On the eve of my departure from India, I slipped out before dinner to shop for clothes with my twin brother, Chris. The monsoons had broke out a few days ago, and the wind and rain were announcing their presence to the traffic. Though the sun had set, the market lights were hanging along the street Chris and I could not name. Crowds of people languidly carried their conversations under their black umbrellas.
How different the street and shops look at night, I thought as I gazed into the large puddles reflecting the market decorations, with families and friends strolling in casual clothing back and forth out of the still busy road. A well-lit, boisterous fabrics shop came to our attention. The newest western fashions hung on display and a television relayed the day’s sports activities. I asked one of the clerks at the glass-paneled register for pants my size, a simple design.
After choosing and purchasing two pants, and joking around with the clerks about American fighting culture, Chris and I opened our umbrellas to meet the incoming sheets of rain. The wind had begun to drag with a palpable force, humming through the crevices of service signs, flapping the thin white cloth of our kurtas. This was my last chance to observe the people of India, catch the smells of the flowers, fresh meat and fruit rolling on carts chiming with bells. After seven months of staying in India, learning to be comfortable with holding hands with guys down the street, eating with my hands, the serene air one has to hold in the tests of chaos, I did not know if I was ready to go back to America.
Nearing the corner where we would turn towards our friend‘s apartment for dinner, the wind begun to shutter beneath my umbrella with tremendous force. After a few instants of trying to control the direction of its thin stem, the umbrella snapped, curling upwards. Knowing that I was not adept in fixing almost anything mechanical, I carried on, gauging my head under as much umbrella as I could.
Soon after, I noticed a small shop of fruit in the distance. Chris and I, almost yelling through the noise of the traffic and people’s conversations, decided that buying some coconuts and mangoes for our friends was a sound idea. It was a common gesture in India to gift a family or friends, especially on departure, with food or any assortment of presents. Usually the guests were not allowed to give any money or gifts to the host for their over-abundant care. Both of us had been treated like kings for what seemed like an immeasurable time. We wanted to give back, at least once, to our devoted hosts.
Chris scavenged for ripe mangoes and coconuts as I stood holding the shopping bags. An Indian girl, about my age, approached me nonchalantly through the rain. She came up to the folds of my broken umbrella, and asked politely if she could help me fix it—half by hand gestures, and half by selective words in English. And I, in partial Hindi and finger pointing, gave a stammered approval.
With quick fingers, she reassembled the latches that spread out the cloth of the umbrella, and pushed the upward curve of its rods down to its normal position. Holding the umbrella towards me, she spoke faintly above the rumble of cars and clatter of rain pummeling the stone of the sidewalk, “Here you are, brother.”