17. on a rooftop, looking out

I am making dinner with a family I met only hours ago,
throwing flat moons of dough into sizzling pans
and spinning them cooked.

Maryam is much better at it than I am,
her chapattis perfectly round, all one-handed,
while she somehow keeps her sari wrapped
to frame her face. We don’t talk
much; the four Hinglish common words
we’ve gathered between us sit scattered across the counter
like a puzzle abandoned.

Suddenly she leaves the stove.
“Come,” she tells me, hazel eyes shining.
I follow, up flights and flights
until we reach the cool concrete roof.
She spreads a threadbare prayer mat,
and we bow.

The call to prayer swells above the night
through swinging sari clotheslines,
my forehead sweat-slick from the heat of the kitchen.
My breath catches,
tracing its way through the braided city of pink,
with clattering streets, yells of pick-up cricket,
and I wonder for the millionth time who I am
and how I got here and what I know of holy.

Her palm catches mine;
I feel the grit of wheat flour
settle into my life lines like mehendi,
“You,” she says, “Me,” I answer,
And the singular word: “Behen.”


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