Authors: Gurjinder Basran
EVERYTHING WAS GOOD-BYE
s debut novel,
Everything Was Good-bye,
was the winner of the Search for the Great B.C. Novel Contest in 2010 and was awarded the 2011 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize for the most outstanding work of fiction by a B.C. author. As a manuscript,
Everything Was Good-bye
was a semifinalist for
2008 Breakthrough Novel Award and earned Basran a place in
The Vancouver Sun’
s annual speculative arts and culture article, “Ones to Watch.” Basran studied creative writing at Simon Fraser University and the BanffCentre, and currently lives in Delta, British Columbia, with her husband and two sons.
an imprint of Penguin Canada
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Canada Inc.)
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published by Mother Tongue Publishing Limited, 290 Fulford-Ganges Road, Salt Spring Island, B.C., V8K 2K6, 2010
Published in this edition, 2012
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 (WEB)
Copyright © Gurjinder Basran, 2010
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
Publisher’s note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Manufactured in Canada.
Book design by Mark Hand
LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA CATALOGUING IN PUBLICATION
Everything was good-bye : a novel / Gurjinder Basran.
PS8603.A789E93 2012 C813’.6 C2011-907810-4
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Visit the Penguin Canada website at
Special and corporate bulk purchase rates available; please see
or call 1-800-810-3104, ext. 2477.
For my mother and my sisters,
who taught me that love and strength have many forms
Sat, Amit and Arun for their love and understanding in this and all things.
My publisher, Mona Fertig, for her kind partnership when it came to all aspects of the publication of this book. My editor, Cheryl Cohen, for her commitment to the writing and rewriting—the pursuit of perfection in both story and style. Betsy Warland for giving me my start in writing and guiding me every step of the way since. Pasha Malla and Wayde Compton for their fine mentorship at very different stages in my writing. Elee Kraljii Gardiner, my steadfast first reader, for her feedback and friendship that have spanned countless revisions and just as many years. Melinda Fabbro and Kulbinder Bains for their infinite faith in me. Caroline Adderson for her thoughtful insights on an early draft. Chris Labonté for his encouragement and good counsel. Ayelet Tsabari for telling me about the Search for the Great bc Novel. Jack Hodgins, Kathy Page, Karen X. Tulchinsky and all of those involved in the Search for the Great bc Novel. Shauna Singh Baldwin for sharing her thoughts on transliteration. The Wired Writing Studio at the BanffCentre for the Arts and The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University for including me in such wonderful writing communities.
My friends and family for loving me always. May we all become stories.
ONE FOR LOSS
he smell of chai—fennel, cloves and cinnamon—tucked me into my blanket like a seed in a cardamom pod. I steeped myself into the warmth of waking, listening to the sounds of Sunday morning. My mother was in the kitchen scrubbing the sink, her steel kara clinking against the basin—keeping time with the shabad on the radio. When I was fifteen, I’d told her I didn’t want to wear my kara anymore; I didn’t like the idea of being handcuffed to God. My mother, to my surprise, hadn’t argued with me but simply said that the kara was a symbol of the restraint I would learn to show whether I wore the bangle or not.
“Is Meena not awake?” my mother asked, her voice cracking through intermittent radio static.
“Get up, Meninder. It’s eleven o’ clock.” My sister Tej was the only one who used my real name; she knew how much I hated it.
I heard her footsteps in the hallway and pulled the blanket over my head.
“Just five minutes.”
“No, not five minutes. Mom wants you up now. I don’t know why you think you get to sleep in while I get stuck with all the chores. You’re such a brat.” Tej yanked the blanket offand looked at me with disgust. I was sleeping in a tank top and panties instead of the old-lady nightgowns that Masi had sewn for us from scraps salvaged from the textile mill.
“Fuck off, Tejinder.” I shut my eyes against the light and pulled the blanket over my shoulders.
“Why can’t you wear proper pyjamas like everyone else, or at the very least a bra?”
“You’re just jealous.”
Tej crossed her arms over her flat chest and stared me down, silent and saintly, until I felt the familiar beginnings of guilt harden in my stomach and take root in my toes.
She reached across the bed, drew the blinds and slid the window open, filling my room with the sounds of barking dogs, sprinkler jets and crows. When I turned my back on Tej, she shook my shoulder, stood over me, arms crossed, mouth zipped. She seemed unhinged.
Tej stormed out of the room, muttering complaints to my mother, who yelled louder for me to wake up.
I kicked the covers off, stretching and collapsing my limbs before relaxing into my waking self. I lingered in my own touch, daring a quiet and quick exploration, cupping my breasts, running fingertips over flesh and folds. I wasn’t sure exactly when my body had changed but it seemed to have done so in secret. I’d woken up one day the previous summer with Bollywood breasts, curvy hips and long legs. My dreams realized were just the continuation of my mother’s nightmare. Like my sisters, I was no longer allowed to play sports or wear shorts. Our sex was meant to be hidden, even from one another. We dressed modestly, hiding our flesh, living somewhere deep inside our skins—chaste and quiet.
My mother was seated at the kitchen table, the Sunday paper splayed in front of her, sliced and dissected to the weekly flyer section. She flipped through ads for laundry detergent and dog food while talking on the phone to my sister Serena, scrunching her face, pushing her oversized glasses up ever so slightly to magnify portions of the page. I sat next to her, drinking a cup of stale tea, wondering why she bothered with reading glasses when she could not read.
“Eighty-nine cents,” I told her impatiently. “Limit six.”
She stared curiously at the picture of canned beans before licking the tip of her middle finger and turning the page.
“Achcha, achcha… it’s expensive yes, but if you buy them in the case… When you were kids we used cloth diapers; it was so much work… Well you have to be disciplined, put him on the potty every few hours, he will get used to it… None of my children wore a diaper at his age… Tonight, the party… Who is it?… achcha achcha, his cousin’s wedding.”
Her voice skipped and jumped, picking up threads from the previous day–a patchwork of words. She flipped to the next flyer, told Serena that Similac Infant Formula was on sale at London Drugs, then sat squinting at the fine print.
“One case per household,” I read for her.
My mother nodded as though she expected as much; she probably did.
She knew which stores had the freshest vegetables, which had the cheapest; she knew the weekly sale cycle of all the local shops and had a well-stocked wallet of coupons grouped by date and commodity. She could figure out the price of toilet paper by the square, never fooled by the ever-changing sheet count per roll. She took her flyers and coupons to stores, looking for price matches and bulk buys. She knew the clerks and cashiers by face and at times attempted some small talk about the weather, but none of them ever returned the kindness. This only motivated her to count her change more closely, enumerating each penny on a rung of her finger the same way she counted minutes, hours and days. Once a cashier accused my mother of stealing a chocolate bar. The pimply faced security guard took her to the back office and went through her purse and pockets. After finding nothing, he sent her on her way with a warning. She came home upset and confused, much the same way I did when I was teased at school. When she told me what had happened I drove her back to the store and demanded to speak to the manager. He was apologetic about it and every time he’d seen her since, he was sure to ask her how she was doing, whether she needed anything. He even helped take her groceries to the car. My mother told everyone about it. “You should have seen how Meena talked to them. They even gave us a store gift certificate.”
“Get dressed,” my mother said, glancing at my jeans.
“Don’t argue. Not now. We are expecting guests.”
Phone still wedged between her ear and shoulder, she stood, moving like a pecking bird, as though in a hurry yet somehow unsure of her destination.
She put the dishes in the sink and stared out the window, her marionette frame bent in at the shoulders, her head lowered. The window looked out over the neighbours’ manicured lawn, the perfectly pruned boxwood hedge and the grapes that wound along the fence. As usual on a Sunday, the neighbours were out on the lawn playing bocce. Their loud Italian voices and exuberance for life kept my mother curious and she watched them through the broken slit in the blind, as though trying to decipher their happiness. Sometimes they saw her standing at the window and waved “hello” or beckoned “come over.” Today, as always, she turned away seeming both embarrassed and shy—feelings that for her and me were interchangeable.