Our Meesha Needs Money

Michael Botur

 

1

Our Meesha arrives as we’re holding a toast to the Adriatic cruise we’ve booked for the four of us this summer. She enters through the side door leading in from the garage, carefully wiping her boots on the doormat like a good girl. Our wineglasses pause in midair. We’re all awestruck by her latest image – new tattoos visible on her exposed shoulders, a piercing through her collarbone of all places, a plaited rat’s tail slapping the back of her singlet. Our Meesha looks like a revolutionary punk, to our guests at least. To me, she’s my baby, my sheereen, my aziz-am. The mewling, squirming little cherub I used to spoon-feed applesauce.  

We’re all dazzled by the updates in her appearance. Our Meesha has a paunch, now, a tummy bulging over her belt buckle. Her arms, which used to be covered in lovely brown babyfat and unicorn stickers, are twig-thin and spattered with scabs. ‘Just came to let you know I love you tonnes, ma,’ Meesha says, and gives me a big show-off embrace.

Keith and Lupinda Taylor shield their wineglasses as Meesha moves around the table, extending a hand to greet our dinner party guests like old friends. Lupinda pulls her Nur Donatella Lucchi handbag into the safety of her lap and excuses herself to use the bathroom, shimmying along the table-edge.

‘How’s tricks, dad?’ Meesha says, scratching some pustule in her sandpaper armpit. Eyeing up the plates and candles, Meesha tells us she has somebody waiting and she can’t stay long. Indeed, we can hear a sputtering engine and the creak of metal on springs.

Davoud mutters a response. Glaring at me, he accepts a kiss from his daughter. I’m not supposed to encourage our Meesha when she’s like this.   

I pull out her a chair for her to sit but our Meesha declines. She taps her foot like a woodpecker and gives a quick update on her life. Meesha is no longer running her import-export business with the scented candles. She had to file for bankruptcy in May which was actually a strategic financial decision because it wiped her student loan and other debts. Floating on the stock market would’ve been both a gift and a curse, she explains. Meesha was TOO successful. She wouldn’t wish that stress on anybody.

‘Family comes first, eh you guys,’ our Meesha says, ‘Oh, speaking of which, could I borrow a couple bucks? Just say nah if you want.’

The engine outside roars like a trumpeting elephant. She double checks that we’ve heard her request for a so-called “couple bucks.”

Davoud apologises to Keith and Lupinda, clears his throat. ‘A couple, in this language is meaning two. You are wanting two dollars?’

‘Forget it, shouldna fuckin bothered’ our Meesha mumbles, walking over to the kitchen and opening the refrigerator double doors and studying the contents of the fridge and humming and tapping that silly foot of hers. She shakes open a padded wine bag and begins stuffing it with raspberry cider and bottles of Chablis.

‘Just gettin a drink, ma,’ she calls out, then picks something off the breakfast bar. ‘This your chequebook?’

She’s flapping the black rectangle of my bank book and clicking a pen. Our Meesha begins writing herself a cheque. Davoud and I have learned from experience that to decline our only daughter a few snacks and a few thousand here and there will result in us not seeing her for another six months. It is important to restrain our selfishness and give Meesha what she wants.

‘I’ll come and sign that for you,’ I offer, and approach.

‘No need, all done,’ our Meesha says, tearing her cheque out with a crisp rip and tucking it in her back pocket. She pulls a picture on the fridge and studies it, taking a photo with the camera on her phone. She was always good with gadgets, our Meesha was. Top of her class in science. A finalist in the her school’s tech week competition.

I’m still fixed to my chair as I talk to her. I don’t want to startle her. This interruption, this sudden iceberg interrupting the course of our dinner party, we’ll pass it in minutes, though for now, our Meesha fills the room.

‘That photograph, moosh-am, holiday in Persepolis, darling. 2000. You remember, neh? The statue of Meesha? The marigold, the flower angel, areh?’

‘And this photo’s your guys’s wedding eh?’

‘Obviously,’ Davoud says. ‘What of it?’

She rolls the picture of us newlyweds in her palms then fastens it back on the refrigerator. ‘Cheers for the cheque anyway. You really oughta change your signature, it’s too easy to copy. Oi: laters. Gotta roll.’

The door leading to the garage is allowing in a smoggy, diesely draft. I pull my bones out of the chair and follow Meesha out, rubbing the crags of her spine. There appears to be a patched wound in the plane above her bottom where I used to kiss baby Meesha’s tiny tailbone while she squirmed, giggling. Some fresh tattoo covered with a bandage.

‘HURRY YOUR SHIT UP, MEESH,’ calls a man in the garage. I glimpse him. The man is straddling a motorcycle the size of a horse. The arm which twists the throttle of his beastly bike has portraits of African-American rapper-thugs tattooed on it. Strange, the way some people honour their idols.

Our Meesha strains as she hauls her $180 bag of bottles off the linoleum, dumping it in her driver’s lap.

Davoud appears behind me and puts his thick old hands on my neck. I notice the Taylors checking their cellphones, whispering in one another’s ears. We’re about to lose them.

‘Just quickly, my dear,’ Davoud calls before our Meesha departs for another half a year, ‘What’s the latest on your Herbalife investment? You promised, what was it, triple our money back, neh?’

Meesha’s friend revs the engine, pushes back, revolves on the driveway.

‘I ain’t doin that Herbalife trickery no more,’ our Meesha says from the back of the motorcycle, patting her man’s leather flanks, ‘Epic scam.’

‘But you insisted,’ Davoud says, standing his ground. I try to tell him to shush but he holds up a big stubborn palm. ‘No, no, you will not silence me, Mev: we were promised 300 percent returns, were we not?’

‘I didn’t come here for a lecture.’ Our Meesha spits on the driveway, clamps a black visor over her face and hoons away.

‘I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY.’

Mehvesh Ghorbani,’ Davoud says through gritted teeth, ‘You will compose yourself.’

 We return to our dinner party. Where were we? Toasting our cruise, yes. We open fortune cookies and a nice Gewurztramïner. I find a smile to match my black dress with the meesha flowers on it.  Still, our conversation is diminishing.

‘Haven’t seen little Meesha since Girl Guides,’ Keith mutters after a few seconds’ silence. ‘I hope rehab did the trick…. ?’  

Nobody responds. To fill the hole, Lupinda shunts her chair in then produces from her handbag a coffee table book of family photos her kids have had printed at Harvey Norman. We pass it around and remark on how thoughtful the photobook was and how good Lupinda’s boys are to send exquisite gifts home from Macau whenever they’re there on business and the conversation surges over us and washes Meesha away.  

 

2

 

Tonight is chilly enough to warrant slippers, a hot water bottle and a blanket – not to mention a steaming cup of Lady Pārsa chay. It’s deep into autumn. The coolth is ideal for viewing something exotic on the telly before a burying oneself in bed – if we could get this damn blasted Netflix thingamajig to behave itself.

While my Davoudy-am hectors the television, I retreat out of the warm lounge into the black, promising Davoud I’ll telephone the cable expert from the Yellow Pages. Instead, behind the closed laundry door, I dial our Meesha in the dark. I’m ecstatic to hear the ever-sardonic sneer of her voice. I’m also surprised she’s retained the same number – she does have a habit of changing her phone number monthly. There are strange honkings and beeps and zooming around her. She says she’ll pop round and sort out Netflix for us and with a generous discount on her fee.

I return to the couch with a secret smile and let Davoud know someone will be here shortly.

‘So be it,’ Davoud says, peering down his spectacles at his book about the Soviet Union, ‘I was rather enjoying this.’

Our Meesha is soon hovering on the street in a car full of friends. They have hoods and caps concealing their faces. Shy, I expect.  

I lean into the smelly dark car for a kiss. It reeks the way Davoud’s peshāb stinks up the en suite after he’s been eating buttered asparagus. Compost and bleach and sulphur.

In the passenger seat Meesha rears her head back and squirms away from my kisses.

‘You’re just in time,’ I tell her.

‘In time for what?’ Our Meesha’s eyes shrink to suspicious slits. ‘You didn’t tell anyone I’m here did you?’

‘The jug’s boiled, dear. You can have a cuppa while you work on your Netbox.’

Finally she says, ‘Ohhhhhhhh, true, forgot,’ and tells her pals she’ll be right back.

From the trunk of the car, our Meesha fetches a garbage bag of technology, slinging the sack over her shoulder like Father Christmas. She comes up the drive, looks around the porch warily.

From his lamplit armchair, Davoud nods at her. There’s a smile buried under his moustache. He even puts down his book. ‘Moosh-am.’

‘Baba… .’ Our Meesha shivers then steps too-quickly into the lounge and kisses her pedar. Her fingers are tense, clenching. She must have the flu.

Meesha upends her bag. An obscene amount of mechanical treasure spews onto the carpet. Headphones, cameras, Kindles, cords and wires, an Apple notebook, a pink Samsung tablet with unicorn stickers on it and the name Robyn spelled in glitter. Also in the bag is a diploma in a glass frame. Our Meesha tells her father she can easily print his name on the diploma for just forty dollars, although she’s running a special this week and can do it for thirty-five, ‘Or thirty if that’s all yous’ve got.’

 ‘So our Meesha needs money, surprise surprise,’ Davoud says, rolling his eyes, shifting his body out of his armchair. I pinch his wrist. Shame on you, Davoud.

Our Meesha drops to her knees and begins rummaging frantically in the pile of black and grey plastic. Each time she shifts, her hooded sweatshirt lifts off her bum and I glimpse a portion of the covered wound on her lower back. Finally she holds some device aloft, sings ‘HAAAA-LE-LUJAH’ and installs what she calls a ‘Stealth Box’ in the back of our TV. Strange waves of static sweep across the screen. I spot Davoud’s fingers tensing and I swat his hand. Have some faith, Davoud. Finally a grainy ghost materialises, then Meesha connects Robyn’s tablet into our TV with a strange gold cord, enters a long chain of numbers and letters and ajji majji la tarajji: Netflix is live.

Welcome, Robyn, the screen tells us.

‘Fuck I’m thirsty.’ Our Meesha disappears to the fridge and returns with a bottle of sake with a straw in it. She sips her sake and strokes the gold-rimmed china plates on the dresser. Meesha won’t sit. She can’t stop pacing.

We’re confused about where to find Midsomer Murders, and for a while, the language of the programmes becomes Arabic. We need a further device to un-Arabise the Stealth Box, apparently, and our Meesha generously offers to sells us a remote control for what she assures us is a competitive price. We accidentally select a documentary and the first words on the screen read ‘Are your kids on track or on crack?’ and there’s the image of a distressed mother finding drug-smoking paraphernalia in her daughter’s sock drawer. Meesha rips the remote control out of Davoud’s hand and stabs it with her fingertips until Midsomer Murders is at last selected.

Ready to relax with our show, I bring out a tray of artichoke hearts and caviar and salmon with those Ferrero Roche chocolates my baby girl has always adored and I beg her to spend the night but our Meesha slings her black bag over her shoulder and insists she has to go.  

Pausing in the doorway, reluctantly accepting a cheque to cover the costs of her service, plus an extra $3000 for that DJing course she says she’s on, we hear a static-y crackle from the car out on the street and the whoop of a siren. Her friends yell urgent words at her.

Our Meesha rummages deep in her black sack and at last produces a strange black box with a digital screen. ‘Y’all ain’t got a police scanner, do ya?’

‘I’m not entirely… the Kia’s rather new, I’m sure it comes with –

‘SHE DOESN’T NEED YOUR BLASTED POLICE SCANNER.’ Davoud’s lips are twisted into a beak. He’s trying to force the door closed, the brute, pushing our dodar away with his big thick arrogant 700 page book. ‘LEAVE US ALONE.’

I walk my moosh-am to the car, my little mouse. Her face is washed into ruin, flooded with tears from the cruel words of her foolish father. I try to get her back but Meesha’s friends politely decline my invitation to a nightcap and a slice of fruitcake.

I don’t know if I’ll ever see my jigar again. My guts. The core of me.

 

3

 

            We’re at our holiday home on the coast overseeing the extension of the verandah so it will feel like the water is lapping at us. Once completed, the building will reach that little further out onto the cliff and truly overlook the ocean. We’re having an infinity pool put in which I’m told will allow the water to flow over the edge, producing a visual effect of water with no boundary. I’m anxious about the renovations, truth be told, and I feel the bank bullied us into accepting the extension on our mortgage, as if we’re nothing but moneybags.

 I squeeze my soft thick Dina Nayeri novel, thumb page 239. The ups and downs of Princess Anya’s fight for self-confidence in the ballrooms of the Kākh-e Golestān kept me away until 2.30 last night.

My telephone tinkles. I have a text message. An anonymous writer at an anonymous number claims to be waiting in the bushes. My anonymous friend doesn’t want to see ‘baba’ and is asking me to meet her in secret.

It’s my moosh-am! My jigar!

I race to the clearing by the water tank, following Meesha’s texted instructions and there, standing on a tree stump, buried in a puffy jacket despite the heat, is my dokhtar.

‘Sup, ma.’

Our Meesha looks weary, frustrated, grumpy. I offer a cup of tea and some baklava and artichokes, plus there’s some biryani and mast-o-khiar in the refrigerator, yes, I’m certain, and if not that, we have almonds, we have balal, we have gerdu –

‘I need money,’ she says, ‘Straight up. Gotta pay for this.’

Without warning my girl turns around, bends, lifts up her jacket and points her koon at me.

I need Davoud, this is ungodly, she’s come all this way, all this way just to insult – just to – .

Words escape me.

‘It’s almost done. Just need a bit more shading. What do you reckon?’

There on Meesha’s lower back is a portrait of two newlyweds looking out at a bright future, hair shiny as toffee, eyes bright as metal, Davoud’s lips wet from singing, my veil lifting off my face as I shriek with joy.

The tattoo just needs a little more rose-red in the cheeks. Meesha wants to make our faces happy.