Soul Food

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We hadn’t seen each other in seven years.

I met her for the first time when I went to Ukraine in 2001. She picked me up at the airport, and took me into her home. She has my grandmother’s eyes. My grandmother, the most important family figure for me, had died just a year earlier.

She is my cousin. We hardly know each other and yet we share centuries of history, rooted in a small village in Western Ukraine. During that visit, we hung out amicably in the cafes and parks and streets of Kiev, sharing cigarettes and rich desserts, understanding each other mostly through gestures and facial expressions.

At one point she said to me, “We are like sisters.”

She was in Toronto this week for the same wedding my mom and siblings had some down for. We met up at Senses Cafe for coffee and pastry. Between her speaking Ukrainian and me speaking in a pidgin half-Ukrainian, half-English, there were awkward, yet sympathetic silences.

She was single when we met, and now she has a husband, 2 kids, another on the way. She says she lies awake at night thinking of the film career she left behind. Her eyes light up, and her words dance as we sit on the streetcar and she tells me about everything she’s seen in Toronto, the past ten days.

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There’s not much about food in this post. I wanted to take her to dinner but she’s two months pregnant and can’t keep anything down. We went to some art galleries, and then walked up Spadina through the colours and smells and sounds of Chinatown and Kensington Market. (these are mostly her photos).

We ended up at my house and I showed her my last film, Flesh and Blood: A Journey between East and West, the one she’s in. She wept at the part that where her grandmother (my grandmother’s sister) appears. Her beloved Babtsia died two years after the film was made. Her mother had died just a year before. She embraced me after she saw the film, even though it’s mostly about queer themes and ideas that must have been totally foreign to her. She thanked me several times for showing her the film.

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I told her about my brother’s death, six years ago now. We remembered our dead, as people from my culture do. We cried together.

No food, no alcohol and yet, somehow, we both left each other satiated. How. Did. It. Go. asked The Girlfriend warily, perhaps expecting an earful about my crazy family.

It was very…soulful, I said. It. Was. Good.

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