Her daughter knew Tamil, Hindi, and the English that had been pieced together word by word at her Bangalore school. Her husband knew Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, and English. Out of his curated quartet, only the final would never entrench ears tainted by Eurocentrism; Thara’s Tamil and Kannada was best left back in India.
She let her eyes lull into jetlag across an ocean, stared at the weightless cotton brushing by the 747, counted the amount of times that the hostess came carting drinks, and how many of those drinks ended coating the crumb-covered grey carpet and fold-out trays — counted the amount of dollars extracted from her daughter’s and husband’s exhausted bank account that didn’t even survive check by check. There, she was wasteful mother. Now, she was selfish Thara. Would her daughter ever recover? What was she thinking? What was shethinking?
“Hello? Hello madame?” Thara stood up, rocking back on her swollen feet.
“Yes?” Another thin blonde woman strutted by with a trash cart.
“Water, water.” Tanneer.
“Yes, one moment.”
She sat back down, flipping through in-flight movie channels that grew less alien with each iota of lowered camera quality.
Thara’s hand gripped the plastic cup, her eyes dancing over the rest of the woman’s frailness.
Except this woman’s frailness was unlike Thara’s—it was something that people would want to look like. Thara’s silhouette was something she meant to keep as that, a silhouette shadowing a pelvis holding twin sandbags that spanned entire hallways, skin the color of dried coconut shells, and a plastered-on nose that had began to grow limp with her middle age. Something about the woman’s daintiness, her sharpness, her blondeness, made Thara slosh her cup down her chin, shaking with anger that could only stem from envy and basking in whiteness.
She finished her glass and let her eyes lull into jetlag across an ocean and weightless cotton until she felt the jolt of the landing.
His small figure was consumed entirely by the browned pigmentation of India. There he was, in khaki pants cuffed to accommodate his frame and his mustache plush to stifle his stubble. Some people couldn’t handle seeing their loved ones like this: Plumper. Smeared lipstick. Smeared pottu. Oily. Unshowered and sweaty, perfumed by Airplane. Skin around their fingers nearly gone through some combo of self-infliction and dermatophagia. Checking her face from the passenger seat into the mirror for the wrinkles that writhed, ready, under her skin. Stupid. She glanced at her husband, his eyes forward on the clutter of traffic in front of them, and back at the round face reflecting back at her.
I guess you can stand to see me like this? She whispered, the strength in her Tamil reviving.
America has exhausted you, I can tell, he didn’t once flicker back, I’m glad you’re back.
She rested her forehead against the window. She waited for him to ask why she came back, why she wasted the money and the time and quit work and left him poorer and more alone, and she rehearsed telling him that she couldn’t find a job and she couldn’t learn the language and the people were loud and rude and she was poorer and more alone and two years had passed by and still nothing had changed. She waited. Silence.
The little house hadn’t evolved over two years, except for an aged thicket of vines browning and drowning under an old coconut tree that threatened to swallow the roof. She dragged her luggage through the wooden frame of the door, tossed her shoes somewhere by her cot and collapsed.
She listened to the mosques fight and the dogs call every morning until the bed made her shoulders sore and the bathroom dried with no showers. She listened to the cows call and her husband call as the cow shat. She dragged her feet out of bed and ambled to the kitchen, her husband in khaki, his fingers drumming as if no time had past and he’d been waiting for her all along.
“Drink some water,” he smiled in his lopsided English.
Is it from the filter?
She lied in rest even when she was awake, even as her husband paced by the clothesline, whispering into the phone:Yes, yes, she has some issues. She’ll need some support but she can cook and clean well and is no longer afraid of being alone.
That night she slept next to her husband, crumpling a receipt she’d found in her pajama pants’ pocket from months ago at an American convenience store back and forth into cottony paper to sweaty origami. She swung her legs over the bed frame, then flung herself flat and fat on her back before creeping out of bed.
She crept the floor above her neighbors, and their neighbors, before stepping out onto the terrace. Her feet cleared the dust that matched smogged night air and the macaques. Her fingers found the end of her nightgown, from her ankles up to the limp breastfeeding pocket that once helped nurse a child now continents away. The nightgown swept above her head, onto the concrete.
She ripped her underwear off her body and into the powder of banana leaves in the corner. There. She stood in front of eight million people with not a single thread left on her body, spread her arms and rejoiced at the music of muted traffic.
“Thara? Her husband clanked up the last few steps and just let his mouth gape like a fish. “What is this?”
She splayed a hand out. Come.
He grabbed his phone and called the daughter he hadn’t heard from in nearly a month. She’s gone crazy, your mother. Yes. Completely naked, chee. I think I’ve lost her. Gone.
Come.Thara yelled. Her husband slid his hand into hers and twirled her in her bare skin, the gaps between her rolls the spaces where her husband tensed away from her. She slid her chubby face onto his small shoulders, her hands against the small of his back, and swayed.
Someday, some million people will look back on the photos of a woman dancing on a terrace taken behind netted windows and the times she’d bend over the balcony to fix the clothesline in sometimes next to nothing. They’d never understand that she was born nebulous and diffused like ink, that she was stateless and a colonized state and born nowhere. They’d never understand that the light that was always on at the end of flat was never hers, home in that smogged earth and room, unlike the rooms in people a few windows down, a few nations down, a few bones down that were naked to darkness.
Vriddhi Vinay is a college freshman, a poet, short story writer, and live to be obnoxiously South Indian. They are an academia drive PDF Librarian, a meme archivist, and forever broke. They live on twitter @scaryammu or ig @communistkalki.