An excerpt from my memoir/nonfiction novel ‘Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey’, published by Authorspress in October 2016.
…….The entire expanse of the Calcutta skyline, the lands and the lakes, the rivers and the rooftops, the buildings and the concrete structures merged and dissolved into dotted lines as the new bride flew with her co-passengers amid the dusky, silken clouds.
The flight filled her stomach with butterflies as she clung to her seat and felt herself floating among the clouds. From the window of the aircraft, she watched as the morning melted into the light-webbed darkness of the night.
Back in her old ancestral home, she remembered the long, vertical arrangement of extended family lunches of her childhood where everybody sat on thin pieces of cloth, which they called ‘ashon’, over the hard cement floors. A full course lunch was a ritual she could never perform with both legs folded and crisscrossed against each other. Somehow, she couldn’t seem to master the perfection of this gentlemanly demeanor which came easily to her cousin sisters, brothers, to the elderly members of the family. She would gobble up the fish pieces and fried eggplants and lick up the sweet syrup of home-made sweets as her knees struggled and freed themselves from the folding ritual. She would always finish her meal with one or the other leg stretched outwards, stretched in defiance and discomfort of her ancestral Bengali traditions. Her paternal aunt had always taunted her about this. “If you never practice sitting with your legs folded, if you always sit with your legs stretched out, you are going to fly off to a foreign land.” It was an old wives’ tale and she loved the lure of fantasy that came along with the saying.
…Beneath the clumsy, beige-colored economy seat, her feet were struggling to remain calm, composed and warm within the narrow confines of her space in the flight. An elderly air hostess of Air India helped her fix the makeshift dinner table in the vacuum between her stomach and the backseat of a co-passenger traveling with fussy infants. She chewed on dry bread and absorbed the juicy sweetness of strawberry jam, missing her Bengali delicacies back at home, gulping the cold, moisture-less air, absorbing the stillness and the ghostly fuzz of unknown faces.
“Are you traveling alone? Visiting family or going for a vacation?” A middle-aged, bespectacled air-hostess asked, taking away the lunch tray, looking at the pile of the leftovers. “I am going to stay in the US with my husband. We got married a few months back in Kolkata.” She smiled, coyly. “Ah, good luck with the stay, dear. Wish you a blessed life across the oceans!” She waved at the new bride, leaving to attend to her co-passengers.
At the tiny, suffocating restroom of the economy class, she threw up a little of her food and phlegm. She let the tiny particles of waste dissolve slowly into the wash basin as she braced herself for the new life ahead. The rest was a journey of antacids and saltine crackers, as she tried to close her eyes amid the frenzy of Hindi movies and kids’ video games, amid the noisy loitering of air hostesses in the narrow passages of the aircraft, as they served iced drinks and snacks.
At Heathrow International Airport, her eyes had sparked for fleeting moments as she stood there in the European soil. For that tiny, unceremonious moment, the young bride became one with the awestruck girl in her teens who had touched the texture of the soil and the dried, brass colored leaves of a tree as an express train entered the rough terrains of Mugalsaraai, Bihar. Being that young girl in ponytails and pleats all over again, she laughed remembering how in that trifling moment of discovery, the sheer beauty of an escapade outside her Bengali territories had taken her breath away. She laughed at the thought of filling her school essays with beautiful lies of exotic Indian vacations, where she had danced with the waves of the sandy beaches in Goa, with the gypsies and the moonlit sand of the desert dunes of Rajasthan. She had touched the sky and the horizon of all these destinations of her dreams while crossing the geographical boundaries of her country.
As she watched the sea of passengers trudging past the loud, gigantic lounge and the lure of the food court, the shimmer, the culture of overwhelming gentility overwhelmed her for seconds.. The land of the Thames river, the Queen’s castle, the land of Stratford-upon-Avon and Shakespearean sonnets glittered in the pearls of her eyes. In her mind, she wandered the green pastures, the azure skies that adorned the castles and edifices she had always thought of as the pilgrimages. She raced the uncertain miles of the endless labyrinth of concourses, searching for her next flight number in the announcement boards. She mingled with a crowd of mixed races, identities and colors—a naive, unassuming new bride from the land of snakes, the Sun God, wantonness and fortune tellers.
She was flying the sky of the American continent, at last. She held the emigrations and customs clearance documents in her lap, her legs crisscrossed beneath an aisle seat which was now a mischievous toddler’s hiding den. Every now and then, she was picking the tyrant up from the vacuum between her legs, messed up with torn pages of magazines, empty, broken plastic cups and trampled pillows and blankets.
Beneath her feet, beneath the metallic stillness and thin, wispy air, the mighty Atlantic roared. There were waves sending irresistible current to domains inside her own body. Inside her fertile mind, she could feel strangely distant sounds, vocal and non-vocal compositions playing an indescribable symphony. An unquenchable sense of restlessness and chill ran down her spine, as she looked up at the glaring blue screen that was recording minute details of the local time, the distance from the destination, the local time at the destination.
“How many time-zones are there between the endless stretch of countries and continents?” She questioned herself.
“Will I ever get to understand these equations?” She wondered, the curiosity straining her.
The flight would land at the John F. Kennedy International airport in a few minute’s time, the announcement struck her, as she tried to adjust her new wrist-watch, updating the local time. Her husband would be waiting to receive her at the baggage claim area of the international lounge, and welcome her, a new baggage in his hitherto singular life. The young bride from Calcutta stood up and collected her handbag, her folders of travel documents from the upper bunk of the aircraft. In a slow, poised gesture, she approached the gates that opened up the blinding, busy streets of an unknown city, gates where her unforeseen destiny waved at her in charm, stupor and surrendering.
All Rights Reserved: Lopamudra Banerjee. February, 2017
Note: THWARTED ESCAPE: AN IMMIGRANT’S WAYWARD JOURNEY is my first narrative nonfiction novel/memoir which was selected as a finalist and a First Place Category Winner at the Journey Awards 2014 (Narrative Nonfiction) hosted by Chanticleer Reviews and Media LLC, USA.
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