photo by Courtney Patch
It happens to be the bleak, hard part of winter. Memory can be warmer place, a different life, even.
Kolkata: commute, homecoming, rooftop.
And if you went back to another time and another place, it would be a rickety rackety swaying bus. Jammed full of people, creaking, blowing its horn. Inside a hot close collection of women in bright colors holding the overhead handles, everyone staring and no one making eye contact. Outside whooshing past the deep green of dusk, of day finished. A million thoughts and images and smells swirling you into a dizzy fit as the bus clatters along, full throttle, careening this way and that as the tall, shockless wheels hit pot hole after pot hole. Your frame fairly rattled, your forehead breaking out into a sweat, you duck to look out the barred window and see how close you are to your stop. Getting close.
Disembarking as the bus pauses briefly and then speeds on. Leaping down there is a small nameless shop for coke and biscuits, there is the seller of the single cigarettes. Distant neighbors talking over one of many tiny cups of tea. Disposable clay cups thrown down and shattered to make an orange soil by the tea shop, crunching underfoot as you duck into an alley that is barely visible from the road. It probably has a name but you don’t know it. Pass one room homes, hear clattering of pots and pans. Rivulets of water flow down the trench at the edge of the alley. A right at the butcher, goat heads displayed in the window, smell of blood. Stop for a kilo of tomatoes and two kilos of rice at the almost hidden vegetable market. On down the lane, more and more narrow, home.
Up one, two, three flights of stairs. Stop only to ditch your filthy shoes on the mat by the door, heavy bag set down. Up another flight of stairs, circular this time, up and up. To the roof. And you can breathe, and the diesel fumes seem somehow less close. Instead it is mustard oil and garlic. Smell the basmati boiling away. Now fully dark. Cigarette behind your ear, the wooden match making the only close light on the rooftop garden. City lights twinkling about you, someone singing a Bengali love song as they wash dinner dishes. Take a deep breath, quiet above the din of the city. You and the stars and the crows, sleek black and silhouetted against the open sky. In your memory it is beautiful, but then, as now, you had anxiety, you had work, you had burdens, you had hopes.
Home in another country, another decade, another life.