Thursday, June 11, 2015

Hati, Hati

Another morning with the girls.

I slip on my sunglasses and carry my mug of coffee up to the roof. The sun hits me and instantly all of the moisture in my skin evaporates into the hot air.  I cross the roof quickly, slide the bolt across the iron gate, and enter their territory. When I round the corner, I hear their tiny voices from above, "Pishimoni!" I smile and wave and start the unsteady walk up the iron slatted staircase to their home. Each metal rung burns the soles of my feet and when I reach halfway, a set of tiny hands reaches down to take my coffee mug. A few quick wipes on the concrete with a wet rag to rid the floor of loose grains of cooked rice, and they unfold the mat that I always sit on.

And then, we begin.

"Rainbow violet, indigo blue.
Rainbow green and yellow too.
Rainbow orange, rainbow red.
Rainbow smiling overhead."


"Kabhi ek, ek, ek
Swasa kay kay kay
Kabhi dui, dui, dui
Swasa no no no
kabhi tin, tin, tin
Swasa cleem, cleem, cleem"

And then after our songs, we move on.

"Pishimoni, binuni!" (Auntie! Braid!)

I say, "Thika. Ek or dui?" (Okay, one or two?)

"Mmmmm....ek." (One)

"Hah. Thika acche." (Yes. Okay.)

One of them digs around until they find the tortoiseshell comb, and Lalita plops in front of me. Kumkum watches with fascination, leaning on my thigh, as I turn her sister's long hair into one french braid. At the end I put both hands on either side of her head to smooth out any loose hairs. I kiss the braid and say, "Sesa." (Finish.)

And Lalita puts her hand on the braid. Kumkum holds up the mirror and Lalita says, "Voooowww!"

I take a break in between braids. I sip my coffee and they offer me some of their breakfast, which I have plenty of downstairs, but I take a few tiny bites of luchi or rice puffs or halwa because it means something to the girls when I eat with them. Sharing food is a bonding experience between us. They find it hilarious when I attempt to eat with my right hand. "Nay, Ami Bengali!" (No, I Bengali), I once said as a joke when I was offered a spoon. Now every time they see me eat with my hands, they repeat the phrase and giggle at me and give me pointers on the best way to scoop rice and dahl and slide it off of my fingers with my thumb, into my mouth.

Lalita points to the elephant charm around my neck. Hati, hati!" (Elephant, elephant!) I point to the matching charms around their necks and say, "Hati, hati!".

When I first got here I was able to find 3 cheap little metal elephant charms. I threaded each on a thin red rope. One for each of us. They are our Hati necklaces. The girls have not taken them off since I tied them around their necks. Nirmal even added another charm.

Kumkum uses the hati around her neck to attack mine. "Ahh!" I feign fright. And they laugh and I laugh and I am so thankful that something so small could make us all so happy.

By the time I finish with Kumkum's two braids, Juma is finished in the kitchen downstairs and she joins us up in their home. We play with the doll, who now sports a red bindi as well as a red fingerprint on her forehead, the kind that the entire family comes home with after a visit to Kalighat Temple. I use the doll to show Juma how to french braid, something we've been working on for the last few weeks.

The girls flip through their school workbooks, eager to show me the English words they've learned.

"Comb, comb, comb your hair.
Brush, brush, brush your teeth."

"Bhalo, bhalo. Khub bhalo" I say. (Good, good. Very good.)

Then it's time for me to shower and begin my day at Durbar. We blow air kisses, hold hands, and Lalita says, "Bye!"

Kumkum puts either hand on my cheeks and stares into my eyes. I send her everything.

"Sundohr," I say. (Beautiful).

And then I stand. Back down the scalding stairs. I'm dripping in sweat. My ponytail sticks to the back of my neck and I know my face is pink. Above me I hear, "Pishimoni?" I pause and look up. "Hmm?"

Lalita is standing on the stairs. She cocks her head and says, "Tomorrow coming?"

I smile. "Hah." (Yes.)

With my empty coffee cup in my hands, I pass through their gate and cross the roof, my heart full.


Meghan LP said...

Kris, this is so beautiful. "I send her everything." Stunning.

Livieland said...

Second what Meghan said- beautiful and real and exquisite, these mornings.