by Meghna Nagarajan
The worst! This was the worst day of my life. If not the worst, certainly the most tragic. The day would live in infamy as the day the Nagarajan family moved to the US.
The tempo traveler came to a stop outside Thatha and Ammuma’s house. The city was getting close to snoozing for the night. The driver started loading the eight India-size suitcases and four carry-on suitcases into the van. Appa checked the passports and visa papers for the umpteenth time. Ammuma put kumkkumam on everyone’s forehead with misty eyes.
No one, not one person, could properly tell me why we had to move. Every time I asked Amma why we had to move she would respond with “because Appa got a job in the US.” A job? Is a job more important than your oldest child’s happiness? Adults are so selfish!
Appa and Rajan Mama made their way to the tempo traveler followed by Movina and Sonika who were in deep conversation about who knows what! Shoba Mami, carrying a sleeping baby Rithika, followed them out with Ammuma. I sat on the sofa in protest.
I am not going! If you want to move, move! Why are you dragging me into this? I am so tired of moving. Always the new student. Always the outsider.
Amma called out to Thatha who came out of his room with his pouch. Amma gave me the look and my protest came to an end. I stormed past Amma with pools of tears in my eyes.
I just started to make friends here and we have to move again? The kids here are so smart and kind, unlike the little monsters at the international school.
I boarded the tempo traveler and stomped wordlessly past Appa and Rajan Mama. Rajan Mama fell into a fit of giggles after seeing my long face. Appa was irritated with me. I was even more irritated with him.
This is my eighth move in the fourteen years of my existence. Which means we have moved on average every 1.75 years! Okay moving twice or thrice is understandable, but eight times?! I think this qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.
I found the seat farthest from Appa and collapsed into it. I sulked in the back by myself next to eight India-size suitcases and four carry-on suitcases. I looked at the matching ribbons on the suitcases grumpily and let out a heavy withering sigh.
Appa keeps telling me that the USA is the land of opportunities. Opportunity to do what? What exactly is wrong with our life here? We are basically on a summer vacation that never ends.
Thatha and Amma boarded the tempo traveler and the driver started the vehicle. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’s soundtrack played softly on the speakers. The two dusty beams of light moved on the narrow road. I watched as the coconut and banana trees leaning out of my grandparents’ courtyard got smaller and smaller.
We live with Ammuma and Thatha. Every week Thatha makes us nei payasam and every night Ammuma tells us stories from the Mahabharat. Appa and Amma both relax at home all day and spend time with Rajan Mama and Shoba Mami. Every week we go for dinner at the Taj or the Oberoi with Rajan Mama’s family and then go watch the latest movie. After the movie the whole family goes for ice cream. What more could anyone want? I really can’t understand why Appa wants to work.
My family’s laughter drifted back towards me. I could feel their eyes on me and hear them making jokes at my expense. Amma called my name lovingly through her laughter.
Don’t laugh at my sadness! Don’t look at me!
The tempo traveler rolled to a stop at the red light next to a massive billboard of Bhima Jewelry’s ad. A lady wrapped in a luxurious silk saree, dripping in at least 2 kgs of gold jewelry, smiled demurely back at me from the billboard. A homeless man shifted in his sleep under the sign.
When I grow up I am going to live like Rajan Mama. I am going to move back to India and retire by the time I am 35.
The tempo traveler moved forward and parts of my uncle’s and father’s conversation drifted back from the front seat. “When do you land in Atlanta?” “Around 5 in the evening.” “Where will you be staying?” “The company is giving us a temporary apartment.” I could hear the nervous excitement in Appa’s voice.
The kids at school said that people who go to America don’t come back. They don’t know anything. We are going to come back!
I looked up to see Thatha sitting on the edge of his seat.
I can’t believe that even Thatha was coming to see us off! Maybe we really are moving for good.
No! I am coming back!
Thatha looked like he was ready to get down from the tempo traveler.
Me too Thatha!
We crossed the bridge towards the airport. The same bridge we had crossed when I came to this city one and a half years ago.
Everything looks different when you are going the wrong way!
The rest of the kids at my school stay with their grandparents and their parents live and work abroad. I don’t know why Appa and Amma won’t allow me to stay.
I looked towards the front where the rest of my family was sitting and chatting happily. Movina and Sonika were asleep in Ammuma’s arms. Shoba Mami was sitting next to Amma who was cradling Rithika. Appa and Rajan Mama were looking at the road.
I don’t want to go! I am going to miss everyone.
Amma beamed at Appa and he returned her smile.
Look at that! Look at how happy they are! They don’t even care about me.
I looked past my tear streaked reflection on the window to take one last look at the sleeping city. The streetlights flew by as I started crying dramatically to myself. Tujhe Yaad Na Meri Aayi played over the speakers.