I wrote this junior year of high school. The teacher had told us to write about something impactful in our lives and I wrote about when my family moved to India for a year. I decided to post this so we could get to know each other a little better. Also I’m too lazy to write something new. (This was like four pages in a word document so don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
I was standing at the top of the stairs, looking down at my sorry excuse for a living room. We had sold our white leather couches -which had mysteriously developed a tiny cut under the right arm rest around the same time I learned to use scissors- and now our living room was empty except for a few boxes of worthless junk that my mom wanted to save. People were constantly coming in and out of our house, leaving with their hands full of our stuff, like they had just looted a tomb.
I spent a week at the top of those stairs, watching my toys and my board games and my dolls leave with strangers. But never the books. My mom saved every book we’d ever bought, and threw out every toy I’d ever held dear. Who knows? Maybe if we’d kept that plastic pet hospital set-instead of giving it to the little girl whose family bought our van- I’d still want to be a veterinarian. But I didn’t put up much of a fight as long as I got to keep my teddy bear. His name was Teddy.
I can’t remember my mom telling we were moving to India. I can’t remember my reaction. I can’t remember leaving our house and driving to airport. But I remember the plane ride. That was probably the best part about moving to India. The plane had mini televisions on the back of every seat. I spent the first nine hours of the fourteen hour flight playing Super Mario and watching Brother Bear. I spent the rest sleeping.
I woke up just before we landed, my eyes bloodshot from the lack of sleep, and staring at the screen in front of me for so long. I kept looking around nervously when we got off the plane. My mom held my right hand, and my teddy bear held my left. The airport was ugly. The air was hot and thick, and reeked of smoke and dust and incense. Every last inch of every wall and linoleum tile floor was the same ugly shade of beige.
People stared at us as we walked out of the terminal. Their eyes flickered between my mom and my dad, then my older sister and I. I suppose we looked like two pairs of complete opposites. My father was dark skinned with dark hair, brown eyes, and a bushy, black beard, clearly Indian. My mother was fair skinned, easily mistakable for Caucasian, though she was just as Indian as my father or my sister or me. She had recently decided to start wearing a hijab wherever she went, which only increased peoples’ confusion. My sister had short, thick black hair and my father’s sharp nose. I had my mother’s eyes and my mother’s hair, cut into a bowl shaped bob that framed my face, upon her request. We didn’t look like sisters, especially not with her olive skin tone and healthy figure, in stark contrast with my pale skin and twig-like limbs.
The gigantic glass windows at the entrance of the airport were tinted black, making me think that we had arrived in the middle of the night. My dad thrust open the large doors, and I found myself recoiling from the shock. The smell was… stronger than I expected. Smog mixed with gasoline and livestock and urine. I squinted up at the sky. The sun seemed so bright, so huge. It never looked like that back home. It looked like a fireball here. As soon as I stepped through the doorway I was taken aback by the sudden change in temperature. I could feel the sweat beading up on my forehead. I was momentarily blinded by the shining yellow orb, but when my vision came back into focus, I saw my grandparents walking towards me with open arms.
We had arrived in the middle of summer, on one of the hottest days of the year. Naturally, it caused my nose to bleed. Just two short hours after reaching my grandparent’s house, I found myself lying on the couch with tissues under my nose and cold towel soaked in ice water on my forehead. I had caught something on the plane, and it only took one bite of roti to make me throw up. I was already homesick. The tissues were too papery, definitely not Kleenex brand, and the towel was rough against my skin, old and worn and faded. The couch I was lying on was too hard. It was beautiful, though, with all sorts of embroidery and silky flowers sewn onto it. It was probably expensive. The base was made of a dark stained wood, shiny and new looking. I looked around the room, my gaze switching between the fancy furniture to the large television and marble flooring, and the expensive-looking carpet under the coffee table. This was no place for a child.
When my nose stopped bleeding and my fever finally went down, my grandmother took me to see the room I’d be staying in. She grasped my arm firmly as she guided me past the dining area and down a hallway. That was the thing about my grandmother. She looked frail and small, but she had a tight grip. She dragged me along behind her, and I took to staring at the scarf she had been wearing, which had been slowly sliding down her head with each step, finally settling on her shoulders, revealing the waist length hair she always kept in a tight bun.
The room was painfully plain. White walls with white beds and white sheets, and big windows no curtains. Everything was crisp and… untouched. The room was impressive, though. It was large, with three windows and a massive closet. But it didn’t look lived in, at all, which was understandable, considering that fact that my grandparents had lived alone in this big house for years. There had never been any children here. No one to spill grape juice on the carpets. No one to scribble on the walls. No one to jump up and down on the beds for hours, to make them soft and more comfy. The whole house was the same. It was decorated beautifully, with marble tiles and swept floors and dusted china cabinets, but I felt like I was in a museum. Like there was a sign in every room saying “Look but don’t touch.”
“Do you like you room, Amu?” my grandmother asked. I gave a single nod, letting my arms slip out of her grasp. I walked around the room, taking in my new surroundings. Hanging above each bed was a hideous white mesh: a mosquito net.
“It’ll be like the canopy beds you guys always wanted!” my mother had tried to convince us. I wasn’t convinced. At least the room had its own bathroom, but I’d have to share it with my sister. The lock to the bathroom was on the outside of the door, strangely enough. I remember thinking it would make for a lovely prank to lock someone in there.
This place wasn’t homey. It wasn’t comforting. I had lived in a lot of different houses, but they were all home. They were all in California. But I was stuck here. My parents never gave me a clear reason as to why we had moved here. I didn’t understand what we had here that we didn’t have in America. But apparently we were missing something over there. And so we had to find it and make something for ourselves here. Here we would stay, “for just a little while,” my mom promised. “Besides, now we have this nice big house here.” A house, but never a home.
So, I made do with what I had, unpacking my bag, slowly taking out the package of glow-in-the dark stick-on stars I had brought with me to plaster all over the ceiling. I peeled off the packaging carefully, breathing in the smell of the factory, of the newness. I took my time rolling the sticky tack in my hands, meticulously placing a tiny piece on the back of each star, then jumping on the bed to stick them in just the right places. Later that day, my dad helped me hang a purple wall clock above my bed. I wasn’t home yet, but it was a start.
*** I’d like to point out a few things. First of all, I am so not proud of that last line. Way too cliche. Second, I guess I forgot about it at the time I was writing this, but I didn’t actually have my teddy bear with me when I moved. I had left it at school by accident. Eight months into our stay my Nani visited us and brought it back for me. The last thing I’d like to explain is probably the most important, and something I’d like to talk about in later posts: I knew exactly why we moved to india. We were poor. My dad lost his job in 2002. He couldn’t find a new one for a long time and as much as everyone in my family hates to admit it, we went to india to mooch off of my grandparents. The money we had saved would last a lot longer over there and I guess in a way, whether they acknowledge it or not, my parents were running away from their problems. I don’t blame them. And as much as I hated it at the time, that year I spent in india changed me. But that’s not why I’m telling you this. I brought this up because the first draft of this story (which I unfortunately no longer have) was more…raw. I told it like it is and complained about everything a lot more. But my mom read it before I handed it in and forced me to change it. She didn’t want the teacher to know we used to be “poor” or that I had a bad experience or went through any sort of hardship. She still denies that we didn’t have enough money and went to India for any reason besides experience. The fact of the matter is that this was part of our life whether she’d like to admit it or not. There’s a lesson in there somewhere that I’m too tired to articulate.