On Cattlefish and Halves of Water: A Postcolonial Valentine
by Amy McDaniel

I wanted my skin back.

What does it mean to be a foreigner in a country that’s new even to itself?

                      I reminded Claudio that it had been raining when we went to Fisherie
                      Ghat. “And then you were groped,” he said and paused. “I could’ve killed
                      that kid.”

                      Then an expression of startling empathy toward the slight, frightened
                      boy who sneaked his hand across my chest: he was wrong, but he was
                      scared, and loud words had been enough.
                                                                                                                                 We both
                                                                                                                                 thought so.

We were sad by the docks in the failing rain, so we walked to the cathedral. We chanced around the cemetery and noted the dates of early death of Portuguese missionaries.

                     Claudio told me more facts. Some men speak ofideals and philosophy, some men
                     tell you that Immanuel Kant always jacked off in front of the same tree.

                                                                                     We should all be so lucky. Most of us have
                                                                                     to keep moving along. We have to keep
                                                                                     finding fresh trees to come onto.

At length we found a person to let us inside the cathedral. What a person! The Monsignor. Gordon, as Claudio reminded me. He had us in for coffee, white toast, fried eggs, roti, and mixed vegetables. The Monsignor called the bishop “Bishop.”

                     We ate and talked and the bishop righted us. I drank water poured from a
                      pitcher. The bishop’s clear voice and the way he looked frankly into the eyes of
                      the both of us not just the male one of us righted us. We toured the place.

                                                                                     A baby taxi took me home, where I took a
                                                                                     shower, the kind of shower you take when
                                                                                     you’ve been swimming, and you’ve had
                                                                                     enough of water but the wrong kind of
                                                                                     water, so you take a shower and become a
                                                                                     better kind of dry.

                                                                                                                                 Not the right
                                                                                                                                 kind but a
                                                                                                                                 kind that’s
                                                                                                                                 better.

We’ve all said more than enough about what irony isn’t.

                                                                    In Bangladesh, what you call water depends on your faith.
                                                                    And if you are unused to certain aspirated consonants, the
                                                                    name of the capital city sounds almost exactly like money.

Irony is the rickshaw-wallah exposing his genitals at me in a vacant stretch of what had been my favorite shortcut alley, and waving his tongue as I tear into a run.

                                           The irony being, his body like the bodies of his fellows was already all I
                  saw.

                  It was my eyes that were exposed when he pulled his penis from beneath the
knot of his lungi and pinched his face into a hard, mean laugh.

                                           My eyes, in which he was already just a thin muscle who wanted to take
                                           me for a ride in exchange for a little cash, had been exposed to him. He
                                           was telling me the only way I could see.

                                                                                                                                 Here, you
                                                                                                                                 voyeur, here.

That’s why I ran.

                                                                                     Sometimes it was such a smooth and
                                                                                     pleasing ride. Sometimes, the seat was level
                                                                                     and below the traffic and the stares and the
                                                                                     grime, I could hear the wind, its garbled
                                                                                     whisper, as the rickshaw bent easily around
                                                                                     the traffic, and proudly I would pay enough
                                                                                      money for the man to buy an extra cup of
                                                                                      rice, or to buy a fraction of whatever else he
                                                                                     may want.

                            I’m reminded of a more proper relation of two bodies. We were in high school,
                            but it was deep June. His parents were at work and I tested false-positive for
                            mono, so I drove to his house in the suburbs.

                            Before, we’d had all our fun in parking lots. We both wore versions of a
                            fragrance called Cool Water. He called me by a version of my name made to
                            sound more like his. Ahh-mee. We made up things to do with our bodies.

                            I thought he was peculiar, he said I was wise. I hated that. He said I made fun of
                             his ears but I never did. But they were so fun, so small.

                            Calmly, he predicted that I’d end up with someone like him (athletic, practical),
                            not someone like the dream man whom I’d angrily described.

                                                                                           When I was very young I didn’t
                                                                                           need poetry and I didn’t need
                                                                                           muscles.

                                                                                           I didn’t wait for love but I waited for
                                                                                           tenderness.

                            “I’m not jealous, I’m confident.” He told me he stole that line from his father,
                             who came from another country and named his only son for its dead president,
                            Kwame Nkrumah. They shared a birthday.

I wanted my skin back, so I left Bangladesh. It was the fortieth anniversary of liberation from Pakistan.

I want that breakfast with the bishop to stand in for all the months I spent there.
Closure is not a metaphor that I find useful. Life moves in spirals, not circles, and the
points don’t meet and they never will.                 A tailspin upward.

                               We talked about what to do when something enduring ends. Claudio
              compared what I said to kinds of love affairs, and I blushed. I can never tell
              whether men already know the answer to the questions they ask me.

              See, I’m in Claudio’s debt, not only because he defended my honor so dashingly but because the day forgave us—me, him, and the boy—and he made that day with his hands, while my hands fell at my sides and the boy’s—you know where the boy’s hands went!

                                                                                           This is what happens when
                                                                                           something is less than trauma. It
                                                                                           becomes a story to tell in a certain
                                                                                           way. A lewd scene. The eyes are
                                                                                           exposed for what little they are. So
                                                                                           you pick a day.

                                                                                                                                 It was a day
                                                                                                                                 apart that I
                                                                                                                                 picked.

That day had a shape and it was onward but the several long months didn’t. They were an untoward heap visited first by men, then children, then dogs, then crows.

                                                 When I told a former student that I changed jobs when I
                                        got back to America, I thought she said, “Loss of identity.”

                            But more generously, and yet more ominously, she’d said, “Lots of
              identities.”

After lunch with Claudio, I was in a romantic mood, which usually means I become
unmanageable.              This time, I turned lucid and grave.

                                                                                                                                 I listed the
                                                                                                                                 mistakes I’d
                                                                                                                                 happily make
                                                                                                                                 again.

 

Amy McDaniel runs 421 Atlanta, a center of literary attention and chapbook press. Her stories, poems, and essays have appeared in Tin House, PANK, The Agriculture Reader, Saveur, H_NGM_N, and elsewhere. Her most recent chapbook is Collected Adult Lessons. Now she is revising a novel about cheese, wine, and coincidences.