‘Soon after  I met Robert at a small dinner party at my American friends Joe and Melanie’s home. Robert was stationed in Broensem in Limburg on the American army base. He had come down to Amsterdam for the weekend.   We were eight around the table. Three of them couples. Naturally they sat Robert next to me. It was a fun evening. You could tell that Robert and I hit it off well. Other than his military crew cut, I thought he was good looking – handsome even. Good conversationalist and unlike many shallow Americans at the time coming to Holland mainly for cheap drugs, I found Robert to be quite intelligent and sympathetic. A really nice guy.

‘A week or two later, he calls me and asks me out for dinner. When we had first met, he had taken a train from Limburg to Amsterdam, but this time around he comes by a car. A cute little red MG convertible. I am obviously impressed. At the time, I was twenty and him twenty one. Following that first date, he begins to practically drive into Amsterdam every weekend and me proudly showing him around my newly found and the most happening city of Europe.  Some weekends we would meet also at my parents in Alkmaar. Over a period of time, they too had grown fond of Robert. He tells me how much he loves me and that he wants to marry me and to take me back home to America to his parents. He tells me, I could continue my ballet and even go back to school and he will enroll in graduate school. He loves everything about Holland – riding bike, eating our fat pancakes, piping hot kroketten from vending machines, pommes frieten met mayonnaise, Indonesian Nasi Goreng, Loempia and Krupuk. Everything he says sounds so wonderful and so rosy.

When his service ends, he invites me to travel with him through Europe. We are young and we are carefree. And we are so very much in love. I quit my job and we hitch-hike all the way down to Greece. And we get married soon as we return, with his mother in attendance to represent his side of the family.  I meet the rest when we move to the US. They are all nice and welcome me warmly. Robert enrolls at the University of California in Berkley. I work there as a teacher’s aid.  But we eventually end up living in Chicago suburb of Skokie, where with help of an old friend, he starts Private Mailbox business. Not very exciting, but he has made quite a success out of it.

●●●

Today, as you know was a Saturday like any other. As usual we slept till late, had breakfast at That Little Café in Wilmette and then made our way to Evanston’s farmer’s market, where we picked up some fresh veggies and bunches of tulips and gladiolas. Coming back home, the biggest decision we needed to make was, should we stay home and cook or go out to eat. We decided to stay home and grill some steaks. We checked on our stock of wines, and Robert decided we needed something different to drink that night – an exotic full bodied Zin maybe.

‘I’ll go to the liquor store and see what they’ve got. Want to come along?’

‘Nay, I will just stay home. Why don’t you go by yourself, that way you can get in your wine talk with Bill for a while.’ Something Robert  liked to do with one of the owners.

I watched Robert  back out of the driveway while I made myself busy putting away the vegetables in the fridge, bringing down the vases and filling them with water, mixing in Flower Life and put them on the kitchen counter to enjoy and admire them.  As I was arranging the flower into the cases, I couldn’t help myself from staring at them and thinking how beautiful they looked.  So fresh, so colorful and so summery.  And the flowers staring back at me stirred something deep down within me. Suddenly I felt moisture and then tears welling up in my eyes. I remember me running to  bedroom and slamming the doors shut and throwing  myself on bed and breaking down into a wildly wailing howl and begin to sob uncontrollably. I must have cried for about half an hour and following that as I lay there, still convulsing, something began to rattle me.

What the fuck am I doing here? They have farmer’s market on Saturdays only in the summer months and that too in a fucking parking lot!! All that make believe props of Europe. And I suddenly longed for Alkmaar – the town square, the typical Dutch row houses lining either sides of canals and the bridges, the  cheese wheels, the cozy little brown cafes – the bars. The places I had started  going to as a  teenager. Sit there carefree and leisurely, either inside looking through the shear curtains or sitting outside during warm months, watching the canals flowing  and the world go by, have a biertje or two, smoke cigarettes without  some self-righteous bitch sitting across the place frowning at you. Be able to  order a coffee with cognac on side. And here I am in Skokie, Illinois of all places. You’ve got to get into a car even to move an inch – instead of just walking or hoping on a bike. And the horror of all horrors, the  strip malls. The most exciting being the Old Orchard Shopping Center. I can’t explain the longing and desperation and the craving I felt for Alkmaar and the clusters of multiple Alkmaars so snuggly nestled inside the city of Amsterdam.

I’ve  got to get out of here, I’ve got to get out of here.  It was a haunting voice coming from the deep abyss.  I didn’t know why and where it was coming from, but it grew louder every minute. There was nothing else I could do, but listen to the voice. That is when I made up my mind.

The digital clock on the side table showed 2:10. That Amsterdam bound KLM flight should be normally leaving in another two hours. I sprung up from bed. Washed my face in a hurry. Found my passport. Took my credit cards and whatever cash we had tucked under the linen in the drawer, threw a few things in my duffle bag, called a cab, and split in hurry before Robert returned from the store. And this was the only seat I could find.’.

●●●

The new dawn greets the descending plane and the jetway slowly extends its welcoming arm towards yet one more arriving big bird at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. There is not much I could say, except: ‘Good luck to you my friend!’ To that I see a slight smile cross her lips.  ‘Dank u vel,’ she says and then picks up her purse and throws Tot ziens at me before darting  out of there.

She is back home:).

© Haresh Shah 2013

Illustration: Jordan Rutherford

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Next Friday, March 1, 2013

I DANCED WITH DONNA SUMMER

Not that we were ever bosom buddies, but it just so happened that Donna lived in Munich at the same time as I did and for some months was a part of my close circle of friends. She would hang out with us, we would go out for dinner and be a part of her small fandom when she did her gigs at one of the Munich’s night spots.

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