The Translator

The cashier noticed her before I did.  She was wearing an easter dress and a pink rosette around her temple where her hair was pulled taught by a meticulously styled ponytail.  She was peering hesitantly at the cashier, wanting to be noticed without appearing disrespectful.  I knew that look, that hesitation, that assertiveness.  It wasn’t her first time taking charge.

“May I help you?”  The young cashier’s lack of condescension helped the girl relax a bit.

“How much money are these?”  She held up a pair of pink heels.  The cashier scanned the barcode and told her the price. “$34.99”

The girl smiled tenuously and walked back to her mother who was standing by a pillar trying to appear casual as she waited anxiously for the verdict.  The little girl whispered something and the mother shook her head as she returned the shoe to the display counter.  It exceeded her budget.

The encounter left a reminiscent smile on my face.  I remembered that not long ago I, too, was a 5 year old child leading a dual life: that of a child and a translator.  At home my parents ruled with a swiftness that left no doubt of their competence and authority.  Outside of home, those same unwavering parents walked with hesitant steps as they struggled to navigate their new country.  They were proud of their native language and forbade speaking the foreign tongue inside their home.  Yet, they were well aware that our family’s survival depended on that same foreign tongue – the one I was learning in school.  

That’s where my role as a translator was born.  I became the bridge between two worlds; at once novice and teacher.  I quickly learned to read and speak English, unaware that my parents’ demand for academic superiority was a pretense hiding basic necessity.  My parents did not have the luxury to learn and savor the new language, or the patience to understand the nuances of the new culture.  What they did have was an eldest daughter whose sole responsibility as a dutiful daughter was to make them proud.  Historically, my family’s lineage of daughters brought our family pride by fulfilling gender specific roles; but in this country, my bilingualism was the root of their pride.  Thus, at the tender age of 5 I embarked on a journey to become their translator.

Although my role as a translator has evolved over the years, what remains of those formative years is an acute awareness of the meaning of words and the emotions they convey and conceal in translation.  In my world, Spanish is soft, safe, emotive, and carnal; while English is rigid, authoritarian, detached, and exotic.  The two languages coexist within me in a symbiotic dependency.  Without one, I lose the other.  Without either, I lose myself.

As I watched the little girl – the young translator – carry the shoe back to her mother, I couldn’t help but think that maybe one day she, too, will see herself in another and be reminded that her story was forged by necessity.

———
“The Translator” by Azul Serena

Marlene

Marlene lived a life of longing and loneliness. She was enamored with love and spent her days studying the fine art of courtship as intently as she studied history scholarship. Every day she awoke before the sun with a stoic determination that was rivaled only by the previous day’s display. She coiffed her hair carefully, parting it at the side to add just the right amount of coyness to the finger wave that rested just above her jawline. Her eyebrows were penciled in meticulously, forever resting in a graceful arch awaiting the right time to morph into the appropriate reaction. Her lips were a chameleon draped in hues of red and orange; languorous coquettes that strove to ensnarl their victim in a trap of soft curves and sharp edges. Her hips were also a cherished apprentice. They eagerly mimicked every sway and rhythm known to hypnotize the male gaze and loins.

Marlene was by no means beautiful; but there was no denying that she was sweet and caring with just the right amount of eccentricity to be interesting. Unfortunately, this was not enough to entrap an errant lover. As a debutante she ignored her disquietude for she knew that even the modest blooms of every season were plucked and showcased after the pompous blooms had withered away.

Seasons came and went as she waited her turn. Patiently. Devoutly. She witnessed the wedding of her first love, and experienced the disappointment of learning that her second love was a veritable dandy. By the time her sixth love made his appearance she was sure that her time had come. She returned to the schoolroom to master his favorite pastimes: photography, travel, sports, and beautiful women. She adopted his preferred patina and feigned enjoyment of his favorite whiskey. She was ready for undying love. He was not. Marlene watched as he paraded on his arm woman after woman, some for longer periods of time than others, but all with the same undoubted finality of temporariness.

Three years she waited in limbo until the day he announced that he was ready to settle. The fortunate woman, unquestionable owner of his rogue heart, was a mystery to all but Marlene. She shimmied and charmed, batted her eyelashes and fan, and effortlessly inserted compliments and verses into every conversation. His ego swelled and her heart held its breath. Her dreams took flight, levitating her spirit with an ease that had lain dormant for years. Soon she’d wear the lace veil that had graced her grandmother’s crown, and rule with equanimity the confines of his domain.

Marlene waited another year with more patience than before, comfortable in the knowledge that she’d have a lifetime to savor her prize. By the time the fifth year made its appearance without the accompaniment of his professed love, her unfaltering confidence began to waver. His eyes still roamed incessantly and although they frequently fell on her, they never lingered long enough to notice her.

She continued her wait until the seventh year when he awoke one morning and decided that the sensual brunette tangled in his sheets would bear his name and children. They married two months later. Marlene attended their wedding. She showered them with rice and well wishes, and even gave a speech.

At the end of the ceremony she mourned her loss with a soulful sigh that carried nearly a decade of misplaced hope. She wondered what sign she had missed and resolved to be more attentive the next time her true love came to claim her. She pulled a weathered tome from the shelf and nestled herself in her couch. There is always a tomorrow made possible by a today, she hummed.

———
“Marlene” by Azul Serena

Of Life and Hair Loss

These days he spent a few extra moments in front of the mirror, lamenting his loss with each tilt of his head. He didn’t tell his wife this, but he kept count of how many hairs he’d lost overnight; she’d never believe him. It appeared that last night’s casualties amounted to four: three from his temples and one from the crown of his head. At least these days the recession had tapered off to no more than five hairs per night. He sighed deeply as he gently caressed his hair before opening the door and stepping onto the cold tile floor that led to their bedroom.

He was only 24 years old when the hair loss began. At first he didn’t pay it much heed. It was unthinkable that his luscious tresses – the same ones that women envied – would succumb to this mundane tragedy. By the end of that year he could no longer ignore the truth that stared back at him every morning when he raised his head from his pillow: he was balding.

Initially the fear was nothing more than undiluted vanity. He liked running his fingers through his hair while he talked to pretty women. And he certainly liked the sensation of the rushing wind ruffling his hair as he biked across the city. Losing his hair was equivalent to losing his power of seduction. Preposterous.

Now it was a matter of practicality. A balding head implied years of wisdom and an unquestionable resignation to Life’s many whims. He had neither. He had energy to expend and goals to contrive. He had bravado. But he certainly did not feel complacency. How then was he expected to live with this unwanted burden? (Or lack thereof considering the lightened weight of his head.)

It was tragic to realize that he had set the value of life on looks and vanity. Nevermind that he had a roof over his head, a loving family, and a solid college education. Looks and vanity were his downfall – he was the true son of the fallen angel. He was human. Thankfully, as a true human he also had undying hope. He knew beyond doubt that his hair would never grow back, but that didn’t stop him from hoping otherwise. Maybe this hair loss had its benefits after all.

———
“Of Life and Hair Loss” by Azul Serena

A Collector’s Item

Her shop was overflowing with trinkets of ordinary appearance. She was an artist and as an artist she saw the beauty and magic of mundane objects in ways that many could not comprehend. For this reason rocks became living documentaries, succulents became isolated universes, and chips of wood became modes of communication.

At first glance, her shop was the embodiment of disarray, but upon closer inspection, it was evident that she had created sections with distinct functions. The northern-most corner – where the books were stacked by height and the walls were covered in an assortment of ever changing colors and lines – was used primarily for the indoctrination of unsuspecting victims. This corner represented her alter-ego: the educated woman who was tearing away at the established ivory tower not so that others could gain access, but rather so that she could demonstrate that chaos was beautiful. The southern-most corner was her least favorite because it represented work and structure. Although she fought this structure by tossing at it every conceivable art form, the glaring light of her monitor and crisp monthly calendar were fierce opponents that could not be vanquished. The east-facing corner was the most guarded section of her shop for it contained the one treasure that she valued above all else: her collection of people.
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Kareem

 

How do you make your heart understand that true love must be rational in order to withstand the irrationalities of its reality?

 

I thought that I had experienced the full potency of love until I met Kareem. In all technicality you cannot qualify the ordeal as the conventional “girl meets boy and falls in love after a cute friendship that becomes sweet romance.” On the contrary, the whole situation was rather messy and violent, like the cosmic collision of two stars where the dwarf is swallowed by the super star and only a black hole remains. The only problem was that instead of being the super star (a fantasy that I harbored for quite some time) I became the dwarf – a willing dwarf, but a dwarf nonetheless.

I had fallen in love once before. His name was Andy and everything about him was just the right amount of excitement for my rigorously sheltered life. In many ways Andy represented a journey of self-reflection, exploration, and growth. It took three years of teasing, conversing, and making eye contact, to discover that our souls were compatible. Falling out of love with him was the same: a journey of reminiscing, silent tears, and personal growth. The only regret that was left behind was the misfortune of our tender years.

Kareem was quite the contrary. Falling in love with him was like being hit by a car, and falling out of love with him was like learning to walk after breaking your leg: you heal but your leg never feels the same again. With Kareem there was never a beginning; there was only “now.” Neither was there an end; there was only a trickling, fading “once.” At times I was tempted to call it Fate, but the truth is that that was only my way of making sense of it all. How else can I explain the fact that all it took for me to fall madly, blindly, and recklessly in love was one glance in his direction and a ten minute conversation that did more harm to my judgment than my peak pubertal rebellion ever accomplished?

The real value of this wretched fairytale is not so much that I was given a second chance at love, or that I survived the heartbreak. Rather, the value lies in the fact that the spontaneity of the situation granted me the opportunity to explore my reckless, less ethical, and brutally honest personality. It was because my love for him was so forbidden that I experienced the ethical dilemma that is being attracted to your employee. One always hears about the dangers and taboos of dating your employees, but one never hears about the true will power, strength, and self-restraint that is required to contain and erase any traces of attraction for your employees.

There is no denying that there is true common sense in the fact that the duality of the relationship blurs the existing hierarchy and muddles our judgment, but how do you explain that to your heart when it doesn’t heed to reason and common sense? How do you make your heart understand that true love must be rational in order to withstand the irrationalities of its reality? In this case, it was impossible to maintain a relationship when the guilt associated with it overwhelmingly overpowered the blind love created simply by being in the same room.

But there is hope. A dwarf can still grow into a super star and remain so for eons untold.

———
“Kareem” by Azul Serena

The Asterisk

“I promise that I will always protect and defend you from any and all aggressors.”* – Father to Daughter

*Unless of course that aggressor happens to be male and I agree that he should use aggression to set you straight. But you don’t need to know this right now because the only time you’ll need to know this is when you need to be set straight. Fortunately for you, I’ve raised the perfect submissive daughter so your aggressor will never have to become your aggressor. Thus the promise remains.

It’s funny how promises work. They’re always offered as a perfect olive branch to any and all problems no matter the size or the gravity of the problem. Unfortunately, no one ever really stops to analyze the undertones of a promise because they’re usually too vulnerable to accept anything other than a flimsy promise.

I learned early in my life that a promise’s worth is dependent solely on the value that the granter of the promise is willing to extend upon that promise. For this reason, I promised myself – funny how these things work – that I would never, ever make any promises to anyone. Why? Because the way I saw it, if I had the time to shroud my actions in a promise then surely I could use that time to simply act on my promise; and if I didn’t want to do something I’d simply say no and avoid the trouble of breaking my promise at a later time. Quite frankly the whole process saves everyone time, embarrassment, and pain.

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How It All Began

I like to believe that the beginning was marked by a glorious day with singing larks, golden rays, a sky so blue, and leaves so green that it made you think that it was the stuff of dreams and fantasy.  But it was not.  It was nothing more than an ordinary day, with ordinary weather, ordinary colors, and the numb bustling of everyday life.

I do not know why it happened that day.  After all, I had seen him week after week in the same white uniform and blue belt, sparring endlessly first with friends, later with worthier opponents, and not infrequently as a means to impress those who were watching from the sidelines.  I had practiced with him, too, but he was not impressed with my mediocre attempts and I had no intention of challenging his assessment of my abilities.  At least not until that day.

As always, my dad dropped off the three of us in front of the dojo.  My sister had a handful of coloring books that she never opened in her earnest absorption of the attending mothers’ gossip.  My brother walked silently towards the entrance with a solemn intensity in his eyes that later become a defining characteristic of his persona.  I walked behind them all and, for the millionth time, wondered why I had agreed to take karate lessons.  I was mortified by the possibility that someone from school would discover that I, the same girl who could not catch or throw a ball, climb a tree, play tetherball, or dribble a ball, was the same girl who was taking karate lessons.  I sighed, tugged my jacket, and whispered a silent prayer that Sensei would not make us practice summersaults.  Of all things related to my karate lessons, the thing I dreaded most were summersaults.  Every time we practiced them I feared that during one of those cumbersome and inefficient defense moves, I would break my neck and die in a most embarrassing rolled-up, tangled heap.  Unfortunately, Sensei did not share my fear.

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