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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Apartment: Part I

"Crap, no milk."

Closing the fridge carefully as not to wake my roommate, I walked into the kitchen and turned off the stove. The water was still heating up in the kettle, gentle wisps of steam floated upwards. Still tired, and complaining in my head about how I didn't want to go out in the early morning street to get milk, I opened the window behind the sink hoping some fresh air would wake me up. At eight in the morning, rickshaws buzzed down the road, and cars and bikes loudly honked their horns.

I looked down into the sink. "At least there are no dirty dishes to wake up to," I thought to myself. The blue wooden cabinets bore down on me in that kitchen, their not quite gray, not quite navy blue color reflecting a boring, neutral feeling in the early morning kitchen. I opened the cabinet just under and to the left of the sink, pulling out a box of matches. Placing them on the counter I crouched down and started rustling through the cabinet. Finally finding what I was looking for, I stood back up and lit the sandalwood incense and placed it in a nook in the open window. Some mornings the incense smoke blew into the kitchen, dancing along the stove, the milk, the coffee, and pots and pans. It danced on my counter and around my sink. Some mornings it blew outside and danced among the wire fence that surrounds the balcony. That morning I wondered if where it blew meant anything.

An ant scurried across the metal on the upper portion of the sink. The place where I usually mix my coffee, I can only guess it smelled sugar somewhere. Unless ants like coffee. I never thought about that before. Sometimes I wonder about these little guys. They live in colonies from a few, to a few thousand. I kill this little scout searching for food, and life goes on. When his pheromones of death spread into the air, do other ants begin mourning? Does the queen cry? If I can't feel for a little ant then I must think, how can a larger being, or even a god feel for my own death? If I should die, life goes on, humans carry on with existence, and at most, some mourning comes about from friends and family. In the end, we're just ants scouting for more resources too. Right?

Sandalwood smoke blew in my direction, tickling the inside of my nose and I woke up from my daze. But morning always does that. I walked away from the thoughts I was having. I looked back in the fridge for some food, and found some eggs, 3 pieces of bread, a half-packet of ginger-garlic paste, and some uncooked, left over carrots and cabbage. 'Wonder what I can make for dinner tonight,' I thought before I even had breakfast in my stomach. Another usual morning thought. A container with a yellow lid that never fit on quite right contained some cooked, unseasoned noodles. I saw them everyday, and everyday I wondered if this is the day they would go bad. 'Another day will be fine' I kept saying to myself.

No milk, no butter, nothing good. I should have gone shopping the day before. 'I guess I'll have to brave outside.' I quietly walked down the hallway away from the kitchen, my sandals scraping against the dusty tile floor. It's not so much that outside is bad, in fact it's my saving grace when I can't stand the inside of the apartment. Putting on my outdoorchapples (Indian equivalent to flip-flops), I quietly slid down the lock from the top of the door and pushed down on the door handle. It creaked as it unhinged from inside the door. The door squeaked, and the bustling traffic outside that used to be muted and muffled became loud, abrasive, and in my face. As I closed the door behind me I walked to the top of the stoop, sniffing the air. Something smelled different. I look to the empty lot to my left and nothing was different at all. Smoke billowed out from several different piles of trash across the lot, and the wind blew it across my face and in front of the apartment.

I lifted my arms into the air, stood on my toes and stretched towards the smoke covered sun. It's not always covered in smoke, the morning sun was usually brilliant, warm, and inviting. This morning however, it looked more like a scene from "Children of Men". Before walking off to the bakery to buy milk, I noticed a woman turning the corner down my street. A plastic bag in hand, asaree that isn't dirty, but is noticeably "worn-in" she walked over to the empty lot. The blue and green on her saree danced and played off the green lot and the blue sky. She gracefully walked over, her thin barefoot feet gliding over the rough, uneven pavement. She overturned the plastic bag and dumps plastic, paper, some orange peels and other refuse onto the ground. With one foot she began to bring it together into a little pile. Reaching into the bottom of the bag she pulled out a box of matches. Simultaneously, she pulled the match box out and the white plastic bag fell gently down the side of hersaree and on her foot. She pushed the bag to one side with her foot, her silver anklets shining and singing in the morning sun. I continued to watch curiously, seemingly invisible to the rest of the world.

Her thin, yet fit body bent over and struck a match. First she moved the flame to one side of the pile. Then the other. She discarded the still lit match on the top of her pile of trash. As her hips and waist moved from an acute angle to 180 degrees, she noticed me standing on the stoop. An expressionless face her dark brown eyes looked into mine, a moment when time stood still. I could see a red mark on her hairline where her hair parted to each side of her head. The mark of a married woman. A redbindi adorned the center of her forehead, in between her eyebrows. She didn't smile. She looked back down at the pile and noticed no smoke was issuing from it. She lit another match, shuffled the trash, and re-lit it. This time it came to life. She got up, looked back at me for half a second, and just like a ghost, she was gone. The only look she made was back at the trash again before turning the corner, making sure it was lit. And it burned. The acrid, plastic in gaseous form burned my nostrils.

I stood there for another minute observing the now passed situation. Nothing bothered me too much about the situation, for it was India. That happened daily. What I seemed to take away from it was the woman. Nothing about her, or her beauty, or hersaree , or the fact that she was married. No. What was imprinted in my head was her attitude. She dumped the trash, lit the match, and walked away without even a side glance as to what she was doing. I can't read minds, but she didn't even seem to contemplate the questions I would be asking before I even contemplated doing something like that. Things like, 'what if someone sees me?' 'is this okay?' and more. Mostly the societal implications that get down on me of not only lighting a fire in the street, but a trash-fire continues now to amaze me. And it amazed me then.

Shrugging it off, I pushed the blue metal gate open and took a right turn towards the main road. Before taking yet another right to go down to the small bakery where I buy my milk in the morning, I look down the road. Leaving my street to go right is one of those blind turns that you could easily get into an accident on. And being that they drive on the left, you have to cross oncoming traffic. One way, clear. The other way, clear. As I put my foot out into the road, a bike buzzes by me, his horn blaring. They drive fast in India.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Norm,
    Each of your blogs confirm in our minds the tremendous learning experience you are having.
    We get excited when we see someone walking their dog without a plastic bag in their hands, and can't imagine someone burning their garbage in front of the their home.
    Do you remember the Steinfild episode about people walking their dogs?