My grandmother waddles when she walks. She teeters back and forth like a metronome, her feet barely touching the ground. She rises early in the morning, so early that the sun is not yet up. She drinks tea daily and washes her hair only twice a week. These are the things I know about her, the only things.
I can count the number of times I’ve met her on one hand, and even then, the visits have lasted a week or two at most. You see, there is a physical barrier that separates us, the continents spread wide and far, the distance magnified by our differences in language, culture, and history.
Perhaps, it would have been different if I was whole. But alas, I am a mutt, an “other.” I should clarify that I am half-white and half-Indian — bangles, bindis, and all.
There are times when I want to belong, when I want to feel whole, like when I am with my Telugu-speaking cousins who insist I get henna and dote on me like a helpless baby. In another life, I could see us being close with silences and laughter filling up our conversations, instead of the strained Q and As of the present.
Yet everything about me betrays my “other” status. Even my bangles do not jangle as they should. My hands must be greased in order to squeeze on the tight, circular hoops. I manage to fit four fingers inside before I hit bone and must squish and pull my skin inch by inch to make them fit. Even so, they remain stuck and immobile on my wrists, another reminder I do not fit.
What I have lost I’ll never know exactly. This is the burden of living 8,000 miles from my relatives. Some things are like rain, subject to time and can never be recovered.
There are things to be thankful for, though. For instance, my grandmother is happy I didn’t inherit my mom’s fine, blond hair and I am equally as happy I didn’t inherit my dad’s thick accent. Instead, to each of our disappointments, I got her white skin and his hairiness. Everything is a trade-off in the end.
Back home in the US, my henna is already starting to wear off. I was told to let it fade away slowly like a second layer of skin. I ignore this advice and scrub my hands until they are red and raw.
But at least I can no longer feel the bangles pinching at my skin.