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the place you don’t belong

For everyone there is a moment in which you do not belong. The rhythms of a place hum gently as they always have, before you enter. You speed the metronome twice over, till the music is horribly wrong. It is not always bad, but it is always wrong. In Varanasi, India there is an alleyway—one of thousands. Your feet pack down the hard-packed dirt and stone, you will have to avoid cow dung every few feet. Children are playing with the kites their mothers sell for four rupees. Two pennies each. You travel farther down this half-street than you should; it’s rained and in a low place the packed dirt has turned to mud.

Suddenly you’ve left the loud city behind, it has spit you out into a dusty field, where one cow is wandering. Next to the field is a stream, which seems to serve better as a garbage bin than a body of water. Children appear out of nowhere. There is one when you arrive, then suddenly four, seven, fifteen. A mother with her baby. The other imposters who do not belong are talking to the children, accomplishing what feeble communication is possible between people of different worlds. In the doorway of the nearest hut, three shy children peer out at you, the others attempt to engage them too. Their mother shuffles them back inside, glaring over her shoulder, and you know they are not to speak to you, because she knows you don’t belong. Pictures are taken and names exchanged, as if names matter between people who will never remember them, and never meet again. You understand that you are a novelty; an attraction, not an acquaintance.

You wander back through the soggy mud, the cow dung, the packed dirt. The others purchase kites and let the children teach them how to fly. You are too loud, too visible in this place where the metronome heartbeat is now racing out of control. Men drive by and you see it in their eyes, they know. After a long while, the mysterious and unspoken discomfort spreads, an anxious glancing around until everyone’s feet carry them back to the main road. Here too you do not belong, but the metronome has slowed, you are less intrusive. In the coming days you will wonder how your life can so briefly intersect with the people of the humming rhythms, and how it can be that both worlds continue turning after they collide, and have parted. Should there not be a cosmic explosion, or at least a quick and quiet implosion of one world or the other, vanishing quietly into the darkness as a vapor—it will leave the other wondering if it ever existed at all.

 Those humming people will turn to a translucent stone in your mind. They’ll live there forever, but they are undefined and misty. Surely in their memories, if they remember you at all, you are the other world which imploded the moment you walked back through the Varanasi alleyway. You turned to vapor, and were gone. Whether you did or did not truly exist is of no consequence. And so it is for every moment that is inhabited by souls who do not belong, and will not stay—the moment will linger, but what occurs before and after is insignificant to those whose home was transgressed.

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