The water in the toilet is cleaning-fluid blue. There are no leaves on any of the trees. The cars drive the other way, and the streets are so empty. I have seen exactly two dogs since I got home. Both of them were on leashes, at the vet. The light switches in the bathroom go the opposite way to Sangam’s, and I keep trying to dim lights that are already switched off.
My new bedroom in my parents’ house looks like a bomb hit it. I have a plastic box of folded saris, blouses and petticoats. I want to wear one for Passover. Just to know they won’t sit in that box for the rest of their lives. Papers from Sangam, old event schedules and stickers and postcards, and presents for friends, are scattered across the floor. My suitcase has caved in. Empty.
I went to the mall. Where else to readjust to America? The sweatpants and dyed hair and teenage girls with their too-low tops. I bought a nose ring made of surgical steel that won’t turn my nose purple like the 10 rupee ring I got outside the Food Bazaar in Vishrantwadi and felt, mildly, like a traitor. Like if I had tried harder my nose wouldn’t have gotten infected. I remembered the quest for sea salt, the rickshaw ride with Bronwyn, the sight of Steph with half her face in the little glass bowl after she borrowed some, too. The Tare with their new tattoos. All of us, in our temporary lives, making dramatic decisions. Adding some permanence to a fleeting experience by altering our bodies, the only thing we know we’ll carry on with us, in some lasting way or another.
The first few days I fell asleep at seven and woke up the next morning at three. I almost didn’t mind. Everyone still in India was awake, online. I played Bollywood songs quietly, so no one else in the house woke up, and talked to what felt like my real life on the other side of the world. But even that world has begun to disintegrate, to scatter to different continents and hemispheres, so I am beginning to ground myself in my new reality. New York.
I took my first bath in months. My knees and thighs and feet and hands and arms are stained with mehendi. As is so often the case, the designs I specifically sought out–the gorgeous bride and groom pasted onto my skin by Pratiba, Shoba’s daughter-in-law; the intricate designs Em painstakingly, kindly, applied to the tops of my feet–are already starting to fade. Whereas the graffiti, drunkenly applied by friends on my last night in India? Still there. The moustache and the words “tiffin wallah” framing my left knee. The cartoon penis on my right thigh (thanks, Em. Thanks a lot for that one!) alongside the Bullwinkle-looking moose. The initials on my left leg that are going to stay there, on unexposed, unweathered skin, for a long time, reminding me with a thud against the inside of my brain to just make a decision. And: the soles of my feet. Everybody’s name, like a patchwork quilt of friends, a new way to carry your memories home with you–in your socks, your threadbare, dusty Converse sneakers. EmBronPhlipStephEmilyJenMinaGwenAartiPriyaSayaliHayleyChrista. Coming with me on my next adventure.