Category Archives: Short Stories

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Run Foreign, Run!

Warm Up

How hard can it be do go for a run in India’s international metropolis? Mumbai has a special place in many hearts including mine but that probably doesn’t include the terrible pollution and traffic.

Being from North America’s most liveable city, I grew up being spoilt by Vancouver’s long, straight roads with bicycle lanes and wide sidewalks. The fresh mountain and sea air make the perfect humidity and temperature to run outdoors, and the infrastructure makes it safe and even peaceful to run as long and as far as you can dream.

When I made the transition to living in Mumbai, it meant that I went from running 30 km’s a week to none. More than anything else, I was afraid of committing some social taboo since I didn’t see any female joggers on the roads. The thought of the people staring, the traffic, and the sidewalks kept me indoors. The cost of a gym membership, the gym small-talk, and the monotonous running on a treadmill kept me sedentary.

Living in India, I could handle many eyes staring at me on a daily basis and I only ever managed to let it piss me off about once a month when it would get really bad on a day when I have no patience. Being a caucasian with blond hair, I realized that it would just have to become a part of life. Still, I was conscious of running outside but the thought of sweaty body building men hitting on me at the gym seemed even worse.

After being told to stop complaining and just give it a try, I decided to go for an early morning run in my neighbourhood. I couldn’t imagine running in the afternoon/ evening after the streets had baked in the hot sun all day.

I used to say that the hardest part of exercising is putting on the running shoes but I have changed my mind about that. Running shoes on, I headed out for my adventure.

KM 1

I decided to start out on the beach near my house. At low tide there is usually 2-4 kilometres of good beach to run along but I had only seen it at sunset when it was crowded with cricket players, young couples, and old men. At 7:30 am, I reached Versova beach to find it almost empty at high tide. I ran toward the fishing slum, the only direction I could.

As I was running, I suddenly passed an Indian man squatting in his lungi on the edge of the water and staring peacefully out to the horizon. I didn’t think much of it an assumed it was some kind of morning meditation and continued on. Then, I passed two more doing the same thing, lungi’s hitched up to their waists. One of them sleepily turned his head in my direction as I was approaching and I realized that perhaps this was not just a morning meditation but also a part of the daily morning ritual for all the men and women of the slum as I saw another 20 or so lined up further down the beach.

I decided to give them their relative privacy and headed back to the streets to give test the sidewalks.

KM 2

I was on! Running on the sidewalks of Mumbai was like a full obstacle course. With the music playing in my headphones loud enough to just hear the car horns, I was dodging rickshaws, elderly people, roadworks, piles of dirt and garbage, and complete holes in the cement. I even thought that perhaps this could actually be a better workout than just running and I could become a hyper-alert runner and perhaps even start learning parkour.

That was when I passed a pack of stray dogs sleeping next to the chai-walla stall. They jumped up and started chasing me, biting at my heels. Scared shitless, I growled at them with my wolf-pack dog training yell and ran faster. I don’t know if I intimidated them with my growl or they just lost interest but they left me alone after that. I kept running forward and left behind a group of men laughing at me as they drank their chai.

KM 3

Now utterly conscious of the people around me, I noticed that I was the only person running. I wondered if all the gyms were full and if running outside really was a societal taboo in Mumbai. Some cars swerved closer to me as they passed while the drivers were busy staring at me. Ready to go back, I picked a bus stop 20 meters ahead as my turnaround point.

The bus stop was full of 17-21 year old boys on their way to college. They saw me coming and I knew that they were pointing me out to their friends. Starting to get uptight about the whole thing, I stared ahead and ignored them, putting on my bitch-face. As I reached them, they broke into applause. I stopped to turn around and saw the shock and guilt on their faces. Secretly relishing the feeling, I took out my headphones and asked if the applause was for me. Silence. One of them lamely pointed to some indiscriminate spot across the street as if to displace the blame.

“That’s really not necessary,” I said to them in my hoighty-toighty highschool bitch attitude. I put in my headphones and started back, really proud of myself but not so satisfied with my run.

KM 4

Taking a different route home  to hang up my running shoes until I could afford a gym membership, I passed something that I had always thought was a private garden. I stopped to take a look inside and saw that it was actually a 500 meter running track, full of men and women walking, running, and sitting on the small benches meditating. “So, THIS is where all the runners have been hiding!” I thought.

As it turned out, many parts of suburban Mumbai have these private parks that have been built by private developers in order to get permits to build their boxy, high rise apartment societies. Entry was 2 rupees (4 cents), and it was open mornings and evenings.

A bit of peace and greenery separating opposite directions of traffic in Mumbai.

A bit of peace and greenery separating opposite directions of traffic in Mumbai.

Cool Down

So I had finally found my running-haven. I started going for runs whenever I could wake up in the morning early enough to avoid the heat. I found it difficult to run more than 4-5 kilometres because I would get very tired. I read the weather report and in Mumbai it had been a forecast of “Smoke” for the last 2 months. I heard a rumour that it was recommended to run only in the evenings to avoid the pollution which settled on the ground overnight making the morning air extra-polluted.

I started running in the evening, which turned out not to be the worst thing ever. The park was busier though, and after many runs feeling like an anonymous park-runner I finally had the experience I was really trying to avoid by staying away from the gym… conversation.

Running my laps, I noticed a young guy kept stopping his workout in the stretching area to come watch me run by. Ever damn time I would run past, he would stop what he was doing, walk to the edge of the track, and openly stare as I passed. When I finally finished, I couldn’t see him and was glad I didn’t have to face him. I bent down to touch my toes and stretch my hamstrings and closed my eyes, glad to finally have a peaceful place to work out. I slowly straightened my back and opened my eyes, and I turned around to find the guy standing directly behind me. Oh shit, seriously?

I went to the other side of the stretching area and resumed stretching. The guy tried to do a pull-up on the bar and failed. He then tried to get my attention again, “are you stretching?” he asked?
“Yes,” I replied with my expert bitch-face. I put my headphones in and faced the other direction.

He left. Message received.

I don’t think there will ever be a guarantee of exercising in Mumbai in peace. I’ll just have to keep running.

 

 

Featured image source: http://runangelrun.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/woman-running-beach-sunset-abh-patient-story.jpg

I Want to be a Unicorn, a Boy one.

I describe my childhood-self in two words: Space Cadet. Every moment when my immediate and full attention was not required I would go off in my own world. I had a difficult time with bullying that manifested in ways such as hiding in the bathroom during math class only to be found, ten minutes later, by my teacher while skidding gleefully across the slippery floors in my puppy slippers.

There was even a phase in my young life when I had a couple of friends who would also join me on my fifteen-minute escapades around the park at recess. In full form, our troupe would consist of a tawny owl, a bear, and a black Unicorn with flaming mane and tail. I was the heavy metal Unicorn, and not only did I go for the most flamboyant of the animals but I always insisted that I was a boy-Unicorn. There were a few arguments about whether it was possible to be a boy-Unicorn or if Unicorns were boys and Pegasus’s were girls. I always won with the wise 9-year-old argument that Unicorns were boys because of the phallic horn on top of their heads. I also wanted to have Pegasus wings, but at that time we were not aware of hermaphrodites and I had to settle with the exclusively male Unicorn anatomy. If Disney had been a little more graphic then it would have saved us a lot of time and energy.

This was not where the story ended. I would also make-believe that I was White Fang, the famous folklore wolf (also male), and I had an inexplicable crush on the cartoon fox Robin Hood from that children’s animated film.

I had been unable to dissect this strange tendency towards the male until fairly recently. I tried to theorize that I am really a gay man in a woman’s body but the truth is I enjoy having my lady parts too much for this to be true. When I was 9 I called myself a tomboy. This is also no longer true since I have finally moved past traditional conceptions of male and female thanks to university and living in a modern age with a few good female role models. Now I can happily walk around in a shirt and pants discussing how I would like to have a penis for a day (or week) just to satisfy my curiosity without fear of being judged as sexually confused.

Going through the thick library of childhood photo albums, I can find at least three photos where I was playing the groom in a make-believe marriage. I had three wives, one of them being my own sister and all of them wearing the same dress. For the first time in my life, I wore a real wedding dress in summer 2013 for a bridal photo shoot. I realized I have never once fantasized about having a white wedding dress.

I finally found out the answer to my strange male-fascination by changing my question. It turned out not to be why I wanted to be a boy, but rather why I did not want to be a girl. In my years of physical self-discovery and the social training institute called ‘school’, I was surrounded with kids classified by ideal girls, ideal boys, and the weirdos who fit somewhere in the middle. The girls wore the right clothes, colors, experimented with makeup, and ran away laughing from the boys who tried to kiss them… The boys wore the right clothes, played the right sports, and ran away screaming from the girls who tried to kiss them, alienating them and making them question themselves for wanting to kiss just as much as the boys. Outside of this, there was also the whole world of new media, advertising, and Disney, reinforcing these gender stereotypes that I’m sure we’re all aware of. To be honest I’m tired of hearing about it, but I keep hearing about it because it’s still true.

Don’t get me wrong; I had no problem with girly things. I liked girl’s clothes and I often played with Barbies and horses but I still wanted to be a boy.

In my housing society, there was a group of boys with whom I played street hockey and other games. Kick-the-can, water gun fights, and Nintendo-64 were also some of our favorites. I was the only person of the female gender in the gang, and I was intent on making sure the boys treated me like one of their own. I became a tomboy because I wanted to partake in the same games as them, and it was almost a perfect plan.

I remember one day the boys decided to wrestle. They all partnered up and nobody wanted to wrestle with me. I couldn’t understand why, because unlike the kids in school, my neighborhood boys had never excluded me from anything. At first the argument was that I was girl, but after I became very upset, a short blond boy admitted it was because I was bigger than half of them. Being big and being a girl were my two tender spots, so I punched that boy in the eye and went home very proud of myself but also very angry.

On the other hand, the girls around me were very fond of playing house and that was all well and fine except that I wanted to play the husband. If I was ever asked to be a princess or a wife or a helpless kitten, I flat-out refused to cooperate and be a good playmate. I would then turn into a heavy metal Unicorn and obliterate everyone and everything girly. I think what got to me was the image of the soft hands of the princess trapped in the castle, gingerly lifting the teacup with the pinky finger raised and waiting to be rescued. For some reason, being female had already become associated with being powerless. Whether or not my girl friends enjoyed this feeling of being girly and being rescued, I sensed that it wasn’t for me and decided to act like I was a boy at every possible moment. It empowered me to jump over trees, build forts in the forest, punch a kid in the face, and wear hats in ways they were never made to be worn (like a backwards baseball cap, or the classic sideways, upside down visor). To my child-mind, these things would not possible for a girly girl to do.

Remotely related side story: I was a nail-biter, and to convince me to stop biting my nails my mother had to tempt me with the reward of a remote-control monster truck if I didn’t bite for 6 weeks. It was the only thing that worked since I wasn’t excited enough by the thought of having long, pretty painted nails.

Even now that I am all grown up and can dabble in both ends of the gendered behavior scale without fantasizing about Unicorns and wolves, I come across this perception almost every day. My men’s dress shoes are cool, but my high heels are hot. Somehow, wearing men’s clothing adds a new facet to my personality, while a dress just makes me look good unless it is unusually funky. Again, this is all just how I’ve been trained to perceive it and I can get past it all now as I’m sure many of you readers do as well but I hope you are getting my point.

Of course you might not really care. It’s all just a matter of how important these things are to you. As a child, I didn’t succumb to fitting in one gender or the other and suffered through the bullying until being a tomboy became cool when Avril Levine became famous. However, I like to think that if people had been more open to the idea of girls and boys being similar in taste and behavior, life could have been a lot easier for myself and numerous other children. Also, let’s take a moment and empathize with all the grown-ups who continue to live their lives according what they believe they should be, rather than who they are.

Being a human includes so many interesting and sometimes taboo aspects of our psyches that we should always feel free to explore them in some way that is safe. Whether they are our dark sides, our masculine or feminine sides, or our completely unmentionable sides, we should all feel empowered to explore them without fear of social alienation.

Unicorns can have wings too.

The Hunt for Chocolate Boy

Do I feel guilty about taking 10 months to write part two of my epic story to find Rahul the chocolate boy?
Somewhat…

Enter Mumbai, February 22nd, 2013 – more than a month after posting Finding Chocolate Boy, and still not having found him.

It was time to pull up my proverbial bootstraps and step outside my air-conditioned apartment and into a breezy Bombay taxi heading for Colaba. By breezy, I really mean a low-pressure cyclone contained in a tin can taxicab known as an Ambassador – the classic mode of transportation in the city. To ride with the windows down meant combing the dreadlocks out of my hair for the duration of the ride but to ride with the windows up meant suffocating both the taxi Walla and myself.

I opted for the windows down and tied my hair for the 45-minute, traffic nightmare, 10-kilometer ride South from my nice new apartment in Worli to my old neighborhood in Colaba. Taking this trip in the middle of the day traffic was a big mental hurdle to jump over, but I squeezed myself into the floral upholstered backseat and headed out for the second hunt for Chocolate Boy.

Since my last hunt, I had kept a plastic bag with chocolates, a Canadian flag, and that silly joke breath spray in my cupboard. Now it was with me and I thought of the chocolates melting in the mid-afternoon sun as I walked down a side-street in Colaba. I was on a mission and was ready to document the whole experience for a follow-up blog post as well.

As I was wandering around with my eyes peeled for my Chocolate Boy Rahul, I turned a corner and a short man in a blue and purple striped shirt started following me.

“Yes ma’am?”

Shit, don’t make eye contact. He’ll try and sell me something!” I stopped looking around and focused on my energy on ignoring him.

“Ma’am, yes. Come this way!” he pressed on, unrelenting.

I determinedly looked straight ahead and picked up my pace.

“Do you want hotel? Taxi? Map?”

Not-Res-pon-ding! He kept tailing me and started smiling.

“Can I help you find something?”

I stop.  Perhaps he can…

“Actually, yes. I’m looking for someone,” I said.

He stopped, presumably surprised that I didn’t turn out to be deaf and dumb. I fought back a laugh at his confused expression.

“Someone?” he asked.

“Yes, a little boy. I have his picture here,” I pull out my iphone and show him Rahul’s photo.

After explaining my story and confirming that I wasn’t a pedophile, he took a proper look at the photo. He studied it closely.

“Do you know him?” I asked hopefully.

No, he said he didn’t know him but he knew someone who could help.

Eager to find out who this mysterious Someone was, I followed my guide through a series of streets. While fantasizing about discovering some underground Don of Colaba street-kids, I suddenly thought of what my poor mother would think if she could see me following a strange Indian man I met on the street to an unknown location. I’ll admit I got a bit nervous.

However, my nerve monkeys calmed down when my guide entered into a traditional Indian cloth shop with Kurtas and Salwar Kameez hanging in the windows. Inside were five men lounging around on a mattress that was strangely placed in the middle of the store. Nerve monkeys came back. They hustled to bring out a chair for me on which I awkwardly sat and clenched my butt cheeks tight until someone made a move.

My guide spoke in Hindi to a very large man with two mobile phones. The man nodded and asked me if I wanted chai to which I politely said no.

The guide gestured for me to give him my phone, so I pulled up the picture of Rahul and gave it over. My precious iphone was then passed around the room in silence and I watched the men’s faces to see if there was any recognition. After some minutes of quiet discussion, the large man passed my phone back to me.

“He doesn’t know him,” my guide said.

Looking around, I searched for some cue for what to do next. Perhaps now I was supposed to pay some sum of money which would suddenly jog their memories. Perhaps the meeting was over. However, the men just sat and watched me. The large man answered one of his phones while I secretly snapped a photo and made ready to excuse myself.

I smiled painfully and enunciated carefully, “Well, thank you very much for checking. I should really go and keep looking now.”

“Would you like to buy a saree? Kurta? Do you like Indian clothes? Very nice. Silk, cotton, linen,” my guide almost pleaded.

Of course the end game was to sell me something.

“No, no thank you,” I laughed.

“You don’t like Indian clothes?”

“No, they don’t look good on me,” I lied, eager to extricate myself from the situation.

IMG_2005

I left the shop and the men inside it, and started trying to find my way back to a recognizable street. My guide suddenly came out running.

“Wait, wait ma’am. You’re looking for this boy? What do you want from him?” he asked.

“Nothing, I just want to give him this gift!” I repeated again as I open my plastic bag and pull out the Canadian flag and breath-spray.

“Let me see the photo,” he insisted.

I exasperatedly pulled up the photo again and he looked at it very hard, furrowing his eyebrows.

“I know one person who might know,” he said finally.

“Are they going to try to sell me something?” I ask.

“No, no ma’am. This is my other boss. He has a travel agency nearby.”

“Alright,” I said.

Still not ready to give up the hunt for the day, I was ready to follow my guide to one more store just in case I find someone who might have seen Rahul walking around the streets.

I followed him back to the road where we had met, and then into an alley where I had earlier I had run into some boys playing cricket who claimed that Rahul was ‘gone’. The boys were gone now too, but I was more hopeful that we were in an area where I had once met my chocolate boy.

We entered a tiny travel agency with enough room for a desk and a bench. Inside were four men, younger and thinner than the last bunch. I squeezed in with my guide and the young men got up from the bench and let me sit down. They stood outside with the door open to watch the transaction.

The boss behind the desk smiled and spoke in clear English. “Hello, do you want to book a trip? Elephanta island tour? Alibaug beach vacation?” he asked.

I felt my butt un-clench a little now that I could communicate directly without my guide giving a dubious interpretation of my story.

“Actually, I’m looking for this boy. I met him here about six months ago and he was around all the time. I can’t find him anywhere. But then it’s only my second time looking for him,” I explained.

After checking the photo and confirming that I didn’t have any untoward intentions with Rahul, he showed it to the other men standing outside.

They checked the photo and started discussing animatedly. I smiled as a look of recognition appeared on their faces.

One man carrying rolled up maps under his arm spoke to me in accented English, “From one of the schools in the area. But it’s Saturday so he probably at home today.”

“Where does he live? Can you take me to him?” I ask in excitement.

“No, he doesn’t know him but I can tell that he doesn’t live on the street. A lot of kids from the suburbs come to school here and hang around the streets after class and beg from tourists for fun,” explained the boss behind the counter.

“Where is the school? I just want to find it so I can come back on a weekday and ask there,” I press.

The man in the pink shirt and maps volunteers to show me the way, and I say goodbye to my trusty guide with 50 rupees in exchange for his business card which had three business names on it.

It was with this that we took off up the street and away from the places where I had seen Rahul hanging around before. The man in the pink shirt’s name was Siddarth, and he asked me for more details on the story of Chocolate Boy and about Canada. We finally arrived at Woodside Inn where I used to go drinking on the weekends. Instead of going in, we took a left and went through a small alley that, to my surprise, opened on to a large dirt field with children playing soccer and cricket. I would never have expected to see such a wide-open space in the thick of old-town Bombay, where real-estate was more expensive than downtown Vancouver!

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We went around and started asking schoolboys with backpacks, kids in soccer uniforms, and a group of girls waiting for their turn to practice if they knew Rahul. They all studied his photo and eventually the girls confirmed that Rahul practiced soccer here in the afternoons after school. I asked when he would be there next and they told me probably the next day.

Super excited, I passed them all some chocolate as a thank you. I walked out with Siddarth and he gave me his phone number in case I needed his help next time I came down to find Rahul. I thanked him and tried to give him 50 rupees, but he refused to take it. I asked why, and he proudly proclaimed that he would rather earn his money from work.

“But you were a big help to me,” I insisted.

“I sell maps. Why don’t you buy a map?” he asked.

I smiled and bought a map of Mumbai which now hangs at home.

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The next day I returned at 4 o’clock with the hopes of finding Rahul joyously playing soccer on the dirt field with his friends. To my dismay, I couldn’t see him anywhere.

I found the girls again waiting for their practice to start and they happily waved me over and told me that Rahul hadn’t come that day. In fact, they hadn’t seen him for a couple of weeks.

I sighed and the girls could see that I was disappointed. One of the girls offered to give me a call when they meet him next. So, with a little hope left I gave her my number.

She then took me to the soccer coach and I showed him Rahul’s photo. He again confirmed that he practiced with them but hadn’t been around for the last few weeks. I told the coach to please let Rahul know if he sees him that I am his Canadian friend looking for him from 6 months ago.

Sure that I wasn’t going to find Rahul anytime soon, I proceeded to give out the rest of the chocolates to the school children on the field and walked myself over to Woodside Inn where I had scheduled a meeting with a friend soon after my anticipated grand-reunion. During the meeting, I couldn’t help but think that all this month I had been sitting in Worli, Rahul had been practicing soccer right around the corner. If only I hadn’t waited so long to come back and hunt for him then maybe I would have caught him at his soccer practice.

But if there’s one thing that makes me feel better, it’s philosophizing my life.

“I can’t live our lives with if-only’s and what-if’s. There was something to be learned from all of this I’m sure,” I told myself.

It took me so long to go out and find Rahul because I had been caught up with my own life and was distracted by my work and other, ahem, interests… What was hanging so dearly in the balance that I felt inclined to brave the 45 minute taxi sauna two days in a row on a hearsay that Rahul might practice soccer in the field nearby?

Perhaps I wanted to find an anchor in Mumbai. Maybe I was just looking for a little adventure. In fact, I could have just wanted to write another blog based on the success of Finding Chocolate Boy part 1. There is something terribly addictive about seeing those WordPress site statistics jump up suddenly with every new post.

Regardless, 10 months later I finally got my act together to write the darned thing and now I’m feeling an urge to go to Colaba and look for Rahul just one more time… The only problem is that I forgot the breath-spray and Canadian flag at Woodside Inn that last day after a few too many Jameson’s.

Finding Chocolate Boy – Part 1

Safety Nets and Self-Sabotage: Contenders Magazine

Contenders Magazine has a blog called Little Losers Blog: A Journal of the Perpetually Up-and-Coming. I wrote the kickoff article of their new series called Between Then and Now.
Safety Nets and Self-Sabotage

‘Between Then and Now’ is a series of personal essays that examine the strange distance that separates our past ambitions and our present pursuits. If you’d like to contribute to the series, send your story to submissions@contendersmagazine.com.

It is similar to my first blog I ever wrote last year, What do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? but focuses more on the process of stripping away your comfort zones to find out where you want to be. Check it out!

Safety Nets and Self-Sabotage

Contenders strives to be a premier jumping off point for post-graduate, 20-something writers looking to extend their intellectual investigations into the ‘real world.’ It is a showcase of their talents, their interests, and their aspirations. In our wildest dreams, we are creating a generational idiom–at our most sensible, we’re just writing about topics we think the internet needs to consider a little more deeply. Either way, we hope you’ll come with us.

Contenders Magazine

The F-word and Female Responsibility

There was an ‘incident’ that happened to me recently which made me furious.

Have you ever heard about those stories about groping on Japanese subways? I became aware of this when I was 18 and travelling to Japan by myself for the first time. I had heard that men would often grope Japanese women on trains because the women did not make a scene out of embarrassment. The travel logs never said that western women were groped because they had a tendency to yell at the groper, causing mortal shame for the groping men.

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That was when I made up my mind to be that vocal woman. Fortunately, I never had a chance to practice my scream on the Japanese train and I soon forgot all about the risk of being groped. That is, I forgot until a ten year old Indian boy grabbed my boob four years later.

The mere shock made me stop in my tracks, speechless. I was walking with a friend in Colaba, Mumbai, and it wasn’t a crowded street. The Jr. groper had been walking next to us and asking if we would marry him. Then, he briefly cupped my breast, and we both stopped. There was a strange moment where time slowed down. He looked at me expectantly, to see the shock on my face. It was there alright. He had a big grin on his face when I snapped out of it and cuffed him on the side of the head. He took off running as I yelled after him.

I didn’t think it was a big deal. I still don’t. At least he hung around to receive the punishment he expected. It wasn’t very serious, but I’ll tell you what has prompted me to write this blog.

Just last week, while waiting for the bus in Vancouver, I felt something touch my bum. I took my earbuds out, and turned to see a man of about sixty walking past me wearing a sweatsuit and baseball cap. He had shoulder length and scraggly blond hair.
He smiled at me.
This time I didn’t hesitate.
I yelled at him, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? You can’t just touch my butt and walk away like it’s okay!”
I caught up to him.
He picked up his pace, and didn’t meet my eyes but turned and said, “Don’t worry about it baby, I’m an international rock star”.
“It doesn’t matter who the fuck you are. You violated me.” I yelled, so that people across the street could hear.
He started to run away, and I chased after him. I caught up and tried to kick him in the butt, but missed because I was wearing high heels.

I will take this opportunity to mention to the assholes who might be reading this, that I was not wearing slutty clothes (and if I was, it wouldn’t mean that I had less right to be angry).

I continued to yell after him as he ran away. A man who saw the whole thing told me that I should file a police report.
I couldn’t be bothered with that. What was that going to do anyway? I didn’t know who he was and he looked like a generic man who hung around the Gastown pub district at night.

I was fuming and felt violated, but was happy that I had had the presence of mind to yell and chase after the guy. I was glad he got scared and ran away from me…
I wished I hadn’t missed the kick to the ass.

My bus didn’t come either.

So, pissed off and riled up I went back to the pub to wait with my friends for the next bus that would come in an hour. After my unexpected re-entrance and grand proclamation that I had just chased a groper down the street and that my bus didn’t come, my friends and I got into a discussion about female blame and responsibility.

Basically, even though we are taught that rape, groping, and verbal sexual abuse is wrong and we should fight out against it, many women I know have been raised to believe that they have some kind of responsibility for the male attention they receive. Whether this attention is wanted or unwanted, there is something ingrained into society that says that men only react to female sexuality.

For a less-extreme example than rape, take a situation where a girl finds out that a boy she has been friendly with has a crush on her. If this attention is unwanted, I know that the first question that will come up for her and her friends will be “what did I do that made him get a crush on me?”

The problem here is the belief that a woman possesses a dangerous power to seduce, and if she doesn’t control it carefully then men will end up falling for her. It’s something we call “leading him on”.

I know that whenever this has happened to me, I feel as if I can change the way I behave around men to avoid any sort of awkwardness. I immediately start to evaluate and mediate all my male relationships to ensure they stay friendly.

For the more extreme example of rape, let’s think of all the times when a woman has been accused of “deserving it” because of her past sexual history, the way she dressed, what neighbourhood and what time, or how much she had to drink. Thankfully a new dialogue has risen out of some unfortunately extreme cases that got a lot of publicity. The new idea discounts all aspects of female responsibility when a woman falls victim to sexual abuse.

For the people who are aware that women are not responsible for the abuses visited on them by men, there is a new kind of responsibility we must adopt. This is not only the responsibility to educate other women, but the need to educate men. It might be hard to tell the creepy man who is gesturing at you on the bus that it is inappropriate and makes you feel violated, but now you know that it’s not your fault you should think of the next girl or woman he will do this to.

Every time you let something slide (because maybe he’s not actually said anything, or hasn’t touched you, or you’re getting off at the next stop anyway), you’re actually sending a message that it’s okay.
My advice? Use your voice. If you’re in public, tell it to them. If you’re not in public, yell it to the world in some other way.

Also, don’t listen to people who call you a feminist like it’s a bad thing. It means you believe in your rights and will defend them.

My question for you:

Why has Feminism become a dirty word?

Edit: I  just discovered this website, iHollaback! which campaigns against street harassment. There is a space to read and share other stories about this issue.

The Biannual Existential Crisis

So I went back in time last week. I drank Jack Daniels and watched the remake of Evil Dead.

I got home from the theatre before midnight. My mother and her boyfriend were out at a friend’s house for dinner and weren’t home yet.

I still live in the same house I was born in. Twenty-three years last week.

I was tipsy and not ready to crawl into bed all alone. My horoscope said that today (Saturday) was supposed to put my life onto a new trajectory and so far it hadn’t been fulfilled. Perhaps that was what propelled me to change into hiking pants and my raincoat and venture out into my suburban neighbourhood in the middle of the night. I had not completed my destiny for the day and I like to check things off my to-do list.

Actually, that’s how Starbucks hooked me into their points scheme. One more purchase and I’ll have a Gold Card. I like to achieve goals.

I’m an over-achiever.

So I find myself walking into the night with my iPhone, keys to the house, and a Fudgesicle (yes, a chocolaty popsicle). It’s raining and dark, and I’m hoping to have some kind of epiphany before the album I’m listening to finishes.

Private music should be illegal. Wasn’t there a time when you could only listen to music in a crowd? When I put on my headphones, all of a sudden the world revolves around only me and I get cocky as fuck, self-absorbed, and emotional.

I am walking around my elementary school and I remember how I had my heart broken by my Internet lover at fifteen. I had put on my running shoes on a dark and rainy night like this and after running for ten minutes I sat down on the swings and cried my heart out. I knew I had to break up with this boy because he treated me like garbage and made me so insecure I still feel the repercussions now, twelve years later.

I finish my Fudgesicle and toss the stick into the grass. It’s biodegradable I’m sure. Only problem is that it’s not a diet Fudgesicle… I’m used to eating these 40 calorie things and my mom accidentally bought the full-180 calorie version.

Well, we can’t waste food or else children in Africa will die. So I eat the extra calories and tell myself I’m burning it off by being outside.

I’m at the gravel field where the majority of my memories of being bullied as a child occur. Being human is a ridiculous thing, isn’t it? On the far end of the school I see a guy who looks like someone I used to go to school with. He stands by himself in front of a classroom; the ground is littered with beer cans.

At ten years old I was given a large (one-meter) blow-up ball for my birthday. I took it to school to show off and try to make friends. The girls who had been bullying me offered to play with me and kicked the ball out-of-bounds on purpose. They told me to go get it, but when I got back onto the school grounds I found the girls with a duty-aid (an adult supervisor) waiting for me. I was sent to the principal’s office for breaking the rules and my ball popped soon after.

However, the day I arrived at school with homemade stilts nobody bothered me.

At the far end of the field, I remember that we had this thing called the Kilometer Club. Student’s were encouraged to get fit by running around the field, and every four laps we would get a popsicle stick which said we had run a kilometer.

I pull out my iPhone and open my Jog Log app. I start the app and begin walking around the field. I didn’t quite believe that four laps around this mini-field was actually a kilometer.

Three-quarters through the first lap I find a small air-filled ball. I reach down and push on it… it’s flat. Still, I kick it and it goes rolling to the other end of the field. I chase after it and kick it around another two laps.

I lose the ball somewhere in the dark corner by the goal posts. I complete my 4th lap and my iPhone tells me I walked 0.92 Kilometers.

Not quite a Kilometer then.

Am I having an existential crisis again? I thought I went through this 6 months ago… It seems I have to go through this on a biannual basis.

I smile as I remember my last epiphany.

I was in South Africa and reminded myself how I was just a mass of atoms, floating around aimlessly and not actually separated from the rest of the world. I had finished a depressing book about The Emergency in India and couldn’t shake the blues. I went for a run and found myself staring at a pod of Southern Wright Whales frolicking at Muizenberg beach. I thought, “why do I have to be a human being? Why can’t I just go play with those whales and not worry about anything but food and predators?”

Then I remembered high school science class. The whales are a bunch of atoms, the water is another bunch of atoms, and the air and my body are other bunches of atoms. There is nothing disconnecting me from nature and the universe except my own stupidity.

“Being human is a ridiculous thing, isn’t it? “

I tweet this, and then I post it on Facebook too because I want to make sure everyone knows I’m having deep thoughts.

I walk through the trails connecting cul-de-sacs with forest and more cul-de-sacs. I go through a path I had never tried before because I never had time to explore it. Turns out that it connects to a road I was familiar with, and is actually a short cut that I had missed for twenty-three years.

The trail is a loop and I end up back at the playground where I cried when I was fifteen… and many times before that I’m sure.

There is a hill where all the students used to toboggan when we were lucky enough to have snow. I lie down on the wet grass and find that I only have three songs left on the album.

The water soaks through my pants and I lie and squint at the purple sky, my vision ringed with the tops of pine trees. I open my mouth and try to catch the rain on my tongue.

It seems to fall everywhere on my face except for my tongue. I stick my tongue out further.

The music fades, and I imagine what it might be like if some kids came up onto the hill and found me lying there, splayed out like a dead person with their tongue sticking out.

I’m too good-looking to be doing weird shit like this.

I stand up and start to walk home. I’m feeling alone and dejected, but I’ve had some sort of catharsis. I look at the other end of the park and the guy with the beer cans is gone. A group of teens walk up the path and are overtaken by some late-night jogger in neon shorts.

Just as I reach the gates to my housing community, I see my mother’s boyfriend’s car pull up. What are the chances of that? Here I am, moping around in the rain like some loner and I can’t even get the peace and quiet of an empty house?

The car window rolls down and I hear my mom asking if I have a key. I open the gate and they drive in.

So it doesn’t even matter how much I want to be alone in this world. No matter what I do, I’m connected. A mass of atoms connected with another mass of atoms.

The only thing keeping me from the rest of the world is my own stupidity.

412_assorted_wood_popsicle_sticks_1000pcs_1

Bad Girl

The following short story is based on a reality that many teen girls I know have dealt with.Stealing

Ah, the rush of adrenaline running through her veins!

She swaggers through the aisles of the drugstore next to her high school in between exams with a bag of books, taking handfuls of lipgloss off the shelf and dropping them silently between the binders marked “Science 8” and “English 8”.

She doesn’t even look at the colours but moves on to the next section and grabs a compact powder and tosses it in among the rest.

Her friends follow behind her at a distance, snickering and blocking the view of the oblivious staff behind the makeup counter.

Georgia had developed a cockiness with her stealing since she started going to the mall with her friends on their lunch breaks and coming back to class with a haul of stolen goods. “It isn’t that bad because it’s not like I’m taking something personal. Corporations can afford the loss,” she thought as she pulled  her jeans over 6 new thongs in the Winners changing room.

She digs in the pockets of a pair of khakis, still on the hanger, and finds one more thong with the tag on it. She takes the tag of and puts the thong in her pocket. She walks out and gives the pants and the plastic sign that says, “1 item” to the change room attendant.

Back at home after her final exam, Georgia locks herself in her room with a roll of toilet paper and tries on all the new shades of lipgloss she bought. Pink, Mauve, Purple, Brown, Gold. There is a rainbow pile of toilet paper kisses on the floor when she is finished.

She takes a small suitcase out from under her bed and opens it. There is a mountain of makeup inside and Georgia dumps the ugly colours inside of it.

She takes off her pants and thongs and shoves 7 new pairs of underwear into her overflowing underwear drawer.

She lies down on her bed and falls asleep with the rest of her clothes on. She dreams about getting into Hogwarts and turning down Harry Potter when he asks her out on a date until she wakes up at 1 p.m. the next day.

~

Georgia is running. Running as fast as she can in a pair of pink flip flop sandals. She’s at the mall again and her best friend Danielle watches her dodge a mother with a stroller. Danielle has been stuck with an oversized shopping bag full of clothes. She pulls out her cellphone and calls her mom.

“Hey mom, Georgia and I are finished. Can you come pick me up?”

Georgia curses her luck as she runs out the front doors only to find she’s still being pursued by the most athletic security guard she’s ever seen.

A portly security guard sits across from Georgia in an underground parking lot office.

“If you had run away from me, I wouldn’t have bothered!”

She is still catching her breath when the guard who chased her comes out from behind the plexiglass booth to inform her that the police have been called.

“I would have just called your parents. Now you’ve resisted arrest and you’ll get a criminal record. I hope you weren’t planning on leaving the country anytime soon.”

Georgia’s throat constricts until it aches. She fights back tears as she thinks about her mother and stepfather shaking their heads in disappointment while they get on a flight to Mexico, leaving her behind.

The portly security guard asks, “Are you sure you can’t reach your parents?”

“They’re both working,” Georgia chokes back.

The guard who chased her, softens a little at the sound of her voice.

“What does your father do?”

“He actually works in the towers next door. He’s a security guard there.”

The portly security guard leans forward.

“Why don’t we just try calling his cell. If he picks up and can come down here we’ll call off the police.”

~

A female security guard enters the room with a rough looking young man.

“Fake bills, we’re going to do a test,” she barks and they pass through to the back room.

Georgia’s father turns back to look at his daughter, sitting in her pink flip flops and matching pink cheeks.

The athletic guard breaks the silence.

“I’m actually pretty impressed. She ran really well despite her shoes. Nearly knocked over a woman and her stroller, but I run triathlons and she kept ahead of me for quite some time before she gave up in the parking lot.”

He leans against the security counter, smiling at her father.

“You might want to put her in track and field. Sports are supposed to be a good way to help troubled teens,” he adds.

Her father turns to the guard and says, “only just a teenager at 14, but that’s not a bad idea… is it Georgia? You could use some exercise to get fit for modelling.”

Georgia looks up at her father and the fit security guard.

“I’m not troubled, and you know I don’t want to model anymore… I’m too short.”

She looks at the security guards, they both smile at her, “Fit and Fat,” she thinks. She smiles back for the first time, her nerves calmed.

Georgia and her father say good bye outside his office building.

“I guess your mom and I won’t have to punish you. Banned from the mall for 5 years and it seems like those guys taught you a lesson before I got there.” He smiles at Georgia and laughs.

“Thanks Dad. I’ll tell mom when I get home then you can talk about it.”

“Love you Georgia.”

“Love you Dad,” and Georgia walks away to the bus station.

~

Three weeks later, Georgia climbs out of her father’s car at the high school track field. A small group of teens and two coaches greet her with smiles, and Georgia recognizes a girl from her class.

The girl comes up to Georgia.

“Hey, how come you’re starting track?”

Georgia takes a sip from her water bottle and grimaces.

“What’s wrong?” asks the girl.

“Nothing. I just mixed some vodka with my water and it tastes terrible. I was afraid I would get tired so I thought this would loosen me up a bit.”

The girl laughs, then goes serious.

“You’re joking right?”

Georgia laughs, “Yes, of course I’m joking. No, I put advil in my water. Now I know why they only have it pill form.”

“So how come you’re joining track halfway through the season?”

“Got caught stealing and the security guard said I was so fast I should do the 100 meter sprint. So here I am.”

Georgia pours out her water into the grass.

“Mind if I share your water today? I can’t drink this,” Georgia asks.

The girl stammers, “sure, but-”

“Thanks.” Georgia picks up her bag and walks toward the coaches who are calling for them to gather around. The swagger is back in her step.

Finding Chocolate Boy

“Please put up your backrest, miss”

I was in the last row of seats before the washrooms with nobody sitting behind me. My seat was reclined by about two inches.

Nevertheless, I silently brought up my backrest to it’s original, leaning slightly forward position while the non-English speaking man next to me pretended to not understand as if he’d never flown on a plane before. His seat remained reclined the full five inches with his tray table down.

The South Korean steward moved forward through the rows of seats and Ravi Shankar started to play on the speakers. Korean Air knows how to introduce you to India gently, and it works well with the dark, musty red carpets leading you to the baggage claim of BOM (Mumbai’s international airport).

But as the plane started to tilt downward, I suddenly felt a big wad of anxiety forming around my solar plexus. I chastised myself. “Why are you so nervous all-of-a-sudden? You have been dying to come back to Mumbai since you left 6 months ago.”

Within my sparsely packed suitcase, there was a bag of gifts for my friends from my first and most recent trip to India who had really left an impact on me. I had met so many great people, especially because my friend Sara and I were on a networking mission to learn more about the Indian film industry. However, there were a few who really went out of their way to help us on our trip and these people became good friends. Because I have an innate guilt that nothing in this world should come free, I have brought payment for their friendship in the form of maple syrup, Canadian flags, and handcrafted dream catchers.

I let my mind rest on this bag of Canadian kitsch and I tried to remember what I had bought for whom. I hoped I hadn’t forgotten anybody important. Still, the anxiety wouldn’t go away and I didn’t know what was causing it. As someone who analyzes themselves as a hobby, I felt I should think about it a bit.

Three months previously, I had started this blog and online portfolio so I could have a more visible presence on the web. Fake it ‘till you make it became my new motto. WordPress has a great dashboard for your blog so you can see how many people visited your page, how many clicks, what links are most popular, etc. However, I get the most entertainment from seeing the Google searches that have led people to my website. Some of the most recent favorites are: “awkward look gif”, “shaved my eyebrows off”, and “don’t worry bus, we all make mistakes”.

Ironically (I think) the day I get on my flight to Mumbai somebody has searched “mcglynn died on plane”. In order to counteract this scary prediction I post about it on twitter. If I acknowledge it, it’s way less likely to happen… and if it does, then it can go down in history that I predicted my own death.  So I get on my plane anyway and don’t tell my poor mother and father about it.

Final Destination: Mumbai.

However, I know that this anxiety isn’t caused by fear of flying. The last year I probably spent around 70-80 hours in flight, not including airport time and layovers. I actually love flying, because it gives me a very good excuse to watch 6 movies back to back and not feel like I should be doing something more productive like working on my screenplay. Surprisingly, the trip was great because I had a moment of inspiration after watching “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and rewrote the whole structure of my current script (based in Mumbai of course).

I had travelled so much because the last year included 5 months of travelling from May to November. Vancouver – Chennai, Chennai – Vancouver, Vancouver – Toronto, Toronto – Johannesburg, Johannesburg – Cape Town, Cape Town – Johannesburg, Johannesburg – London, London – Vancouver, and now Vancouver – Mumbai.

I fell for Mumbai in a big way. I fell in love with its chaotic energy; it’s people, and its buzzing potential. I was told many times before I first planned my trip to India, “You either love it, or you hate it”. For Mumbai it became “you either love it, or you hate it, or you become obsessed with it.”

I’m not ashamed to say that when I left Mumbai, I shed a tear. I was intoxicated with whiskey and Mumbai, but mostly whiskey… or was it Mumbai? I got back to Vancouver later and was buzzing with unbridled energy. I could feel the twinkle in my eyes, and I had made a resolution to return to Mumbai in the New Year by any means possible.

So there I was. The plane hit the tarmac smoothly and we all coasted toward the baggage terminal at 2:45 am on the dot. The anxiety dulled as I stepped into the spiced air, then revved itself up again while I got stuck between a family of six taking up the whole corridor rolling their bags and dragging their children. I realized that this was a new frontier for me and I was feeling so anxious because I had reached uncharted territory in my life. While I had lived in Mumbai for a month and a half, never before had I returned to a foreign country with the intentions of living and working. I was going into the unknown.

“Oh my god, does this mean I’m no longer a student? Am I finally all-grown up and making big life decisions?” Sure I hadn’t technically graduated from University yet, but I hadn’t been taking classes for 6 months and planned to finish my degree via correspondence (only 5 classes to go!)

It was an exciting and daunting thought that carried me through to the baggage carousel. My bag arrived at the same time as me, and I could feel jealous stares as I cruised in and picked up my bag like it happens all the time (it never happens to me). With that little sign from the universe, I started to feel like my cocky-self again and as I went through customs I critiqued the outfits other white people had chosen to fly in. Are your pajamas really going to make your seat any more comfortable? Classic internal monologue of a person so aware of their own insecurities they have to criticize others privately because they know how ridiculous they’re being.

So why was reaching a new point in my life more scary than exciting?

Canadian-Breath-SprayI thought of one of my gifts, a Canadian spearmint breath spray with a lumberjack on the package, the sort of thing you pick up in a joke store. I was planning on giving it to a very special friend who probably had no idea of my name. During my first stay in Mumbai I was living in Colaba, a beautiful part of town with equal parts beggars and tourists, taxi drivers and merchants. That was where I met my little chocolate-boy Rahul, and keep on reading before you jump to conclusions about my British heritage and how racist I must be.

I first met Rahul when I was walking around the Colaba causeway, a street lined with shops and merchants selling their wares (Same shit, different block). Children often target white elephants like me and ask for money, rice, or milk and play up on their cuteness to get what they want. I was getting accustomed to saying no when Rahul came up to me and asked me for chocolate.

“Sorry, I don’t have any chocolate on me”

“Chocolate”

“I don’t have any chocolate”

“Chocolate, ma’am”

“I told you I don’t have any chocolate!”

I started walking faster to try and lose him, but he kept on following me.

“What do you want?”

“Chocolate”

I stopped, and took a moment to look at him. He was not dirty like the other kids of the street, and had an adorable smile with white teeth and big brown eyes.

“Do you live around here?”

“School” he said, pointing down the street and looking up at me with his sweet smiling face.

I realized he just lived around here and he spent his time after school playing with the other kids in the area and getting free candy from tourists. However, it was off-season and there weren’t many tourists around so I found I was getting quite a bit of concentrated attention whenever I went out for a walk. This monosyllabic boy was somehow making an impression on me.

“Sorry, no chocolate today. Maybe tomorrow”

“Ok” he shrugged, and he let me walk away.

I kept of seeing him every day and each time I didn’t have any chocolate. After a week of this, I decided to buy a chocolate bar and keep it in my bag for a surprise. Of course I couldn’t find him anywhere after that. I would scour the street every time I went out, and I even started making special trips to walk around and look for him.

After a couple of weeks of this chocolate bar melting and re-melting in my bag, he turned up again.

“Hello” he said. He started walking next to me.

“Hey chocolate boy! I have been looking for you”

He kept smiling as we walked together. He doesn’t ask for chocolate.

“Is there anything you want?” I asked.

“Rice”

Was this kid mocking me?

“I thought you liked chocolate”

“Yes” he said.

“So would you like rice or chocolate?”

“Rice” he answers with a smile.

“Well, too bad. I only have chocolate for you today.”

I reached into my bag and give him the semi-melted bar of chocolate. A group of kids saw this and they got up and came over.

“Thank you” he said. He took off just a scraggly-haired little girl came up to me with her palms out.

I dodged the rest of the kids and got back to my friends house where I was staying, and was dying to fill them in after weeks of my search for chocolate boy. That Sunday we visited the slum kids a few blocks away and brought a soccer ball and a big bag of candy to give every little chocolate boy and girl a fun day.

As we made our way into the slum, chocolate-boy joined us and I finally learned his real name. Rahul the chocolate boy led us through the slum and helped give out candy to the children and told them in Hindi that they could come play soccer. He was our guide and middleman who made sure the big kids weren’t stealing candy from the little ones, and that it was evenly distributed. We found a good patch for the soccer match and it rained, which only made the whole thing more fun.

The day I left Mumbai, my sandal broke and Rahul found me limping my way back to the house. He took me to a cobbler on the corner and we talked as my shoe was being fixed. I told him I would be back, and that I would find him again. He asked about Canada and when we should meet and I said I didn’t know what day I would be back but I would look for him.

So I found myself back there, 6 months later with some joke breath-spray, a Canadian flag, and 500 rupees ($10 CAD) wrapped up in a plastic bag so the other kids wouldn’t see his gift and try to take it from him. The anxiety from the plane ride had abated because I realized the cause. I am afraid of big changes because generally my life is pretty good, and although I don’t have much to lose I know that things can stop going my way and get a lot worse. This new stage of my life had a lot of potential to go wrong regardless of how much I wanted it to go right, and I am scared of the unknown whether or not it’s failure or success that takes me there.

I made a special hour and a half trip to Colaba from my hostel in Andheri near the airport in order to track down Rahul and give him his gift. I had a night out planned with my old troublemaker friends in the area as well, but I came early in the afternoon to find my chocolate boy. I know that the gift would probably be a little underwhelming for your average kid, but I know from experience that a lot of Indians are cautious of getting close with foreigners because they come to India, say they’re coming back, and disappear. It is the same reason why I used to never go out of my way for a tourist besides giving directions. But when someone goes out into the unknown and invites a stranger in transit to be their friend, it really makes a huge difference to their trip. My best memories from travelling are all because of my experiences with locals, and my top activity for every country is to have a home-cooked meal at someone’s house.

Tree-lined street, Colaba. Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Again, it is fear of the unknown that we avoid making new connections. The fear of losing time we invest into a new friendship, or the money we spend on their drinks at the bar, or the energy we put into making them happy. Nobody wants to be taken advantage of, so it meant a lot to me when my friends in India took the risk and gave me their time and friendship, and I know part of the gift was the mere fact that I came back.

I walked through Colaba… the usual streets I would find Rahul and couldn’t find him. Very conscious of how much I looked like a lost tourist, I tried not to wander around in circles too much (again trying to avoid confrontation and potentially meeting new people). As I walked through a back road fairly close to the slum, I passed a large group of young boys with a cricket bat. I peered closely at the shorter ones and saw one I thought looked like Rahul. One of the older boys spotted me, and asked if I wanted to join the game. Surprised at the invite, I looked up and saw they were all watching me. I said no, only because I was tired and it was very hot but I appreciated the invite. I asked if they knew a boy called Rahul who hung out in the area. I gestured his height by placing my hand, palm down at my belly button.

“Rahul?” the tallest one repeated.

The boys looked at each other. I could hear the name Rahul being repeated amongst them. Nobody said they knew him.

“Sorry, he’s not here” the tall boy said.

I thanked them and walked away disappointed I hadn’t found him.

I sat down for a fresh lime soda at a hotel near the Gateway of India and paused in the middle of the book I was reading to analyze their response. “Sorry, he’s not here”. Did that mean that they did or didn’t know him? Did it mean he was there earlier? Did that mean he moved away? Was he dead?

I stopped myself there. I didn’t want to over-analyze it anymore; another unknown area that can only be discovered if it’s explored. I gave up the search for the day, but I knew I would be back.

Chocolate-boy has disappeared again, but I know he will turn up when I least expect it. I will go back with his photograph and ask around if I have to, because I promised Rahul that I would be back and find him and I can’t bear to give the lumberjack breath spray to anybody but him. My mission to find Rahul has become a small-scale and more palpable version of my life right now. I will only know when I find him whether or not he trusted me to come back. I am still scared of the new path I’m on, but if I have learned one thing this year it’s that fear is no reason to hold yourself back. Fear of finding out that I’ll never see Rahul again is mixed with fear of some strange new life that awaits me. And so I venture forth into the unknown, with my fear tucked away and wrapped in plastic with the rest of my baggage.

P.S. If anybody knows Rahul, please let me know.

Rahul posed for me while the cobbler fixed my sandal.

Rahul and the Cobbler

*~Edd!e: A Romantic, Teen-Thriller and True Story

Sometime early on in my five-year high school saga, I found my first love on a website called Nexopia.

I just checked, and somehow it’s still around. Anyway, I was fifteen years old and had had a few “relationships,” each one last less than two or three weeks.

I was not looking for my first love when I joined Nexopia… not at all. I was more than familiar with dating websites like LavaLife, where I would prank unsuspecting men looking for a casual encounter by setting up a time and place and imagining them waiting for this beautiful blond, eighteen-year old model to show them a night of fun and of course nobody showing up. I did this once… Maybe twice.

So I joined Nexopia.com because my friends all had profiles. You could personalize your page with HTML codes you could copy and paste and have things like a cursor that would sparkle and leave a trail of glitter-scat wherever you moved your mouse. Some people got very creative. This is when I think “Emo” and “Scene” became “things.”

Teens and pre-teens would post angsty poetry or fill out personality quizzes and see how many friends they could get to do the same. It’s really not that different from Facebook, but I think Nexopia came first and didn’t appeal to anyone that had grown out of acne or their training bras.

It was new: a strange and wonderful world.

One day as I signed in to post a new webcam picture I took of myself, I saw that a young, Hispanic guy with the username *~Edd!e commented on my wall.

“Hey, nice pics. How R U?”

I took a look at his profile and saw some fairly grainy webcam pictures of a guy with big brown eyes, buzzed hair, sparse facial hair, muscular arms, and a black baseball cap. There wasn’t a single picture without that hat. He lived in Alberta; about 1158 km from Vancouver.

I think my username was something like, $$$P.M.c.G-Unit$$$… I was in the middle of my Baller to Mall-Punk transition phase and I guess I thought dollar signs said a lot about who I was as a person. I replied, unsure of what I thought.

“Hey, do I kno U?”

He didn’t. He said he was browsing and saw my pics, thought I looked interesting and wanted to get in touch. I didn’t think this kind of behavior was strange. After all, in elementary school my friends and I would exchange msn contacts to collect the most amount of friends. This would often lead to getting to know another kids from a nearby school who you would get a crush on, see once, and feel too shy to mention anything about the (K) 😛 😉 messages we would exchange back and forth. A picture I drew of *~Edd!e when we were dating online.

Soon, we had exchanged msn addresses and we started chatting. *~Edd!e told me his life story, and I told him mine. However, his was much more eventful than anything I could even dream up.

*~Edd!e was born in El Salvador during the civil war and because his mother had lost track of the date he had no real idea of how old he was. He estimated he was eighteen, and he never celebrated his birthday.
I said he should just pick a day and celebrate, but he said it wasn’t that easy.
He had an older and younger brother. They all escaped to Canada as refugees and his mother now worked as a cleaning lady to pay rent. He said his older brother was involved in a gang that was widespread across North America, and that due to his brother’s involvement, he watched his youngest brother get shot in a park during a murder attempt on his brother.

I couldn’t believe that someone in Canada could have that kind of backstory, let alone someone I could meet on Nexopia.

*~Edd!e had had a hard time dealing with life after that and started doing drugs and even joined the gang. His brother had the intelligence to give little *~Edd!e a smack on the head, and tell him to leave the gang. The price of getting him out of the gang was for *~Edd!e’s brother to move to Vancouver and take care of business over there.

So now *~Eddie was off drugs, going to school, and DJ’ing in his basement. I don’t know how he afforded turntables, but then I never asked. To get this close, we had been chatting on msn for about three months. I was so blown away by his story, I couldn’t help but get a massive crush on him. I was drawn to his tragedy the same way people like to adopt abused animals and nurse them back to health. I wanted to make him happy, and be the one girl he could tell anything.

Somehow, I managed to fight past the (K) 😛 😉 stage of our relationship and straight-up type: “I like you.”

He was a bit sadistic and asked me what I meant. I pushed down the knot in my stomach and answered, “I like like you.”
“What does that mean?” he asked.

Oh goddamn it all…

“I HAVE A CRUSH ON YOU” I typed, crushing the letters on the keyboard. I was seething.

As it turned out, he had a crush on me too. He told me the night before he was hanging out with his ex-girlfriend who tried to make out with him and he turned her down. He said it was because of me.

Let’s try at look at this from my naïve, fifteen year old perspective. Sure he said he was eighteen, but he didn’t know for sure. What’s more, I told him I liked him first and he never said anything until I did. Also, I knew he wasn’t an old man because we had chatted with webcams and I could see him moving around and doing silly things because I asked him to.

Long story a little bit shorter, we agreed to have an exclusive, online dating relationship.

Here is where things get messed up. Yes, you have seen nothing yet. Buckle Up.

Our online relationship lasted another five months before we decided to take it to the next level. In this time, we exchanged music files. He would make a track with is DJ setup, and I would record some vocals on Garageband and send it back with layer upon layer of reverb. We made some stuff that I remember sounding kind of good. I actually wrote him a love song and I still have the recording of it somewhere. Pretty cute right?

He also told me that he was a part of a DJ group called DJ Tiesto, and that the ‘e’ in Tiesto stood for his name.
The group couldn’t sell commercially so they chose one guy to represent them and created a new persona, DJ Tiesto. I chose to believe him, although I wasn’t without my doubts.

Lo’ and Behold, *~Edd!e’s brother invited him out to Vancouver to come live. He showed some doubt because of the gang involvement, but I encouraged him to move so we could meet in person.
His brother had found him a place on a street nearby my house. He remembered the street name but not the house number. I started getting a lot of exercise walking up and down that street at any chance to guess which house would be his and thinking seeing some Hispanic person might be a clue.

I pressed him for the house number, but in the end the plan fell through and he had to move in with his aunt and uncle in Delta, about a 2.5-hour bus trip from my house. I didn’t make any preemptive walks out that way.

So *~Edd!e moved to Vancouver, and of course I was thrilled! I was super nervous meeting him so I planned for us to meet at a bus loop in a very public area. I hadn’t told my parents the truth about meeting him on the internet, but said we had met while he was visiting Vancouver and had been chatting on msn ever since. I didn’t keep it a secret because I couldn’t not share all these awesome songs we had made together.
They knew everything else about him. I had shared his tragic story, our Internet dating, and our meeting place and time. They told me I could invite him over and he could sleep on the futon in the basement so he wouldn’t have to bus back to Delta at night. I love my parents.

The moment of our meeting was pretty uneventful. He got off the bus and I recognized him instantly. We shared an awkward hug and hopped on a bus to go see my high school. It was a cold, December night and we walked down a dark road to the back entrance of my school. The gates were locked, so we walked back.
Somehow, I worked up the courage to make a bold move. I stopped walking and grabbed his hand. He turned around to face me and I kissed him. I still remember the cold drip of his nose on my cheek. Gross, but I was willing to ignore it.

He was visibly shocked, and then exclaimed how cool that was and that he wasn’t expecting a kiss for a while. We got back on a bus and went to my house. My mom met him and showed us how to set up the futon bed in the basement, left us alone to say goodnight, then made damn sure I went to bed in my own room two floors up.

*~Edd!e and I’s relationship continued in this manner. He could sleep in my basement when he came over, but when I visited him in Delta I had to come home every night. He got a job at McDonalds in Metrotown mall, and I went over to visit him one day when he got off work. It was a week before Christmas.
We went around the mall and he said we wanted to buy gifts for my mom, my dad, and my sister. I helped him pick out a coat he wanted to buy my mom that was on sale; a pretty big gift but a nice gesture.

A couple days later, he came over with a big bag of goodies. He said he wanted to bring gifts since he didn’t get to give anyone Christmas presents. Along with a couple $10 watches, he gave my sister a bottle of Lacoste perfume. My mom was surprised by the winter coat, but accepted it. She started thinking something wasn’t right here. How could he afford this stuff if he works at McDonalds? *~Edd!e had also sent me a few gifts during our online relationship. I once got a package in the mail with three beautiful rings that I was pretty sure were made with Swarovski crystal. My mom knew about these gifts, but kept her suspicions to herself for the most part.

Things developed. He came over for Christmas dinner and watched the party unfold. We’ve always had a fairly musical Christmas because my dad is a musician and my mom, sister, and I played piano, guitar and sang. *~Edd!e didn’t end up contributing anything because his turntables were still in Edmonton. He made it through the family event without many problems, but my family noted how he never took off his black baseball cap and was very quiet.
“That’s just the way he is,” I said. Not to mention he had a hard family history.

In January, he told me his brother gave him a hummer for Christmas. I wanted to see it so badly! He said he didn’t know where it was parked, but that he didn’t want me to see it because it was ugly and painted four different colors. I then started to scan every parking lot for multi-colored hummers.
I told my parents, and they casually asked me why he would continue bussing from Delta for 2.5 hours every day when he could drive the hummer. I asked *~Edd!e, and he admitted to not having a driver’s license.

One day I got a call from the Police. They said they found a wallet with my ID in it. I had given my school ID to *~Edd!e so he could get cheaper bus fares, so I told them it was his. The police told me that there were actually a few different people’s ID’s in his wallet, and that they were very curious about that. I asked *~Edd!e about it over the phone later, and he said his Edmonton friends gave them to him so he could have their pictures while he was gone. I was suspicious of there being another girl, so when he went to the bathroom the next time we hung out, I took a quick look in his wallet to find an Edmonton Driver’s license with his picture on it. I didn’t want him to know I peeked, so I kept it to myself. No girl’s pictures were found. A few months went by, and the questions kept on piling up for my parents.

Right before he moved to Vancouver, I told him I loved him. It was true. In fact I was so blinded by this love that I never thought to ask the questions my parents did. I took his answers at face value, and naively assumed that they didn’t really affect me either way.

On a Saturday afternoon, I met up with *~Edd!e at a train station for a surprise. He took me to the parking lot, and he showed me a beaten up blue Volkswagen. His uncle had lent it to him for the day so he could drive me around town. I asked about his not having a driver’s license, and he said he would drive carefully and not get caught. I noticed that the keyhole on the driver’s side door was missing and I asked about it. He said his uncle locked himself out of the car the day before and had to break in to get his keys out. Okay then.

When *~Edd!e drove me home, my parents came out to see the car he drove. My mom saw the hole in the door. He drove back to Delta that night and my mom came into my bedroom and sat me down. She asked me about the car, the drivers license, the hummer, the gifts, the gangster brother, everything. I told her everything I knew, but it didn’t even come close to answering all the question she had. My mom was very careful and left me with a new set of questions to ask *~Edd!e when he got home from his drive. She never openly passed judgment on him in front of me, but merely transplanted the doubts she had into my own brain. My mother is a very smart woman.

*~Edd!e called when he got back home, and I started to ask him these questions. I had so many, that he smelled that something was up and he asked why I was so curious. I told him I was talking with my mom about the hole in the car door, and he got very quiet.

“I don’t see why you need to tell you mom something like that” he said.
“I didn’t. She saw the hole and I was curious about it too” I answered.
“I don’t want you talking to your parents about me” he commanded.
“Why? They like you, they just want to know some things” I pleaded.

“If you don’t stop talking to your parents about me, I’m going to kill myself.”

I believed him. Knowing his past with drugs, his disturbing upbringing, and his brother’s involvement with gangs I wouldn’t put it past him.

“Ok, I’ll try” I said.

I slowly dragged myself upstairs, totally stunned by the interaction. My sister saw me and asked me what was wrong. I said nothing, and went to my bedroom. Five minutes later, I heard a soft knocking on my door and choked voice calling my name. “Paula, can I come in?” said my sister.
She came in, and told me she was worried about me. We had always been able to tell each other everything, and that she could tell something was very wrong. She asked if it was about *~Edd!e and I broke down.
I cried as I told her everything that had just happened. My sister held me through both of our shock and she quietly let me know that our family loves me and that they don’t want to lose me.

I knew that it would be impossible to sustain this lie. I had to tell *~Edd!e that I loved my parents too much to shut them out of my life. I called him and told him just that, and added that I love him but if he chooses to end his own life because I wanted to talk to my parents then it’s his own choice and not my fault. My parents had done nothing wrong and were only looking out for my best interests.

*~Edd!e’s voice sounded strange when he answered. He told me he had a gun with him. I cried through the phone that I was sorry but I couldn’t shut my parents out of my life. He hung up.

The next week, *~Edd!e told me he was moving back to Alberta. His mom had become very sick and needed him at home. I went to the Greyhound station with him and said a teary goodbye with mixed emotions. I wasn’t sure if he was leaving because of his mother or because I had betrayed him. Either way, the separation was a blessing in the end.

A couple weeks of peace  after months of stress, drama, tension, or crying, I realized that whatever was going on with him was wrong and needed to end. I think I stopped loving him when he gave me the ultimatum of my family or him… clearly my family will stick around longer and not move away if they’re mad at me.

My mind was clear for the first time, and I called him in while my parents were in the house and broke up with him. He told me that if he started using heroin again it would be my fault. Heroin Again? I didn’t know there was a first time.  Good Riddance I thought… this guy has too many issues for a now sixteen-year old girl to deal with.

I cut him out of my life completely. I told him I couldn’t speak to him anymore. A month or two later he called me from an unknown number and asked what I was doing since he was in town again. I told him I was busy and didn’t say where. I was paranoid of him showing up unannounced at my home for weeks but he never did.

I chalked it up to his being a compulsive liar, although I’m now fairly sure there was more to the story than that.
A few years later he added me on the new Nexopia, Facebook, with a message saying he was curious about what I was up to. I took the opportunity to creep his profile and saw he was actually DJ’ing and had a trashy girlfriend. I chose to ignore the message.

Never once have I ever regretted this relationship. From beginning to end, we were in contact for 12 months. I don’t think there is anything in the world that could have opened my eyes to the crazy things people are capable of and at the same time teach me that if everyone around you thinks something is wrong – something is probably wrong. Love is a scary thing for me to this day because it requires so much trust, and if you love someone badly enough it can leads to blindness even when the unanswered questions are slapping you in the face.

I wonder if *~Edd!e is still out there, if he really doesn’t know how old he is, if he has a gangster brother, and if he still tells people he is a secret member of DJ Tiesto… Perhaps he really is and it’s a huge house-music conspiracy. Who knows?

All I can do is share the story with others, but not to warn people about the ‘dangers’ of Internet dating.
The problem wasn’t the Internet, it was the two people on either side of their monitors taking webcam photos and posting them on Nexopia. – One so naïve and desperate to make an impression that she takes on a rescue mission to save a poor El Salvadorian refugee boy with her love – and One who is so deeply traumatized by something that they only feel empowered by manipulating people and can’t handle the threat of control being taken away so they keep them in the dark.

So now I am a much wiser person who writes potentially incriminating stories about past follies on the internet for everyone to read. But I don’t regret past mistakes; I learn from them.

Mumbai, what is it about you?

I have done some travelling in the short while I have been on this earth but there is only one place with a magnetic pull where every minute I’m not there I feel like I’m missing out. I have seen many different cities and explored many countries such as England, France, Egypt, South Africa, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the list goes on. However, the one city that really left an imprint on my psyche is Mumbai.

Even though the new name struggles to roll off the tongue, the energy of the city quickly infuses your being through it’s daily do-or-die decisions like crossing the street. Those who haven’t loved India are the ones who have tried to resist being taken with the flow. The beauty of this massive metropolis is not only in the pretty twinkling lights of the Queen’s Necklace traffic at night, but also the dirt, the stink, and the pollution. Mumbai offers plenty of bad and so-called “dirty” things as any city does, but it’s intensified by its volume compared to Western cities. However, without the contrast we cannot truly appreciate the good things.

Unfortunately, I find many visitors focus on the bad things in Mumbai and fail to see the beauty that shines through the dirt. My experience was definitely influenced by having a nice, air-conditioned flat to stay in just off the Colaba Causeway and having friends who have lived in the city for their whole lives. I had it really good during my month and a half in Mumbai, but that doesn’t make my opinion any less valid. In fact, most tourists passing through don’t have the chance to see a lot of the great people and places I did, so consider my experience one of the many facets and faces Mumbai has to offer. I love this city.

To be honest, I didn’t even take the time to see most of the tourist destinations. I didn’t go into the Dharavi Slum area, and didn’t see the Dobhi Ghat. However, I caught the local train from Churchgate to Goregaon (an hour-long ride) a few times a week, got an inside look at the famous Film City, and made it out to the club more times a week than I’m willing to admit. I spent every moment in Mumbai spoiling myself and reaping every pleasure I couldn’t afford back in Vancouver. I ate delicious desserts every day from a great cafe called Leo’s Boulangerie, indulged in a couple of Thai massages, and drank all the Whiskey that came my way. This city taught me how to party, and how to get mix business with pleasure.

However, I can’t say the city whispered in my ear and told me how to talk to taxi drivers so they don’t rip me off. It was the collective energy and attitude of sucking every drop out of life that came through the people I met and shared my experiences with. It’s the personal interactions you have while travelling which are the most memorable, and I have since made a vow to help every tourist I meet by being a good host and showing them sides of the city they wouldn’t normally see by inviting them to join me and my friends and family. The best meals I have ever had when travelling have always been home-cooked.

So, needless to say, I got to enjoy a few home cooked meals during my stay. Before my trip to India, I had no idea of the variety in Indian food. Having a limited choice of Punjabi restaurants in Vancouver, I was surprised to learn about the joys of eating Idli off a banana leaf at 3 in the morning… and Dosas with omelettes and sambar from a street-side shack for breakfast after an all-nighter. There was also Sri Krishna Sweets, where I would go with my friend and buy one of everything so we could taste each one. Oh, how I dream of Ghee.

I definitely didn’t get to try everything edible, but at least I know I’m going back. The day I left Mumbai was a Sunday, and my friend and I had to catch a bus to Hyderabad that night at 8 o’clock. Our party-animal friends spent the day with us and dropped us at the bus fairly inebriated. We knew we weren’t coming back for a long time, and Mumbai had started to feel like home. A tear or two found it’s way to my eye as I looked out the window and we drove away.

I found it a lot easier to fly out of India than I found it to get the bus to Hyderabad. When I got back to Vancouver, my days were full of meetings, reunions, and work, yet somehow I felt like I was doing nothing. My body was still buzzing from the energy in India, and the pace in Vancouver felt unnaturally slow. I knew from the moment I left Mumbai that I had to go back and try to live there.
From that moment, everything I have done has been to increase my chances of moving to Mumbai. I did lots of research on Visa requirements and seriously considered signing up for a job I didn’t want just so I could be there. However, I just couldn’t get my ducks in a line for a permanent move in January, so I am going back to Mumbai for ten weeks to see what I can do. Perhaps the charm will wear off on my second visit, but I doubt it. There is something about the energy of this city that measures time by the breath. I will go back. How do I know? I just bought my plane ticket.

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