Driving around Jakarta, rupiah zeros totaling millions, running the meter ever higher. You can’t decide on a place to eat because you’re picky, because you only want to consume the things you’re familiar with. The city streets are alive with sound and noise, at this late hour. It’s Ramadan and those who can’t afford to leave the crowded jumble of buildings make their celebrations in the street with dances, food, and so many lights. We drive past each stall, the light briefly illuminating your face.
You say to me: “I ran away once too, to Mumbai. I thought I could be a Bollywood actor. I took a train. I was failing my math classes and was embarrassed. My parents put my face in the local paper. When I returned, I had to go to a different school.” How closely your story mimicked mine, like the two lucky moles that mirrored each other on our opposite palms.
I say to you: “One time when I was a child, I was climbing on a train car that had a restaurant in it. I grabbed a windowsill to hold myself up and the window slammed down on my finger. I had a scar there for a long time, although I guess you can’t see it now.”
You tell me a similar story of being a young boy, probably 5 or 6, taking a train to visit relatives. You sat next to a window and smashed your little finger in the jamb. You show me your scar, which shines brighter than mine. I try to imagine what you’d look like at 5; in your school uniform, with your mum, 5 rupees in your pocket for your biscuit, 5 rupees that your father always gave you when you went on trains.
The taxi comes to a full stop as a parade of people cross the road from one food stall to the next. The smell of cooking vegetables whets my appetite. I wish you’d find this Indian restaurant, but all we seem to pass are gigantic monoliths of steel and glass or humble stalls of corrugated iron roofs and wooden beams.
I tell you that I never want to marry, but someday I will feel obligated to. You disagree with me and say that you look forward to marriage since you know it will be arranged. You know your father will pick the best and that you will not question it. The party is what you look forward to, and know since you’re a man, there’s nothing to really give up except a small sexual freedom you never really knew. Not in your home country, not like I’ve known it.
You ask me to come to your wedding and to help you through the ceremony, as if you may not know what to do with your wife. You probably won’t. You want a simple girl, who won’t ask too many questions. You’re not used to simple women. I am not a simple or easy person as much as you may believe me to be. You have always loved the idea of me and never the truth splayed out before you.
I don’t know how to react when suddenly I feel rocks in my stomach. I think again of you at age 5, your finger bleeding all over your school uniform, your rupee note smeared with blood. Your mother, in her sari, bending over to comfort you. I try my hardest to insert myself into this picture, but I don’t fit. I am a fire in a cold pond. This is not my history. This is not my story. There are similar paths and a mirrored destiny, a seeming parallel of lives lived 12 time zones apart. But this is not my journey.
I tell you I will go if it makes you happy, because I love you. I mean it. Our taxi screeches to a halt to avoid an errand rickshaw driver, a spider with hardened, spindly legs, peddling as fast as he can to clear a path for our modern car. It is easy to forget boundaries when it seems all the world is one. A text message can be sent from anywhere and received at the north pole. Skyscrapers look over slums. Cars share the road with donkey carts. But as much as things coexist together, even harmoniously, they are still separate. I like forget this inconvenient truth because I am in love.
I hate you for pressing it’s ugliness beneath my nose. I hate you for many reasons that I cannot name. I curse the creator for creating such parallel lives and letting them intersect at one point only. I am lost and I feel displaced and I do not know my history and this makes me all the more upset.
Do they kiss in Hindu weddings? I ask. He laughs at me and says What an idiot you are, of course not. Relieved, I smile. I tell him that at Christian weddings they aren’t real until the man and woman kiss. But I am not Christian. I don’t know what I am. He says that That Is Disgusting and in a way, I agree.
I understand what he says, how he feels. I like how proud he is to be who he is, and how he never compromises his history to suit anyone. He is a proud man. I don’t know what to be proud of. His has the weight of his society and it’s rules and it’s history on his back but also to build a solid ground beneath his feet. I have nothing but air above me but also below me. I don’t know if I am falling or flying.
I do not know my history. We find the Indian restaurant who’s cuisine is more familiar to me than my own.
Image © Sasha Favorov
Suzanne Borders is a well-traveled 28 year old based out of Los Angeles, CA. You can find more of her travel writing on her blog, Dame On A Plane.