Wednesday, July 9, 2014

On My Last Day.

I woke up this morning, checked my phone and felt immediate, crushing sadness. I’d overslept my alarm and missed seeing the girls off to school. Kumkum and Lalita leave by 9:30am. I felt immediately nauseous, knowing that they don’t get home from school until after 3:30 and my taxi was set to pick me up at 2:30 to take me to the airport. So much sadness and anger at myself for letting myself oversleep the alarm and frantic anxiety at figuring out how I could somehow relay my love and goodbye to them.

Laura woke and knew that I'd missed the girls- my biggest priority of my last day. She made us freshly brewed coffee and silently sliced us each one of the freshest, ripest mangoes. When she handed me my bowl of diced mango it lifted my mood a little and my gratitude to Laura for the kind of friend and human she’s been, especially over the last week, was embodied in that simple breakfast.

After that I kicked into productivity mode and worked my way through the checklist of things that I needed to accomplish. Pick up the 3rd of my 4th rabies shot from the chemist. Pack EVERYTHING. Write notes, say goodbyes, figure out some bank/ATM stuff. I went to the chemist around the corner to buy the injection… in India you buy shots or injections from the pharmacy (chemist) and then take the actual solution to the doctor, where they inject it. I got back to No. 5 and stepped into the old school lift. Slammed both doors and pressed the 4 for the very last time. Sweat was pouring down my face after the walk and the sadness that’d been weighing on my returned. I thought to myself, “I would do anything in the world for Kumkum and Lalita to be standing in front of the lift when it stops on the 4th floor.”

And do you know what?

My wish came true. It made no sense. It was 12:30pm on a Tuesday. They should have been in school. But here they were, as the lift reached the 4th floor. And the lift gate was all that separated me from them. I slammed open the doors, “Kumkum!! Lalita!!” Tears immediately sprung into my eyes. I turned and realized that Nirmal and Juma were inside of the apartment, waiting for me. They were all waiting for me to return.

I went inside, sat down on the couch and didn’t even try to stop from crying. I asked Nirmal, “Why aren’t the girls in school?” and he said, “No school this side, today your departure date.” Which led me to believe that he’d pulled them from school early in order for them to be able to say goodbye. Later on our way to the airport he confirmed, “Kumkum and Lalita no school today. Is no holiday. But no school their side because Didi, sister, Auntie Kristen is leaving today.”

Nirmal and Juma let the girls stay home from school today because today’s the day I was leaving. That is so powerful. It’s beyond quite what I can comprehend. The power of relationship that I have with the girls and with that family runs so deep.

We said our goodbyes over the course of a few hours. Precious hours that I would never trade for the world. Kumkum and Lalita helped me pack my bags. They played with the stuffed monkey I have. They played “Zim Zam Zoom” with me over and over and over. We high-fived and shook hands while staring and smiling at each other over and over and over.

I’ve never packed so haphazardly in my life. Everything is just thrown into my bags, except for the breakables that I was careful to put in my carryon. But I don’t even care about the mess I’ll deal with when I get back into The States. Because those 3 hours were solid. Possibly one of the best series of moments in my life. When it was time…when the cab came, Nirmal became emotional and I did as well. He told me again that I’m always welcome, that I am a part of their family, that I come and stay his side forever, that I am didi (sister) to Kumkum and Lalita. That if I ever need anything or if I am coming to Calcutta, I should call his Indian mobile.

Remember the broom that he bought for me a few weeks back? He’d thoughtfully wrapped it in newspaper and packing tape for me early this morning, so that I could easily get it through security. On the wrapping he left a note, written in Bengali. One side says, “Inside this package is a broom” and signed his name and the date (presumably because security would then believe that it was legitimately a broom a not some type of weapon?)

But on the other side of the paper there is a long note, written in Bengali characters. Nirmal read it to me before I left, but his English is somewhat limited. I got the general idea of the note, but I want to get it more thoroughly translated. On the way to the airport I carefully untaped the note and put it safely into a folder. I save a lot of things in life - you can ask anyone who’s lived with me. I still have old tshirts and ticket stubs from high school.  I've been trying to purge some of that stuff... But this note will be kept forever.

When it was time to go downstairs with my bags Nirmal put me and the girls and all of my bags into the lift, as that’s all that would fit. We made our way out to the sidewalk in front of No. 5 and my heart felt like it would burst. I was simultaneously sad to be leaving this family but I felt so much gratitude and love and thankfulness that they’d kept the girls home from school to see me off that I couldn’t really feel the sadness. My heart wrung itself dry watching Lalita try to drag my bag from the stairwell to the sidewalk.

Kumkum held my hand while we waited for the taxi. She just stared at me with her enormous brown eyes. I stared back, our usual form of communication through facial expressions. I felt the seriousness that filled her eyes, and her tiny sweaty hand squeezed my big sweaty hand. The cab finally pulled up. Nirmal took a few more photos on my phone of me and the girls. And then my bags were going into the trunk.

I turned to Juma. “Dhonobaad,” I said through tears, my hands clasped. “Thank you for letting me love your girls.” I asked Nirmal to translate that for me, but he couldn’t quite get what I was trying to say. I like to think Juma understood.

I knelt back down to the ground. “Shundohr,” I said to each girl, and kissed the tops of their heads. “Auntie Kristen,” said Lalita. Kumkum just smiled and stared at the sidewalk.

“Ami tomokay bhalobashi,” I said.

“I love you too!” piped Lalita’s tiny voice, and my heart melted and I knew that I had to get into the cab at that moment or else I wouldn’t. Thankfully, Nirmal got into the cab with me. We were able to talk for awhile about the girls, about Kumkum and what's going on with her in school, and about his hopes and dreams for the girls as they grow older.

After picking up Laura at Cafe Coffee Day in Girish Park, we made our way to Apollo, the hospital where I spent 5 days after the rat bite and fever. After a quick #3 rabies injection at the ER (where they totally remembered both me and Laura, including the doctor, and asked after each of us) we headed up to the 4th floor…my home base. The minute we walked through the doors and within view of the nurse’s station, they all smiled and pointed and started talking! They totally remembered us. The head nurse came and took my hand, asked about my health, etc. We explained that we were there for the last test result and they sent us in the right direction. I just found it so sweet that they all said hi to me, wished me luck on my flight and with my health. Thank you, didis.

We got to the airport in Cal and Laura dropped me with my bags. We hugged and at that particular moment, after just saying that I was okay with leaving, I felt the strongest urge to get back into the cab with Laura. I’m glad she’ll get some time to herself to enjoy the city and work at Durbar.

As I went through security, with my HUGE wrapped broom that is sticking out the top of my backpack (I’ll have my mom take a picture when I get to Newark) they almost didn’t let me through with the broom. And I threw a hissy fit! I actually started crying and telling them that a dear friend had given it to me. I showed them Nirmal’s note and the man only spoke/read Hindi, so I made him find someone who could read Bengali. The woman read the note and then looked at me and said, “Who is Nirmal?” And I said, “He’s my friend. He was the domestic worker at my apartment.” (trying to make the connection with the broom) and she said, “And…he gave you… his broom?” I almost had to laugh but instead I just said, “YES!” and then after some more tears, she finally okay’d the broom and I could have hugged her.

The flight from Cal to Bombay was uneventful… I slept a little and ate a veg meal. Now I’m in Bombay and waiting…my flight boards in 30 minutes.

I’ll update once I’m stateside!

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