When I was little, my home had one wall- my grandfather, my thatha. I thought that of all the people who ever breathed, and of all the stars in the sky, he was the oldest ever. My footsteps went pitter-patter as I followed him. His visage was lined with wrinkles. I could feel them cover his hands as he held mine and we traced Telugu letters on a big, blue slate. Each Saturday we would meet my parents on a screen. Amma held a tiny baby whose hair wound in circles like mine. One morning, my grandfather didn’t wake up. My parents came home and took me to the place inside the screen.
Every day when I woke up in my new house, I would peep through the window and see snow as white as my grandfather’s hair, and tree trunks big and brown like his eyes. White and brown belonged outside the window, and on our skins, but did not belong to thatha anymore.
Each Saturday, we drive to a pier that overlooks the ocean
The ocean that stands between my ‘then’ and my ‘now’
Now I look at the Big Blue and think I have a house on one side, but on the other, my home is alone
Alone, I yearn for a world where I’m not embarrassed
I’m not embarrassed that I speak their language in my tongue; my eyes aren’t forever glued to my feet
My feet long to dance on the stone tiles that built home and to hear friendly voices
Voices I struggle to understand; I break down sy-lla-bles and di-ctio-na-ry
A dictionary that I pack in my bag which brings meaning to your words, but not to my feelings
My feelings are crushed when you run away at the smell of my lunch or the hair on my hands
Hands I raise politely when my teacher is unable to say my name.
I tell myself this is a nightmare I will wake up from.
I seek solace in words like ‘shy’ and ‘wallflower’. I hide in layers of normalcy- in gymnastics class thrice a week, at science club twice a week, inside my room all week.
My Mondays are jam-packed, but on Tuesdays, I have no friends. The blue walls of my room are audience to tears, torn books, and tantrums.
I pretend to understand what ‘quarterback’ and ‘touchdown’ mean but make a mental note to look them up, along with words of all the songs I don’t know.
Yesterday my brother asked me,
“What was it like before you came here?”
so I regale him with tales
of the neem tree that
stood in the centre
tall, proud, unabashed
feelings stranger to me
I danced around it
twist / twirl / turn / crash.
I tell him tales
that would light up my eyes
glow / glitter / gleam / poof
of magic and monsters and mountains,
of dinosaurs and dragons and dancers,
of the worlds in which I was
a princess / a ninja / a warrior / a dreamer.
I tell stories in a language he
battles to understand;
I begin to grapple too.
I tell him tales of thatha’s
grey face- when it reflected the moon’s,
laughter- that roared / rolled / rumbled / stilled,
voice- that painted stories in lands to which
I tell him tales,
pass down what was given to me.
Stories are my only family heirloom.
Sometimes I fumble / flounder / flail / despair
I can’t remember the
pitch black of ṭhe gate
it’s rusting (in my mind).
Did we lock it up? We locked up
my home, and my
forgotten souvenirs in the attic
and threw the key away.
are my only companion
so I reach out my hands and
grip them tight
like the handle on a rollercoaster
that’s going down.
I tell him
everything I lived
everything I loved
before they wane / wilt / wither / die.
One bright star
others crumble to dust
memories are stardust.
This piece was inspired by ‘Pachinko’ by Min Jin Lee.