09 June 2018

The heat

Taman Sri Minang

You’ll remember the heat, won’t you, I thought in Malaysia, when the last few weeks of my time there were coming, when I was standing, looking out of the house in Taman Sri Minang into the park that had at times been filled with packs of feral dogs or with men spraying chemicals to kill the dengue-laden mosquitoes. Naomi remembers this well. It was always hot. It rained and things would become muggy and cooler, but it was still hot. You could lay on the bed without covers, in the heat, and look up at the fan, knowing that the autumn wasn’t coming but still thinking that it would come.

The heat that came to Birmingham this year is not real heat, but British heat. The numbers are meaningless, but they are enough to make you sweat when you walk and wear jeans and boots. This is hot in the United Kingdom. It’s muggy until you think of any other place where it is also muggy. I bought linen trousers and told everyone about them. I walked up and down the High Street, enjoying my temporary thinness, cool against the sun, and taking issue, as an international figure in the community, when someone complained about the weather. Let me tell you something about Southeast Asia and Texas. Let me tell you about heat.

Cyprus is hot too and I’m told that Cypriots also think that it is hot. They aren’t stupid, they know what heat is. Momentarily thin in well-pressed linen slacks, I stand in the shade, in the heat, and soak it in. I like it when I don’t have to move, when I can look out at it.

My Grandmother, my father’s mother who raised him alone, who was one half Italian, also loved the heat. Her skin was leathery from the years and years of lying in the sun, smoking cigarettes, though her hair was jet black well after it should have gone grey. I remembering thinking of her as mad and eccentric, but what these mad eccentriticies were exactly escape me now. She liked the sun, and had a fur coat that my parents bought for her. She was petty at times, known to give and then take back gifts. She bought our piano and then resented us when we stopped playing. She said what was on her mind, but couldn’t abide other people doing the same thing, particularly her son and his wife, my mother and father, who loved her with Christian diligence and quiet sadness.

Rosie is hard to pin down as a figure in my mind, now the result of an archeology through reports of her and memories. I can’t tell, as I think about her and her life, what is true. We, my family, my parents and brother and sister, were strict fundamentalists, and Rosie was a free spirit. She was in Germany for a while, sending us nutcrackers at Christmas, and then she was in Minnesota where we would visit her in a house that I remember vaguely. There was a tennis court in the backyard, and a man, shirtless, smoking a pipe. She lived with or nearby an aunt or great-aunt, a woman who appears in my mind as sat at a table in a small room watching television and pressing out from a waffle iron pizzella cookies that would then come to our house by post, stacked and wrapped in aluminium foil.

In my memory, Rosie is there, but not there. I can’t think of anything she said or did. I can’t see her. I remember the clothes she wore, light sun dresses and hats. At some point, she coudn’t stand the Minnesota winters anymore and moved to Arizona and became a Jehovah’s Witness. Dad and I visited her once, sleeping on a fold-out sofa bed. There must have been tension, knowing my father, knowing her, knowing my father and me, but I don’t remember the tension. I remember the smells of Tucson, the citrus, but I can’t find any memories of Rosie.

We are trying our luck in Britain. Another weekend of sun before I left on my trip to Europe. Where are you going again, another person asks, treating my travels like they are much more elaborate and exotic than they feel. Another trip, is it, where to now, Stephen, what country are you going to now? I feign being annoyed, in my linen slacks and thin European shirt. Look at me, I have broken free from my American-self, the fat one in the heavy polo shirt and cargo shorts. I’m just going to Europe for work, as you do. I put on sunglasses and head out onto the tile patio in the Cyproit heat and the blue sky. See me, Rosie, your grandson. I am here now.
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