The Thing about Myron

By Roanna Gonsalves


The thing about Myron is not that he has a daughter. God knows, I have two sons myself. If anything, the reality of children has ensured that we understand each other’s priorities and shelter each other’s vulnerabilities. It’s not that he lost his job or, rather, was pushed out by the latest round of university rebranding, and has begun to work in high schools as a substitute teacher. Teaching in high schools seemed to be the dependable path for a burnt-out academic like him, his jazz standard of employment options, when the neoliberal university had sneezed its final sneeze in his face. It’s not even that he’s fallen hook, line, and sinker for the South Asian Australian Catholic Association, SAACA we call it, although it is 99% full of Goans, with a sprinkling of Mangaloreans, East Indians, and the odd Anglo from Bangalore - the original one percent.

The thing about Myron is that while our paths may have crossed as if ordained by the mythical man in the sky himself, our bodily questions asked and answered, the realms of culpability touch us in incompatible ways.

The thing is, Myron is quite mainstream, glancing at a variety of sources but backing only those that have popular purchase. Must be the result of countless years in a university, back to the wall, eyesight failing and the realisation that the best self-care would be to go with the flow and give the bastards what they want.

I am here, sitting in my car, across the street from his house, waiting for the rain to stop so I can make a dash for it. I can’t put the windows down but I can sense the wet earth, like the last rains on the paddy fields around the church at home, before the builders doused them with concrete and lit a match.

I have also joined SAACA, after those issues with Peter and Marina Soares who were hell bent on cutting corners. No, I have no problems with SAACA. In fact, I have offered to redesign their logo for free. I may be a highly experienced nurse, but I’m also a prize-winning artist. Their current logo and colour scheme is, how shall I put it, fresh off the boat, coir brown against a watery bougainvillea pink. I meant that metaphorically, of course. I’m quite aware of what can and can’t be said, all the shoulds and shouldn’ts of this world that have earned their place.

Yesterday, when I asked Myron if he wouldn’t mind bringing me some of his famous egg masala for breakfast on the 26th morning - we could eat it together at the park, under the Port Jackson fig, just before the Survival Day Rally - I didn’t foresee this particular turn of events. I thought I’d go straight to Redfern after my night-shift in the Cardiac Unit.

He said, “Er.”

That hesitation, when I was expecting nothing but a confirmation of plans, was enough to make the molecules around us shift and widen the space in our togetherness. It was not the kind of space that Kahlil Gibran advised, but a more sinister gap, like that between a platform and a train that was leaving it without schedule.

We only met last September. In many ways we are still tourists in each other’s cities of the mind, still admiring the vistas at each turn of the self, still unsure of the way.

January 26 is Republic Day in India. It is fairly non-controversial for mainstream Indians who, ironically, don’t sully themselves with the Dalit question while celebrating a day that’s actually only worth celebrating because of the foundational work of Babasaheb Ambedkar. The narrative of native self-government is triumphant while the bouncers at the national gates kick out alternative stories. Likewise in Australia, the mainstream account of the arrival of the First Fleet, the founding of White Australia on January 26 gyrates with impunity, with blessings, in fact, from all manner of government. They call it Australia Day. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and other intelligent Australians, call it Invasion Day, or Survival Day.

So when Myron said “Er,” I assumed he hadn’t heard me properly.

“The Survival Day rally,” I said. “I thought I’d go there straight after work, after the night-shift.”

He was chopping onions while I sat on his sofa for two hours of respite before going home to cook dinner for the kids.

He stopped chopping, put the knife down, half the onion uncut. Now that’s a gesture that indicates a seriousness of purpose, an intention to grasp the weight of the moment and to grapple it with honour.

He went to the music system and turned on Miles Davis and John Coltrane playing the slow and certain “Some Day My Prince Will Come.”

To be honest, I would have preferred their emphatic reclamation of “Bye Bye Blackbird.” But Myron and I were not yet fully in accord with each other’s likes and dislikes, so I didn’t say anything. Instead, I waited for him to layer the now turbulent, now placating saxophone and trumpet with words of his own.

“I usually take Priya to the Australia Day Fun Day at our park. It’s organised by our Council. She just loves the Jumping Castle, the gözleme stall, the free native saplings they hand out.”

Was he pulling my leg? Was he being ironic? Was this a test? Nothing in his tone, in his manner these past few months, indicated ignorance.

“You go to the Australia Day Rally?”

“Don’t you?”

The CD skipped and gave us momentary pause.

“I used to go,” I admitted, “when I was new here, and all I knew about this country was that the houses on our street looked exactly like the houses in Salvador Do Mundo. Made me feel more at home. But that position has become untenable now. I thought you …”

“Of course I’m aware of all sides of the debate.”

Now this really pissed me off.

“There are no sides to the debate. It’s Invasion Day. It’s the day this continent was invaded, land taken from the custodians. It’s Survival Day. They have survived despite …”

“I know. I know.”

He washed his hands, and came and sat down next to me.

He put his arm around my shoulders.

To flinch would be to draw unmistakable battle lines. To stay still would demonstrate passivity.

I put my hand on his.

On the CD, the piano and drums were given some space to shine.

“As immigrants, as beneficiaries of indigenous oppression, we have a duty to pay the rent on this country,” I said.

He yanked his hand out of mine.

I was surprised at this sudden turning of the tables. I may have sounded righteous like a Vice Chancellor. But it was I who was supposed to decide when and how to bruise, not allow him that power.

Then he said, “For God’s sake don’t lecture me on the duty of the immigrant. I make a monthly donation to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. Do you? Tell me, do you?”

I didn’t expect such an outburst from Myron, although I should have seen this coming, this inclination towards vulgarity, this inability to maintain a regard for truth and propriety, despite him being an art historian, this loss of control.

Just last Saturday, we were at Woolies doing our groceries, laughing at the vindaloo paste and the Goan fish curry paste now being sold in pretty packages to non-Goans, not unlike our homeland itself.  Myron picked up a packet of flushable cleansing wipes.

“For my daughter,” he said, “Something soft to wipe her bum with.”

 The air was filled with the tube-lit and silent fury of shoppers having to listen to the Woolies jingle that played unceasingly:

Woolworths the fresh food pee- pearl

“Seriously?” I asked. I wasn’t querying his tendency towards parental overcompensation, which was unattractive but not parasitic. No. I was more concerned about his nonchalance towards the environment. “They’re not fully biodegradable, according to a recent study. Think of the fish being choked with such debris, the islands of waste floating around the Caribbean. Think even of burning rubbish, like they do back home, the toxic fumes this produces.”

The way he looked at me that moment was disconcerting, as if something had just occurred to him about me, as if, all these months, I had concealed a pertinent fact.

Another shopper accidentally bumped into my trolley and this broke the tension between Myron and me. The speakers played the Woolies jingle again and again as if to warn us that everything new will be old again, inescapable Fibonacci sequences overstaying their welcome.

Woolworths the fresh food pee- pearl
Woolworths the fresh food pee- pearl

He put his arms on my shoulders as a protective gesture in front of the other shoppers, and steered me away towards the Pet Food aisle. But I instantly recognised the river rising up to redraw boundaries of its own choosing. I couldn’t unsee his look upon me. It unsettled me because I knew what it signalled. It mirrored the way I looked at him on our second date.

We met on a night in Spring, and after that initial post-coital ease, laden with the imprecise expectations that accompany the first few breaths of love, we decided to take the next day off work and go for a long drive. Our kids were safely in their respective schools. The Bureau of Meteorology predicted rain. A monsoon drive, we thought, with hot chai somewhere, and deep-fried onion bhajias, replicating the best things about home but without the aggravation.

It rained so hard that visibility on the road was extremely poor. The windscreen wipers were furious but no match for the torrent, as if of retribution, that nature was unleashing upon us. We had to get off the motorway quickly. The first thing that came up was a McDonalds. It was crowded but we managed to get seats away from the toilets.

“Number 156.” That was our order. Two coffees and four hash browns.

To be fair, the boy at the counter - I wouldn’t call him a barista - did froth the milk with confidence. But oh, the coffee! Like Waterbury’s Compound without the sweet tingling down the spine. I sipped it slowly anyway, appreciating the hot, if disgusting, liquid going down my throat.

Neither of us were game to try the tea. Coffee is the disinterested choice of the desperate driver. A cup of tea, on the other hand, is like a member of the family. It is extremely difficult to accept an imitation.

“I’m so glad we met,” he said, holding the cup slightly away from his mouth, as if about to say more.

“Number 160,” the boy announced. The man at the next table got up to leave and threw his used serviettes on the floor. I wanted to call out after him but you have to pick your battles and this was far from a moment to fight. I re-focussed my gaze upon Myron.

 “I know I’ve said this a million times already. It was so fortuitous, our meeting, it changed my life.”

I began to preen inwardly, clarity still elusive, expecting the inevitable paeans to my beauty, my body, my brains, and a final concluding statement that tied together the key points of the argument and extended it with unbridled adulation. I began to form words of reciprocal praise on the tip of my tongue.

“Number 180.” They were moving fast, that’s for sure.

“You know, my daughter is also an artist, just like you. She loves to paint.”

“That’s really good,” I said, not particularly taken with this reminder of our responsibilities that were supposed to be contained at a time such as this.

“I wanted to ask, have you …”

His eyes had an intensity that comes only from being ravenous, his body attuned to mine. If he was going to ask if I had ever painted my gorgeous self I would have to impress upon him my disregard for vanity. There is a long tradition of self-portraits in the history of art. Surely he would champion the importance of minority self-representation in this long night of the White patriarch. So, no, I would have to insist that my self-portraits were political statements rather than narcissism on canvas, however violently he might praise them.

“Number 181.”

He was still hesitating. I suppose men these days are unsure of how to compliment a woman, what is acceptable and what is not, especially in a place like McDonald’s off the Hume. The growl of trucks, without intonation and stress, underscored my anticipation as they turned into the servo next door.

“I wanted to ask, have you, do you have any tips for an aspiring artist, ways to improve her marks in art class, now that, you know, you’ve won the Parkinson Prize and all?”

“Number 182.”

“I’ve tried my best to help her, but I’m not a practitioner myself. If you have any advice, I’d be most …”

I knew a mountain had moved somewhere, a curtain had been torn down at noon, the flutter of a butterfly’s wing in Vamona Navelcar’s studio reverberating here in this caesura between us.

“Number 182, Number 182, anyone here for Number 182?”

I felt like sighing but decided against it in the nick of time, a split-second feat I would never manage to repeat again. This was it. The nub of attraction, distilled down to nothing more than the possibility of free greenhousing tips for the offspring. Such a pathetic display of aspiration. Such a pathetic time and place to show it.

“Yeah, sure. Let me think about it,” I said, making sure to leave all inflections of sarcasm at the door. It is possible that my face betrayed my disappointment. I tried to mask it in a most Anglo-Saxon way, by falling back on the weather.

“Oh look, it has stopped raining. Shall we head back home?”

I decided to give it a shot, this relationship that emerged unexpectedly. Three months later we were at Woolies, his look widening the crack under my legs. I needed to summon all the strength in my quadriceps and hamstring muscles, and hurl myself to one side immediately.

Woolworths the fresh food pee- pearl
Woolworths the fresh food pee- pearl

The Pet Food aisle held no attraction for us urban South Asians wary of non-humans. The music on the loudspeaker stopped abruptly and a less melodic if equally unalluring announcement took its place on repeat.

Please finalise your purchases. This store will be closing in five minutes.
Please finalise your purchases. This store will be closing in five minutes.

Before I knew it I was at his house again three days later, my own personal Paschal Triduum complete, asking about egg masala for Survival Day.

He had just questioned me, me of all people, about my commitment to indigenous reparation, asking me if I donated to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. As an insistent Miles Davis filled the room, I heaved myself to full height in my imagination and said,

“Throwing money to our Indigenous sisters and brothers in the privacy of your own home is hardly the same as showing up on the street, putting your body on the line for justice.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. Money talks. Money walks. You people talk about reparation. What else is reparation if not money?”

We both knew we had crossed a line. I would have taken back my tone if I could. He looked like he too regretted this exchange. At least he wasn’t like the other Indians who didn’t know and didn’t care about whose land and whose labour they were squatting on, who insisted on maintaining the fiction of the model minority. We were on the same side, more or less. But I would stand by my words. Also, I had no time for patronising rhetorical questions when I was in this for love. The Coltrane solo energised me.

“Reparation by the state. There are different kinds of reparation. Bodies on the ground is the only way to affect change,” I said.

“So individual contributions don’t count, in your book?”

“Anonymous individual contributions to one organisation. What about the bigger picture?”

“I prefer to start small and go in hard.”

“That's the safe way out. Visibility on the street is the only thing that sends a message loud and clear.”

“So you think I should stop making a financial contribution, and come and join you on the street?”

I didn’t like his disdain. My ancestors did not survive colonisation, the Inquisition, invasion, immigration, flood, famine, financial ruin, the miscarriage of babies and justice, and the paradox of an all-male Mother Church, just so I would have to harbour this higgledy-piggledy blurring of boundaries at the start of a relationship. I would make my position clear.

“Why can’t you do both?”

“Why can’t YOU do both?”

An intake of breath in the silence of our hearts. We sensed each other’s regret.

The music was suddenly just noise. The sofa was suddenly too small for two people. The whole house was too tiny to accommodate Myron and me.

I stood up. You can’t really continue to stay seated in this particular variant of an emergency.

He stood up too and went back to his chopping board and his perfectly stimulated lachrymal glands.

I kept standing, not knowing what to do. I let our words hover and settle deep into the red kilim where they could be ignored. But the room had turned to ice.

Myron continued chopping, wiping his eyes with his sleeve.

I should have seen this coming.

So different from the man I met on the eighth of September, the feast of The Assumption, at the SAACA event.

Something, some filament of obligation or kindness flickered within me and compelled me to go to him one more time, even though he had now become an iceberg floating on a distant sea. I walked over to his onion prep, my final gesture of, yes, reparation. The skins were scattered across the counter-top, staining them like a Mandovi sunset. I gathered them all up into a plate.

Finally, “Bye Bye Blackbird” was filling the room with its sweet-and-sour swing.

“Compost?” I asked.

He looked at me and rose up slightly. He seemed to clutch at a hopefulness in my voice that really wasn’t there.

“Can you put onion skins into compost?”

“Yes,” I said, “you can’t put them in a worm farm, the worms don’t like them, too acidic. But fine for compost.”

“Fine for compost?”

“Yeah. Add some grass clippings to them next time you do your lawn.”

“I’ll save some for you, for the vegetable pigments you were talking about.”

“Onion skins would be interesting.”

“For your Black Jesus body of work?”

“For the wounds.”

“I would have thought eggplant skins, no? A deeper purple. Considering he was on the cross for hours?”

On his CD player, the cymbals embellished a piano solo with the lightest of touches.

“Actually the ancient Romans made the colour purple by boiling a large vat of snails.”

“Tyrian purple.”


“I have plenty of snails in my garden. I could collect them for you. Give them to you.”

The iceberg had begun to reveal itself further. I let him keep speaking.

“Give them to you the next time you come over.”

Then my phone rang. I had left it on the kitchen counter when I first arrived. We could both see it was one of my children calling. The role of chance and children can never be underestimated as an exit strategy.

I reassured Om and Akshar. It was really nothing. I promised I would be home soon.

I disconnected from my children and picked up my handbag in this quickly tropicalising space. We stood facing each other. But we were on different sides of a chasm, now too wide to cross without casualty, his face going under, just as Miles was signing off: “Blackbird bye bye.

That was yesterday. The night was futile with text messages unsent and unreceived. Here I am today. I am still in my car. His house is solid across the street. His light is on. I can see him now, shadowy, disappearing into a different room. Perhaps he’s waiting for me. But this rain will not abate. This rain is a vale of someone else’s tears, not mine. This rain is a mask for Myron, not for me. I start up the car. It sounds smooth and dependable. It is dark but the primary colours are clear to me, the primary music is sweet with absolution. The windscreen wipers sharpen the path ahead into a reassuring focus, moving to a beat I won’t miss, a metronome for the new pace at which my world will now turn.


Roanna Gonsalves is the author of The Permanent Resident, a collection of short fiction published by UWAP in November 2016. Her series of radio documentaries, On the tip of a billion tongues, commissioned and broadcast by Earshot, ABC RN, is an acerbic socio-political portrayal of contemporary India through its multilingual writers. She is a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Award, and is co-founder co-editor of Southern Crossings. She has a PhD from the University of New South Wales. Follow her at 
Permanent Resident can be purchased here.