As I walk towards the hospital at my usual 9:00 AM deadline (hurrying along,have to make good impression) in my americanised wardrobe and an Indian accent (always making me feel inferior when asked to talk LOUDLY and SLOWLY often with as much charades as possible).
Heaving a sigh of relief as I think I avoided that confrontation atleast and cursing myself for adding one more block to my daily travel, I start hurrying along again.
Clickety Clack , sound my new italian shoes brought to show my financial superiority with my latest designer bag, I feel enveloped in a pseudo-cloud of security . These separate me from the girl I was a few months back . This will show my college pals , I’m no longer a government college, subsidized student , I’m chic. I repeat these words in my mind again and again , feeling smug . What a cheshire cat I am !
“Hello, young lady” , I hear a gravelly voice behind me . My heart skips, I’m going to be mugged . I quickly start searching for the pepper spray my parents handed me at the airport. But like all things gilded , this designer bag couldn’t hold a bottle like that . And why would I spoil it with a cheap tacky pepper spray from India in any case ?
Taking a deep breath to calm my nerves , I slowly turn towards the old hobo(you see,my american slang?)
“Hello,young lady“, he says again. This time flashing a toothless grin at me . I’m shocked at the bad dental hygiene . I thought only Indians were dirty.
“Hi”, I reply shortly and turn around to cross the signal . But the light is red still for me . I remember when back in India,we used to zoom across the crowded CP outer circle . But I’m too sophisticated now.
“How are you?”says the old man ,still persistent .
“Fine“, I reply . But remembering the american tradition I add with gritted teeth ” And how are you ?” , not caring a cent about the answer.
“I’m awesome” says he . The conversation is over by my standards . Still red signal. I play out a few choice curses in my head, English of course .
“Oh are you from queens ? That’s where all the indians live ” he quips.
“Ugh , no . We live in the city.” I said lying . Don’t want to admit I’m a freshly off the boat Desi on a visitor visa. Not even in the category of first generation immigrants on a H1 ,leave alone the elite green cards.
Silence from the hobo . Now he decides to adopt a bit of show and tell . “What’s that red string on your hand ?” , pointing towards my sacred thread that was put around my hand by my grandfather ,the day I left India. Kicking myself , I quickly break the thread from my wrist and shove it into my designer purse.
“It’s nothing “I say silently thinking about my valiant efforts to not look Indian.
I cross the road , but my hobo has taken a liking to me and starts following . I didn’t notice till now but he is hurting and limping so I sigh heavily and help him cross the road. I know the sanitizer was small enough to fit in my bag, so I should be fine .
My hobo smiles at me. I notice his smile goes right into his eyes . I wonder about the last time someone smiled at me like that.
“Yes“, I reply
“Why not ” I reply . I have amazing wit .
“I asked why and not why not” replies my hobo . Trying to match my swag.“The weather is good.” I reply . Superficial answer . Nothing deep.
“How’s the weather in India ?“
Mr Hobo is walking well now on the steadier pavement . The sound of my clickety clack heels are masked by the noise pollution from his walking stick. I feel offended.
“To study”I reply
“When will you go back” I shudder again , that sounds more racist.But no time to argue.
“Never” I answer
My Hobo’s smile widens again . I hope he doesn’t show me his dirty teeth again or the lack thereof .
I wait for a reply . But his smile keeps widening till he bursts out laughing . A gurgling , throaty laugh .
“Well, life is so comfortable here . Nobody bothers about the other person. There’s free will.”
Suddenly my hobo stops laughing . Thank god or he may have choked and died on one of his few spare teeth.
“What’s more comfortable than a hug from a loved one? Don’t you want someone to bother about you? Is being alone by choice actual free will ?”
I blush . This hobo is irritating .
“It’s so beautiful here . The roads are clean.Hell,even the sky is brighter. The stars don’t just twinkle,they sparkle” I reply. Round 2 Winner me
“Do you have someone to share the sparkling sky with at night?” says he.
“Well India is corrupt “I reply
“If it was so corrupt, a deserving girl like you won’t have made it to med school” he says .I just get a stalker alert. But then notice my indian guide book from medicine poking out of my bag. Damn you designer bag.So much for observant hobos of the world.
“The people are so uncultured and rude . Here everyone is so polite “I add. A childish shrillness in my voice.“I thought indian parents lived life through children. They sacrifice themselves to work for them. Even a fifty year old can sleep in his mother’s lap with the same peace. How can you call them rude ?”
He starts wheezing . I pray quietly to god,wishing to take this hooligan away.
Oh wait . My prayers got lost in translation .Maybe even god doesn’t understand my accent. Humph
“I thought relationships were sacred in India . The ones you’re born in and the ones you gain through love. Don’t you say your guest is your god? “
“Yes,they are . That’s why they gave you that red thread. It wasn’t superstition,it was all their love,care and blessings .The symbol was small,but it was greatly symbolic.”
“Yeah.. whatever. I’ll get more money here”I say. My strongest argument for the last. Beat that dear hobo !
“And you’ll earn that money for ?”
“What will you do with it ?”
“I’ll buy clothes,a nice house, a beautiful car”
“You’ll buy clothes,but you won’t be able to go to your sister’s wedding to wear them. You’ll buy a nice house but will it be full of your family ? Will you be able to drive your grandparents around in that beautiful car?“
My hobo is seriously irritating me now. I decide to abort this conversation now.
And without waiting for a reply , I run towards my building .
Oh wait, he’s still watching my office door. I never noticed but my hobo looks very weak . His grin had hidden the wrinkles on his face.
I guess he was expecting some money. I take out 1 dollar from my bag and try to go out again but before I can do anything, a huge car pulls up in front of the building .
My hobo takes her into his arms and replies “Was just trying to give someone directions but they were lost already” . His pained expression returns for a flash but then he gets into the car and drives away.
I clutch the one dollar bill in my hand. And I cry.