“I wish that you had come home when I asked you to have tea,” wrote Sunayana Dumala. Her husband, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, was shot dead in Olathe, Kansas, in an alleged hate crime on February 22, 2017.
The well water measured into the pan, your mother’s breath fattening the flame, the scent of burning wood, the pink threads of dawn outside the kitchen window, her patient stoop over the stove, each movement still weighted with sleep, and then, once the water boils, the quickening attention to milk and tea leaves, the sharp brown smell rising, the pan grabbed off the fire, the quick stir of sugar before the tea is poured in a high long stream into the stainless steel glass that is thrust into your waiting hand: this is the memory you carry into your new country.
Your husband, who loves your wild hair and your face soft as a child’s, comes from poor people. As a student in America, you’ve learned that no one cares. No one knows you and the old resentments of blood and soil and caste don’t matter, yet it took years of strenuous argument before you were allowed to become his wife.
Your husband decides he won’t be poor ever again. Your months grow frantic and jangly with work. He talks to the phone more than he talks to you. There are quotas and deadlines; the hours swallowed by the long tunnel of the screen. For the second time this week you haven’t laid eyes on each other for fifteen hours. He bolts down his dinner and then goes back to work until 2 am. This is America, though. It is not as if you can appeal to an elder who will scold him for forgetting that marriages need time and watering. The two of you are alone here, unmoored. Immigrants in an indifferent country. Orphans, even though your parents are alive and full of questions. Indians without India.
Your husband is 6 feet, 2 inches and handsome as the actors in the films the two of you watch on weekends, curled up on the sofa, pleased at the familiar jokes and storylines. The movies have songs. Shamelessly sentimental, full of rain and mountains and longing. Your husband, thinks he’s strong, thinks he’s giving nothing away when he sings them around the house. You don’t tell him that his voice, when it breaks, lodges a stone deeper in your chest. Still, each year your kitchen takes on a new appliance, your house new rooms. It’s okay, you say. It’s all okay.
Some days are good, though. Like the day you come home from work early. You make pakodas, taste the satisfying crunch of one before you set them aside and wait. You call your husband and tell him to come home for tea. I’m going out he says, with a friend after work. We’ll catch the game, get a drink. They call us the Jameson boys, he laughs. I’ll be home soon. No, you say, flirting a little, please come now.
When he walks in you make tea the way your mother does, cracking cardamom pods with your teeth before dropping them into the water, digging into the bright red box of Lipton Red Label to scoop out the dark leaves inside, taking pleasure in the slow patient swish of the spoon. You hand him the tea in a stainless steel glass, part of a set some Aunty gave you as a wedding gift six years ago.
Then comes the part you love.
The safe silence between you, the evening light in the windows, the distant murmur of the game on the radio somewhere, the insects clicking in the lawn grass, the bittersweet taste that lingers in the mouth, and then, his eyes rising from his cup to your face and that slow, quiet smile.
The day paused like a drawn breath.