by Michael Botur
from Hell of a Thing (The Sager Group, 2020)
A proud Persian family struggles to deal with its greatest embarassment – its selfish, fucked-up druggie of a daughter. Because of course she needs money again – and of course this is the last time…
OUR MEESHA NEEDS MONEY
Our Meesha arrives as we’re at the dining table holding a toast to the Vanuatu 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. Our mouths hang open. Meesha has 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 has transformed herself into a revolutionary, a Hizbollah, a punk, well, she looks that way to our guests at least. To me, she’s my baby, my sheereen, my aziz-am. The squirming little cherub I used to spoon-feed applesauce.
We’re all dazzled by the updates in her appearance. Our Meesha’s tummy is tired and bulges 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 dropped by to let you know I love you tonnes, mama,’ Meesha says, and gives me an extremely large 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 squeak of metal springs.
Davoud mutters a response. Glaring at me, he accepts a kiss from his daughter. The counsellor, he said we’re not supposed to indulge our Meesha when she’s overly affectionate. Our counsellor, though – he never held our Meesha in his arms.
I pull out 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 she tells us 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 Ghorbani 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 apologizes to Keith and Lupinda, clears his throat. ‘A couple, in this language, it is meaning two. You are wanting two dollars?’
‘Forget it, shouldna fuckin bothered,’ our Meesha mumbles, walking over to the refrigerator and opening the 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 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 thousand here and there will result in us not seeing her for another six months. It is important to restrain our selfishness and to help our child.
‘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. Her smile creeps out, secret as a midnight mouse. She was always good with cameras and such gadgets, our Meesha was. Top of her class in chemistry. She programmed Lego Technic and was a finalist in her school’s Tech Week competition.
‘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 of you two, it’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 way 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 Meesha’s tiny tailbone while she squirmed, giggling. Some fresh tattoo covered with a bandage.
‘HURRY YOUR SHIT UP, MEESH,’ calls the 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, this Western method of honoring one’s idols.
Our Meesha hauls her bag of bottles off the linoleum, dumping it in her driver’s lap as she prepares to climb aboard.
Davoud appears behind me and puts his velvety 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 Scentsy investment? These scented candles, neh? 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 no more,’ our Meesha says from the back of the motorcycle, patting her man’s leather flanks, ‘Epic scam.’
‘But you insisted,’ Davoud calls over the growling engine, 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 produces from her handbag a coffee table book of family photos her kids have had printed at Harvey Norman on Colombo Street South. 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. The conversation surges over us and washes Meesha away.
This Canterbury winter night is chilly enough to warrant slippers, a hot water bottle and a blanket – not to mention a steaming cup of Lady Pārsa chai. The cool is ideal for viewing something exotic on the telly before burying oneself in bed – if we could get this damn blasted Netflix thingamajig to behave itself.
While my Davoudy-am hectors the television, I step out of the warm lounge and 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. When I hear her voice, my stomach settles. I’m 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 a collection of spiral-bound tenders for the concrete for the hydroelectric dam his company is designing.
Our Meesha is soon hovering on the street in a car full of friends. They have hoods and caps darkening their faces. Shy, I expect.
It’s been forever! Half a year! 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 are 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 cup of chai 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, peers into the bushes for some reason, then comes inside.
From his lamplit armchair, Davoud nods at her. He even puts down his book. ‘Moosh-am.’
‘Baba… .’ Our Meesha shivers then steps too-quickly into the lounge. 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, one of those Kindling devices people read books on, cords and wires, a thin white computer, a pink Samsung photo frame-shaped thingy 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 in the pile of black and grey plastic. Each time she shifts, her hooded sweatshirt lifts off her bum and I try to glimpse a portion of the covered wound on her lower back. Finally she holds some device aloft, sings ‘Haaa-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 materializes, 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 bubbly with a straw in it. She sips her bubbly 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-Arabize 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 an American 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 Rocher 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’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 spiral-bound booklet. ‘Leave us alone.’
I walk my moosh-am to the car, my little mouse. Her face is ruined with 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.
Meesha drives into the frosty night.
I don’t know if I’ll ever see my jigar again. My guts. The core of me.
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 the house. Davoud seldom raises his voice, but he will debate the costing of each piece of wood, each screw until he has exhausted the builders. Davoud makes structures stronger and invests the savings into the things that really matter. Salmon, figs, comfortable armchairs. A verandah with an ocean underneath.
‘These 150 millimetre adjustable support foot,’ I hear him lecturing two Western men, ‘You are telling me you have thees part for next week, but a little birdy is telling me you have insufficient quantity, neh? You will have to use 180 millimetre here, here and here, yes-neh?’
Once the verandah can take our expanded holiday home, we’ll reach that little further out onto the cliff and truly overlook the Pacific. 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 suggesting the pool has no boundary and flows into the sky. 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. Still, we cannot have Keith and Lupinda Taylor disappointed when they come for dinner.
I squeeze my soft 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 awake until 2:30 last night. I pace the orchard, reading pages, listening for changes in Davoud’s voice. Listening for that certain tone that means he is happy and we have saved another six thousand dollars.
My telephone tinkles. I have a text message. An anonymous writer at an anonymous number claims to be… to be waiting in the bushes? MY bushes?! My anonymous friend doesn’t want to see ‘baba’ and is asking me to meet her in secret.
It has to be 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.
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 the builders wouldn’t touch, yes, I’m certain, and if not that, we have almonds, we have balal, we have gerdu –
‘I need somewhere to cook. I was just hoping, since no one’s around and it’s kind of stinky… .’
‘Of course, moosh-am. You can have the spare room.’
‘But, like, only when you and dad aren’t here… listen, it’s, like, it’s not cooking food, okay? It’s, like, chemistry. Making crystals. Cooking, kind of.’ Meesha thumps her chest. ‘I just need money, okay,’ 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.’
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.
‘Of course you may stay here and cook, darling. You may stay here as long as you wish.’