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Departure This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


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“Your attention, please: ­Indian Airlines announces the departure of flight IC509 to Kolkata. Passengers are ­requested to proceed to the aircraft. Thank you.” The woman in front of me – kohl-rimmed eyes, diamond-jeweled nose – tugs at the edge of her purple sari and shifts her baby from one hip to the other. I resist the urge to steal it.

The sweltering heat rises from the melting runway of Terminal 1A in the shape of our past, present and future. It crawls into my brain like the Santa Ana, which turns us all a little crazy. The adults are too preoccupied with the busy misery of their own rising temperatures to notice the tar sliding like lava beneath their feet, but the children see the ghosts reaching out for us – sweat-stained grins, fire-molded licks, sharp red tongues darting in and out and out and in – and they begin to cry. All around, anxious mothers scold and sing and slap and soothe. The air grows even thicker with all their love/hate, stand-up straight, nice cool cola drink for good boys and girls, no laddoos for bad ones.

My ears hum from the Hindi and the Punjabi and the Bengali and the thousand other sounds and words and noise that take up that uniquely Indian slice of sound space. The men pull at thick black mustaches gone limp, shirts gone too tight in the middle from all the too-American meals that have nourished all-nighters, study groups, and alone time in the dorm. They are thinking of the faces of sisters and mothers and the bodies of the brides they'll bring back with them. They are checking off their degrees and jobs and accomplishments. They are coming home.

The plane is a huge docked bird opening its beak to greet us. But the anatomy is all wrong. Its jaw juts forward and teeth teeter out one after the other until they touch the ground. The body is smooth and sleek and hulking all at once. Its thrums and engine coughs and propeller whirs are not caws at all; they aren't even chirps.

Purple Sari Baby is still in front of me. Her mother has set her down and she runs onto the dull silver teeth. Her mother shouts and reaches for her. The child is so tiny, so impossibly small that I know the world will devour her. She won't survive; how can she? It's summer and it's hot and in the Antarctic glaciers are melting and African families are starving and terrorists are plotting and Jesus is coming and in a suburb halfway around the world a nice white woman locks her door against the night and her husband's body stiffens on the floor. I won't survive; how will she? There's nothing to protect her but blood and bones and muscle and dust and that has never been enough.

Purple Sari Baby giggles too loudly and runs too fast and other mothers turn their eyes, absent-mindedly stroke the hot and heavy heads of good boys and girls who will be getting a nice cool cola drink and laddoos as well – why not? Purple Sari Baby makes it to the seat across from mine, safe and sound, and the world spins one more time.

“Mum, MUH-UHM,” a little boy whines behind me. His mother hisses back at him, too low to hear. “But Mum, she smells funny. The whole plane smells funny.” The plane smells like oil and curry and red hennaed hair and something sweet. It smells like India. I turn to see the boy's mother worry her gold wedding band and turn to the window, her short black hair falling to the collar of a finely pressed white Oxford, still crisp despite it all. The skinny son beside her ­almost belongs here, until you see the bright white glare of his Converse's rubber soles, the stitched green alligator on his pink polo. His thin shoulder blades are squeezed as far as possible into himself, away from his EnglishNoIndianNoEnglish mother, away from the wrinkled old ayah hiding herself away in folds of skin and sari, making herself known only with the clear crack of her mouth as she bites down on a pistachio. Ten minutes pass and then I feel his feet colliding with the back of my chair – kick, kick, kick.

Halfway through the flight the ­attendants begin to pass out our ­afternoon snack – paneer makhni, basmati rice, kaali daal, papadam, salad, sweet gulab jamuns, butter and a bread roll. “Veg or Non-Veg?” the softly ­accented voices sing in a chorus along the aisles. “Non-Veg, please,” says the small mouth attached to the shoes attached to my chair. “No, Nikhil, you want the veg option. Tell the nice lady now.” Nikhil turns his angelic face up toward the waiting woman. “Don't mind Mum, maybe she thinks it's beef? Silly mum. It's chicken, no? I do luhhhhhve chicken.” His mother lets out an exasperated sigh and orders the non-veg for herself. “Nikhil, you do know your nana and nani don't eat chicken? Not any sort of meat, only vegetables from now on. You can't let them know I've been letting you eat these things.” “Okay, Mum, sure thing. But you know Daddy says that Nana and Nani are village people and that they have such silly beliefs. He said ….” Nikhil, who only liked to be called Nicky, spoke about what his daddy thought for the next half hour. He kept saying that his daddy said he had to watch out for “these kind of people” and that Shannon – the pretty blonde American his father lived with – had even been here for a whole semester when she was in college and she said it was shocking, really shocking, and that she was amazed that his mother was taking a child there. And then, finally, we arrived. We had reached Kolkata. “Your attention, please ….”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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This article has 4 comments. Post your own!

ShagunThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Sept. 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm:
Nice. Being Indian, I like the fact that you described India without degrading it. Very few people can truly understand what this beautiful mess of a country stands for. This article kinda reminds me of 'The God of small things" by Arundhati Roy  
 
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Krikette This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 25, 2011 at 6:25 pm:
Excellent writing! Great descriptions, unique, realistic topic. I like the way I felt immersed in the scene as I read. 
 
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katiemiladieThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
May 31, 2010 at 12:26 am:
This was a great piece. Your descpritions are wonderful. If you have the chance, I would love some feedback on my new piece, "Your Hand". Thanks! Bravo!
 
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KonyaB!!! This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
May 28, 2010 at 3:06 pm:
Nice job! Very realistic, and totally connectable
 
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