14 July 2015

Metaphors that work until they don’t

On the bottom of War Lane Road, where there is a double roundabout, you can go in six directions. One is Victoria Road, our road. Vicarage Road leads up to the cemetery and church and the girls' school. And War Lane goes back towards the city. The cars go around like a figure eight and we, the girls and I, stand on the edge, holding hands and waiting for a lull in the traffic to cross.

Yoko had told me that on the roundabouts there was an Indian takeway that had tosai, or dosa, the lentil pancake you could get at Ayza's in Kajang for RM1. We used to eat there on a Wednesday night, with the sun going down. All the food courts in Kajang were open, without any doors or walls, and Ayza's was halal — there were no Carlsburg banners strung up. Ayza's was run by dark southeast Asians, not Malays, perhaps Indian, but Muslim: several of them wore kufis. It would cost less than £4 to eat there: I convert it out of ringgit to make a point of how cheap it was, although it didn't feel cheap at the time. I would order tandoori chicken sometimes, and there would be cats that came up and we would get ice cream afterwards.

The tosai, the dosa, at Dosa Mania in Harborne is ten times more expensive: £2, but this is reasonable to me and we can get it to takeaway, with the savoury sauces and soup. The Masala Dosa is perfect for the children, stuffed with potatoes and not too spicy. When I come home with the plastic bags, I'm a kind of god. We sit out in the garden to eat it, with elderflower lemonade that Yoko has made.

Dosa Mania is guarded in the entryway by a large statue of Ganesha, a kind of Carlsburg sign that differentiates it from the other Indian takeaway in this row of shops, the one where the men wear kufis and long beards. When I see Ganesha, I feel a kind of Southeast Asian safety. The kind of safety that makes you forget to put your seatbelt on or worry about the chemicals in the food you're eating. I remember Letchu, our taxi driver in Malaysia, who told me that Ganesha was his god because his mother had said to him, 'Letchu, this is Ganesha. He is our god.' Letchu had us to his house once for a party, and there were paintings of Ganesha. We had curries and savoury snacks, and the girls played in the park across the street.

I made the comment in passing last week about how going to Malaysia had been a mistake, a detour. After I agreed to go to Malaysia, but before I signed my contract, I had the chance to apply for a job at the OU. I would have probably gotten it: it was a temporary post, but all the temporary posts eventually became permanent. If I had applied for that job and got it, I would have never met Letchu or Ganesha. I would have never had my shoes fixed by that man sitting on the street outside of the mall in Kajang. Mei asked about the cats in Malaysia the other day — she wanted to go back and see them. None of that would have happened. Yoko laughs at me when I say it was a mistake: what is a mistake. It's all snakes and ladders anyway: you catch some breaks, you fail other times. Now my life is complicated, but so much less so.