We step into the chai shop and I know immediately we will not find a bathroom here. To be sure, I inquire at the front. “Toilet?” I ask, gesturing towards the back of the shop. Saying the word aloud amuses me, reflecting on the way ‘rude’ in one culture is proper in the next.
“No,” the shop owner confirms. I smile a thank you and bobble my head side-to-side (okay or yes in India).
Stepping back onto the street, I look around in search of a place to relieve myself. No stores look promising, so I amble down the road in the direction of the crowd.
Coming upon them, I wonder if it is a religious festival or wedding. People adorned in fancy saris crowd the street. They carry a shrine- is that Krishna?- and are singing and dancing with jubilation. I smile and bow my head slightly to those who make eye contact.
Suddenly, women surround me and pull me into the street. They nod encouragingly and slow their dance moves to show me the way. I lift up my hands and do as I learned at the Patel wedding this summer: twist twist holding door handles, step side to side, shoulder shrug. The pattern is unclear, but mimicking the women beside me suffices. The crowd roars in delight. People pack in tighter.
Faces bright with kindness push through the circle of people to grasp my hands in greeting. An orange is pressed firmly into my palm. A woman- the bride’s mother- materializes and adorns me with a lei of marigolds. Another aunt shares some grain and signs for me to throw it at the shrine the men carry behind us. I oblige and continue moving down the street with the party.
As we dance, children join and squeal with delight. An old man- eyes crinkled in a friendly smile- brings sweets to my mouth, feeding me generously from their supply of candy.
I give myself over to the music and festivities and wish for this to be a moment remembered. Their hospitality envelops me like a warm blanket, making me snug and comfortable despite my unfamiliar surroundings and bursting bladder.
We sit in the tuk tuk, bouncing slightly to the drum of the motor: tut-tut, tut-tut. I remember dimly Beth’s question if the name came from this sound and listen closer. We sit at an intersection waiting for a break in traffic to make our turn.
I’m awakened from my daze by the tap of a walking stick against the railing of our vehicle. Its owner meets my stare. Her hand-motions sing a song of desperation and hope, gratitude and demand. They flow from the sky (a plea or a thank you?) to her mouth and conclude their dance with an outsretched palm to me.
“No.” I say and shake my head for emphasis.
Her routine continues. Sky. Mouth. Palm. Mouth. Sky. Palm.
I am asked for money daily here. What is it that makes this request different?
The wait feels endless as I sit in my unsettled conscience with the window of opportunity still before me.
Finally, finally, the tuk tuk revs into motion as we turn the corner and flee the scene.
The images play in my mind on repeat: an orange, pressed firmly into my Palm. Mouth. Sky. Sky. Mouth. Palm. An orange pressed firmly, into an extended Palm.