Conventional Wisdom

My mother has a half-brother who being the youngest is only three years older than me. I’ve met him only on three occasions but it was enough to form a strong band which leads to misunderstanding and eventually to a family scandal. The first time we had seen each other was on the funeral of “daddy” their father and my grandfather. I have no clear recollection of that time except for vague fragments which I doubt if they are even real or imagined. I remember my mother losing her voice in the train on the way to wherever the place was. My father said it was a blessing for it unable her to join the shouting match that erupted next to the coffin the moment we arrived. The cause of the disturbance was the wife (a persona non grata with the family) of one of my uncles who not only dared to show up but dared to show up in a red dress which is a big no-no for a funeral. I don’t know anymore what happened next, all that is vivid in my memory is the sawdust that was covering the whole place and seemed to be under my feet wherever I go, inside or outside, in between houses and practically on every open space. Maybe that was imagined too. I was five years old.

The second time I saw him I was already in junior high and studying in the capital city where they moved and still live. They said he was a drug addict, a drunkard, a gambler who was not able to hold a decent job for longer than a few months but to me, he was and remains one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. He was fun, attentive, sweet and I’ve never seen him drunk. If upon my arrival I happened to catch him playing mahjong, he will stand right away to greet me and will never return to the table for the duration of my stay. He will focus his whole attention on me instead and will go out of his way to make my stay unforgettable. I must have been naive because they said I was the only one who could influence him but to me, it didn’t look that way. He simply was accommodating.

He even drove his bike in the rain to get me from school, put me in front and biked all the way back singing “Nothing Gonna Change My Love For You.” After his work, he often brought home hamburger and coke for me and will only get up in the morning if I was the one who was going to wake him up and make his coffee. He held my hand while eating breakfast, smiling but saying nothing. He stood guard at the door of the communal bathroom/toilet so I could wash undisturbed. One evening when we were walking around the neighborhood to pass the time he said one day before he dies he will say something important to me, but he never did say what it was. There was one thing he didn’t like and avoided doing at all cost, that was being alone with me inside the house. When it happened, he always goes outside and sits on the front steps. He told me it was getting hot inside and going outside was the right thing to do. He never offered further explanation than that.

The last time we’ve been together was when I was applying for a visa to go abroad. I was in my first year in college and already married by then. He quit his job and helped me with the procedure, often taking my place in the queue so I could eat or go to the toilet. I didn’t understand the reasons why, there was nothing special occurred that could lead to his mother supported by his brothers throwing us out in the middle of the night, but it happened. All I can remember is what my uncle said while picking his clothes off the ground. He told his family:

“There is nothing wrong with falling in love with a family member. In fact, if those holy men in your bible didn’t marry and slept with their brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers we will not be here arguing.”

I rented my own place after that. He came with me and my mother together with a handful of people that either support his belief or just didn’t mind. Aside from putting his arms around me once in a while and telling me encrypted words about love and sins in general, my uncle did nothing untoward to me or to anyone. The family is wrong with their assumptions that there was something inappropriate between us. Not to my knowledge anyway.

He did profess his love for me years after that, but not in person. He was working as a contractor in the middle east that time. He sent me cards and letters after letters asking me to consider running away with him to a place where nobody knows us so we can start anew. Of course, I declined. I told him not only his surname is my middle name, I don’t feel that way about him. The letters and cards slowly trickled away till they stopped coming. I never heard from him again.

I remember asking my Iranian girlfriend who married her first cousin, a practice which not only preferred but encourage in their culture if on judgment day we’re going to be tried as a person or by religion because what she did marrying a family member is considered a mortal sin in my world and have to pay for it when the time comes. And since we have only one God that differs but by names only, how that the same God would punish different individuals who committed the same crime which by the other culture and religion is normal and acceptable but to the other scandalous and wrong?  She has no answer.