Sejal Shah

We were in the airport. I can’t stay in this moment. You were sweating so much you needed to find paper towels. You found the usual symbol indicating the usual room. I waited for you, by your bags, watched the people on the moving walkway, standing or walking. Here was all of it: the travel and tiredness. The rolling black suitcases and the pale green suits. The families, the women shuffling in saris, in socks-and-chappals, holding the hands of their grandsons. Everything was there: people who worked there, the racks of magazines, the packages of dried fruit. I counseled myself not to buy a magazine that I could finish off before the flight. I bought two instead. I wondered where the bride was, and the groom. We had finished a wedding. Were they also in an airport or in a plane? We saw the band from the wedding, waiting for the same flight. They waved us over. You danced, they said. A lot, they said. Have some coffee, they said. Yes, I said. I do like to dance. (I wondered then, had I danced too much?)

We were in the small airport. A one-terminal, the one where it was impossible to miss anyone. We were waiting to get to Detroit, to take the connections back to DC, New York, and the rest. We took the vouchers when the flight was over-booked, and thought about where we could go next. None of us was in a hurry to get back.

We ate some breakfast, the bass player and the trombone player, the groomsman and I. He was not the groomsman I had been carefully seated next to at the rehearsal dinner, nor the one who escorted me back after the service. I was glad to wait for him, but then I wondered why I was waiting. He had his tiny pills for sleep and for no-sleep, and his wife on the East Coast and the silver-gray laptop; he had the noticeably lengthy conversation with a woman at the wedding. The leaning in, the extra drink. I suppose I shrugged; it seemed easier to walk in the airport next to someone, if we were going in the same direction for a while. I wondered, too, about all the people we don’t marry.

I carefully composed a postcard to the one groomsman I had been seated not next to, but close by. I wrote it out in my head, then in a notebook, then the postcard. He called me after he got the card, and I called him back. That was it. We talked about visiting, but that was it: only talk. I can recognize it for what it is. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a good time at the wedding, or at the dinner afterward, but what I am remembering is how we went swimming in Lake Michigan after, and we weren’t quite drunk enough. Someone had brought a cooler of drinks to encourage the usual behaviors. The water was warm, the floor pebbly, but still, I was cold. We kept walking out, but the floor never dropped, the water never got deeper. It was strange that way. We crab-walked out, in order to keep ourselves submerged in the water. We stripped to underwear, or underwear and bras, or nothing at all. Some people sat in the gazebo and watched and talked.

Someone I had known in college picked me up and threw me over his shoulder. He sat on me when we sat down in the lounge chairs on the porch. I was Raggedy-Ann. He said, I didn’t know you could dance like that. His wife said, are you comfortable? You can tell him to get off you. Another person sat on top of him; we were tired and silly. I didn’t mind the weight of them, of us splayed out on the porch. I didn’t mind him seeing me as he had not seen me before. I thought perhaps he should have gone up to their room when his wife went. I thought about all the unspoken things between people. Not everything needs to be said. She knew he’d go swimming and they would travel back to their city on the East Coast.

I went back to my room afterward. Before that, I allowed you, the one I had been carefully seated next to, to think I had fallen asleep on your shoulder in the gazebo. I was as disingenuous as a child who doesn’t want to leave. We walked back to the inn, a blanket wrapped around us, and in my room, I gave you my address. I started the water for a bath. I was startled when you came back: perhaps you were more bold than I had imagined. I thought we were both a bit shy. You had left the address I had written out for you on the bed. You came by to get it. We talked a little longer and then you went back to your room. I waited up for another bridesmaid, who would be coming by with someone else from the wedding party. (I had the room key.) They slept on the floor. The next day, we were all tired, at breakfast, and traveling back to all the places we had come from, and were resigned to returning to. No one, I thought, had found anyone else. Only the couple we had gathered to toast, to surround, to join. I haven’t been thinking of them at all, on their way to sun.

The best line I heard that night: a friend of the groom I had met once before came up to me after several gin and tonics. Here, he said, is a string tied around my finger. I tied this string around my finger, he said, because I wanted to remember to hit on you. I laughed, we danced. The usual songs, in the usual order. He was so ebullient that I wondered. He was kind, and I said, I have to dance with this other one, the one they’ve seated me next to. But I will dance this dance with you.

Here is the truth: I wasn’t seated directly next to him (too obvious). To you. I mean you. You were at my table, though. What I remember: how you mentioned the punk bands you liked. How you didn’t think of yourself as Indian much, but then, you had grown up in New Jersey. Everyone I knew from there thought of other things: I had a cousin who had been into Wicca; another who was briefly interested in NASA; one who dated a Puerto Rican girl; several others who went to NYU.

We had known each other in college, but then, the fact of our Indianness must have been awkward. I liked that you played the guitar. We each did what we did then: go out with other people. You had had a Gujarati girlfriend, though, and I couldn’t decide if that would make you more likely to want to go out with me, or less. I know one thing should not have to do with another, but I have always thought of the way each relationship revises the one before. You were finishing one residency and thinking about doing another. I think you had stopped playing in a band, but that you still played sometimes, at home.

I thought about all this, and then we had our few conversations. I called you the way I called everyone I knew in New York, that September. Perhaps it would have been smarter to invite you to come visit. An entire weekend of eating out, unfolding the futon, a weekend away from New York. Would I take out my Indian decorations or hide them? Nothing ever came of it. You lived far away from the towers, and you were fine. We talked about the media coverage, we talked about the smoke. I think you had been working in the hospital that day, and like so many others, waited for people who never came.

My mother reminds me of the next one. He is the son of family friends. It is only a reception; the wedding already took place in Bombay. She asks what she should mark on the card: braised vegetables and rice pilaf or the Indian vegetarian dinner. I imagine another round of dancing, toasting, seeing who we are seated next to. I can imagine the cards they will give me. How they will stay in my wallet. (I still have three from the last one. Perhaps I have not been focused enough in following up.) How I will imagine or they will imagine, but we have known each other for years. Calculations. We are getting older. Some of the talk at the tables is always about who is next. Who has a boyfriend or a girlfriend; which ones are not Indian.

At the last wedding, over Columbus Day weekend, I saw my best friend from the time that girls have best friends. She mentioned weekend set-ups and no one who was working out. She was working on it, she said. I said, I can’t seem to do it. In December, her family threw a small engagement party. They were smiling in the picture she emailed me. I watched the image appear, moment by moment; how it filled the screen.

In one of my mother’s small purses I borrow for such occasions is a small collection of email addresses on napkins, on the smudged backs of the cards that directed us where to sit, that spelled out our names in gold or in silver, in careful sans serif black. I find them, occasionally, when I am looking for other things.

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