem and still trying to find myself. Jenny accompanied me in that search. Along the way she taught me about the simple pleasures in life and the beauty in humility and ordinary. About the importance of independence and fearlessness. Most of all she taught me how to become comfortable, embrace and then eventually love the one person who should matter the most to me…myself.

How Jenny and I met is an interesting tale. Fall of 1999, a quaint little college town clutching on to the few more days of sun it was allowed. Where the locals were more conservative and somewhat as ignorant as Anne Coulter herself. Yet in the middle of this rural foliage stood 4 walls which housed some of the world’s greatest and most radical minds. A campus where genders were often bended, everyone succumbed to becoming a BUG (Bisexual Until graduation), sex was not taboo but the norm and rules became more fragile than our mother’s most expensive China. Like many other novices to a liberal arts lifestyle, I too arrived here clueless and escorted by protective parents who could never imagine their young daughter boarding an international flight let alone navigating her way through a sequestered destination in a foreign country. We had arrived here from a five-star hotel where all my meals were paid for. For a split-second, I even wondered how different my own dorm room would be from this luxury suite. If someone had told me back then that in the coming years, I would become a person who spontaneously rented cars and drove to foreign places alone with no definitive plans or that I would travel my way through all the places I wished to see while hostelling, couch-surfing and ridesharing I would neither fathom nor believe it!

The first night in my dorm room, I unpacked my stuff and prayed (you know Pakistani children will always pull out their praying mat on the first night, the first week or their first month of college even if we never touched it back home). Now for the Isha kay baad Nasha routine, I headed off to a local frat party with my roommate and excited hall-mates – all trying hard to mask their nervousness with heavy makeup and forced grins. We huddled close in a circle as we danced and noticed that the putrid basement of that fraternity was saturated with many similar circles all representing a floor of a particular dorm. The men surrounded us with lopsided baseball caps and Varsity jackets leaning against the wall, picking out their prey but still nervous to make a move on the first night. Even though, the months before college, I would try every trick in the book just to stay out past my curfew on Islamabad dance floors, but now on my first night in the Land of the Free, I was ready to head home even before midnight. At 11:45 we all walked home in a pack and retired to our rooms to sleep on uncomfortable bunk beds and acquaint ourselves with our roommates some more. Girls we pretended were already our BFFs but would soon discover that they would become the one girl we would eventually avoid, then despise and later never see around campus again. Growing up as a follower to self-indulgent debs, I was all too familiar with the artificiality of such friendships. Heck I had mastered it by now.

A few weeks with the blond herd of freshmen estrogen and I found myself spiraling into a nagging disappointment. This ‘follower routine’ was exactly what I had wanted to denounce in college; weekends spent watching coats for bimbo friends to avoid watching them hook up with cute boys. Though the girls would frequently gush that I was ‘gorgeous’, I would dismiss them as meaningless compliments bestowed upon desi girls who are assumed to be ‘beautiful’ because they are ‘exotic’ and ‘exotic’ only because of their dark skin and darker hair. More of an accessory for the background aesthetics than a bedmate. Girls who were probably no more than ordinary back home often find themselves fawned over by Americans only because long hair + dark skin + femininity spells exotic beauty here.

Since I had arrived to school guarding an I20 close to my heart, I was instantly expected to color my college brochures with ‘diversity.’ Also immediately pigeonholed into a default social network called the ‘International Students’. These F1s and J1s were to not only help me alleviate my homesickness by shared stories of jet-lag but also to help me ‘assimilate’ by correcting each other’s grammars. A socially awkward bunch, my new best friends but all it took were a total 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 3 dinners and 1 brunch with the corner UN table of men and women from every continent flirting with each other in broken English, to help me effortlessly deduce that Hye sue from Korea and Oguo from Ghana weren’t really the posse I saw myself rolling with. That and the fact that the oblong-shaped, Oguo from Ghana with his enunciation as comprehensible as the lyrics of a Klingon Opera, decided he was infatuated with me. Not really a bad guy but I could never get past his large ears (which I could only hope had been stretched out by an ex girlfriend grabbing them with pleasure) and an unfathomable articulation (often I would misinterpret that he was requesting me to become a drug mule to Cuba when he would only be asking me to pass the salt shaker). Fuel to fire, one night I came home from a party and found Oguo taping a love letter on my door. The girls on my floor were quite entertained by this so-called romantic gesture but I knew I had to put am immediate stop to this. A rude rejection was the only option I had! And might I add, his best attempt at a love letter were quoted dialogues from the movie Titanic and its soundtrack! Never really a Celine Dion fan, I had to let Oguo know, that sweetie…I’m sorry…its not me, it really is YOU!

It was at one of those boring International student luncheons where my eyes first landed on a gorgeous and slender girl with a complexion as perfect as dark chocolate. Self-assuredly, she sported a shaved head, killer legs to match and eyes so seductively enchanting that they held back a story of their own. She bore the starkest resemblance to the model Alek Wek and was aware of that fact because she emulated her from hair to expression. We exchanged brief homilies over cookies and lemonade where she informed me that although her parents were immigrants from Sudan, she herself was born and raised in California. Her Sudanese heritage helped her to fashion the role of a token to help increase this college’s diversity numbers in exchange for financial aid. That was also why she made brief appearances at such mundane luncheons. Her confidence and the surety with which she carried herself enticed me immediately. Attired in such an expensive and classy dress, I would never have guessed that this self-assured Nubian princess actually hailed from the projects of Compton and grew up on food stamps. On that night, Jenny and I only shared a cigarette before we parted. Many years later I would be informed by her that she too walked away from me, enticed, impressed and intrigued by a tale hinted by just my eyes. Of a privileged past and a beauty undiscovered. We both wanted to be each other’s protégés but neither knew of the other’s intrigue.

After the International crowd and the bimbo hall-mates who had already begun talking about each other behind their backs, I found a new niche. The school’s resident goth crew. I befriended Libby in my gender and sexuality class and when she invited me to lunch with her entourage of Goths, I readily accepted. A table full of black make up and sinister frowns yet all just a tough façade as a defense mechanism. Inside they were loveable, maybe even dorky and that’s probably why they accepted me with open arms. Maybe because I brought long black hair to the table and a few local Pakistani amulets bought at Mazaars for less than a penny. Oh and they adored my ‘ominous sounding’ name and the exotic roll it brought to their tongue. Libby truly was fun and it was refreshing at first to replace a night of surrendering to bimbos bumping and grinding with drunk frat boys for a night of glaring angrily without the subtlest of a smile on a dance floor which thundered dark menacing beats. Libby and I remain good friends to this day and eventually she outgrew her black makeup and piercings. She married a fellow non-conformist in a quaint medieval themed renaissance wedding in Nova Scotia.

Of course, I experimented with every sub-segment of society in this school, so after the goth crowd, came the raver crew! Ravers caught my attention with their ostentatiously flamboyant attire which was the other end of the spectrum from the gothic uniform of dark frowns and black gloom. Ravers wore baggy jeans, bright colors, pacifiers around their necks, glow-sticks between their fingers and any accessory that rhymed with HAPPY to a spoilt rich white kid tripping on XTC. I met Jemima (a candy raver) at a game of Spin-the-bottle or was it Psychology class, but soon after I landed at my first ever rave. Jemima always showed up to class in tight Care-Bear t-shirts, pig-tails, smiley face stickers on her cheek and a pacifier in her mouth. It fed another fascination with another underground scene for me where the depravity of drugs and addiction were conveniently gift-wrapped in colorful happiness, dutiful camaraderie with strangers, perpetual grins, hugs and French kisses. Needless to say, as fun as it was, but after watching Jemima overdose on E, GHB and crystal meth and then spend a night with her in the hospital in a pink tank top with not just matching harem pants but also a pink visor, I had to rethink the path I had chosen once again. I was quickly realizing that my interest in all of these sub-groups was due to an ingrained curiosity to try new things. Yet there still lacked a sense of belonging or permanence.

Luckily I didn’t have to continue searching too long because soon I found Jenny. Our paths would cross endlessly throughout the year yet we remained oblivious to the fact that maybe fate was trying to help us connect. Besides our shared aversion for token diversity luncheons, we both began to work at the Library. It was a great work-study; I could read, write papers, talk on the phone, all while getting paid. Jenny and I never worked the same shift but would always bump into each other when punching in our timecards. Our conversations, mostly brief and somewhat cordial. Uncannily, we had even been on dates with the same men yet neither knew. One night I ended up having sex at the library after a date (I had an extra key) and later I would find out that Jenny had done the exact same thing with the exact same guy and just a week before me. We were two peas in a pod and had yet to discover that.

During one particularly excruciating night shift, when neither of us felt like studying for midterms, we began to converse and by the end of the shift we had exchanged our life stories. I learned that Jenny was nowhere close to the bourgeois and wealthy girl I had perceived her to be. It was hard not believe with her designer clothes and the royal grace with which she glided down campus like panthers striding down runways. In truth, she was a struggling soul born to immigrant parents. She had witnessed and survived some of the most desolate of times. Neither African royalty nor an International supermodel, she was just a street savvy and headstrong girl from Compton who would be quick to put someone in their place if they rubbed her the wrong way. Our similarities? We both grew up with low self-esteem, always second-guessing ourselves. Unlike myself she had changed it all and taken responsibility for her life. Some other day, I will share her life story since it was so inspirational.

It was also around that time when I slumped into my first depression. Rarely would I make it out of bed and lied to Professors that I was homesick. I had hoped that my decision to leave my home, jump on a plane and travel across the 7 seas would be to start a new life and find myself. Yet here I was. Still a confused soul, too scared to be myself and still unaware of what ‘myself’ meant. Hopping from group to group, and left with no more than a barrage of acquaintances but not a single close friend. What Jenny would admire and envy from afar as my popularity was in fact loneliness. Even though I had begun to loose all my weight because the closest dining hall to my dorm was a glorified salad bar, my self-esteem remained low. So ingrained was my self-deprecation that when girls told me about all the attention I got from guys, I assumed it to be a tricky ploy to flatter me for something in return.

During my first break, I hitched a ride to Philly to visit Khala 1. I even planned a day trip to NYC to visit an old high school friend who was at Columbia. It was the first time I stepped foot in New York and the city immediately became my savior at a very low point in my life. The reason why I have such a deep loyalty to New York. As we walked around Manhattan, I couldn’t help but gape at the beauty and surety in every man, woman, and tranny that sauntered by. I was awestruck! They had all left everything behind to move here and follow their dreams. They didn’t look back and by the determination with which they marched it was obvious they were not going to let anything get in their way. I wondered what it would be like to walk in the shoes of these svelte bombshells. Click clacking away in high heeled pumps with ease, expensive clothes on their flesh, faces like airbrushed perfection. When you looked closer, you realized that they weren’t and didn’t even have to be genetically pretty. It was merely the confidence with which they lived life that attracted the world like puppets. And here I was, blessed with a beautiful face but the only thing stopping me was my own uncertainty of myself. As we sipped coffee in an outdoor café in the village, beauty parading by, I turned the intimidation into encouragement. I was going to be myself and I was going to love myself. If there was something about myself I didn’t like, I was going to change it. You get one shot at life and here I was wasting it away in depression.

I returned to college a determined person. Sure when guys asked me out to fraternity formals and mixers, I still second-guessed myself. When Jenny and I would talk, she would comment on how she envied my fun lifestyle of partying with jocks and greeks. I in turn, envied her for her confidence and wished to achieve the same.

It was around that time, studying for finals in a deserted library when Jenny and I began to share some of our darker secrets and illicit fantasies. I gave up on my Psychology textbook and confessed.
‘You wanna know something wild? I had sex in this library!’ ’
Her eyes widened as she removed the highlighter from her mouth, ‘Me too!’
‘With CJ!’ I revealed his name.
‘Me too!’ She jumped up and almost spilled her coffee.
We spent the rest of the night comparing notes. What I admired about her was how sexually experienced she was and not ashamed of it. She reminded me of a more confident version of Afia.
‘It had always been a fantasy of mine ever since I started working here!’ I informed her.
‘Any other fantasies?” She asked!
‘Well ever since I saw the movie Threesome in high school, I have always wanted to try one in college!’
‘It is quite fun.’ Jenny’s reply was surprisingly cavalier.
‘You’ve done it already?”
She nodded ‘A few times.’
“Well lets just say, every now and then its better with a third!’

I didn’t think much of it but a few weeks after finals, I had been asked out to a fraternity formal by a cutie. I had packed most of my clothes already and remembered that Jenny who had yet to attend a formal had always offered to let me borrow her clothes for such occasions. I decided to ask her for her divine backless, champagne dress. She agreed immediately and even invited me over and since both of us had no specific plans on the night before the formal, I accepted. When I arrived at her dorm room, we started off drinking wine on her bed and listening to music. When her phone rang she informed me with a wink that an old friend was coming over.
‘Company? Booty call?’ I joked ‘I should get going then!’
‘Well actually, if you’re still interested in that threesome…’

And that my friends was how I had my first ever threesome in college. After that my life became a floodgate of new experiences. I still remember when the guy left with the goofiest Cheshire grin on his face, we giggled away. I couldn’t believe what I had just done and on the other hand it all felt so comfortable with Jenny. By sunrise as I did the unusual walk of shame back home, I couldn’t stop smiling. When I reached the entrance of my dorm, I turned around to breath in the splendid view of my small campus. Breathtakingly beautiful. For the first time, it looked inviting as well as comforting. I now looked forward to returning to campus for sophomore year. In the years that followed, Jenny and I became inseparable, experimenting with all our curiosities. College instantly became the best years of my life. I was on a journey, and all I needed was Jenny to accompany me! And…sometimes it is better with a third! ;) That third friend was Julie. And the three of us commenced on a journey full of memories we could rarely repeat unless one of us chose a pseudonym and shared those memories with her chowkies. =)