52. I Love San Francisco!

Pan Am ticket Jan 1959Friday the 30th of January, 1959, it’s 5 o’clock in the morning and I’m in; it’s all or nothing, here goes!  I collected my one suitcase from baggage claim and stepped outside the terminal into the foggy San Francisco morning …and I about froze my butt off! 

Hailing a taxi with nothing exact in mind save for searching out accommodations, I inquired to the driver about his fare into downtown San Francisco.  He said it would be about $7.00.  I had no idea at the time SFO’s proximity to the city proper.

And as all I had in my pocket was $15.00, seven was a bit too rich for my blood.  I quickly found out I could take a bus into the city for much less than half.  Now that I would be at ease with and to be exact, it was just over one dollar.

I arrived into San Francisco at the bus terminal just above Market Street.  Then I tried the taxi thing again and this time, much more reasonable to my wallet was the fare.  I asked the driver to take me to a hotel.  

And I quickly added, ‘In fact take me to an inexpensive but decent hotel please.’  This didn’t seem an unreasonable request to me.  After a little bit I began to feel as though the driver was taking me ‘for a ride’ and so following my gut I told him to stop right there, I paid him and I got out.

This turned out to be just before 3rd Street, on Howard Street.  I looked around as to my surroundings and almost directly in front of me I saw a little 3-story hotel with a mini-market sided up next to it.

I picked up my suitcase off the sidewalk and pushed my way in through the front door.  The interior was dimly lit but thankfully it was much warmer than outside to be sure.  I heard a male voice ask if he could help me.

While the lobby was a little questionable in appearance I knew I had to at the very least, ask the question.  And so to the blanket-wrapped figure sitting behind the desk I asked,  ‘Have you a room to let?’  

A beanie covered head belonging to a little old brown man, emerged from the blanket showing a somewhat wrinkled face.  I said in my surprise, ‘Hey!  You are Indian.’

He looked me up and down with squinty eyes and quickly replied, “And you are Indian too!”  Familiarity in this case was good for me.  

He offered me a key to go upstairs to the 2nd floor and see if that room -he gave me specific directions- would suit me.  “You can leave your case down here if you wish.”  Once again my comfort resurfaced, I accepted the key, left my suitcase on the floor at the reception desk and went up the stairs to the second floor.

I turned the key in the lock of the door marked 32 and stepped inside.  I saw right away the window and walked over to it to see what I would see.  It faced the street below which only moments ago I was standing on.  I also noticed that dawn was upon the city.

Looking back into the room I saw there was a smallish area that had a tiny sink with a mirror over it and a little 2-burner electric hot plate thing on the counter.  I was glad to see there was a tiny refrigerator.  

I saw a twin bed, slightly larger than average in one corner and no other furniture.  No chairs, sofa or table to eat at.  Don’t ask, it’s alright.

There wasn’t a shower or toilet in the room, that would be shared and it was down the hall.  There was one per floor and fortunately, there was 3 or 4 shower stalls, sinks and toilets so all in all, not a bad set-up.  Besides the majority of residents were male.  Maybe the female renters if any, were on the top floor.

For what it was, it was cosy and I liked the room.  Nothing would take away the happy feeling that was spreading throughout my body.  A whole lot of concern was melting away.  I closed the door, locking it and returned to the lobby.

“Will you take it?” he asked me eagerly.  ‘Yes I think I like it very much but how much rent are you asking for?’ I replied with hope that I could afford it.  The warm-faced Indian man, now without the blanket wrapping stated, “It will take $1.00 per night.”  Done!

I was quite pleased to hang on to that room key.  “You do not have to pay me now.  The end of the week will be fine,” he said to me after learning that I needed the room for an extended period.

He shook my hand and told me his name.  It was Lalit and he was the owner.  He happily offered me a few dishes and some pots and pans which he went behind the curtained doorway to retrieve.

Lalit also provided me with information; I was to bring my bedding down about twice a week when I wanted fresh sheets and clean towels.  There was a couple of Chinese laundry houses around the neighborhood for my clothing, barbers, grocers and Five & Dime stores all over the place.

Anything else I would need, he courteously said in Hindi, “Just ask anytime.”  Amazing how differently I felt after all this, it was great.  

I took my case upstairs and freshened up at my little sink.  I checked out the washroom facilities after I unpacked.  My next goal was to visit that little market next door.  I realized I was craving my Indian food when I first walked into the lobby; I suspected a slight curried scent in the air but chalked it off to missing home.

I went into the little mini-market next door.  It was ran by a nice middle-aged Chinese man.  I was happy about the contents of his store, real glad he was there.  In a small meat case I found some cut-up chicken and some other meats.  

There was a small produce table where I got the onion, garlic, cilantro, ginger and potato that I needed.  I grabbed some salt and pepper.  I was very happy to find a tin of Madras Curry Powder and a small bag of basmati rice.  My bill came to $1.75.  

I returned with my shopping and Lalit seeing the grocery bag in my hand, smiled.  I went right upstairs and immediately began preparation of my ingredients.  Before long delightful smells filled the little room.  In fact it had also seeped out into the hallway.

It wasn’t long before there was a knock on my door.  I answered the knock and there stood two young guys, staring at me as though in a trance and then I noticed they seemed pleased by the smell in my room when the door opened; it was like they hit the jackpot or something.

They quickly introduced themselves as a couple of Indian gents, brothers to be precise, from Toorak … as in Fiji, who followed their noses to my door.  How ‘bout that!  I invited them in, I portioned out my meal in thirds and ate it with them.  We shared our stories and a little friendship was born; my first one in California.

Chicken curry & rice, the brothers Shekhar and Ramesh, a safe room for myself – predicting a new beginning in America and well, I had a great first day.

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38. Heavy Rains Unburden the Soul – my landscape has been washed clean

No one save for a small handful of my family knew that I had returned to Fiji as it was all quite sudden.  The taxi pulled up in front of my most current Fiji address and I anxiously got out of the car.  My mother and brother-in-law chose to wait for me out there.

I saw Hemma’s father and the two courier pigeons (the younger brothers) building something outside as I walked up through the front yard.  I remember the look on his face as I walked by; it was as though he were staring at a ghost.

I went up the steps and into the house.  I noticed my mother-in-law also looked at me the exact same way.  Now for a moment if one thinks about it, when someone you love returns home after being away for a while, even after the initial shock, wouldn’t you go up to them and greet them lovingly?  I imagine so.

With the mother and sisters sitting upon the sofa in the living room, not a one of them making a move for anything, only jaws dropped down from a clear bombshell, I strolled past them headed straight for my bedroom.

The dining room must be passed to get to the bedroom and boy was it ever my turn for the bombshell.  The handyman was sitting at my table eating a meal.  Now ordinarily this would go one of two ways.

Either he just so happens to be using our dining table to enjoy his lunch break or … he feels he has the right to be there because of a familiar relationship in this family?

So which is it?  

Now I am momentarily speechless.  After two ticks into my sudden shock, here comes my wife out of our bedroom and she stopped in her tracks, a holding pattern in the doorway; her turn for the ultimate shock!

But I went over to her and I hugged her.  ‘Hemma you know, I missed you so very much.’  She returned the hug and I was glad for that.  I fear she was rendered speechless by my presence.  

So I continued speaking.  ‘I wasn’t able to make it to England.  I’ll tell you all about it a little later on.  Please just go and get your things.’  Hemma looked at me in disbelief.

‘We are going to my family house.  My mother is waiting outside in the taxi.’  I further stated.  ‘And by the way what is the handyman doing inside the house?’  Hemma started to cry.  By now the rest of her family came in, to join the reunion party no doubt.  

I turned to gaze at the handyman but he had left the scene.  I returned my eyes to my wife who was now looking desperately at her family -perhaps hoping for direction- so I too turned my attention towards them.  They were whispering among themselves.  

Hemma remained next to me.  I waited a few moments and then I asked her, ‘Are you coming with me now or what?’

She left me where I stood, going to the bedroom and as she was closing the door I quickly blocked it.  I continued to ask her, ‘Why are you doing this to me, didn’t you miss me all this time I was away?’

Hemma replied at last.  “I did.  I missed you a lot.  But please understand, you must stay here with me.”  To which I replied, ‘No.  I’ll never stay with your family again!’  

I kept going, ‘Also tell me why the handyman is alone with you in this part of the house. Your parents should have been in here with him or at the very least you would’ve called to one of your brothers or sisters, don’t you think?’  

Hemma had no response.  Looking at her blank face I collected myself quickly and spat it all out.  ‘Anyway I am going home now.  I never want to speak with you or see you ever again.  Good bye Hemma.  You broke my heart so many times but no more I tell you, I want to be free of you for good.’

Hemma was quiet, she said absolutely nothing nor reacted in any way at all.  I walked through the house and straight out the door to the taxi where my brother-in-law and mother were waiting patiently for me.  

For a moment I felt a tinge of sadness that not one single member of that family said anything to me let alone try to stop me.  I was also unhappy to know that not one of them went to the taxi to see if my mother needed a cool glass of water.

I got into the taxi and took one last look at what my life had come to; no one was even at the window looking out.  Must be karmic.

We began the drive towards home and well, it began to rain.  It rained really hard – how perfectly right.  

My family members were waiting inside to welcome me back home.  After briefly meeting with everyone, I treated myself to a cool leisurely shower and taking cue from the storm, I was hoping to wash away the previous moments of this day.  

Feeling lighter and certainly refreshed I felt it was time for a cocktail and believe me, by late afternoon I was already feeling much better… in so many ways.  I unpacked my suitcases, presented gifts and was encouraged to speak of my adventures.  

I was away from the earlier scene, surrounded by people which I knew cared about me, I felt safe in my family home and I was already learning to let go.

 

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Time was when, the family honor, their respectability was of the utmost importance.  From generations before, propriety was given in all situations.  Among those rules of conduct; never was it appropriate to leave a young lady alone with any man that is not her family member; much less a young married woman whose husband was absent from the scene, wherever they were.  

Decorum simply didn’t leave room for suspicions and doubt.  This applied to the modest families looking to keep refinement.  Hindu culture as a whole (there are always those folks doing things differently …) held steadfast in these beliefs.  No judgement being passed here only making statement of many a culture’s’ way of life.

37. Does My Necktie Really Need Straightening?

You know I was so lucky to find a temporary job in a garment factory in town.  I accepted it, I was paid well and it was cash under the table as the saying goes.  The majority of workers were ladies and there was about 35 of them.  Only 4 men sewing to include myself.  

Not to boast like a proud rooster or anything but it’s the truth; I loved all the attention the female staff showered on me.  There were no complaints here!  They were always looking to buy my lunch, take their breaks with me and oh how they fussed over me, I mean my goodness!  

Many of them would walk by and tell me that my necktie needed straightening only to immediately start playing with it.  Fortunately the men on the team didn’t begrudge me while my ego was being blown-up like a hot air balloon.

While it was all well and good and my work pleased the supervisors (my previous experience shone through apparently), management had to let me go.  Within the allotted 2 weeks I was unable to provide legal documentation allowing me to be lawfully employed in Australia.  🇦🇺 

I was very happy though as I made over A£200.00 and this was enough to buy me a one-way aeroplane fare to Nadi, Fiji.  There was also a tidy sum remaining for pocket money and gift purchases for the family back home.

After separation from tailoring I remained just a few days and then took a bus to Sydney where I would catch my flight back to the Fiji Islands.  Once I arrived in Nadi, I took a commuter flight into Nausori where an airline shuttle bus then delivered me back to Suva in just under half an hour.

There my mother and brother-in-law were waiting for me with a taxi.  My mother was so happy to see me, she began to cry big tears of joy; she couldn’t believe I was really there and said as much.  I offered her my arm and said, ‘Pinch me and you’ll see I am really here!’

I told them as we began to drive that first I must go to Samabula, to the house on Moala Street where Hemma was so that I can bring her with us, back to our house.  My mother agreed wholeheartedly.  The taxi took us to where I had left my wife with her parents and siblings before heading to India.

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