Friday, January 23, 2009

the sajan story.

So, a friend wisely reminded me that a lot of journals state that stories submitted to them for consideration cannot have been published in any other capacity. I know this, but when I posted that last piece of a story, it was just something I felt like doing. It helped in a way. When I read it on my blog, I realized that the first three pages were completely disjointed - that I'd acutally done something in that revision to dismantle the draft I'd workshopped. I took the post down.

Now I'm posting another piece of draft. It too will likely change quite a bit - as it already has while I've been working. But it's the story I'm working on for my next workshop. I turn it in on Tuesday. Enjoy it while you can; I'll probably remove this post in a few days.

As if the white widow’s salwar kameese her mother wore was merely a theatrical backdrop, Sajan appeared. A tiny creature, she moved from behind her mother to her mother’s side. She locked one arm around her mother’s leg and bent her free arm toward her chin to suck her thumb.

My father embraced his youngest sister, and Sajan’s eyes met mine. Her cheeks were puffed and rosy, as if Amrita Chachi had pinched them for a solid minute behind the door to the customs waiting area from which they’d emerged. Sajan’s khol-trimmed eyes were the size of quarters. The six-year-old, her feet newly planted in America, stared hopefully at me.

Amrita Chachi, only twenty-seven, but to me at the time, a nearly middle aged widow, kissed her lips together audibly. “Sajan, say hallo to Ujaala Didi. Go on, beta, give her a hug.” Chachi nudged Sajan toward me.

I examined Sajan’s tight braids, tied in loops so they hung like a puppy’s ears on either side of her small head, each loop secured at the top with a wide pink satin ribbon formed into a bow. Pink also showed through white lace that covered the entirety of her dress. Pink, her favorite color, and ‘Pinky,’ my mother’s nickname – a juvenile holdover from the childhood days when pink had been my mother’s favorite color. It became a source of great camaraderie for the my mom and Sajan.

“Didi.” Sajan whispered in slow motion. “Do you like my Am-Reecan-frock?” She’d probably been rehearsing this little bit of English for weeks. Small brown and pink and white Little Bo Peep. Except for the blue, wing-shaped pin the stewardess must have fastened to her bodice, her outfit was like a prissy Halloween get-up. I looked at the cuffed, lace-trimmed socks hugging her ankles. I felt equal parts love and disdain.

“It’s pretty.”

When we arrived home, my father dragged their enormous suitcase into the room my mother had spent two weeks preparing. My mother and Amrita Chachi embraced like old friends reunited. Eyes closed, the two women smiled while they hugged. But then I saw Chachi’s body shrivel against my mother’s chest. Her smile wavered into a quivering line, and she began to wail. My father rushed back into our kitchen.

“Beta, take Sajan to her new room,” my dad suggested that first day, during that first breakdown. Too stunned to defy (after all, wasn't it my room?), I took hold of her hand and obliged.

When my mother started preparing the room, she suggested, “Ujaanti, maybe it would be good to put Sajan in your room with you? It’s going to be a hard time for Amrita Chachi. She may need some privacy.”

“What about my privacy?” I expected to provoke her, but my mother simply pursed her lips and glared. With no further attempt to coax me, she moved two single beds, one from out of my bedroom and one from out of storage, into the extra room. She replaced my bed with the double that had previously occupied the guest room. Chachi slept against the room’s far wall, and, for almost one year, Sajan slept against the wall our two rooms shared. Neither mother nor daughter complained about the arrangement.

It was August when Sajan came. It was the middle of hurricane season, the beginning of the school year, and just after the long rift between my mother and me began. My mom put Sajan in my care, and in that care, she died. I wish I had understood then that Sajan was not a burden. That in fact, she deserved every bit of my mother and every bit of me, every bit of comfort and love we could offer. I have lived with this weight, the way I failed as a daughter, as a sister, as an American ushering in a new American.

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