If I wrote about today, I’d start at the top, at the red rock summit that seemed unassailable from below.
I’d start at unassailable and imagine my mother and her mother learning the word from a vocabulary textbook administered by nuns – in our family, school textbooks were always administered by nuns – and how my grandmother would sound the word out, deftly, her grey eyes glinting, and how other sounds she knew to make in Hindi, Gujarati and Kutchi would have helped her.
Unassailable – Zehra Nathani who became Parveen after she married, Parveen who sat on the verandah of a yellow bungalow and put seeds on thalis for sparrows that hopped and pecked while she sat on a bench painted blue and watched.
If I started at the top, I’d write about the ravens below, grumpy, cawing, huffing on red slabs, soot against rust, and the green shine of cottonwoods, and the grey line of the river, and a lone yellow mesa amid dark mountains, and my sure brown feet – despite the bad shoes – taking one foot at a time, and the thrill of coming down after having gone up – despite fears despite bad shoes – over pebbled sides and rocky sides and looming clouds and sudden winds, and thoughts coming and going, of my grandmother born in another language, sounding out unassailable in school and listening to sparrow song on a blue bench lit by sun, this same sun.
Come, she would say when I came to the door, come, sit and I would sit beside her, watching her face – the kindness she did for sparrows enchanted her. She was – even when she forgot who she was – even then she remembered her love of sparrows and the blue bench and a granddaughter who she knew was someone familiar but had forgotten, in any language, in every language.
Shebana Coelho is a writer and director, originally from India, now living in New Mexico. She received a Fiction Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts and a Fulbright grant to Mongolia. Her poems, stories and articles have appeared in Chronogram, Word Riot, Vela, Al Jazeera America, Madcap Review, Best Women’s Travel Writing, vol. 10, and NPR’s On Being Blog, among others. She is working on a poetry collection, Finally The Open Sea. Visit her website at www.shebanacoelho.com