THE FESTIVE HOMECOMING
The sun has not risen but she is awake. In a ritual unbroken for many years, she smears coconut oil on her hair, neatly braids it fastening the end with a rubber band, says her morning prayers and is ready to leave her one-room dwelling. She snaps the rusty lock on her door that forever creaks on its hinges, ties the key to a knot in her sari and she makes the solitary walk to the main train station. She hopes he will come home today. At this hour, she rarely encounters anybody on the narrow, twisted alleyways which are glistening with the remnants of a late night drizzle. It is festival season and some of the decorative string lights have been glowing all night, casting a colorful haze in her path.
At this early hour, things are slowly coming alive at the main train station. Vendors are assembling their wares, brewing coffee and tea and cooking snacks for early morning travelers. People who spent the night on the sidewalks are waking up to the sound of early morning pedestrians and the smell of freshly cooked food. She enters the cavernous main hall of the station which is dimly lit and now merely a shadow of its previous glory. She waits at the platform for the arriving overnight express and soon sees the lights of an approaching train. Her heart races as it blows its signature horn because she is confident he will be on this train. All she wants is for him to come home. The train squeals to a halt and its passengers pour out like droplets from a showerhead. She wonders what he would be wearing as she scrutinizes every face on the platform looking for him. The passengers leave the platform with their luggage and soon the platform is empty. She hangs her head over her chest and slowly leaves the station.
Her employer will be waiting for her. She will scrub floors, wash dishes and sweep the courtyard until her body aches. She will do their laundry and depending on the strength of the fabric, beat it with a wooden paddle or against a large granite block to coax the dirt out. As she hangs the laundry on the clothesline, she remembers the night he left home for the big city several years ago promising to come back with riches so she never had to work as a maid again. I will be back by festival time, he said. All she wants is for him to come back. As she wrings the last drop of water from a large cotton bedspread, she knows he will return tomorrow.
About the author
Chris Pais grew up in India and came to the US to pursue graduate studies in engineering. His work appears in Poetry India, Wild Roof Journal, Defunct Magazine and elsewhere. He lives in the SF Bay Area where he works on clean energy and tinkers with bikes, guitars and recipes.
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