Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Goodbye Present

"The Queen [Elizabeth II] insisted on this protocol to recognise the work of the staff who made her life run smoothly. Once, when she was asked how many servants she had, she replied: "Acually, I have none. I have many members of staff, but no servants.""

- excerpt from 'A Royal Duty' by Paul Burrell, butler to the late Lady Diana, Princess of Wales

The moving men were making me nervous. I'd never had to rely on movers before, and I had no idea if I was forgetting any crucial steps in this new process. What made things worse is that I was shipping my belongings not just around the block or even to another state - this was an international move that made things way complicated. I tried to contain my anxious paranoia in front of the two moving men. I was on my own, hundreds of miles away from any family or friends who could've helped me or in the least given me an outlet for the stress I'd had no choice but to bottle up inside my weary body for the past few months. I badly needed the moral support, another set of wise eyes to tell me that I was doing alright.

As the two sweaty men lumbered in and out of my apartment that unusually warm November afternoon in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I strained to maintain an appearance of being perfectly in control. It wouldn't do to appear like an underconfident tearful silly in front of these intimidating strangers. They scared me with their rough edges and wife-beaters. Their ruddy complexion and unkempt appearance told tales of living on the wrong side of life. Both looked to be in their late twenties. The shorter one with dark brown hair spoke better English than his mostly silent taller companion whose stringy dirty blonde hair fell lifelessly into his expressionless eyes and past his shoulders. They were from the Caucasus, but by their thick accents I would've guessed they were Russian. No, I wouldn't show these men how vulnerable I was. They wouldn't think twice before taking advantage of my being alone and quite helpless at the first sign of a kink in my armour. Especially the silent one. I watched them from the corner of my eye as I pretended to survey my fast-emptying apartment. The ease with which they lugged the heaviest of boxes on their bare muscled shoulders frightened me. They were much stronger than me, and even the shorter one was bigger than I was. It wouldn't take them much to harm me.

The brunette was putting his English skills to use in his truck with the paperwork while the lanky Sanjay Dutt type continued to lug my belongings out of my apartment. It was just me and him in my soon to be ex-apartment. I approached him with two cans of Pepsi and 40 dollars. "Uh, excuse me?" I said. My voice was meek. I cursed myself. He turned to look at me, his greasy hair not matching the dark stubble on his face. His eyes were quite red and sleepy looking, his mouth wasn't quite shut. I extended the drinks and money towards him. I didn't know if he knew any English at all, I had only heard him talk to his friend in something that sounded like Russian.

"For you and your friend. Buy something to eat?"

I'd always seen my mother treat workers at our house in Oman to soft drinks. I hear that that her mother used to do the same with the craftsmen that used to work in her home almost a hundred years ago in India. That was why I always did the same for the electricians, plumbers, and other workers that helped me in America. I know I could never do the work they did, and besides, I felt bad for how hard they had to work. Even with these intimidating Caucasians. I just hoped they didn't pounce on me thinking that there was more where the money in my hand came from. My heart skipped a few beats as the silent Russian's eyes fluidly dropped to the drinks and money in my hands. His gaze lingered for a moment too long before he raised them to look at me in a new but mute curiosity. He silently extended his long boney hands towards me and accepted the offering. "Thank. You," he said slowly in his strong accent. Then he turned and exited my apartment. Probably to split the tip with his friend, I thought.

I checked the bare corners of my now-empty apartment for the hundreth time over the next few minutes. I couldn't afford to make any mistakes with this move. What if I left something behind by mistake? I was leaving the country permanently in the next few days. There was no room for mistakes.

The silent Russian entered my apartment alone, but I was too caught up in the never-ending loop of worries that played on and on in my mind like a recurring nightmare. He was probably going to do a last check to make sure he'd removed all my things. Instead, he began coming towards me. I looked up at him as he came closer, wondering what he could possibly have to say to me. He hadn't spoken a word to me for the past half hour, had hardly even looked up at me, except when he had wanted to use my bathroom. I was surprised at how he had left it spotless. I hadn't expected that.

He came close to me. I noticed the alert look in his eyes.

"You.Are.Nice.Per.Son," he said, pronouncing every word slowly as if it were a matter of life and death that I understood how serious he was. His index finger was pointed at me, slowly rocking up and down, stressing every word as he spoke them. The force in his eyes was holding my face captive. He didn't blink as he made a final firm but desperate attempt, "Nice.Per.Son. No.One.Give.Us.Be.Fore." His tone sounded more like, "You'd better realise that you are a nice person." He concluded. "You. Nice. You. Good."

* * * * *

I still have nightmares where I've failed to pack all my belongings before the deadline to leave a country. Sometimes the stuff that I'd packed magically unpacks itself and sometimes, things that I never knew I owned quietly appear on the day I'm supposed to leave. Many times large items that I thought I'd sold off, mostly electronic items like my big TV, seem to reappear on my last day. It's usually after these dreams that I am reminded of those two Russians. Or sometimes I just think of them anyway. I don't know their names or if they even were Russian, just that they were from the Caucasus. I wonder if they remember me.

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