January 15, 2012. New volunteers arrive in bursts, and the flat is alive. We talk about ourselves, I talk of India and which areas to avoid and coffee shops and drinks to order, but I don't try to explain the culture, the feel of traffic, the smell of incense burning over a tray of roasted nuts. Alex comes last, and I am not alone.
I talk of Mother Teresa's center, the patients, the tiny happiness in the feel of a cold palm, rough calluses from years of wandering dirty streets.
Some pretend to be unaffected, and some stare at the laundry hung from six stories above our heads, blankets drifting in breeze funneled through the blocks of apartments.
Rebecca, a forty something from San Francisco with a hoarse voice and wise eyes asks me everything, seems interested in my life. She calls me courageous, they all do. She carries her body with power, with presence, and she falls asleep on the small leather couch as the rest chat about flights and Calcutta.
I wait for a friend arriving in Delhi at the Subway station, moving from one end to another, alone, singing to myself. I watch from above the young and old and mostly men as they scrunch themselves to fit into cars, full. The metro seems human, energy seeping up to me, as I pace for over an hour, the unassuming clock tracing my solitude. Men kiss at me, the policemen overeager, my feet tired. I pick at crusty nail polish, littering the patterned floor with flakes of red falling form my dry hands. I walk back to the apartment, sore and frustrated and ready to punch any attacker. My keys are clutched in my palm, a jagged fist. Aladdin, one of the strays that begs for food outside our door, emerges from under a dark car, and I remember my humanity.
I watch American Beauty alone in bed, warm under blankets, and I see the beauty in a dancing bag, a dead bird, the same as the beauty of malnourished children in dirty sweatshirts beating drums behind cars and next to buses, girls cartwheeling and bending and contorting and haunting the pavement, offering themselves for spare change.