21. the chaiwallah next door

My photo does not go unnoticed;

the chaiwallah gestures puzzledly to me.
“Yean photo?” he asks—“Why a photo?”

—and I try to explain the symmetry
of the masala jar library in front of me,
that the dust of tea and cigarette smoke
wind through the light like whispers,

but I can’t find the throaty Tamil words to tell him.
I fumble and only say “light.”
He pulls aside a tarp to correct me.

“Light illai. Hole thaan.”
 There is no light, only a hole.
He tells me that his landlord
comes in the night to punch holes
in the ceiling to drive him out
of the property, even when it rains,
especially when it rains,
mornings of scooping ankle-deep storm out of his teacups.

He tells me that
he has already gone to court
against him, and won, ten lakhs
of rupees in damages owed,
but “this is India.”
It’s been twelve years.

“Manikkavvum,” I tell him,
which is both “I’m sorry” and “excuse me,”
both of which, I realize as they slip through my lips,
are not enough.

He shrugs, offers me two biscuits
in crumpled newspaper.

The customers keep coming back, he tells me.
People trust people who have nothing left to lose.

 “Indha light nalla irukku.”
“This light is good.”

Advertisements

One thought on “21. the chaiwallah next door

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s