Many nights when I can’t sleep, I wander into the living room to find my grandmother watching muted television on the couch. Seems both of us find ourselves awake during the wee hours between midnight and three.
Some nights, my grandmother tells me things about her past that she wouldn’t mention in the clear light of day. I imagine it’s kind of like how a bartender hears stories after the bar closes while he polishes glasses and sees his straggling patrons out.
It was during one of these moments when my grandmother told me about how the milkman fell in love with her. She recalls it as an event more funny than flattering, as it happened on the porch on a hot morning while she was haggling with the milkman’s young apprentice as the mustachioed milkman looked on from his truck.
“There I was with Amin, your uncle, hanging on my hip and quite obviously pregnant with another child, sweating profusely in the 40-degree heat, accusing the delivery boy of watering down our milk. It was so watery, you know! But he convinced me that he didn’t water it but had to put large quantities of ice in it to keep it from curdling in the heat. Anyway, the next time the milk truck came, the delivery boy brought me our regular supply of milk with some extra ghee. I was such a frazzled thing with the never-ending housework and mischievous children on my mind, that I thought nothing of it. Perhaps your grandfather had changed our milk order, without my knowing, I thought. Anyway, this extra-ghee thing kept happening for weeks, and I never noticed the milkman in the truck across the street.
“One morning out of the blue the delivery boy handed me a folded piece of paper with our milk order, and said it was from his ‘master’. He gestured toward the large man in the truck across the street, with bulging eyes and a large, shiny, waxed mustache. The man was twirling the ends of his mustache and staring right at me. Looking back, I guess he thought his mustache was a real selling point, seductively speaking. Anyway, I was so anxious to get back to my chaotic kitchen that I hurriedly took the milk products and paper and went back inside.
“When I had a moment I skimmed the paper and found that is was an honest-to-god love letter. It said all sorts of nonsense like, ‘I see you from afar and have fallen hard for you – come away with me, I will provide for you and take you out of your prison . . . I’ve been sending you extra ghee these past weeks as a token of my love for you’ . . . Yes! I swear to God!” she says to my face that has contorted with wonder and amusement as I suppress a joke about how it really was hot where she lived, wink wink nudge nudge. “There I was a child on my hip and another one along the way and he writes all this nonsense to me!”
“Then what did you do!?” I ask, caught up in the hilarious indignity of it all.
“Listen, will you! Well I showed the letter to your grandfather that evening, and he was so angry, I quite enjoyed it. Next morning he went to work late and stayed home to get the milk. He told me to stay inside and let him deal with the milkman. He paid the apprentice for the month, and then told him, calm and reserved, that we didn’t want his milk anymore. To any questions or apologies or promises to serve him better from the delivery boy, he continued to repeat quietly that we didn’t want his milk anymore.”
My grandmother paused for me to take in the weighty implications of that phrase, and I nodded seriously. After a few more cycles of expressing shock at the milkman’s amorous overtures, we had extracted as much fun as we can out of the story.
“So even these things have happened,” she said conclusively, returning her gaze to the television which is now airing a home shopping channel. “That’s a really good knife set! I’ve seen this before . . . don’t tell anyone what I told you okay, your grandfather and I never mentioned it again and your father doesn’t even know. I just remembered the story now, I don’t know why. It’s gotten pretty late, let’s go to bed.”
I promised her I wouldn’t tell any of the family (a clever qualifier, if I do say so myself), say goodnight, and go to bed, feeling privileged.