Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The journey to the orphanage

"It's all they had." Shaune handed me the bottle.

"Not even diet?"

"Nope and it's not cold."

I took a sip out of necessity. We'd been walking for an hour, looking at the mundane artefacts meant to represent the pioneer days of Canada. The dust in the desert-like July air had absorbed the moisture in my mouth, so that the sweet syrupy liquid had no thirst quenching properties except to cover my tongue in its slimy coat. And its prickly descent down my throat took me back to that first time it was the only beverage available.

The taller man with the onion breath and brown shoes walked over to where we stood at the railing, watching the green blue torrent. 

"Cola?" he curled his fingers around a make-believe object.

"Is he saying kala?" I looked over to my sister to see if she understood.

The man nodded vigorously. "Yes, yes, cola" His face was red again, a strange thing that happened to both the men when they became excited.

"Yayss" We both said, nodding our heads for good measure, in case he misunderstood. We'd heard the White Woman at the NGO use that word, when speaking to Ma. Her Bengali was broken and had made us laugh.  Our mother shushed us, apologized to the woman, and continued discussing, what I now realize was, our future. 

The man walked back into the cabin of the ferry boat; came back a few minutes later holding a slim glass bottle.

"Where's the kala?" I asked my sister. She shrugged.

"Here." He handed me the bottle. I was confused. It was cold to the touch. What was I supposed to do with this?

As if reading my thoughts, the man gestured, again curling his fingers around a make-believe object then lifted his hand to his mouth.

"He means for us to drink it," My older sister, always the wiser of us, muttered.

"And then we'll get the kala?" She shrugged again. The other man, the one with the beard and light eyes, walked out of the cabin holding a bottle like the one I'd been given. The man in the brown shoes gestured to him excitedly. They exchanged some words and the bearded one stepped into the centre of us, took a long swig of the dark liquid, patted his belly and smiled.

I handed the bottle to my sister. She was the brave one. Let her try it first I thought. She took a quick small sip and handed it back to me. I did the same but sputtered and coughed. The prickle hit my throat and nostrils simultaneously so that I was forced to spit the awful concoction out.

Both men burst into laughter. They laughed for several minutes before one of them grabbed the bottle from me and dumped it over the railing into the Bay of Bengal.

Embarrassed, I began to cry. The sobs choked me, not only because I thought the men were laughing at us, or that I was overly sad about not getting my kala or banana as I would know it ever after, but because it was sinking in that my mother was not going to be waiting for us at the end of this journey: that these tall white men were taking us far, far away from the life we’d known. A life that would one day find me Googling the Bengali word for banana because English had become my only language.

I'm joining the Red Dress Club in writing about a sound or scent that takes me back to my past. Constructive criticism is welcome, I'm learning so much from your helpful feedback.


  1. You always amaze me at how you capture the smallest details in your writing. I have something for you if you stop by my blog.

  2. I can feel the despair. I guess pop would taste really awful the first time.

    BTW, congrats on your syndication!!

  3. I love actualization of the notion of words playing tricks. Your confusion was so palpable that my heart went out to the younger you and I wanted to kick those mean men in the shins.
    I think I may have become a little confused myself, in part because of the title. But it seemed that your mother was giving you up for adoption in this piece? If that is the case your last lines pack a TNT-like punch.

  4. I got a bit choked up! You captured the overall confusion and despair of the moment very well.

    My only concrit here is that the first few paragraphs don't show your transition from the present back to your past clearly. I was confused that one moment you're in a desert and the next on a boat, and had to reread a couple of times.

  5. This was just brilliant. I love how you captured it. Your writing is really developing nicely, Kim.

  6. I am sad for all you lost that day. The ending here, about having to Google the Bengali word for banana because English is now your language was especially touching.

    Our sponsored child lives in Calcutta and speaks Bengali. From her letters I can see that it is a beautiful written language.

    Great writing, Kim:)

    P.S. Congrats on being published in About Her!!!

  7. Wow, Kim, this was so touching. I could really feel the sadness and confusion. How sad that many have not had the opportunity to retain their birth languages... Great writing as always.

  8. It's...something...to me that your first experience with soda was an unpleasant one. I can't quite put my finger on the word I'm looking for. But I like the way you combined that memory with what I can only imagine is a defining and vivid one in your mind.

    Good job!

  9. this was absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking. I thought the description of the men was very telling and exactly the way a little girl would remember things, one major detail about them only. The brown shoes or 'the one with the beard and light eyes'.
    I would agree with the above commenter that I was at first confused about the setting of the story. So happy to have found your blog via trdc.

  10. Amazing Kim! You shared your heart so beautifully here. Raw, real, touching, poignant...I could go on and on.

  11. What a poignant and powerful post! Just thinking about how you must have felt makes my eyes fill. Your descriptions are beautiful.

    My only bit of concrit is that last paragraph: where the line starts, "My sobs choked me" might be broken up a little bit. Maybe "My sobs choked me but not because I was overly sad about not getting my kala, or banana as I would one day call it. It was that it was beginning to sink ing..."

    I don't know. Your words are better, but the length of the sentence was a little confusing.

  12. This post was beautiful. You brought it to life in such a way, that at end, I realized I was holding my breath. You have an amazing gift...

  13. That's very sad. Sometimes we handle kids as if they don't need or deserve an explanation for even huge changes in their lives.

  14. i felt really sad for you as a little girl. this was an achingly emotional post. thank you for sharing this page from your history.

  15. This post left me with so much emotion. Sadness, anger, fear. I'm sure you know them all well.

    What a powerful memory. I was there with you.

    And I'm just so sorry for what you went through.

  16. This was...incredible. A beautiful read, lovely in detail and so very full of emotion.

    There was much that I loved about this piece, your word choice and the reflective powers to name two.

    This really struck me: "The prickle hit my throat and nostrils simultaneously so that I was forced to spit the awful concoction out." because of the poetic quality and the emotions evoked.

  17. Your descriptions are simply amazing. While I loved the whole piece, your last paragraph spoke volumes and left me wanting to read more. (So much more, that I went and read your About page! :>)

  18. I wanted to wrap my arms around little you. I felt the insecure feeling which comes with an unknown change....Thank you for writing!
    And thank you for stopping by my blog from TRDC

  19. Prickly. Perfect description of any carbonated beverage. Loved reading this, can't wait to read more from you.

  20. I sense so much longing in this post, especially for a distant part of you. beautifully written as always!

  21. Obviously, SO behind on getting around to visiting the blogs I love.

    And I did love this post.

    What a poignant memory. I was only 4 months old when I was adopted, so I don't have those memories. But the way you describe this, I feel as though I was there.

    Beautifully written.


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