When I first met Halli, I hung curtains over the windows to keep her from seeing me. So she shut off my electricity to keep me from seeing anything.
The first morning with her, I paused at the front door. By the same hand that opened the door to let myself out, I let her in. She was leaning in the hallway waiting for me. She’s an early riser. With the flick of a hand, she guided me to school through chaos. It is difficult to walk side by side with her, jumping over the lava and bear traps in her roads. Like a video game glitch she never gets caught up. My eyes bounced off men in dirty shirts, barefoot children, and hard-faced women wrapped in colors. She took me to the school gates and faded into the air without much of a good bye. She isn’t welcome on the school grounds. Like an incompetent parent, her children are learning to ask for more from life then she can give them, they don’t expect much.
Even now she walks me to and from school and accompanies me on errands. Through the time we’ve spent together I’ve discovered her talents. Pouring tea, beheading chickens, hawking clothing, selling cement and rice in easily confusable bags, cutting off hands, patching tires, poisoning food, fixing shoes, employing children, burning trash, skinning goats, stringing wires over trees, adjusting prices to match skin tone, spitting, and rapidly developing.
When we talk her hands illustrate everything. She dances when she walks to the store. Sings when she thinks she is alone. Shouts with her whole body. Burps midsentence. No matter how much perfume or incense she bathes in, sometimes in the middle of a pleasant conversation a gentle whiff reminds me of the trash that she leaves endlessly waiting. Her hair is long, black, and greased with coconut oil. Her clothing is clean though she beats it on the sidewalk and dries it in the dust.
She inconsistently seduces me. Sometimes she follows after me begging, maybe she’ll wave to me from her porch, or run me off the road with blaring horns. She’ll kiss my cheek and invite me into her home. Then tomorrow, let me pass without a blink of her dry eyes. She barks with the hyenas at night. She tumbles through the street like a naked toddler. She rambles insane. Slowly fingers a simple dinner. Sometimes she asks me questions like we never met before and then we meet for the first time.
She rides a motorcycle with her face wrapped in a scarf like a hijab ninja. When she accelerates her scarf whips behind her. It makes her look like a Hindi hero. It worries me when she rides with her entire family, a week of groceries, and a full-length mirror all at once while arguing, eating, and texting. She passes gruesome scenes, without turning her head for them. She melts metal without gloves, climbs over rust barefoot, and swerves her bike with her music. When I first met her I was scared for her, but now that I care for her, I fear for me. Caring for someone, fearing for someone…whatever, she smiles at me.
She doesn’t smile at who I am, but what I am. The magic spell of privilege tattooed into my skin color keeps her kind to me. Although she hasn’t set it on me, I’ve seen her cruel side, her street sleeping families and alcoholic zombies. I wonder, if one day, one day before I fall for her she’ll cut me. Just so I can have scars to remember and blend in with the survivors.
On our walks we talk about the future. She is ancient, but she speaks like any young woman taking on the world. It’s wonderful to roam around with someone who gets more beautiful as the days roll on. But isn’t that always true. She tells me with Hindistani swagga, “Come visit in ten years! I’ll be unrecognizable !” When she says it in billboards, IMF projections, and at our cafe table I believe her… Oh you must.
I can sense her prejudice when someone new approaches us. If I ask her about it she get heated. To Halli what you are matters. Your religion, your color, your money, your language, and even your foods are nakedly important to her. I never had to survive. I understand, but I don’t know the dark side of trust the way she does. Surviving popped the illusion of equality, and now she balances on whatever she can, whatever she sees herself in…
I came over to her house and sat beside her on the floor. She was lost in the numb blah-blah of MTV India. Youngsters spending, straightening their hair, lightening their skin, buying phones, and dressing like unaffordable rock stars were projected all over her blank face. Making her hate her number in the roulette of wombs. For Halli the longing in her eyes will have to wait. She turned it off and impatiently she looked toward me.
Eye to eye with her, I wonder where I fit. My clothing, skin, and relative wealth make me seem like an MTV character that stepped out of the television. Does she imagine that I can lead her back into the lives on TV? Maybe she isn’t that needy? … who cares.
Under the last peel of blood orange sunset, I hopped on to the back of the bike and, emasculating myself, I clung to Halli as we bounced up and down the series of potholes that was once a road, when animals talked, aliens built the pyramids, and the ocean was just a party foul at heaven’s wildest nightclub.
We arrived at a sandy patch near a lake. We listened to the sun fall asleep. I gathered sticks for a small fire while she played with her phone and hoped not to tan in its glow. When we sat in the dim firelight, I wondered if she wanted me to kiss her. Just as I decided, the smell of hot plastic pounced on me. She had thrown trash on the fire to keep it lit. I coughed and the moment was gone… forget it. We stood up, made jokes, and I drummed on the back of her helmet while she drove me home. We said good-bye, no more enthusiastically then to a delivery boy. See ya.
I still have one more month to wonder with her. It was written that God gives us friends, lovers, teachers, and enemies but that they are each in disguise. We don’t know who is who until we fight them, love them or leave them. I will know who Halli is by the end… that would be nice.
(Halli is the Pan-Indian word for village/town. Halli is the personification of my neighborhood and how we get along. She doesn’t actual exist yet…calm down)