True Secrets: More and Less

We're launching Secrets, our 22nd issue, on October 21, 2016. Leading up to the launch, we're publishing a series of poetry & prose pieces that feature unconventional lives and secret histories.

Illustration: “Tub & Tank” by Eva Dominelli

Illustration: “Tub & Tank” by Eva Dominelli

More and Less
by Karenza T. Wall

Is it a secret when nobody speaks about it? Is it a secret if an extended family, a community, acts as if the condition doesn't exist?

Everybody in the family was aware of the situation. Except, maybe, some distant cousins who had emigrated to Kazakhstan. Or somewhere. And lost touch with family, neighbours and friends. But, what can you expect if you move to Kazakhstan? Or somewhere?

Community members living in other cities, towns, villages, countries, had conversations and wrote letters. Phones were not common post-World War II India. E-mails unheard of, and telegrams for emergencies only. Besides, everybody reads telegrams, and this was, after all, a secret.

Information exchanged on the way to Sunday mass. Or at the bazaar, or at children’s birthday parties. Social life revolved around the Catholic Church.

And me? The object—the subject?—of the discussion? Well, when I was a baby, a child, an innocent, I never questioned my circumstances. As children do, I accepted what was without demur.

My grandparents, aunts, and uncle were protective. My contact with neighbours limited. The only families I remember are the Martinses, the D'Mellos and the Danielses. In a community crawling with children, the only two I played with were Rita Martin and and Jagdip Daniels. My family’s defensiveness spurred my own vigilance. The birth of a lifelong, chronic anxiety disorder that persists.

Questions about my antecedents were unwelcome. I learned my origins were not a topic for discussion. Yet I always knew, deep in my being, that there was something ‘different’ about me.

I asked my mother. Big mistake. I was “talking rubbish.” An expression she’d use often as I got older. Use to categorize my ideas, opinions. I’d learn my thoughts should be secrets.

I was born in 1945 in post-World War II, pre-independence India, into an Anglo-Indian community. My father English, my mother Indian.

Born into a Catholic family, in a strict Catholic community. A small, insular group with a mix of codes adopted from both Indian and English cultures. Structured rules of behaviour. Critical and censorious. A community with its ethics and mores tied tight, restrictive.

When I was ten years old I realized there was a word used to describe me. I didn't know what it meant until it dawned on me that I could look up the word in my granda’s beautiful, folio-sized, fine-papered dictionary. I couldn't find it, so asked my granda for help. He looked at me with a look I would become familiar with over the 30 years we knew each other. An assessing seriousness tempered with sorrow and compassion. He spelled the word for me.
Bastard. I was a Bastard. Forever I am a Bastard.

 

And that was so important then. Until there became more of us. And less of them.


 

1965. I am 20 years old, young and pretty and tender. When I look at photos of myself, I am struck by the tender young woman with hope in her eyes.

Odo and I are in love with each other. First love. So sweet. Our parents meet; this puts the seal of approval upon our relationship.

First loves are innocent, and we want each other.  

I miss my period.
Tell him.


 

Are you sure?


 

Yes.


 

What will we do?


 

Go to a doctor.


 

We go to a walk-in clinic. I leave my specimen and we return to hear the verdict. It’s confirmed. I am pregnant.

We rejoice like silly fools. We are going to do something together. We will get married and live happily ever after.

My mother dies. The only person who would have seen me through this. Odo's parents lay down their law. And my eldest aunt lays down what my actions will be.

No marriage, no child, no happy families. We are to separate. We refuse. The adults make it clear that we will receive no help, no family support.

He dumps me, without a word. So I struggle on my own for at least four months, and then. Tired of fighting, I ask my aunt what I should do. She insists I have an abortion. Tired. I am so tired.

My aunt a mother. A medical doctor. She called in a back street abortionist.


 

For three days and nights, in a dark room in my grandparents’ house, I bled. While they prayed for me.

For three days and two nights on a train, crowded, dusty, noisy, hot, from Nagpur to Mumbai, I bled. And I bled in the nursing home where a doctor and two nurses removed my child from my body.

How could I have agreed to this?


 

Was I that alone?


 

Yes.



 

I sit here dry-eyed, in the Lost & Found Cafe. An appropriate name. My jaw clenched.


 

How could I have agreed to this?


 

I hate myself.


 

I hate Odo.
 

For dumping me. Cold-faced and stone-eyed he walked away when I approached him.
In front of our neighbours and friends.

 

I hate my aunt and uncle for organizing it.

 

I hate my nana and granda for not supporting me.


 

Most of all


 

I hate myself I hate myself I hate myself.


 

Now I cry. Because I didn’t allow a tender little boy to live his precious life.

Sorrow for a little boy denied his right to exist, to breathe, to run in the rain and sun, to laugh, to live, and love. But not to die. I cry.

When I was 30 I had a tubal ligation. Maybe it was a punishment. I don’t know. I don’t know why.
 

Is it a secret when nobody speaks about it? Is it a secret if an extended family, a community, acts as if the condition doesn't exist?



Karenza T. Wall is an Anglo-Indian, born and raised in India. She arrived in Vancouver as a young woman in 1968, and apart from a few brief forays into Alberta and Québec, stayed in the city. She has hitchhiked across Canada twice and once drove from Vancouver to Montreal in 2 ½ days on a bet. Her time is spent working with textiles, writing, and practicing keyboard for the Women Rock band at Carnegie Community Centre. Karenza’s website is www.karenzaland.ca and her blog is here.

Eva Dominelli is a Vancouver-based artist and illustrator who has been exhibiting her work since 2008. She is currently studying at Emily Carr University of Art and Design and working as a freelance illustrator. Her blog is here, her instagram is @eva.avenue, and her website is: www.evadominelli.com. You can also find her on FB.

 

You can check out more of Eva's work in our SECRETS print issue. One of her illustrations will be published alongside a poem by Meaghan Rondeau, who also wrote "Unforgivable." Karenza is a member of the Thursdays Writing Collective.

 

SAD Mag

SAD Mag is an independent Vancouver publication featuring stories, art and design. Founded in 2009, we publish the best of contemporary and emerging artists with a focus on inclusivity of voices and views, exceptional design, and film photography.