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A Silver Lining?

What is this life – its full of care We have no time to stand and stare....

Saturday afternoon opposite the Citibank in Jackson Heights, a small group stands and stares — “like sheep and cows”. The hot Kashmiri of Shireen Mahal on a hot summer day and yet another on a cold winter day — the Bhaiya there lets you hold onto the non-biodegradable styrofoam cup for as long as you wish. Walls mirror faces — faces holding styrofoam. Faces multiply in the garishly mirrored room, cackling, smiles and excitement fill the air. Outside the skies darken, faces diminish, gaudy chandeliers stare back at you from the mirrors. A busboy with dishcloth slowly cleans up after the crowds leave — it is going to be some time — another week before these faces reappear on these mirrors.

Tseten picked up his backpack, a sling bag it is called. Twenty full dollars he had spent for it at the Gap — something he feels was a good deal. It was the end of the season SALE and the bag that had been hanging on the back of the faceless mannequin was marked down from the original price — the exorbitant amount of fifty dollars — the amount Tseten made in a day then working at the crummy Chinese restaurant downtown as the dishwasher.

He had come here three years ago — an uncle in Nepal knew someone in New York who picked him up at the airport. Someone who had taken a day off from work to help him out the same kind soul who let him stay at his apartment for the night and early next morn dropped him off at the Chinaman’s employment agency. He had wanted to be rid of Tseten as soon as he had arrived-so that he could get back to the construction site and work the remaining days of the season. The last year had been hard for him. He had worked for a small time contractor who had taken off with the last two weeks of his hard earned salary. Added to that — the winter had been harsh and most small construction companies had closed shop for most of the period. There was no work and no money.

Seventy-five bucks lighter in his purse and the promise of a busboy job, a jet-lagged Tseten had reached the takeout food stall in some faraway mall. He stood behind a line of others before him. There was no job. The Chinaman’s agency had disappeared in a matter of hours along with the 75 bucks of many. Tired, hungry, sleepy and light in the pockets, he had returned back to the apartment — a good night's sleep was all he could think of. The bed of the previous night was occupied. Its rightful owner after five days at his live in job had returned to spend two nights in this small cramped basement. The musty sofa in the corner would be his solace for that night and many nights to follow.

That was three years ago. Working in numerous jobs, busboys, dishwashers, and construction helpers — he was now a construction worker. A few months ago, he had met a girl- a nice girl from his hometown and he was in love. She was a small town, simple girl and the lights of New York had never failed to dazzle her. Her friends were a bunch of young kids who had just begun to hit the club scene seemed at that point to party like getting to 21 was the herald of the end of their lives. She was mesmerized. Sangmo was this small energy bar. Whoever said that the smallest chilies were the hottest-must has spoken of her. She had had a high school degree in India in one of those convent schools in the Himalayas. Her first months in the US had been in a university setting. After a semester of missing the home food, her kind of people and the whole different education system — she had packed her bags and gotten herself a transfer. She had moved to New York.

It was the Losar party at the Armenian church where Tseten had seen her first. He was on the steps which led into the basement talking with a bunch of friends when — down she walked with a bunch of girls. Their eyes had met for a short moment. Tseten had felt it: love-at-first-sight, he called it. Sangmo, the energy bar just walked on — her eyes in the excitement of her first party skimmed over to “check out the crowd”. For Tseten — in his two years in New York he had never seen anyone quite like Sangmo. She began visiting him in his dreams and Tseten was determined to find out more about her.

Sangmo’s first months in New York had been a flurry — parties, the chaat at Jackson Heights, and the Indian movies- but as the excitement stopped and money became scarce she had begun to look around for a job. With her limited skills — the interviews never happened, the bills began to mount and she got depressed. One of her friends was leaving for a month and asked if she wanted to temp for her — a nanny. Sangmo had always loved children and having three younger siblings helped in giving the employer some confidence. She was determined to survive. Falling in love was not in her list of priorities. She had so much to achieve.

Sangmo’s life took a twist. An acquaintance of her roomies would keep bumping into her- at the laundromat, the teashop, on Saturday nights at Sidetrack — the local dance club and the grocery store too. Short meetings became more frequent and longer, a cup of coffee at the local deli, the Dunkin Donuts extended to dinner — she began to look forward to meeting him. It was too late. She was falling in love but Tashi- the object of her affections was married.

Sangmo let go of and Tashi was infatuated. It was a strange love exciting and forbidden. Days turned into months and months to a year. However such love cannot be concealed for long in this small community — a young girl just turned 23 and a young married man with two children. Tongues would start wagging and the winds took the noise all the way to ears of Tashi’s wife back in the village. She grew restless and before long was on her way to New York with her children in tow.

Tashi went back to his wife and Sangmo’s first love was gone. Nursing a broken heart was hard especially as the company she kept had all split and her room mates had moved on to live with their boyfriends. The ones that remained were soon planning to leave. Sangmo was going to be alone.

With her roommates leaving and her tight cash condition, Sangmo needed a roomie — someone that would foot half the bill — pay for the cable and by Joe if that someone didn’t live too much in that apartment- that would be great. This was about the time Tseten was ready to move out from the overcrowded apartment that he still shared with his friends. Someone had mentioned Sangmo’s living condition and Tseten didn’t know whether he should take it. It was the only option that was available at that moment and Tseten wanted so badly to move out. Sangmo did not know how he had felt about her and she took him on. Theirs was an ideal living condition. Tseten would use the apartment on weekends and on week days were at the live in job he had and Sangmo’s employer had requested her to work on weekends taking days off in the week.

Her job kept her busy and her tryst with love left a bad taste killing all instinct to continue. They had only holidays when they spent time together in the apartment- very short moments. Moments where Sangmo got to see Tseten and appreciate small things in him. She began to look forward to seeing him — began to trust in people. Tseten would go partying and clubbing and always he would ask her to join. She never relented. She was too afraid of being hurt once again. Tseten saw in her — this young girl, fragile and hurt and always wanted to reach out to her- wanting her to live again- wanting her to know that he cared for her, that he loved her... had always loved her. Months passed and her fragile heart seemed to heal. She began to open up with Tseten and life took on a different meaning for both of them. They had found friends in the Big Apple. Last week Tseten reached out to her and asked her out to the Valentines party — and she had relented. Tseten was overjoyed. Today was the Saturday and Valentines Day party was at Kasturi. They were going together for a party for the first time. The skies had changed their color and Tseten slung his sling bag back on his shoulders and wrapped up his conversation with his friends. He was going back to the apartment — Sangmo would be home soon.

To be continued in the next issue..