Ever since Sara Watson was a little girl, she knew she'd go to India.
Sara had grown up hearing tales of the splendor and wonder of that land halfway around the world, and in her dreams, she'd travel there. Then, when she awoke, she'd wish herself there. Sara wanted to experience all of the things she'd been told; stories seasoned with descriptions of the people, places, and passion of the country swirled around in her head and beckoned her.
But bedtime tales weren't her only reason for going. In India, Sara hoped to find herself, and a piece of who she is that'd been missing all her life.
Shortly after her arrival, however, she begins to realize her "imagined" India and how the country actually is are two very different things. Sara quickly discovers life doesn’t mirror the stories she’d been told; people aren't always as they seem, and in order to truly discover herself and the country she’d been pining for, all expectations should be left behind.
Dollops of pale pink, powder blue and swirls of whipped cream - I gazed sleepily at the confection-like colors outside my window. Both earth and sky had become a world of pastels created by the rising sun to the East and the clouds that surrounded me on all sides.
East. The direction I’d been heading for close to a day.
East. In many ways it was the direction of the unknown. Indeed, everything I was accustomed to had been left behind as I’d boarded the plane in New York. Yet at the same time my destination, despite having never been there, didn’t seem wholly unfamiliar.
This, I know, is because of my mother. All my life I’d been told stories of this place. Beautiful tales she’d weave together from pieces of her own experiences there and a bit of fiction. The sights, the sounds, the scents, the people – they came to life at bedtime, and in my dreams I’d find myself there. Sometimes I’d be in a city surrounded by so many sights and sounds I could do nothing but stand in the street and watch as life rushed past me like a roaring river. Other nights I’d be running through a field, my ankle bells jingling with each step. A light breeze would brush against my cheek and the air would fill with the scent of jasmine. I’d inhale, smiling and twirling in the heat of the sun. It was so vivid I’d be certain it was real – but then I’d wake, and disappointment would envelop me as I found myself in bed, the scent of jasmine gone with the wind and the sun. In the next instant, I’d scamper to my mother’s room where I’d exclaim, “Mama I went to India again!”
She’d laugh and pull me against her, hugging me tightly, “Did you have a good time?”
I’d nod, and as I took a breath, the scent of jasmine would return once more as I drew in the aroma of her perfume – it had always been jasmine, and to me, it was the most soothing smell in the world. “Someday, I’m going to go there for real” I’d tell her.
Her reaction was always the same. She’d hug me tighter, place a kiss on top of my head and a slight sigh would escape. “I know baby. I know.”
And now, that day had come. I was finally doing just as I’d said I would since I was five years old. Someday, I’m going to go there for real.
The day I told my mother I was going, I think she sensed it was coming. She’d told me innumerable times over the years that I could only go once I finished college, and so I did. Then, eight months after my diploma was placed on the mantle in the living room, I decided it was time. I walked into the kitchen and found her sitting at the table clasping a cup of masala chai – her favorite. The fragrance of cardamom and ginger teased my nostrils, and as I sat across from her, I gladly accepted the cup she pushed towards me.
“Mama?” I began after taking a sip and delighting in the taste and sensation of the warm liquid gliding down my throat. She had always made such delicious chai. “Mama, I want to go there for real now.”
She looked at me and I watched a small sigh escape. “I know baby. I know.”
“Will you come with me?”
She smiled rather wistfully and shook her head. I already knew that would be her reply, yet I still felt the need to ask again and again, a part of me hoping but not ever really believing her answer would change.
The stories my mother told me growing up always ended happily. The hero prevailed. Trials and tribulations were always overcome. Virtues never failed you. And in the stories about true love, of which there were many, the beloved couple always ended up together. “Happily Ever After” happened in my bedroom on more nights than I could count. When I got older, I began to realize it was because in my mother’s own story, that wasn’t the case - at least not completely.
“When do you want to go?” she’d asked calmly.
I shrugged and placed down my cup. “Two weeks maybe? Or whenever I can get the visa?”
This time, she nodded. “We’ll send in the application tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ll make a few calls and see about getting you set-up over there. Make a list of things you think you’ll need, then I’ll go over it with you and we’ll plan a day of shopping, ok?”
A smile spread across my face and I jumped up and walked around the table. Kneeling down beside my mother, I wrapped my arms around her waist. She held me in return, and placed a kiss on the top of my head just as she’d always done.
Then, two weeks flew by and it was time for me to go - to leave behind all I was accustomed to and head East.
East. To a country that was unknown and yet not completely unfamiliar.
East. To India.
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