She can’t really tell what comes first, the air pushing her suddenly aside or the explosion that makes her heart skip a beat. She is almost certain that everything suspends and stops in a vacuum inside and outside for a millisecond. She looks at the petrified tourists around her. They are Israelis, and for them everything stops in a different place. Everything stops because they feel a millisecond of terror, until their mind reminds their bodies that those are bombs of joy. It is Diwali, the Festival of Light in India. Tourists do not understand that these firecrackers not only fight evil, but that they also celebrate the return of Krishna. And both the tourists and her do not understand that behind Diwali there is an awareness of one’s inner light. She might have once known it, but now she doesn’t anymore. How could she, if inside of her she feels less lit.
She wants the bombs to keep exploding to get again and again a millisecond of suspension of pain. Not even looking at the children laughing while throwing firecrackers at the legs of Western tourists does it anymore. Western tourists never understand that they are children, who do not understand it is dangerous. She used to feel amused looking at the tourists jump and look for an adult to complain to in total anger. “They are crazy! Don’t they know it is really dangerous?” Adults always agreed, and explained that children were amused by the scared faces tourists made. They did not understand. The truth is that also adults were amused, so they never truly reprimanded the children. They did of course not tell the tourists that. But they felt resentment towards their shallow hellos and goodbyes. They felt resentment to the bargaining foreigners who could not tell the difference between the good and bad silver. And yet they still bargained the same way. They felt contempt for these people who came and sat the whole day smoking jars, eating, laughing and making lots of noise till much later than acceptable. What she hated the most was when these young rich kids bargained by saying they had no money because they were students! When she knew that being a student was the dream of so many around her. No that is not what she hated most. What she hated most was that her own brother, a Brahmin, a pure person, now defended them. He even learned their language. He now lied to their parents and smoked, and drank and had accepted the invitation of an Israeli to participate in a barbecue. A barbecue! She thought many times before about telling her father. She should have done when it first happened. When her brother first had the idea to transform the guesthouse into one that catered for Israelis.
“Why Israelis?” Her father had asked. And her brother explained that they came in groups, and they told each other about it. It would not take more than satisfying one of them and all of their friends, and friends of their friends, and friends of their friends’ friends would come. “It is good business papa”. Her father was suspicious at first. Mixing so closely with foreigners could not possibly be good. But his son had mentioned something that put ideologies and fears aside: money.
And so it was that her father allowed him to take care of it all alone. It went little by little. He had to first learn to do the food that they eat in their country. And then they had to just find a way to allow them to make as much noise as they wished, and to smoke anything they wanted. It seemed so far away now. How was it that her old house had become what it was now. She should have said something then, but she was also curious about these girls who sat with boys smoking and laughing. They touched each other in public. She could only see them sometimes when she came to deliver something. She should have told her father then, but she did not know it would go so fast and now it was too late. She could not even recognize her brother anymore. He was now so distant. He never spoke to her that much but he was still part of the family. Not now, now he sat with them and laughed their crazy laughter. She knew it was not real laughter. It was laughter to distract. Laughter that worked for him as the bombs now worked for her.
She suddenly realized it had happened again. She had repeated the whole circle in her mind of how it was that her life was destroyed and this time she did not even hear any firecrackers. She wanted to cry, to scream, to run away. To swirl time backwards and run into her father’s office and scream, “Do not let Pratheek do this Papa! Lets just cater for Indians!”
And every time she swirled time backwards she could see one more detail of how it was that now she stood where she stood.
One more possible exit that she did not take because she was always afraid. On the first exit out her brother would have been disappointed, on the next possible gate out he would have been upset and now she regretted not having taken the first exit out. Then the next one would make him angry, and then the next furious. And then it did not matter anymore because her brother was trapped, he was gone. Now any exit she took would just cause pain to her father. If he ever were to find out his own older son now ate meat! MEAT? He would feel the same pain she did now. He had no health for this. So she helped her brother out taking the road to his own entrapment.
The wind dislocated her violently. It exploded so close to her that she was pushed aside. Was it the explosion or her own weakness that made her fall to the ground? She did not know. A friendly blond girl dressed in colourful dirty clothes, with dreads in her hair shouted at the children.
“Are you crazy, you almost hit her!”
The girl looked at her preoccupied. Enquiring whether she was ok.
She hated the girl she had never seen.
“Let them explode their firecrackers. Let them hit my leg. I am like them. I understand them, you don’t. Maybe then I can forget that look. That one look”.
She said nothing. She looked down. She would not thank her, she would not smile. She hated her, and all that she represented. She did not need her help. She did not need to be saved from the firecrackers the children threw around by a foreigner! She wanted to tell her that. She wanted to shout at her all the trapped anger she had inside. But she did not. Her greatest subversive act was to look down and remain silent.
Maybe it would have been better if she had not known. Maybe if she had not gone that day to deliver an unimportant message she would not have understood so well why he was so distant. Maybe if she did not know she could have had imagined that that was how it was supposed to be. But she had seen it, and the knowledge of it did not allow her to be able to change anything.
She wanted to scream at him. She wanted to run away from her own self. To vomit herself out and let the body lay there on the floor. Even if she could not understand what would be left. Was the pain in her body or in her soul? How could it be that it was both, and even vomiting herself out would not solve it. That is what it was, she was trapped, and she trapped him too.
She remembered how lucky she felt on the day when her parents announced that her arranged marriage was to Mohan the boy she had secretly loved her whole life. She imagined from that day onwards every single ceremony of the wedding. She imagined how she would walk around the fire, every circle making a promise that was more and more profound. She daydreamed about the saris, and the Henna and the exchange of gifts and where she would put her hand in the wall. How it would be marked that his family home was now hers. She knew she was probably the luckiest girl in the whole of India. For the whole time she was away helping her grandmother in the farm she thanked the gods every single day.
She was so happy that she had even forgotten how distant her brother had become. So happy that she thought it was a good idea for Mohan to work in the guesthouse too. Retrospectively she realized that it had in fact not been that clear to her all that she saw now. Those gates out there were not clear then. In fact they were not even visible. She might have been even happy that her brother was becoming more open, and so learned. How could she have been so stupid? How could it be that things become only so clear when you look back at them? Maybe it was a punishment for being so distracted with her own luck.
It did not matter she was too tired now to even scream. Too tired to tell the blond girl anything. She felt no strength to even stand up. She secretly wished those were real bombs. She just wanted her mind to stop. But it did not, her mind did not abandon her, and within herself she had to once again, in spite of her own desire, walk back the streets to deliver that unnecessary message in the guesthouse.
She walked again through the streets inside of her. She remembers the joy that now seemed so stupid. She remembers the thankfulness to the wind for cooling off her skin a bit on that beautiful day. She is walking as paused and peacefully as she could possibly walk, when her own body wants to run there. Her posture is flawless. Her hair has just been oiled, her sari is perfectly in place. She climbs the stairs gently, and walks towards the restaurant of the guesthouse. She can hear Mohan’s voice. Her heart beats stronger. She gently slides into the room.
She feels beautiful as she has never felt before. She cannot see anything else but him. Nothing else exists. He does not see her. How long does it take? She looks at him, and feeling invisible things start to materialize around her. Little by little she starts to hear other voices, and see other bodies. She can see now he is sitting with them. He is laughing with them. Why can’t he see her? He looks so happy. She admires his joy. She observes when he suddenly becomes quiet. Why is he not seeing her yet? He is looking in her direction but yet he does not see her. His look changes, it communicates something in silence to someone. It is a secret look, she has never seen it before. It is a knowing look. It is an intimate look. It is in her direction yet it is not for her. His gaze flies through her and behind. She suddenly becomes petrified. Her whole body knows it but she still does not believe it. She gently and fearfully follows his gaze. What is he seeing? She follows it meticulously inch by inch, and as in an already announced tragedy she slightly turns her head to suddenly find a foreign woman. The foreign woman does <b>not</b> look down, as she comes from another world living by different rules the foreigner looks inside of him. She knows in every cell of her body that <b>that woman</b> had taken him away from her. He will still walk around the fire with her, but he will never really be there.