This neglected corner has turned six. (Seems strange that I began writing here when I was sixteen.) I once resolved to stop, but a lingering sense of attachment prevented complete abandonment. But now, words fail me – or perhaps, I have failed them – and I now find that I have little or nothing left to say.
Our bodies are our ledger-books, collecting and calculating our memories, hiding them in patches of soft and hard skin, balancing pain and pleasure in the creases of our flesh. Eventually, every crevice is taken up by a memory – the grazing caress of a lover, an accidental bump from a stranger, or perhaps a cruel blow from both.
In the end, our skin – resilient, but not endless – retains the haunting memory of hurt deeply. The wounds penetrate, going deeper and deeper and deeper still – until, one day, you discover that the cartography of your body – the maze of connected bones, the layers of protective tissue, and perhaps even the twinkle in your eyes – has collapsed in on itself, unable to bear the weight of your sorrow.
This battered body of mine is a canvas of scars. The most recent mark has begun to fade into the black, ashy skin of my elbow – courtesy of a shadowed man who found me to be a convenient ashtray for his questionable cigarette. Yet another, whose grasp I managed to escape, hatefully scratched my arm with lethally sharp nails, leaving a thin, nearly invisible line. Long ago, someone else felt entitled to forcibly take that which was not offered – and he too, left a stain.
These scars will eventually fade. Not because they have healed, but because they have sunk into the crevices of my skin, mingled with my blood, and entrenched themselves into the corners of my fragile heart.
I made my way through the crowd, desperate to disentangle myself from the seemingly endless sea of humanity that had been stuffed into a seedy basement of a half-demolished building. As I stumbled past the makeshift threshold, a little boy – hardly more than five or six years old – was holding a bouquet of crimson red roses. He tugged my hand and motioned me to wait. He chose a rose that had not quite bloomed and picked off the thorns with his teeth, pricking himself on the edge of his lips. After wiping the edge of the stem with his shirt, he tucked the rose into my hand and said, yee sib. Twenty. I knelt until we made eye contact. School? He shook his head negatively, and repeated the price with increased insistence. People were rushing past us, eager to entrench themselves into the bouncing crowd. I looked at him helplessly, reached into my pockets and gave him whatever had come into my grasp. He quickly offered me another rose and scampered away.
Drained of energy and optimism, I walked away from the thumping noise of the nightclub and flagged a motorcycle taxi to return home. After noting my address, the young motorist took off his helmet and offered it for me to wear, which I rejected. At some point during the journey, I had fallen asleep on his shoulder and woke only when he pulled into my residence. I reached into my pockets to pay my fare, only to realize that I had given the little boy all of my money. I looked at the driver and apologized profusely in broken Thai. His face was unreadable, and I did not know if he would be willing to wait for me to go to my apartment and retrieve money. Without a word, he took the two roses I was still holding in my hand, raised it above his head as a salutation and drove away into the shady soi, beeping his horn to warn oncoming traffic of his presence.
When people ask me what Thailand is like, I never know quite what to say. Now, I suppose I can tell them that it is a place where, among other oddities, lonely little boys sell flowers outside of busy nightclubs and moto-taxi drivers may accept roses as a method of payment.
I loved my long hair. It was a comfortable, familiar weight upon my shoulders. I liked feeling its silky softness on my bare back and breasts, and I liked feeling the uneven ends tickle my pudgy stomach. No other part of me is as smooth or as soft. Even on the worst of days, I can coax my hair into messily manageable waves or iron it flat so it fell like a curtain almost to my waist.
Above all, I loved my hair because my grandmother did – doubly so. Some of my best memories of my grandmother starts with my hair – her patient hands washing it with her own special mix of henna and hibiscus herbs, squeezing out the moisture with the ubiquitous red cotton towel and combing it until the strands crackled and clung to her hands. After lunch, she oiled the dry mass until it shined and added a bonus scalp massage that let me drift into a blissful afternoon sleep. Right before sunset, the hair was gathered and braided immaculately with roped jasmine. Caring for my hair reminded her of her youth. She reminisced of a time where her fat, ebony braid swayed gently by her hips – like a pendulum marking time. She had never taken a pair of scissors to it – in her eyes, a woman’s beauty was her hair.
As time passed, the braid became thinner and lighter, diminishing into a mass of dull silvery waves that reached her waist limply, stressing the burden of aging. She then swirled it into a bun with a quick flick of her wrist, reasoning that long braids were not meant for an old fat woman. Her bun fascinated me as much as her long braid did – it amazed me that she managed to keep the petite bun neat and secure throughout the day with out the use of rubber bands or bobby pins.
The death of my grandfather brought the death of her hair as well. Exactly thirteen days after his passing, her silver-blond locks fell to her feet in a heap of ragged curls. Soon, her head became bare and felt like velvet sandpaper to my curious fingers. She was blank – empty eyes and soulless expressions replaced her once jovial face. The lack of vermilion deepened the creases in her forehead and made the veins more prominent. With the absence of her customary jewelry, the folds of fat in her neck seemed more jarring and became somewhat unsightly. The colorful sparkle from her nosering that accompanied her constant smile no longer lit her face. Her arms no longer jingled with the myriad of mismatched gold and plastic bangles. I could no longer distinguish my grandmother’s identity as her own.
When I was but a child and accompanied my grandmother to various temples, I often asked her what she prayed for. She said that she prayed for her family’s health and well-being. And she also prayed that she would one day die as a sumangali, a married woman. The thought of losing her made me horrified – so I fiercely countered her prayers of an early death with my own prayers of longevity.
After having witnessed my grandmother’s loss of self and the methodical destruction of her womanhood, I bitterly wished in hindsight that God had granted her prayers instead of mine.
When she was but a child, she was told that the multitude of Gods would grant her any wish if she whispered her secrets to the full-time gatekeeper and part-time messenger that was conveniently placed at the entrance of even the smallest of the mythically holy shrines, offering easy access to any believing passer-by. Soon thereafter, it became a peculiar habit of hers to make regular visits to this austerely dressed bull-statue and whispered into his detailed ears her shyest dreams and whimsiest thoughts. Though it was mundane – and utterly fanciful – it was a quirky habit that she became particularly addicted to. It was her throwing of the gauntlet; her cynical method of questioning these invisible puppeteers to prove their existence in the only logical way a child would recognize. It was her selfish and personal concession to the supposed Divinity – to the broken-tusked elephant of obstacles and mountain-moving monkeys, to the peacock-riding heroes and musically-talented cowherds. It was amongst the other quirks that she indulged in as a mostly-silent child, like saving the smallest scraps of clean paper for future hypothetical use or her avoidance of walking on grilled-gates that sometimes covered Bombay’s haphazard sewage system due to an absurd fear of falling deep into the Earth through any open orifice.
Out of fond familiarity – or perhaps childishly wishful thinking – she bent down to the stone bull years later, ready to impart her dreams into the cold and unmoving ears. As she leaned closer, she paused and closed her eyes, focusing on her warm breath escaping through her lips and dissolving into the mist. She reopened her eyes and gently pulled back, shaking her head at her own momentary foolishness. Some dreams, she thought, are not meant to be wished for.