Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Gateway

The streets of Bombay were warm. The breeze was hot and salty, and it ruffled the fabric of his shirt in a way that felt like the world was softly breathing on him. He could see the silhouettes of various naval ships floating in the bay with their guns pointed to the sky. Two Destroyers and an Aircraft Carrier faithfully defending the port with their gaunt presence alone. He could see the sun buried in the permanent haze that lay atop Bombay’s sky, slowly sinking. The palm trees overhead reminded him that he was far from home; a feeling he’d feared for months while traveling through India. But now, in his last day or so, began to appreciate.

The thought of leaving this strange place weighed heavy on his mind, as he knew that in three days time he’d return to America and everything he left behind in search of something else. It was as if these last days were the celebration of the end of a bloodline; a tragic passing of a person he’d come to know, empathize with, and criticize for it’s cowardness- and the cold and uncertain birth of a new person, returning home with new perspectives, plans, and concerns.

His life as he knew it would turn from the wondrous, curious, romantic, and fantastical to a life of competitive struggle in every capacity of his needs and wants. He’d leave behind the unknown and all the possibilities of reinvention (which he had come to a shaky truce with) and return to a place where everyone he knew had expectations and preconceptions of his former self.

In the shadow of his inevitable restoration to American life, he decided to surrender his thoughts of what was to come: to the sights, smells, and tastes he’d only be able to enjoy for just a few days more.

He watched the sun dip into the Indian Ocean’s horizon one last time. He listened to the motors and voices on the street and the prayers sung from the minarets at sundown. He watched the street dogs do their thing. He watched the mustached taxi drivers chatting away as they leaned over the green roofs of their yellow cars- sharing cigarettes and stories in their foreign version of English. He imagined they were gossiping like construction workers do on lunch break in American cities. He imagined that they all lived in the comfort of a faith so deep that it offset their material shortcomings; a faith that Americans would simply never understand or appreciate; not just because of our lack of it in general but that it required a community’s devotion to actualize as an individual.

That night he dreamt of falling in love with the most beautiful woman in the world- strolling through the markets of Bombay; he imagined himself letting go of all the anxiety that comes with the plastic pressures to accumulate wealth and gain acceptance into a consumer culture; he imagined a type of freedom that was surprisingly easy to picture but hard to describe and even harder to practice.

In 2038 he would tell his daughter several stories of his youth over dinner at a restaurant; in particular his travels to India over dinner prior to her own adventure. He and his wife would regale their traveling stories to her. Again he could not accurately describe how it felt to leave.

Recounting incidents of friendship, hilarity, recklessness, triumphs, defeats, and the beautiful things they'd seen; they found tears in there eyes- the kind that were the result of a nostalgic longing for their own youth, the passage of time, and scary thought of their daughter Rebecca waving goodbye at the gate the next day.

After that dinner, Rebecca would tell her father over a cigarette on the street that she had not seen his face light up like it did that night since she was a little girl. He would swallow hard knowing that it had been much longer than that. But it wasn’t until the next day at the airport that it came to him: he would hug Rebecca and whisper in her ear that the freedom he left behind in Bombay nearly 30 years prior was mainly that of expectation; the freedom to decide and accept that what you have is already the world, and that although it could grow bigger or smaller, it would not mean anything, any different.

Rebecca in tears would look him in the eye, holding his hand tight, and tell him she loved him.