The following piece is part of my first draft (thus not the final or best version yet) of what will eventually be my final project for senior seminar in creative writing. The full version will be a series of short stories detailing my experience studying abroad in India last spring. Trying to start something is always the hardest step, but I’m hoping that the path of this project will make more sense as I continue to travel down it. I am sharing it here with the idea that whoever reads it may pass along their thoughts and feedback, so if you have any of those things, please share :)
1. [Where am I?]
Six of us Americans, five girls and one boy, sit in two rows of vinyl airport seats facing the boarding gates of the Mumbai airport. Announcements are mumbled overhead in Hindi and some other obscure languages. The digital displays suggest our flight to Coimbatore will be delayed indefinitely. The sun glares down through the dirt-stained windows at the top of the cavernous terminal, suggesting it is sometime around 9 or 10 AM. Although, after traveling for the last twenty-four hours straight, and having been in this airport since midnight, none of us really trust the time.
The wall to the left of our group has a large advertisement for sunglasses on it. There are two men and one woman in the shot. We tease back and forth:
“That one has hair like a Jonas brother.”
“He kinda looks like you Jason.”
“Right and the girl looks like Abby.”
“Blond and black hair are nothing alike.”
“But her skin is almost as white as yours. And she is wearing jeans.”
“Well none of the women I’ve seen so far look like that.”
“That guy isn’t even wearing sunglasses though, what a hipster.”
Some Indian men behind us snicker. I try not to notice them staring.
On a television nearby, what seems to be the Indian version of a soap opera is playing on repeat. There aren’t subtitles, but we interpret that two Indian men have hired some people to fight each other for the love of a woman who occasionally jumps in to sing and dance swooningly. One guy has a ripped black weightlifter and two female sidekicks in leopard bikinis on his side, the other guy has ninja assassins. So normal soap opera stuff I guess.
More snickers come from behind us.
One day later we again sit in two rows, but we do not mock anything this time. There are seven of us total now, gathered from a range of Christian colleges across the United States. Upon entering we received a garland of sandalwood beads that almost reach my knees. Some older Indian women are grouped in the back smiling at us. My jeans look dirty compared to the starched folds of their jewel-toned saris. The plastic chairs are similar to those that frequent outdoor seating at mom and pop diners in the states. A wooden podium stands in the front, framed by a wall draped with aged red velvet. Particles drift through the narrow slats of sunlight coming in before being lifted into the whirlwind of the ceiling fans.
Kirk, our program director, walks to the front first. He is at least 6 feet tall, lanky but strong, like the New Hampshire pines where he first came from. His red hair has short ringlets spewing out in every direction and his pale cheeks dimple into large parentheses as he smiles.
“Now our Indian friends may not know what I’m about to reference, but they will have their turn to speak to you in a moment.”
“Who here has seen The Hobbit?”
Most of us raised our hands, not surprising considering it was the top grossing movie at home before we left to come here. Here, to India, the farthest possible place from the Shire or any other Tolkien realm.
“The subtitle of that movie was what? An Unexpected Journey!”
I can see where this is going.
“You are all here on an unexpected journey!” Prepare to be unprepared. I’ve been to India before. I know the drill.
“This is a journey that will take you out of what’s comfortable, out of the Shire where you grew up.” Actually, Kirk, I grew up in California.
“And now that you are out you will discover new places you’ve never imagined, and, just like Bilbo Baggins, you will discover new parts of yourself!” Why else would I be here. Actually, why am I here?
He keeps the metaphor going for what seems like another hour. Meanwhile I watch the fan blades turning above his head, wondering why the air doesn’t reach my flushed cheeks. My lower back is already damp with sweat and jeans were definitely the wrong idea. A pinch on my wrist alerts me to my first mosquito bite, still freshly white, waiting to redden and itch me unto madness. But that should fade eventually, I hope.