there is so much to fill in before this, but
I get caught in the rain on the way home from the Indian Habitat Center. I can see it streaking the metro windows as soon as it pulls out from Rajiv Chowk. I should have known the cool air on the platform was too good to be an air-conditioned encounter. On the metro the clientele considers me. I come without punctuation- I’m carrying just my laptop bag and wearing a long modest embroidered top bought in Kanpur. I’m just another person riding the metro in another city with no interest other than avoiding getting trampled at the interchange station. It felt good to present myself as declarative rather than interrogative at the ticket counter. Rajendra Place and the eleven rupees already in hand through the semicircle opening. On the way to the center, I recognized the song on the radio, and whistled along. I knew I could do it, live here if I wanted. But I see the rain blackening the already grey halo around the city’s colors and I know I wouldn’t ever want to.
When I leave the metro, I retreat to the alcove of a building and shrug at the old man already standing there. He gives me a brief smile and says indiscernible quip, which I interpret as, Well, we tried. Isabelle and I used this as the catchphrase for all our rickshaw misadventures in Hyderabad. We tried; our India ultimatum. I watch the rain target its missile into the puddles. Thousands of drops collide their concentric circles into each other, obliterating each other in the valence. From the impact some bubbles rise, though. Uniformly the wind shooes them across the murky miniature lakes and my eyes follow their symmetry, form and pop and then just as many again replacing them, like reading the bulbous notes of sheet music as their sound is conceived around me in the soft storm.
When the clouds inhale, I move back into the open. I come to a huge puddle, which I think I can cross but soon I realize my entire ankle will be submerged. There’s no way around. I consider jumping across until I remember I have all my electronics in my bag and see a group of men near a line of motorcycles staring, waiting for my action. I sheepishly move around the parking lot, taking brief refuge in a parking garage with some more interested faces of young, rough men, then bolt around the other way. I repeat when the rain surges again, and again. It takes me half and hour to walk down the street back to the guesthouse this way.
I must have been a stranger sight than usual to those lingering under trees or rickshaw covering in this residential area. My steps slap with more focus than a meander; I don’t stroll, but I don’t hurry with the alerted concern or adventure shoes a fresh tourist either. I move over reflexively without looking back at who’s honking. I walk in a directed stride coupled with the malaise of sickness. Already the temperature changes have exacerbated this cough/swine flu/malaria I have had for days and I consider ways to hide this from Customs; I just want to be home.
Back at the guesthouse and wait in the lobby until the taxi arrives to take me to the airport. I had to check out of my room at noon. I had intended to make one more round of the neighborhood. Perhaps I would have bought a mango and given my remaining coins to the dusty children near the park, or braved some idlly from the chat stand just for posterity. Likely, I would have come home after fifteen minutes, afraid to faint alone in heat and fever hours before my flight. Instead, I finish the novel I took from the hostel in Hyderabad – The Time Traveler’s Wife. An appropriate send-off for my 16-hour race with the night across the Atlantic. I leave it on the bookshelf among the consignments of past travelers and take another, lighter one for the flight, The English Patient. I put it in my stuffed bookbag and recline again. Enough of the others. My fingers break the swaddled humidity and syncopate with the monsoon shouting to the back door and I write my own last waiting words.