Stories from India…part Two

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It came suddenly.

She stood there frozen. Tears rushing down her face. She breathed. This is horrible she thought.

She breathed again. Where am I? I made that left like last time, but its dark now and I don’t have a clue where anything is.

She circled the building twice more. Her phone was dead; she would have to get home on her own.

She thought if I asked this man to help me, he might try to take advantage of me. What does a trusting face look like? Maybe I should ask a woman to be sure. But its midnight, and she has yet to see a woman. Usually when travelling at night she reaffirms her safety if she sees women about on the street. Tonight she took a risk, it was her test.

She walked up to a man wearing a beautiful white kurta. She said nervously Hope Project sir? He looked confused. This time more confidently she asked Hope Project, khanna hai, bhai? Where is the Hope Project brother? He smiled amused at her squeaky Hindi. He gracefully pointed and wildly gestured. In a place where street signs do not exist you better just know how to get back or be prepared to ask 40 people where something is. Seeing the look of confusion on her face, he said impatiently said  “CHALO!” (let’s go) she gave him her most grateful look ever, said a quick prayer to Jesus for her safety, and followed the man in the dark winding streets. Two mins later she was home. She laughed at herself.

This always happens. She always made one small mistake in her walking and ended walking around for twenty minutes when she was never more than a minute off from her destination. She laughed out loud.  Her guide continued walking ignoring her repeated thank you sirs. One of the many things she loved about India was that people really were willing to help. This was the tenth time that she was able to use her soft,  if not sqeaky voice  to persuade her normally busy and aggressive city to slow down and provide a free personal guide home. Maybe she did not always have a sense of direction, but she did have a sense of how to get one…when required.

Scene: An intimate dining room setting. A white table, surrounded by ten chairs. Banana bread filling the air. Hot chai on the table. Everyone sitting and laughing.

Host mother: Teona, how did you like the movie I brought you.

Teona: It was wonderful. I just knew that the boss would get with the girl in the end!

Host mother: Can you believe that guy lied to her like that. I died laughing.

Teona: He really did play her. I knew it was too good to be true!

Host mother: And that Negro on the screen (awkwardly pauses) I mean…

(Awkward pause. All eyes turn to me. Uncomfortable)

Teona: You mean that black guy?

Host mother: (recovers) yes (chuckles) telling her that he is engaged.

Teona: Yes! That was so funny. (changes subject) Is that banana bread ready?

An array of Dinners

Conversations blend together like a smoothie.

Dom looked so good in her saree, she could be model, her skin is so fair, and she is just so pretty. Oh, but don’t worry Suzie you have the perfect figure for a saree too. Expectantly she waits to hear how great she will look in a saree, when it never came she assumed that she just didn’t have the figure.

“I bet you don’t have to shave your arms like me and Tia. You are very fair, so it doesn’t show.”  “Oh, Tia there is this lovely fairness cream that can help with those dark spots. It’s safe for your whole body too!”  “When are you going to get your hair re-braided, it’s looking very rough today!”  “Oh your hair is soft, I wasn’t expecting that.” “You are such a pretty black girl.”

She internalized it all. Looked into where they wax  arms. After criticizing skin bleaching creams, she could not help but stare at herself in the mirror. Coldly staring at herself. Trying to figure out what exactly is so unattractive about her complexion. Maybe she was getting “too dark”. Maybe she should just try the “fairness enhancers” you know just to clear her skin of the impurities. It has nothing to do with her insecurities she argued in her mind. 

Maybe if she stuck to a strict diet, then she too would have the perfect figure for a saree. Maybe if she bandaged down her booty and chest, she would look good in a salwar kameez too. No need to feel so sensitive, she thought. Her homestay mother always spoke the truth. She was just trying to help. She is so sweet anyway. Stop being so sensitive.

But still…still…still it lingers. She can’t look into a mirror without hearing her host mother’s voice. Today she won’t go outside, give herself a break from the sunlight.

But still…still…still…it lingers.  Her daddy’s words pierce through her self doubt “baby, you have grown to be such a beautiful and strong woman, I am so proud of you!”

She takes another look in the mirror. Have you seen yourself in that dress. GIRL! You look good. Child, if  you put on a saree people will be drooling all over you. All these stairs you climbed have paid off, I think your butt looks fabulous in those jeans! Fat, what fat? You mean those delicious curves that allow to carry the weight of whatever adversity, struggle, or challenge that comes your way. You mean the skin that is smoother than a cup of chai masala on a nice afternoon?  She twirls around in the mirror. Dances around unabashedly in her pajamas.  She smiles, laughs, flips back her “messy” hair and says to her reflection “darling, haters gonna hate!”