Getting Home for Thanksgiving Dinner in Delhi (or, "Lines In My Face")

The shop where they maintenance my motorcycle is in a part of town that's gray and brown. Maybe there are other colors too, but they're pushed around by the concrete and dust so they mostly just skulk in the dirty corners, faded and sad. 

I just dropped off my bike. It's 11:30 in the morning in India. It's Thanksgiving day. The Uber driver is 20 minutes away. 22 minutes away. 24 minutes away. He's driving the wrong direction, away from me. I cancel the Uber, hail a tuk-tuk, dull green with a listless yellow roof. The driver overcharges. but I don't care. My sphere of control has collapsed and it's crushing me. The midday sun is weak, wintered over, riding low, its light scattered wide by the dirt and truck exhaust. The world is cold and sepia somehow.

Reston, Virginia (Jan 2007)

We idle in the traffic, I'm three feet from the driver in the next tuk-tuk over. He's lazily staring at me, he lifts a home-rolled cigarette to his mouth, he purses his lips and pulls. The smoldering end flares. Smoke wafts from his nose. I think of the closed door to a room on fire. Maybe this man is burning. My eyes sting.

And I'm lost. I'm a foreigner in a tuk-tuk, my hair is tangled, my skin is heavy. I am trillions and trillions of atoms and I am crammed into seething Delhi, but I am alone. Somebody is selling beachballs in the traffic. I want one. Right now, I want one the way I want to fall backward all the way to Eden, just for awhile. Not a garden, just an hour in a long ago August in a car on a highway, there's music and a girl and she's airy skin, summer hair, and we're driving and I see us in the rear-view and we're endless, we're forever. But now she's just a line in my face.

There's a footbridge over the raucous freeway and it's empty except for me and the man sitting there without legs. His bare chest is beachwood and his beard is a blizzard and his stare hurts like a hole. I force myself to stare back, I see his stumps, his brittle ears, the creases in his stomach, I see it all. This man is here. I won't pretend he isn't. I'm willing him to exist and hoping that this act means I do too.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (May 2007)

The cacophonous freeway traffic below us is snarled, but there's a man on a creaky bicycle, winding between the buses and cars. He's steering with one hand, carrying a potted marigold in the other. That's all he's doing. I remember my mom had marigolds on the porch a long time ago, they smelled like sugar, my dad stood beside them when he came home. I'm on a footbridge in India, but I can hear the doorknob turning. My dad is home.

The marigold is beachball bright, orange as August. And somehow it ignites and it's a nova and all the colors come out, it's sunrise at noon, I'm lost but alive. We exist, me and the man without legs. We're endless, we're forever. When I die, maybe he'll be a line in my face. Now the guy with a marigold on a creaky bicycle is gone, swallowed in the traffic. But now the world is on fire. That man was burning.