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

February 12, 2018
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My father looks at me, his papery arm wrapped tightly around my shoulder. Glossing over the array of black and white polaroids in his decaying photo album, my gaze suddenly focuses on a child who looks like me.
To many, it would be a rather depressing site. The child is disturbingly emaciated; the bones of his skull pierce through his translucent skin. Yet he has an unmistakable aura. Defying Indian tradition, the child smiles widely for the camera, forcing deep creases down the sides of his scar-speckled face. He wears comically large glasses, only outshone by a mop of wooly hair drowned in grease. But he shines a captivating energy, radiating its power through a mask of happiness.

My father has changed. The wrinkles framing his eyes seem etched in marble. His hair is thin and wispy, a shadow of the uncontrollably thick mullets he defiantly grew in his youth. But all I can think of is the gripping energy in the child’s eyes. They tell the story of a boy born in the slums, raised on handfuls of food a day. They tell the story of how the boy had become so numbed by life, that the death of his brother left him dry-eyed. But most importantly, they tell the story of a boy daring to dream despite all that. The energy in those eyes, those brown gems, were his dreams. My interest in the picture prompts my father to tell a story that transports me to the dusty roads of India some 40 years ago.

A cruel Indian sun paints its heat on the land. The cracked soil cries for mercy only to be trampled by hundreds of villagers roaming for food. Among them, a child walks against the current of dwellers. His tiny frame carries a heavy burden. In him are the hopes and dreams of an entire slum. Thousands of villagers pooled their money to send him to a private school in the hope that he would return one day with wealth to share. The child never had the privilege to dream for himself; his failure would mean that many more children would go to sleep hungry and never wake up. The child walks home, clutching a broken slate with his bony arms, his tiny head bowed in shame. A thundering voice vibrates the mud brick house as he enters, and the boy comes out minutes later. Warm blood streams down his face over fresh bruises the size of his father’s fists. Although tears begin to swell in his bloodshot eyes, they radiate a powerful energy.
As a young man his face crawls with hair forming a scraggly beard. His eyes are buried under pockets of thick skin – the result of sleepless nights. Across the hall, students study with an array of books at their disposal. Each with fresh pages and crisply printed ink. A tutor sits patiently beside each child, helping guide the confused students through the maze of knowledge. The young man, however, sits alone in a desk. His head bows in subjugation as he reads the smudged letters on the yellowing pages of his outdated book. It is all the village can afford. A passing grade on the test gives the dwellers another ounce of hope, another day with food, and another chance out of poverty. The idea of failure sends ripples of fear through his emaciated frame. A day after the young man takes the test, the results are haphazardly pasted to the principal’s door in sharp black font. The young man stares in envy at the children letting out airy laughter at the sight of their failed grade. His holds the starvation of a hundred kids. The energy in his eyes dims, hidden away by clouds of doubt, wondering if his circumstances limit the reality of his dreams. He goes to sleep to the sound of his father’s fiery hate rising deep from his belly.

The young man makes it to America. His dark eyes dart around the city. People of different colors wrap themselves in wool, shielding themselves from what seems to be soft, white rain. His immigrant heart races, his pupils dilate; the realization of his move to a new world sets in. He wants desperately to fit in. He removes the Indian gold chain his mother gave him the day she died. He throws out the wrinkled button down shirts donated by people in his village, replacing them with fine cotton suits he cannot afford. He tries to tame his thick mop of Indian hair to make it look like the people he sees in this new city. The immigrant soaks what little is left of his life force into his work. Yet on his first day of the job his hard work is met with coworkers calling him a n*****. The remaining speckles of energy left in his eyes disintegrate. Left behind are the calloused eyes of a man who realizes the limits of a dream.

My father finishes the story and goes back to work, compensating for the unusual amount of intimacy we just shared. I grab my phone, noticing my reflection for a brief second before the light of my phone dissolves it. Perhaps inspired by my father’s bout of introspection, I stare at my image, seeing a narrow-jawed, curly-haired child. Nestled under my thick-rimmed glasses, I see for the first time a powerful energy in my deep brown eyes.

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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