When I first met my husband I told him the color of his eyes reminded me of ponds in Bengal, green, blue, grey. On train rides and car rides through the Bengal countryside I have passed many such ponds these colors. Their quiet empty surfaces punctuated by rain drops that fell on them like dreams. Sometimes lotus leaves, sometimes a frog, at other times a woman with a sari wrapped around her bathing, sometimes children wading or throwing stones. Mostly empty, blue, green, grey expanses of water behind a house or on the side of the road. I want to go see if those ponds are still there or if they have all been dug up to make way for more housing. I don’t know what I dread more that are all gone, swallowed in the mouths of human consumptions, needs and desires or that they are choked with plastic and rubbish, overt markers of the same.
On sides of the roads, sometimes next to these ponds, women sit together in groups, their backs turned to the sun, their hair open, wet and black like tangled fish nets. They dry their hair like this while their voices and laughter float up to us who were passing by.
Here I am in a Cornish village seated yet again on the wooden floor, my back also turned from the sun to let my hair dry; here I am, but my memories pull me back to the villages of my childhood, especially those in West Bengal. At night the sky is full of the stars that we could never see from the cities we have dwelled in, during my early morning walks the air is heavy with the smell of smoke and mist, mingled always with remembrances of times past, of temps perdu.
I was a tall, clumsy girl who fell over her legs in soccer and dislocated her elbow, who broke almost every finger in volleyball, who spoke in a stammer and a lisp, the latter of which is still pronounced, the former hidden unless I am nervous or speaking in Bengali. That girl is not gone.
She is hidden inside me and I wish she was my friend but most of the time I think she is not. She watches me carefully. She sizes me up when I get ready in the mornings, she watches me when I run slowly down a lane, she reads my writings, she peeps from over my shoulders and she says to me, Huh, so this is who you are? Not incredulous or loud or anything, just like a small slight shake of the head and a half muttered tsk tsk tsk.
Look what you do, that girl tells me. You sit on the ground in a patch of light, sunbathing by your bunnies and your dog, several half opened books turned on their faces, lines jotted in a journal, an unfinished PhD, a yet to be published book in your folders, around you and in storage more belongings than you need. Look at how you stare out at the emptiness in front of you, at ocean and sky and grass covered land. In the pond the golden fish are busier than you. Is this the life you built for yourself or was it built for you?
I don’t have answers for her but when I sit still and let the sun enter my body, a light so crisp it reminds me of floating on my back in the sea, she that girl I was stills her voice and becomes–me and we are both nothing.
My dog Joey is like a big black furry rug. He sits with me outside the house in a patch of sun. He lifts his face often to the sky. I suspect he is taking in the lay of the land with his nose. I am pretty much doing the same though in my case I pick the apples from the garden, take small walks, watch the gold fish dart about under water in the pond.
I let the sun enter my body through my bare legs folded under me, my arms bent over the laptop, my face leaning close to the computer screen so I can see against the glare of the morning light. Sometimes the wind gets strong and blows leaves into our faces, or clouds pass over the sun, changing the weather from warm to chilly in an instant. Then Joey and I rise almost in unison and go back inside. I close the door behind me and Joey settles at my feet. Sometimes I put my feet under his warm belly and we both stay like that, my dog and me, taking stock of what it means to be us in this moment.
The sun came out today for a bit today. Really brilliant and white in a blue clear sky. I went for an impromptu walk in the middle of the day, pulled to the sound of the ocean. And then in the evening, the queen died. She was 96.
My fourteen year old born and brought up mostly in America came to me and said she was sad when she heard the news. Why? I asked her hoping to glean some information on how she felt about her life here in the village. I thought the queen would live forever, she replied. And in her response I felt she was mourning the reality of death, that in the end even a queen couldn’t deny or defy.
In newspapers this morning, I saw the crowds huddled outside the palace and in places around London. They looked like war time pictures of the public, the masses sombre and worried, as we must all be, but not just for the passing of a capable monarch. Never has the world faced such a climate crisis, refugees being blocked by walls or promises to be shipped to Rwanda; impending poverty over the winter, displacement and the rising prices of everything.
I am an immigrant to England, as I was one in America and I have had the privilege to question, to belong without feeling the compulsion to adhere or obey or accept any norms, cultural or historical.
The sun was shining again yesterday, it was the morning after the death of the queen. King Charles was already on the throne. I stepped out of my house and on the brown cobbled path in front of me I saw a coin. I knelt down and picked it up. On the face of it, half covered with dirt was the sharp profile of the queen. I wiped it clean with my fingers till I could see her fully and then put it carefully in my pocket.
It is early in the morning, our first week in the village as residents.
There is a Japanese word for going homeward. Kaeru.
Our oldest left for boarding school before we moved here. We build our houses on shifting sands.
The word, the value at the root of our decision making– sustainable, from the Latin sustinere, to hold, uphold, the ability to continue.
I have not been to the sea enough. Yet.