Sasha’s father was frowning again. She sat, elaborately relaxed on the Turkish cushions of the Old Fish Shop café on King Street, her arms bare stretched either side of her. To him they looked less like wings and more like a harlot’s bare arms in one of the pictures they had looked at in Bible study a few weeks ago. It irritated him that his daughter was turning heads. That the four young men with their faces pierced with metal had leered and whooped at her as they passed the window that opened onto the street. He watched the older waiter – who should know better –staring. It rankled him she had insisted that while he was in town he would have to stay with her. Any enjoyment he got from his lecture tours was mainly spent in private meditation in the small hotel rooms he chose for himself. Not in the bustle, the music, the evidence of the kind of life that he had shunned was thriving around him, taking up all the available space.
Sasha was smiling, thinking what a really odd character her father seemed in this setting. Had he always been this way? She was half tempted to ask him, leaning forward aware of the bare skin of her arms brushing across the prickling wool of the cushions. She sipped her peppermint tea.
‘I think you look tired Pappa.’ She said, not without concern, but with a certain grownup daughter tone in her voice. She had been enjoying watching him squirm in the chilli-hung hippy café, but now she was tired of him. She wanted him to leave her, go to the room she had vacated for him. She wanted to know he was in there praying for all these lost souls, and maybe for her. She knew he prayed for her salvation, that the whole family prayed for her return to the church.
‘I am tired, Sasha. Perhaps we should go back to your house and…’
‘But, we only just got here, Pappa.’ Now she was the little girl again, on her Pappa’s knee, waiting to hear him talk, to tell the stories about Jesus, who she thought she might just overflow with love for. As a child her love had been hot and spurted out of her heart in red gushes, just like the heart of Jesus.
The adult Sasha found she was suddenly sick. Sick of her father but still wanting him to stay and see her life, what she had made of herself out of the city’s chaos. She wanted him to just stop being so tired and so worn down and so sure that his way of looking at the word was the only true way. She turned and moved her arms so her silver bracelets tinkled their way back down to her wrists. How did he do this? She was sure he couldn’t spoil King Street for her, with its crowds of people, the beggars, the buskers and drunks the trucks and furious motorists. She was sure he couldn’t make her tired of it, take the colour out of it, the music she found in all the noise and activity. But, he had. His drawn face with the lightest hint of stubble, the wrinkles she thought of as ‘kind’ around his eyes, tired, always so tired.
And she was sick of herself: the endless battle with herself over how to live, how to make choices that weren’t based on what someone else told her. To live according to her own truth, as far as she’d worked it out. She was tired of her father, even though he’d only been in Sydney for three hours, his was the voice that always reproved her, when she chose her breakfast cereal and when she walked into the circle of light ready with her fingers spread, to play to the audience.
‘I’ll pay, then.’ And even to her father her voice seemed to falter.
‘No, Sasha.’ The battle had begun again. Even though she won this small victory, throwing coins onto the counter, ignoring the puzzled glance of the waiter, and swinging her hair and she fled out of the door. But she knew as she turned the corner and trod heavily on the jacaranda blossoms that were lying on the footpath, that it had never been a truce, only a small lull.
It always seemed to Sasha that her father didn’t do it deliberately. He was just so deeply himself, so strongly attuned to the choices he’d made, that there was nothing he could do but disapprove of her. They had both wondered how he had fathered such a wild and daring girl. Her sisters were both calm. Life seemed so much easier for them, with their slim bodies and ordinary sleek hair. Sometimes Sahsa blamed them for their mildness, but most of the time it wasn’t them she was concerned with. At 27 she understood she was deliberately at war with her father and everything he insisted on. Sasha knew what would make her father wince, she knew how to excite his anger so that the tiredness sometimes lifted. She had realised that in some ways it was impossible for him to win. And in others, she could never completely be free.
She unlocked the car and slipped onto the driver’s seat taking a deep breath as she watched her father approach. The engine revved, she was ready to drive him back to the rundown Glebe terrace. Though she’d left the church, fled the city and been done with the community, she hadn’t left her family. Sometimes, on the cusp of sleep she imagined never seeing them again, breaking the ties so completely and soundly that they would never be able to find her. At 3am this seemed like a kind of suicide a sin her father abhorred more than any other. And she planned with meticulous detail her escape routes, the false names, police statements, the AVOs.
‘Is he your boyfriend.’ Her father pronounced the word with such distaste that Sasha turned to look at him for the first time since the café.
‘No. He’s my flatmate. Out here in the real world people save on the rent by sharing accommodation, so that’s what I’m doing. I thought you’d approve of saving money.’
‘He’s rather large.’
‘He’s a wrestling champion, Pappa. That’s what he does.’
‘Oh.’ And he stood there with his skinny bones showing through his shirt. Sasha momentarily wondered what her mother had ever seen in him. And then, at the same moment it struck her: she was exactly like him. All prudish and judgemental. And she wondered what she saw in him herself.