23 December 2009

Tea and biscuits




We pretended to be grown up. Wake up at eleven, shake ash and cat fur off our clothes and put it on the French news on SBS. Or was it Telediario? Language was always a sticky point, we'd paste over many subtleties to communicate in the only language we both shared. Romain understood the riots in Algerian neighbourhoods, picket lines and art students holed up in school buildings. Once I told him how to make tea to soothe a sore throat and he put the lemon in after the milk. Did he think I was a yurt-dwelling, curdled milk drinker? He called me on the telephone, spluttering, "Milk and lemon? What? It doesn't go very well."  I forgot that in some countries, even ours, they drink tea with milk. I still over-pour milk into tea. "A dash! A dash!"

The house was pokey. We joked that our bedrooms at our family homes were bigger. Inside it, sometimes I'd grow frightened at how perfectly isolated we were, a brown old continent straddling the world's most formidable ocean. I'd imagine getting a rare disease and having to be airlifted to the nearest country like Vanuatu or New Zealand.  I'd eat toast and sniff organic unhomogenised milk in his less than pristine fridge and appraise half rotted groceries that he bought on his dad's Amex. Then it'd dawn on me that we lived in a civilized country that had ATMs and ERs with defibrillators and catheters. He'd clean out the fridge and try to start again. We could only buy food to last us the day ever and forget about the leftovers. He smoked Marlboros and maybe roll the first joint of the morning as he explained like a grown up, all these things on the TV. It'd be cold out so I'd take his woollen scarf and wrap it around my throat to walk to school. He'd walk me and we'd stop for coffee and then maybe I'd have a cigarette too. I'd watch an old lady with an Ashkenazi nose and tattered hippy clothes scrape cigarette ash after smoking and it made me shake, like she was digging through the remains of her relatives. I'd remember mama and that I wasn't supposed to be here.