Friday, October 30, 2015

Bread that Tastes Like Rain

Last night, I came home famished. I plowed through the front door, threw my work bag on the counter and went straight for the fridge. Rita and Elise had ordered Afghan chicken from Zaitoon, arguably the best chicken on the planet. It comes with pita and hummus. Neither are that great. Chennai is not known for its Mediterranean cuisine. I ripped a bite out of the rubbery pita. "This bread tastes like rain," I said to no one in general. It tasted like that mossy, earthy smell after a fresh rain. It could have been the rain or the antibiotics I am taking to ward off a particularly stubborn butt fungus. Sorry. Maybe that was TMI..."Too Much Information".

Elise had spent the day brainstorming for an upcoming photo shoot. It would be her biggest break yet, and even though we were leaving India in five days, she had strategically plotted every shot she needed in order to fulfill the assignment. She was floating with excitement. The soles of her feet did not touch ground.

A few moments later, a second email came through saying confirmation for the assignment has not yet come out of HQ in NYC. She came crashing back to Earth, shattering into a million fragile shards.

She poured herself a pint glass full of wine, then accused me of jinxing her assignment by sharing the news in my excitement. Maybe I did (she would apologize later), but her disappointment was palpable...and understandable. The thing is...the assignment may still be hers...she just won't be in India to fulfill it.

I cut up Afghan chicken in silence, saving all the dark meat and skin for myself, guilty pleasures. A scream cut through the air. Coming from the living room, it shattered whatever relative calm had settled in the kitchen. Peter was sobbing in the living room, and Elise and I rushed to his aid, wine in her hand, chicken slime on my fingers.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

Peter could not stop crying. Sam stood in the door frame separating the living room from the stairwell guiltily.

"He chased me down the stairs," Pete finally managed.

"Why are you chasing him?" either Elise or I asked.

"I want to play with him, but he doesn't want me to be the ground forces!" he spurted accusatorily.

"So, you chased him down the stairs!?"

"He could've fallen!" Elise added.

Eventually, Pete stopped crying, and we all slinked away. Dinner was served. Pete was talkative at dinner, telling us about the Halloween decorations hanging at school.

About halfway through dinner, though, he edged closer to me. He looped his arm through mine. Conversation turned to recess. Sam plays soccer everyday at recess with a group of young Brits. He is popular and athletic and has no trouble assimilating himself into the matches, even if older kids try to wedge him out.

Not Pete.

It's not that Pete is nonathletic or unpopular. It is dangerous to label a kid so young. Any kid, for that matter.

"I don't have anyone to play with," he whispered.

Elise and I immediately challenged this notion. I told him the day I came to school and surprised him, I saw him on the playground playing with two little girls, and Elise asked him who else is on the playground that he might ask to play with.

"There's nothing to do, but make footprints in the mud on the slide."

I don't believe that Peter will always be that kid wandering the edge of the playground by himself. He may not even be that boy now. It's difficult to parse the truth from what little we know about his school day or to know how much of what he tells us is just how tired he is at the end of the day. I suppose it may not matter if that's what his perception is. Does it really matter if one day he plays with one or two kids if he feels as though he has no one to play with?

"What about Louie's sister? Can you play with her?"

I didn't know what else to say, but I refused to let my heart empty. I wasn't going to have the same visceral--and ultimately useless--response I had when I heard kids were picking on him on the bus. I just wish everyone could see how hilarious Pete is.

I already read a few articles online that might help. It's hard to know which behaviors are normal parts of growing up and which are products of our upcoming move from India.

Probably, they are a little bit of everything.

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