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To Live Apart From You MAG
Sleepy, gentle colors of jade, dandelion yellow, and red fill every inch of space across the walls surrounding us. Normally, I’d hate the combination, but sitting in this church alone with my aunt, plunked cross-legged on the tile and listening to the swell of wind in the palm trees outside, I decide it’s quite all right.
The churches here in South India are much different. There are multiple, carved doors along the building, thrown open at all times to accommodate the heavy heat. The altar is adorned with detailed, painted Biblical scenes, and when Mass is not being celebrated, thick velvet curtains hide it from view. Pews are reserved for the elderly and a few adults – all others sit in the front on the cool marble floor, a symbol of humility before God.
This is where I’m sitting now, waiting for my mother to come back from the church office and hoping it doesn’t take too long. I wriggle my toes – my legs are starting to get numb.
“What’s wrong, malu?” My aunt is biting back a smile, and she leans over in her chair to stroke my black hair, untangling it between her fingertips. My mother has always told me that I am my aunt’s spitting image, and as I get older I’ve begun to see it myself. We have the same hair, eyes, and laugh. The most notable difference, however, is her plain celeste blue dress and the veil that crowns her head – she is a nun, having wholly embraced the convent at the tender age of seventeen.
I grin back at her and lightly shrug my shoulders in indifference, but she has guessed the problem. Before I can protest, she is on the marble with me, crossing her legs like a child and beaming back with a face too young for a woman in her mid-forties. “Now,” she says softly, “we are together.”
And together we sit, sitting in the presence of God and watching the world go by.
It doesn’t take long before my Aunt Alice and I start whispering again, and soon she has me speaking of school and family and life back home in America, pausing occasionally to allow a moment of pleasant silence. Normally, such conversation seems stilted and awkward to me, especially when enough time has passed. But with her, I do not mind. It doesn’t occur to me to provide only clipped, polite answers as I usually do. In fact, I am suddenly talkative, so much so that as the conversation goes on, more and more drops of truth slip from my lips until finally – they are sliding from my eyes and down my cheeks.
A kind hand is immediately on my face, brushing the tears away and pushing strands of hair from my forehead. I shake my head at the gentle and comforting words she whispers in concern, and I force myself to look up at her, finally ready to say something I never realized I wanted to.
“I miss it here,” I choke, and the rest of my heart’s troubles soon follow.
I tell her of how I miss the flaky, crumbling pastries my uncle brings home from the shop with a grin every evening. I tell her how lovely it is that I can walk my grandmother along the family grounds, that in America I cannot listen to her speak and hear her tell me how happy she is to hold my hand. Tears spill as I explain how much I despise not being able to drink in the aroma of the petals strung in the garden, or feel wind blasting past me as I ride with my cousin on his motorcycle. I tell my aunt how I want to be able to talk with her like this all the time, and how badly I’d like to watch the world go by the way we have been for the past half hour – together, on the veiny marble floor, lifting our words into the thick summer air.
She is quiet for some time, and I cannot bear to look her in the eyes. She has always felt this same sadness, I know, as my aunt has been kept away from her sister and our family for as long as I’ve been kept from all of them.
She is thinking of the next few days, I realize. The day we’ll be leaving, unable to return for years.
My Aunt Alice tucks my head underneath her chin and holds me. Despite the gloom I know I will feel soon enough, I am satisfied. The last of my tears have fallen, and I am breathing slowly, relieved my caged feelings have finally been set free.
A few days later, I am back home, and as I lie in bed I remember that sunny afternoon in the beautiful parish. My mother had arrived only a few minutes after my outburst, and walked in just as my aunt managed to get me smiling again. We – my entire family and I – we all share this burden. It hurts to be away from loved ones, but we’ll be all right, and we’ll smile thinking of the next time we can be near each other.
That night, asleep, curled up, and content, I dreamed.