Shopping and Longing in Goa by Ewa Mazierska
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Although Ada had passed thirty, she was still going on holidays with her parents. This time they went for a two-week trip to one of the coastal resorts in Goa.

 

Ada’s parents and her brother found the place much to their taste and in their typical way enjoyed the touristy pleasures: swimming, diving (although this was only for the boys), eating out and feeding cows and other stray animals. To this list Ada’s mother added shopping. Ada was sceptical about the last activity, but Ada’s mother pre-empted her criticism saying, ‘I don’t strive to be authentic and I don’t mind appropriating their culture, not least because they are happy for me to do it. Let me be post-colonial and I’m okay with you being woke.’

 

As there wasn’t much else to do in the village apart from swimming and doing things on her smartphone, after a week Ada decided to accompany her mother shopping.

 

‘All the shops and all the vendors are the same to me,’ she said.

 

‘For sure this is the case, but I don’t mind if they don’t appreciate my uniqueness either. Buying a scarf or a pair of earrings is not necessarily like making love, even if they try to make you feel as if it is. They follow their own rituals and I follow mine.’

 

*

 

‘My name is Kaushal, which means ‘smart’. What is your name?’

 

‘Ada.’

 

What does it mean?’

 

‘I don’t know, but probably not ‘smart’.’

 

The guy laughed in a somewhat forced way.

 

‘I am from Kashmir and everything what I sell here is from Kashmir. Do you know Kashmir?’

 

‘Not really. The only Kashmir I know is the one from Led Zeppelin’s song.’

 

‘Sorry, I don’t know it,’ said Kaushal.

 

‘Don’t worry, it’s an old song. Even young English people don’t know it.’

 

‘Would you like some tea? I have here Kashmir tea, Turkish tea, English tea, Chinese tea.’

 

‘Kashmir tea, please.’

 

They sat on a mat on the floor with small glasses filled with the hot spicy drink. Ada’s mother warned her that the tea would not be to her taste, being too sweet, but Ada liked it and when she finished, asked Kaushal for a second helping.

 

‘Do you have a husband?’ asked Kaushal, putting some dark sweets on a small plate.

 

‘No,’ said Ada.

 

‘A boyfriend?’

 

‘No. What about you?’

 

‘I don’t have a wife or a girlfriend either. So maybe I can be your boyfriend?’ asked Kaushal.

 

‘I don’t think so,’ said Ada.

 

‘Why?’

 

‘I’m not looking for a boyfriend.’

 

‘Why not?’

 

‘I have other things on my mind, other issues, other plans. And I want to be free.’

 

‘I cannot believe it,’ said the jeweller. ‘Young women are always looking for boyfriends, unless they already have one.’

 

‘This is your problem then, if you don’t believe me,’ said Ada.

 

For a moment there was a tense silence, after which Kaushal asked, ‘Do you want to look at my jewellery?’

 

‘Not really. I don’t wear jewellery.’

 

‘Why not?’

 

‘It feels redundant, like a boyfriend.’

 

‘So maybe you want to look at my scarves. They are really beautiful. Some are made of wool, others of silk. My family in Kashmir is making them. You will not find more beautiful scarves in the whole world than those from Kashmir and more beautiful in entire Goa than in my shop.’

 

‘Okay. I will look at them,’ said Ada, finishing her tea. ‘I rarely wear scarves myself, only one warm black in winter, but I might buy some for my girlfriends.’

 

‘Please do. I will give you a special price, as this is the end of the season and it makes no sense to take them back to Kashmir.’

 

Kaushal spread many scarves on the counter, saying, ‘Please touch them. They feel like skin touching skin.’

 

‘Yes, they are nice,’ said Ada, but couldn’t make up her mind, as there were too many of them to choose from. But for Kaushal it meant that there were not enough, and he piled more on those already spread on the counter.

 

‘Please stop,’ said Ada. ‘It’s enough.’

 

She quickly took two silk scarves and one pashmina and promised to come another day for tea.

 

‘Just for tea. No obligation to buy anything,’ said Kaushal when she was paying him.

 

‘Of course not,’ said Ada.

 

*

 

‘You are not Russian, aren’t you?’ he asked.

 

‘No. Do I look Russian?’

 

‘Probably you don’t, but I want to be sure, as I have no time for Russians. They spend hours going through my stuff without buying anything or offering me prices below my cost.’

 

‘I’m from England. The country of your colonial oppressors.’

 

He ignored her remark and said, ‘We need more English people here, fewer Russians. Why so few English are coming?’

 

‘Maybe due to austerity. The middle classes cannot afford to go to India anymore and the millionaires wouldn’t come here. They prefer to be on private islands or private yachts.’

 

‘It’s bad,’ he said. ‘What is your name?’

 

‘Ada’.

 

‘Really? Mine is similar, only longer – Abhinanda, which means joy. We must have something in common.’

 

‘Abhinanda is also a name of a Swedish punk band.’

 

‘I don’t know about it. I don’t know much about western music. How old are you?’

 

‘Thirty-two’, said Ada.

 

‘I’m twenty-six’, said Abhinanda. ‘Do you have a husband?’

 

‘No. Do you have a wife?’

 

‘No, but my family wants to marry me off when I return home after the tourist season.’

 

‘Are you happy about it?’

 

‘There is nothing to be happy or unhappy about. It is just how things are in Kashmir.’

 

‘Will you bring your wife here?’

 

‘No, I don’t think so. Nobody does it.’

 

‘Why not?’

 

‘This job is too hard for women, as it requires staying late at night and utter concentration. One cannot have kids when doing it, because one cannot focus on children and customers at the same time plus the apartment upstairs is too small for a family. It’s barely enough for me.’

 

‘What about single women? Wouldn’t they be good in the jewellery business?’ asked Ada.

 

‘There are no single women in our culture,’ he responded. ‘It’s the men’s job to marry off his sisters and daughters and provide for them. But I know in England it is different.’

 

He was looking at Ada boldly as if he wanted to measure her assets. Although this put her off she didn’t want to leave as she was worried that he might turn combative if she didn’t buy anything. So she said, ‘Can you show me some earrings?’

 

He put maybe thirty on the counter and after five minutes or so Ada chose two pairs, knowing that she couldn’t do so in haste as buying things quickly would only encourage him to show her more and ultimately force her to buy more.

 

When she paid, Abhinanda said, ‘Now is time for some tea. I will serve you Kashmir tea. It is like a magic potion.’

 

‘Thanks, but no thanks. I must return to the hotel as we go to Panaji in less than an hour.’

 

‘There is nothing to see in Panaji.’

 

‘Perhaps, but we made a decision to go and a taxi will collect us from the hotel.’  

 

‘Okay, but come tomorrow, just for tea. Nobody will make such a tea for you like me.’

 

‘Maybe I will come,’ said Ada.

 

*

 

‘Which of you is in charge of this shop?’

 

‘It’s me,’ said one who was slimmer and shorter. The other was rather fat and unusually tall for men Ada saw in Goa.

 

Without asking, he led Ada to the shop which was pleasantly dark and cool, unlike the jewellery sellers who didn’t seem to use air conditioning.

 

He switched on the light and repeated what the other sellers told her during her previous shopping expeditions, ‘All this stuff is from Kashmir. I have jewellery and scarves. I can give you a good price as this is the end of the season.’

 

Ada thought that this had to be indeed the end of the season as he came across as tired and sleepy. He even had puffy eyes and ruffled, unkempt hair. This made it difficult to assess his age – he could be forty or twenty-five, given that the jewellers in Goa always looked older than their real age.

 

Unlike the previous men, he didn’t ogle her, which made for a pleasant change and there was a certain touching shyness and clumsiness about him. She was thinking that it was good that he wasn’t selling china as he would destroy half of his ware.

 

Unfortunately, his stuff seemed to be of a lower standard than in the shops Ada visited previously. Everything seemed to be mass produced and pashminas weren’t even packed each piece separately, but made a large and rather disorderly pile, on top of which there were two bowls with some unfinished food.

 

‘These look nice,’ said Ada, as she felt sorry for the guy. ‘Is your family producing them?’

 

‘Some, but mostly we collect stuff made by other people in our village and pay them when the ware is sold.’

 

‘Do you choose it yourself?’

 

‘Until recently it was mostly my father, but from next season I will do it myself.’

 

Ada went through the stack of pashminas and eventually chose one.

 

‘Get a second one and I will sell it to you half price. Also, if you buy a necklace, you get earrings free. By the way, would you like a cup of tea? I will make some for myself. I have here English tea, Russian tea and Kashmir tea.’

 

‘Kashmir tea, please,’ said Ada, browsing through boxes of earrings and necklaces. Eventually she chose some simply because they looked better than the others.

 

‘I will take those. Do you also have Christmas decorations made of papier-mâché? My mother bought some yesterday and I really liked them.’

 

‘No, I don’t have them here, but I can get them for you for tomorrow,’ said the man. ‘My friend sells them in his shop in another part of the village.’

 

‘No need, I can buy them elsewhere, I was simply curious.’

 

He put a teapot on the floor and brought two china cups. When they started to drink, he asked her, ‘What is your name?’

 

‘Ada’.

 

‘Mine is Tahir.’

 

‘Does it mean something?’

 

‘Yes, “pure”. Are you married?’ asked Tahir.

 

‘No. What about you? Are you married?’

 

‘You can say so,’ said Tahir.

 

‘What does that meant to mean?’ asked Ada.

 

‘I was married to a woman last year, but I don’t consider her to be my true wife.’  

 

‘Why so?’

 

‘She is sick. She suffers from epilepsy and other illnesses. And she is a stranger to me; we have nothing in common. I didn’t want to marry her, but my father and her father were close friends and my father promised that he would marry his oldest son to his daughter. He wanted to ensure that it happened before he died and so there was a wedding last year, because by then my father was very sick. Now my father is dead so I want divorce her.’

 

‘It sounds rather complicated. Wouldn’t it be better to refuse a marriage than to agree to go through with it and then plot a divorce?’

 

‘No, in our culture it doesn’t work like that. The marriage means that she will be looked after by my family, even if we don’t live together. She is currently living with my mother and my sisters.’

 

‘Can’t you bring her here so you get to know each other better?’

 

‘No, there will be nothing for her here. Most of the time I’m downstairs with the customers and she has to be always with somebody, in case she has a fit. If this happens, I might not hear her and she might die before she gets help. I keep thinking about the whole situation and I cannot sleep. I go to bed late but wake up after two hours thinking about how unlucky I am: trapped here, in the shop; trapped in Kashmir, when I’m home.’

 

‘Things might be better, when you divorce,’ said Ada, half-asking, half-stating.     

 

‘Perhaps, but then I will be on my own for the rest of my life. I don’t want to marry any girl from my village. They don’t suit me and those from Goa, who are Hindu, don’t talk to us. They don’t like Muslims here. It is only tourists who are friendly to people like me.’

 

‘So sad. Looks like you will stay ‘Tahir’ by name and by destination,’ said Ada. She felt moved by his story, but at the same time was barely able to suppress giggling.

 

‘Do you have a free evening?’ asked Tahir. ‘We can go to a restaurant or a disco. I will pay for you.’

 

‘Thanks, but this evening I go with my parents and my brother to the night market.’

 

‘There is nothing special in this market and the prices are higher than here,’ said Tahir.

 

‘Perhaps you are right, but we made a decision to go and a taxi is already booked for 6 pm’

 

‘So maybe you can come tomorrow. I normally close the shop at 11 but can close it earlier if you want to go somewhere. Almost nobody comes these days anyway, as this is the end of the season and most tourists already have left. Only Russians are coming in, but they are a waste of time.’

 

‘Perhaps, but don’t wait for me.’

 

‘I will wait for you,’ said Tahir. ‘Tomorrow and the following day. And this is my present for you.’ He gave her a bracelet with red and blue stones.

 

‘I cannot take it like that. I will pay for it.’

 

‘No, keep it,’ said Tahir, putting it in a bag. ‘I also put inside a card with my address and the name of the shop, ‘Tahir’s Jewels’, in case you forget where it is, although it easy to find.’

 

*

 

‘Hi,’ he said as he moved behind the counter, rubbing his eyes, as if he had just woken up. ‘How can I help you?’

 

‘Hi,’ said Ada. ‘I guess you are a jeweller from Kashmir.’

 

‘You could say so,’ said the man.

 

‘Do you mean you are not really from Kashmir?’

 

‘My father is from Kashmir, but my mother was Dutch.’

 

‘Was?’

 

‘Yes, she passed away several years ago.’

 

‘Oh’, said Ada. ‘How interesting.’

 

‘Do you want to buy something?’ he asked, somewhat abruptly.

 

‘Well, I’m not particularly into ethnic jewellery, but I got a habit of visiting the jewellery shops in the village and I got a small collection of scarves, necklaces and earrings, all special price,’ said Ada.

 

She tried to be sophisticated as she sensed that he was sophisticated too, but he seemed not to notice her efforts.

 

Instead, he said, ‘I have all these things here; my family is making them themselves. Do you want to peruse?’

 

‘Yes, please.’

 

‘First jewellery or scarves?’

 

‘Scarves, please.’

 

She was waiting for an offer of Kashmir tea, but there was none, so when he put a tall pile of scarves on the counter, she asked him, ‘Can you make me some Kashmir tea, please?’

 

‘I don’t drink Kashmir tea. In fact, I don’t drink any tea at all. But if you are thirsty, I can pour you a glass of water.’

 

‘Yes, please,’ said Ada, although she wasn’t really thirsty and everywhere she went she carried a bottle with her which she filled before leaving the hotel.

 

When he went upstairs to bring her water, Ada looked at the jewellery hanging on the wall behind the counter and thought that some of it was nicer than in the other shops, lighter, subtler, more stylish, although still too colourful for her. But she decided that she would buy something, and not for her friends, but for herself as maybe her mother was right that one needs some colour, especially if one lives in England. She also noticed a guitar propped against the wall in the corner.

 

‘Do you work here on your own?’ she asked, when he returned.

 

‘Yes.’

 

‘No wife, no girlfriend?’ she asked.

 

‘No.’

 

‘So it must feel lonely here, all by yourself,’ said Ada.

 

‘Did you come here to enquire about my psychological well-being or to buy my stuff?’ he asked.

 

‘Sorry. Over the last week I visited many shops like yours and everybody there introduced himself, offered me Kashmir tea and told me about their family history and their loneliness, so I was just surprised that you don’t go through the usual ritual,’ said Ada.

 

‘Maybe because I’m new to the job. I only started this year and I’m still learning the ropes. Or maybe I don’t like to talk about myself.’

 

‘I understand. What is your name?’

 

‘Markus.’

 

‘Pleased to meet you, Markus. My name is Ada. You have nice things here,’ said Ada, putting aside two pashminas and pointing to a necklace hanging on the wall. ‘I will take it too.’

 

‘Do you want to try it?’ asked Markus.

 

‘No, I will just take it.’

 

She was waiting for him to offer her a second necklace or earrings half price, but he didn’t. Neither did he put the necklace in a nice hand-made cloth bag, but only in a small plastic one and handed it to her. It was time to go but she couldn’t force herself to leave. She also felt as if he wanted her to stay, but was too shy or proud to say so. So she asked, ‘Didn’t it occur to you to give your shop a fancier name?’

 

‘Actually, I thought it was pretty fancy. It’s the title of a Led Zeppelin song. I think the song is great. Do you know it?’

 

‘Yes, I do, although I’m not into that kind of music.’

 

‘What do you mean?’

 

‘I don’t like rock, especially prog rock. I find it old-fashioned, macho and pompous.’

 

‘Oh,’ said Markus. ‘For me it is not old-fashioned. I wish I could play as well as Led Zeppelin.’

 

‘Have you tried?’

 

‘Yes, I was studying music for a while, in Amsterdam and in London.’

 

‘Why did you return to Kashmir?’

 

‘My mother died. I had no proper job and no money. There were few opportunities for me in Amsterdam and my father wanted me back in Kashmir. I’m his only son and I have two sisters.’

 

‘How interesting,’ said Ada. ‘I would like to learn more about it,’

 

‘Maybe another time,’ said Markus.

 

Ada felt a small pain in her heart, but continued, ‘Can I come another day?’

 

‘Yes, of course you can. This is a shop. The more customers, the better.’

 

*

 

When Ada returned to the hotel, she didn’t go straight to her room, but to the reception asking whether they would have free rooms after their planned departure. They had, and offered Ada a special price as this was the end of the season. She didn’t even need to change her room. When she met her mother Ada said, ‘I decided to stay here longer. It will be a pity to return home only after two weeks, given that I haven’t seen much of India or even Goa. I can go from here to Mumbai or Delhi and fly to Manchester from there. Besides, I don’t need to be in Manchester to do my work.’

 

In the morning Ada’s mother came to Ada’s room with an envelope, ‘Here is the cash I haven’t used. It should be enough for the return flight from Mumbai or Delhi in case you need it. Try not to lose it.’

 

A couple of hours later Ada waved her family goodbye. Then she went for breakfast, had a swim in the sea and went for a stroll in the village.

 

*


Ewa Mazierska is historian of film and popular music, who writes short stories and nonfiction in her spare time. They were published or are forthcoming in The Longshot Island, The Adelaide Magazine, The Fiction Pool, Literally Stories, Ragazine, Shark Reef, BlazeVox, Red Fez and Terror House Magazine, among others. Ewa was born in Poland, but lives in Lancashire, UK.