Notes on my Father
There aren’t any seats left in the Calcutta domestic terminal, so my father and I sit on our packs. We lean against the grimy wall and pass a bag of nuts back and forth, nuts that have come as far as we have—all the way from Lake Placid, New York. We left for India two days ago, and now, five flights and two airport breakfasts later, we are propped up against these gray airport walls, watching the display as it ticks away the names of this nation’s cities. People line up and shuffle out the big main door towards their planes. While they wait to exit through that door, women breastfeed their babies and grandmothers nap. Ladies adjust their veils, lengths of translucent emerald and saffron and turquoise fabric. Fathers buy sandwiches and fat samosas from the snack stand near the bathrooms. My father takes it all in, his latest book unopened in his hands, his khakis creased. He is taller than everyone else in this room, but people have grown tired of looking over at us, and so now we’re just being ignored. We’ve accepted that we’ll never get a seat while we wait; speedy grandmothers hover over the emptying ones, poised to rush in and occupy.
Our flight is finally called, and by the time we’re seated on that plane, we’re asleep. When we land in Bagdogra, an hour later, we stumble outside into the humid afternoon and blink into the sun that beats off the flattened grass and the distant, snow-capped mountains. The sky, streaked with filmy haze, presses onto us. We hire a taxi for twenty dollars and then ride for four hours, first through mad Bagdogra and then its crazed neighbor, Siliguri, with the men that stitch mattresses together on the side of the road and those big, unfinished plaster hotels. Bicycles and cows and trucks clot the road, and then finally the city dwindles into fields of tea and corn. The route rises and winds and finally pitches up into jungle, and then we are in the Himalayan foothills. The views are so incredible that I feel guilty sleeping, but I can’t keep my eyes open and neither can my father. While our young driver navigates the curves and blasts American dance music, our heads loll in the backseat and the sky grows dark.
We close our eyes, on our first night in India, to the sound of the rain on the Dekeling Hotel’s tin roof. When we wake, twelve hours later, we look out over the clouds to the distant hills, swathed in green bushes of tea. We eat breakfast and write an email to my mother, who decided she’d be okay with never setting foot on the subcontinent and so stayed home with our cat and dog and my brother. And then we leave Darjeeling, because we aren’t here for the cities. We want to be in those mountains, those Himalayas we can see from our hotel room window, the ones my father has always dreamed about. So on that first morning, we drive with the guide we hired weeks ago over email to a tiny checkpoint town three hours from Darjeeling. We print our names and passport numbers in a dusty ledger at the offices of the border control, and then, just as the rain is tapering off, we start hiking.
We climb a rocky road that starts out wide, with gentle curves, but quickly grows steep and narrow and studded with ruts. We stop often for tea, for pictures, and to enter tiny monasteries dotted along the route. For the whole of this five-day trek, we will straddle India and Nepal, crossing into one country and then into the other as the trail dictates. We pass men who herd goats and cows who herd themselves, and miles and miles of prayer flags, long faded by the rain and wind but still flapping in tatters. These are the Himalayan foothills, we remind ourselves, breathless. “Have you ever been anywhere cooler than this?” my father asks me once as we amble past a herd of billy goats. I shake my head, no, but in truth it doesn’t matter whether I’ve been anywhere cooler than this or not. What matters to me is that my father, from the tone of his question, has told me that he has not.
On the second day of our trek, we pass an Indian man in a neon green poncho and a white baseball cap, the visor still flat as the day it was purchased. He stops when he notices my father, puts his hands on his hips and blocks our way, not unkindly. He draws a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his brow, taking a moment to catch his breath, and then, “Where you are from?” he asks. He doesn’t look at me; he is watching my father. It is perhaps the twentieth time so far that Dad has been asked this, but he still replies enthusiastically: “We’re from the States!”
The man pauses, considering. He wags his head, once to the left and once to the right, a slight and particular movement that you see all over India. He reaches into his pocket and draws from it a package of gum, pulls out three sticks and hands two to my father, who passes one to me. We unwrap our gum, put the sticks in our mouths, and then the man crumples up his wrapper and tosses it on the ground. My father and I put ours in our pockets.
“Thank you,” my father tells the man. We chew for a minute. “It’s nice gum.”
“Welcome to India,” the man replies, smiling to reveal white teeth. All around us, the land sings with crickets, and the clouds are passing fast over our heads. A fresh wind rolls up the Nepalese side of the ridge and down the Indian one. The gum-man reaches out to shake my father’s hand, then turns from us and trudges on down the hill. Our gum tastes slightly of lemon. We watch the man pick his way down the rocky trail, until he turns the bend and disappears. Ahead of us, we can see where someone has strung two strands of prayer flags, stretched between boulders at the ridge’s edge.
Outside it’s pouring rain, and my father is vigilantly watching the sky. This is our third morning in India. It has been dark and wet like this every day so far, with just a few blessed patches of bright light. My father woke up this morning before five and went outside, his hiking boots unlaced, and saw that miles away, at the edge of the horizon, there was sunshine peeking through the cloud cover. He had rushed into our room to get the camera, his binoculars, and his book, to wait outside for the rain to stop and the clouds to break up, so he would finally get to see the snow-capped peaks. We’d come all this way, after all.
But the mountains hadn’t revealed themselves; the clouds only thickened, and he’d finally come inside again. And yet he was not dissuaded.
“Morning clouds,” he’d declared, while I pulled the pillow over my head to cling to sleep. He stuffed his clothes and his sleeping bag into his pack and, ignoring my grumpy silence, spoke with a grin in his voice. “I think we’re in God’s pocket, now.”
Now he has finished packing, has glanced again out the window, and has picked up his book but hasn’t opened it. He sits down on the bed and crosses one leg over the other to wait. “After the rain is when the sun comes out,” he says. “So we’ll be ready.” He peers out the window, searching for the light that he swears lies just beyond those clouds, and, as if the gods have decided to give him a gift, a slant of sun enters, suddenly, to fill the window’s four chipped panes.
My father tells me that he is too old to learn new words. It gets harder every year, he tells me. Namaste, that Hindu greeting used everywhere here, is a phrase I have heard a thousand times in the course of a decade of yoga classes, three years of Cambridge bumper stickers, and four months in India after college. It is, however, a word that my father just cannot remember. “Hello,” he always says pleasantly as we walk past Indian families, or boys with big bales of sticks on their backs, or old men leading donkeys down the road. “Dad,” I always whisper afterwards, “say namaste.”
“Namaste,” he repeats, putting the emphasis on the ma in the center of the word. But each time we pass someone new my father gives them a jolly “Hello.” For this he receives gruff nods.
The other word we most often use is dhanyavad, the Hindi word for thank you. My father can’t get that one right, either.
“Danyabob,” he tells the man who takes our picture on the trail.
“Danyabob,” he tells the women who bring us our chai at the hill stations. I have given up on correcting him and, anyway, for danyabob we always receive a smile.
As the track rises up and up, through the clouds and then above them, my father notices that the plants resemble more and more the ones he finds at home.
“See this?” he asks no one in particular. “That’s sedge.” He leans down and smells.
“Sedge,” I repeat, peering at the scruffy, sage colored brush.
“Sedge,” says our guide, Satjin, a twenty-one-year-old Nepali guy with gel in his hair and a tiny backpack with all his clothes tucked inside. He smokes cigarettes when he thinks we aren’t watching, coming out from behind trees and boulders, stinking of smoke.
My father runs a finger along the length of the plants’ slender leaves.
“It looks like grass, but it’s not,” he tells Satjin and me. “It’s a high-elevation plant.” He turns to look at me. We’re both dotted with raindrops, but we’ve long grown used to the constant water that trickles from the sky onto our packs, our shoulders, the napes of our necks. “This is what we have on Algonquin.”
Maybe Algonquin is my father’s favorite Adirondack peak; I forget. I wonder whether he even has a favorite; he knows them all so well, has climbed each one so many times. Algonquin he’s summitted in summer and winter both, at least twice a year for many years, and so I figure that this sedge must come as a comfort, like meeting an old friend on the other side of the world. As we continue along, he points out monk’s hood, bachelor buttons, stubby pines like the ones that grew at the deepest points of his mother’s garden path, back before she had to sell the house and move into a nursing home.
He points out many times a spiky plant with tiny green leaves and red berries. I guess that it’s holly; he’s certain it’s not.
“Satjin,” he calls, and Satjin turns around and slips his phone in his pocket and walks back to where my father has stopped walking. He is a chronic text-messenger, Satjin, and is adept at walking and texting in sync. To be polite, he puts the phone away when he talks to my father.
“Yes, sir?” he asks delicately.
“I don’t know what this plant is called,” my father says. He leans into the leaves and draws one close to his face. “But we have it at home. What is it, Satjin? What’s it called?” Satjin peers down.
“My mother had this in her garden at home,” my father tells him. “Every year I’d have to go there in springtime and clip it.”
“I’m not sure what it is, sir,” Satjin finally says. Together they continue to examine. Satjin, I suspect, knows he will get a better tip if he shares my father’s interest in the fauna.
“Yup, we have this at home,” my father declares, straightening up. “All the way in Lake Placid, New York.” Just then, the rain lets up a little and a little slant of sun shines down onto us. My father notices and looks up into the sky. From where we stand, we can hear the light clanging of cowbells; the unseen cows are eating the sedge, and when night begins to fall, they will head back down into the valleys. Satjin told us this. The sky opens a little more and the sun pours onto us, all of a sudden, and so much like a gift that we have to blink our eyes in surprise.
“Looks like we’re in God’s pocket now,” my father says, and takes off his glasses to clean them on his shirt.
We sit in our room as the sky darkens, and we wait for the rain to stop. We’ve opened the windows to let the cool night air in, because the mildew is making my father cough. We wait for the clouds to bleed from the sky and the stars to appear; we wait for the wind to empty of its flecks of rain. There is no sunset, only the lengthening shadow of night. We check the windows every few minutes, wiping the condensation from the glass with our fingers to peer out, but the mountains remain ghosts, shrouded in the incessant fog.
On the last morning of our trek, I wake up to my father saying my name. I pull my pillow over my head, but I can still hear him talking.
“You gotta see this,” he says, and by the tone of his voice I know I won’t be getting any more sleep this morning. This is the voice he uses when he wants my mother to come out and look at something in the sky—Jupiter, or the full moon, round and bright and illuminating the road and fields around our house. He used this voice the day he spotted a bear, a black momma bear with her two cubs, in the backyard of our house eating apples from the stubby crabapple at the edge of our property. “Pearl,” he had said to my mother in a hushed, frantic whisper that morning. “You gotta see this!”
He says it with me now, and so I push the pillow off my face. He is standing by the door, his hat pulled down over his ears, his green puffy jacket unzipped, and he is pulling on gloves. He has tugged on his hiking boots without tying the laces and his socks have been hurriedly yanked on so that they stand at uneven heights on his shins.
“It’s about to turn pink!” he tells me, and then he dashes out of the room, leaving the door wide open.
What is about to turn pink, I grumble to myself as I pull on thick socks, my fleece, my gloves, my hat. Even with the sunlight coming in, it’s freezing in here, and I can see my breath. God, I hate being cold. I slide my glasses on last and then I stumble outside, cupping my hands to my face and blowing on them. But when I make it out the hotel’s front door and see what he sees, what the clouds have concealed for days, I forget my numb fingers and the way my breath looks in the cold air.
The mountains are turning pink, that’s what he meant. Past where he stands, at the lip of the ridge, I see the jagged edges of the Himalayas. We are closer to them than we’ve ever been in our lives. Oh, God, I say, because it’s the closest thing to a prayer I can think of. And then I am crying. I can see the outline of my father’s body before me, standing there, gazing at the mountains he has waited his whole life to see. He has imagined how they would look so many times, but all the hours he’s spent studying maps, pictures, reading National Geographic and the chronicles of Sir Edmund Hilary and Jon Krakauer—none of that has prepared him for this. Mount Everest has never looked this way to him before.
They glisten in the sun, those mountains, and the morning is so very still, so perfectly clear. Oh, my God, I say again, my voice high and tight with emotion. When he turns, finally, to me, my father takes off his glasses and wipes them on his pants and I see that there are tears in his eyes, too. I can’t remember ever seeing my father weep. He blinks and looks back and we just stand there, dazed, watching as the coat of pink rises up over the jagged peaks of silver.
Before we left for India, my father told me that the Himalayas were a Mecca for mountaineers like him. His home is in the mountains, the high peaks, the ranges that stretch all over New York State and Canada, breaking across the middle of North America and then starting up again in the west, running down the length of British Colombia and Montana, Colorado and Utah. These are the places, I think, that my father is most free. They are his church; they are where his God resides.
As the morning continues to swell open, continues to wash the earth in gold, my father and I search for a better place to watch the peaks. The clouds are already rising; soon they will sock us in, and so this could be our only chance. Not far from the lodge rises a short, steep pitch without a trail, and we scramble up it, passing our cameras to each other, glancing over our shoulders every few minutes to make sure the mountains haven’t disappeared in the clouds. They are growing redder and redder with the movement of the sun.
We reach the top of the mound and discover that its knobby summit is swathed in prayer flags; they flap from every rock, every crag, every stubby bush. We have to push them out of our way at times to get to the top. When we look down either side of the ridge, we can see that the flags trail deep into the valley, curved lines of alternating red and white, blue and green, bright yellow squares. Satjin told us what the flags represented: blue is the sky, white is the wind, red is fire, green is the water, and yellow is the earth. From where we sit, we can look at those flags and feel all of the things that they mean, smell all of the elements in the wind. I want to tell my father how full I feel, how rich, sitting on that ridge beside him, but I don’t. We have never really been that kind of family.
My father has lost his book. “I just had it,” he says, more to himself than to me. I don’t look up from my own novel; he will find it, I assume. He’s always putting things down and then forgetting where. He’s already in bed, in his sleeping bag, so he doesn’t stand up, just looks in all the places he can reach: under the bed, beneath strewn-about clothes, on the nightstand. He rummages through his backpack, grumbling. But this seated search comes to no avail, and so he must stand.
He doesn’t climb out of the sleeping bag; he just stands up in it and holds it up around his waist like he’s competing in a sack race. I imagine that he does this because it is too cold to step out of the sleeping bag and onto the cold floor. He is barefoot; for as long as I can remember, my father has slept in the white JCPenney briefs my mom buys him. He hops around the room, sack in one hand, while with the other he moves things around in search of the book.
“It’s bright red,” he remarks, opening the tall wardrobe at the other end of the room, a wardrobe he hasn’t opened until that moment. “You’d think it would be obvious where it is.” Next, he jerks open the little drawer of a tiny dresser in the corner. This drawer, too, we haven’t yet opened. I can’t think why the book would be inside, and only now, when I laugh out loud, does he notice that I’m watching him. He looks at me, grinning, and shrugs his shoulders, holds his free hand out in front of him, palm up. He has done this motion for as long as I remember; it can mean many things—maybe he is mad at my brother, maybe he is tired of his administrator at work—but today it means that he is baffled, and he is willing to laugh at himself. I could get up and help him, but he looks so silly, his sleeping bag in hand, and so I lean back and watch.
“Did I bring it in here?” he asks himself, checking the bathroom. Of course he did not; all that’s in there are our bottles of shampoo and conditioner and our tube of toothpaste. There isn’t even a real shower in there, just a tap and a bucket and a toilet and a drain in the middle of the floor.
“I just had it,” he mutters again, befuddled. He checks the wardrobe again, his backpack again, the bathroom again. He is looking in the funniest of places. He lifts the cushion by the window seat and checks there; he gets down on his knees, the sack still around him, and peers under the bed. Finally, he sits down on the bed, defeated.
“I don’t know where it is,” he says, and does that thing with his hand again, holding it out in front of him, palm outstretched. “I just don’t know.”
“I might have something else for you to read,” I tell him, and reach into my pack for one of the books that I’ve already finished. While I’m digging, he fluffs his pillow, flips it, and finds the red book underneath.
Ridges covered in tea bushes; women under umbrellas, plucking the leaves; the smell of wet earth, wet clay, chai when we pass the smoky hut; the smell of the constant rain. The sugary smoke of fruit trees burning, an open fire, and the sweet hint of a jasmine branch that hangs over the road. Banana trees, their wide leaves bent and dripping. Gutters overflowing with brown water. A girl washing her hair in the street. She returns our driver’s smile, her head still bent over, her hair to her knees. Wild orchids growing off the trunks of trees; Cardamom, corn; a toothbrush and toothpaste placed for safekeeping in the crack of a stone wall. Rain, rain, and a patch of blue sky; rice paddies in layers; cardamom, corn. This is our drive to Sikkim.
In Yuksom, one of Sikkim’s tiny hill towns, you can hike to a monastery at the top of the nearest mountain. The path is paved the whole way—a narrow, winding track with steep, even stairs, but you have to be careful because the abundant rain of this region makes the going slick. The green moss is beautiful, though: emerald-soft. It’s humid in this jungle, and we stop often to drink water.
But when we break out onto the ridge top, the thick vegetation is replaced by a crisp and sudden wind, and there is the monastery, recently whitewashed and surrounded by neatly cropped grass. Both sides of the roof curve slightly to a point upon which a big brass bell is perched. There’s no one around except a small, white cat who sits with her tail wrapped around her on the steps of the temple.
“A holy cat,” my father says.
We have been to so many monasteries so far that we know just what to do—you can see a lot of monasteries in three days in Sikkim. First we walk all around the outside of the temple, admiring the carvings on the wooden columns and the luminous paint, rosy pink and pale blue, sea foam green. We can see that the monks take care with that careful paint, the manicured grass, the even hedge, but there aren’t any here, not today, just the holy cat so far.
After we’ve circled the monastery, we take off our shoes and set them on the step, beside the heavy front door. It’s been freshly painted red, a deep color like bricks, and the wood gleams in the afternoon sun. The door has been propped half-open, and we slip inside. Every monastery feels this way: dark on the inside, cool and silent. Each one has a smooth floor like this one, the boards wide and stained almost black. Every interior has this scent of old documents, of mildew, of the incense and candles that burn all the time, that are burning now, flickering and fragrant.
We circle the inside of the monastery, examining, as we have at each one before this, the stacked scrolls and the rich embroidery of the tapestries, colored like jewels, that hang everywhere. Every surface is adorned: framed photographs of the Dalai Lama, artificial flowers, white silk scarves, chunky candles. We clasp our hands behind our backs and walk slowly around, and when we come to the tall red door again, my father takes a bill from his pocket and slips it into the offerings box. He has done this at every monastery; it has become part of our viewing ritual.
When we step out of the monastery and into the sun, we are surprised, as we always are, at how bright it is, how crisp the wind feels. The holy white cat is cleaning her feet; she freezes, watches us for a moment with big, blue eyes, and then resumes washing. We sit on the step and lace our shoes. Two small boys wander over; one squats a few feet away from us and sets three marbles down in front of him. He arranges them in a perfect line. The other one, the littler of the two, is not wearing any pants or shoes, just an old T-shirt that’s too big for him. They watch us the way the cat does, perfectly still and with eyes open wide.
“Namaste,” I say to them.
“Namaste,” my father says; he still cannot get it right. But the boys think this is funny, and they glance at each other and giggle. The littler one sits down on the grass. They both look expectantly at my father. We finish lacing our shoes, and then my father removes one of his hearing aids and holds it out to the little boys.
“See?” he says to them, although I’m sure they can’t understand. “It’s for my ears.” He taps his ear, empty of the aid, with his index finger. He turns a tiny knob on the hearing aid so it makes a tiny, high-pitched whine. The boys inch forward and peer at it. My father sticks it back into his ear.
“Much better,” he tells them, nodding and grinning. They are entranced. The littlest boy’s mouth is slightly open.
“Much better,” my father says again.
For our last two days in India, I have convinced my father to splurge for a fancy hotel in Calcutta. I tell him that we’ll need a comfortable place in order to survive the city.
“We need to see Calcutta, Dad,” I told him, “otherwise we won’t have really seen India.” Of course that wasn’t really true; I don’t add that even if we visit every large Indian city, we will never, ever really see India; in ten years you couldn’t see it all. In a lifetime you couldn’t, because India has far too many faces to ever be known. But my faulty argument worked; my father agreed on the fancy hotel.
When we land in Calcutta, we are dusty and dirty, our packs stuffed with white scarves— gifts from the monks—and boxes and boxes of tea. At first we think we are in trouble when a tall man in a suit, a typed badge around his neck, approaches us at the baggage claim. He says my father’s name, a question, and for a moment we both stare at this neat-looking man who knows us.
The man is telling my father that he has come from the hotel.
“Your ride is waiting,” he informs us, then steps towards where I am standing, pressed up against the claim’s revolving belt.
“Madam,” he says to me, “let me get those for you. Please indicate to me which ones are yours.” Indicate to me which ones, I say to myself, tucking that away. You don’t hear words used like that every day. But I do, I indicate which ones, and my father and I are led in amazement to a white limousine that is waiting outside, as shiny as that red monastery door up in Yuksom. The driver lifts his hat for us; he is wearing a white suit and white shoes and when we climb into the car he offers us water and cool, scented towels. We ride the thirty minutes from the airport to the hotel in air-conditioned silence, marveling at the unexpected luxury a hotel reservation in India can bring, marveling too at the India that still clamors outside, the carts and rickshaws and cows and cars all sweating, all roiling, all moving to the pace of this hot afternoon.
“I wish your mother was here,” my father says, once we’ve checked in and gone to our room and shut the heavy door. He has said this outside of the sky-blue temple in Sikkim, on the windy ridge on the first day of our trek, and on the morning we saw Mount Everest. “She’d kill us if she knew we were here,” my dad adds as we take in the plush pillows, the balcony with the marble floor, the luxurious bathroom with its deep, clean tub and its rose in a vase on the sink. We’ve peered inside the mini-bar at the bottles of expensive liquors, and in the closet, where wood hangers sit silently in a row, waiting to bear our unworthy garments.
“She would have loved this whole trip, don’t you think?” he says, looking out at the pool. We cannot leave the door to the balcony open or else all the air conditioning will get sucked out, but my father stares down at the pool just the same, and for a moment I think that he leaves me. I think he goes to be with my mother, who is thousands of miles away across the ocean, waiting for us to come home.
The waiter at breakfast suggests we visit the flower market while we are in Calcutta. Immaculately polite, he brings us a map and draws out the route we must take to reach the market, which sits right on the shores of the River Hooghly. He speaks in perfect English: “You will love it there, madam,” he assures me, refilling my coffee cup.
So my father and I pack water and money, our camera and the map with the delineated route, and we set out after breakfast towards the river. We pass the Royal Palace, the Botanical Gardens and the Central Park. We walk up and down the streets, whose sidewalks alternate between being very wide and almost nonexistent. We push past shoe shiners, juice makers, makeup sellers, potters; men who fix watches; men who fix cars; men who sell saris. There is no time to talk, for all of the looking. At one point, we have to hold hands as we push through a sidewalk market, cramming past bangles stacked on wooden poles, so as not to lose each other. When we finally reach the Hooghly, a wide, muddy strip, we can barely see to the other side because the smoke in the air is so thick.
We follow the waiter’s map along the river; we move from a park where lovers sit beneath trees or on benches, their arms around each other as they stare at us, to a slum, which reeks of urine and rotting vegetables, and old, dead cars. Skinny, shirtless men without shoes walk past us, barely glancing at us, huge bales balanced on their heads. On either side of us, we can see into homes, shelters erected out of scrap metal and tarp and cardboard; we see tiny children and cooking fires that burn right on the floor.
This has to be right—that nice waiter wouldn’t lie—but I’m suddenly scared, though I don’t tell my father. This is not like the park, even with those uncomfortable stares from the lovers, and it is certainly not like our lush hotel, with its deep, blue pool and the tall, waving palms. It is not like the ridge that straddles India and Nepal; it is not like the planes, the airports, the taxis. It is like this: the roads that we drove past but didn’t go down, the alleys we hurried by as we walked down the main streets. The big, black eyes of the little girls who squatted on the stoops of their huts and stared at us as we hiked past, drove past, rode past without stopping. I wonder what could happen to us here, my father and me, with our backpack jammed full. I want to hold his hand the way I did in the bangle market, or the way I did when I was just a little girl.
But when I glance at him, he does not seem scared; he is calm, his mouth relaxed and not set in that tense line, his hands in his pockets. And so I relax, and we walk, and we breathe. Eventually, of course, for that waiter knows his city, we begin to see piles of flowers for sale, big baskets of marigolds and roses, daisy petals, big stacks of leaves tied together, and pails of lilies. Irises, birds of paradise, and always those marigolds, yellow and orange like little suns. I want to take a picture.
“Give that guy some rupees,” I tell my father, and while I gesture to my camera, point to the man’s huge pile of marigold heads, my father passes over a ten. Another guy sees the exchange; he says something to my father, shaking his finger at us and grinning. I know that he is teasing my father—I have flowers too! I guess that he’s telling us. Take pictures of those! After I snap the shot, both men slap my father on the back and waggle their heads and then watch us go, their hands on their hips, while we walk towards the bridge through the rest of the market.
Next, I take a picture of my father; he has his camera around his neck, and he is wearing a shirt he got twenty years ago in a running race. Whiteface Mountain Annual Uphill, it reads. Sponsored by Coca Cola. The rain has just begun; drops fleck onto his glasses as the market churns behind him. This is my father, tall and thin and grinning, a marigold petal on his sleeve. He has bent before monasteries to drop money into donation boxes, and he has stood on a ridge and looked out at Mount Everest, surrounded by flapping prayer flags, his hand shading his eyes. He has tasted the street food of Calcutta; he has sniffed the sedge on a wind-swept trail; he has walked through this market, flowers around him, and he has closed his eyes to the scent of it, taking it in.
About the Author
Kate McCahill currently lives in Buenos Aires, where she teaches English at a community center. She holds a BA from Wellesley College and an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.