A friend from home has come to visit us in India.
She’s come on the tail-end of a painful breakup. We meet her at the airport. It is early morning, 6:30 a.m., but the sticky Goa heat is already shimmying down, settling in for the day.
As soon as I spot Wendy through the airport doors I can see that the stress of the past few months has taken a toll. Already tiny by nature, she is bone-thin now, dissolved, it seems, in her dark months of sorrow. And there is a sadness in her eyes that I have never seen before. She looks tired, haunted.
Still, she walks out of the airport with a smile. I’m so happy to see her I almost burst into tears. We hug and exchange big, bellowing HELLO’s. I feel like a mother hen who has been given a beautiful, fragile egg to care for. Brian and I cluck around her and usher her towards our taxi.
We pass a few slow beach days in Palolem and then catch the overnight bus to Hampi. I have coordinated this piece of Wendy’s visit, insisting we come here. I want Wendy’s time in India to be magical. I want it to seep into her bones in the same way it has seeped into mine. I want her to be jarred by the spiritual pull of this colorful country.
Hampi is an ancient city, historical and sacred. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site settled amongst boulders in the bright-green Indian state of Karnataka. In Hampi, you can’t fling your sari without grazing a temple or monolithic sculpture. It seems the perfect backdrop for someone going through a transformation. I want Hampi to help heal Wendy’s heart.
As promised, Hampi is wonderful. It is beautiful and foreign and ancient. We spend our days touring temples under a scorching sun. In the evenings we sip chai in a rooftop restaurant called Ganesh’s.
But I have to admit a secret disappointment in the place. I’d wanted Wendy to have a magical experience in Hampi, some kind of moment to yank her out of her sadness and whip her back into the present, something to help her look towards the future once again.
But Hampi is just Hampi and Wendy is still Wendy, with good days and bad days and deep moments of sadness sparked by bright blazes of hopefulness.
We take the overnight bus home again, wedging our bodies into our sleeper compartment, happy to let the cool breeze blow in through the window. The bus bumps away through the night, stopping at intervals so the passengers can pee. Wendy and I file out and squat by the side of the road under the moon’s unblinking eye, laughing at the pure Indian-ness of it all.
We are dropped at an intersection on the outskirts of Patnem in the quiet hours before sunrise. We walk back to my apartment through the empty streets, the dogs bark in the distance. “India sleeps!” says Wendy. “I didn’t think it was possible.” And in the pre-dawn silence I can sense a change inside of her. It’s a calmness that wasn’t there before. She seems to have embraced the quality so essential for survival here in India. Uncurl your fingers. Loosen your grip. Let go.
When we wake the following morning the heat is still oppressive. We head to the ocean in the late afternoon, buy Tuborgs, and chat on recliners. The sun is making her daily departure from the sky again. We swim out into the ocean, diving beneath the waves, feeling as free and as playful as dolphins.
The setting sun is a brilliant pink and its light reflects on the water. We float in the rose-colored afterglow. I am happy. And as I watch Wendy bobbing in the Arabian Sea, the last blazing moments of sunlight skipping across the water, I think that she is happy too. I ask God, Ganesh and The Universe that someday soon she stays that way.