A week ago, I sat in the pew of a small Baptist church in Deridder, Louisiana and watched a friend Benson and I have shared countless dinners with commit his life to his new bride. When the preacher pronounced them husband and wife, the newlyweds held hands and jumped the three carpeted stairs down to the aisle while we cheered. Later at the reception, a Cajun trio played the accordion, fiddle and bass in the background while the guests ate gumbo, green beans and banana pudding under lights strung in an open air barn. We sprayed our legs with mosquito repellent, drank boxed wine and traded friends’ babies in our laps as the summer sky grew dark.
Nights like this, it’s so incredibly easy to trust in the Lord.
My wedding date, Shanna (you’d love her), and I spent the night in a cheap motel before driving back to Houston the next day. On the way home, I sipped gas station coffee and snapped a picture of the country road stretching before us because I knew I was headed back to India and would miss scenes like this . . .
Three nights later, after 24 hours of travel, I wait in the Mumbai airport customs line. The man behind me stands bare chested, a smokey dark belly hangs over his skirt, though I’m sure it’s called something different than a skirt. A roped cloth circles his head as he scrolls through his phone and I wonder if he feels strange being the only one in sight not wearing a shirt. Two spots in front of me stands a woman in sunglasses and a blazer and really nice hair. Once she’s past security, bedraggled Indians (it’s 2 in the morning; everyone is bedraggled) ask her for pictures. She poses with various groups until the fans are ushered away. (The man in the skirt doesn’t ask for her picture.) An hour later, Mahesh, my driver, walks me up to my apartment and rolls my bags in. I whisper thank you to him as I gently close the door and feel my way through the dark apartment toward the bedroom where Benson lay sleeping. (He’d flown ahead of me since he is a responsible adult with job and all that.) After walking face first into the closed door, I finally find my husband and curl into his arms.
The next morning I see that monsoon season has turned the hill outside our window from brown to emerald. The rains have also brought spiders and mold into the gym in our building. The walls are turning black.
While I run on the treadmill, I scan the TV screens for the woman I saw in the airport.
Between sets of lunges I squash a spider approaching my towel, and then quickly regret it as a population of Jains holds their meetings in our building. Decked in white with stark, squares of paper (or is it cloth?) affixed over their mouths ensuring they don’t accidentally swallow a bug, they sit in folding chairs listening to a speaker. They arrive in rickshaws festooned with signs reading, “Go Vegan.” I see them when I go to the second floor to check my mail.
After my workout, in the privacy of the elevator, I secretly knock the arachnid guts off the sole of my shoe and onto the cardboard which lines the floor.
I am trying to focus on what is true and lovely.
I am failing.
Our neighbors invited us to their daughter’s baby shower. From their apartment each evening we hear bells ringing, sounds of worship to gods we don’t know. I smile and confirm that we will attend the shower, and then I repeat the time back to my neighbor. “Seven o’clock in the clubhouse,” I nod. His head leans to the right. “Seven or eight.”
I send my housekeeper to the little shop across the street with a small fold of bills. She returns with a swaddling blanket plus a gift basket of blue washcloths, bonnets and booties. “The man said this is for boy or girl,” she reports. “Great,” I nod, uncertain if an all blue giftset implies gender neutral.
The morning of the shower, the rain waters enter our apartment. We spend the day taking turns mopping up the puddles in our living room. It seeps through the walls and the sheetrock is beginning to crumble.
We stare at our map and daydream. “When did we become the couple who lives in a leaking apartment in Mumbai? What are we doing?” I ask.
At 7:30, we enter the clubhouse. Gold balloons spell Baby Shower. Carnations dangle from the stage. I place our gift on a table with others. We are the only white faces in a smattering of brown ones with red dots between the eyes. We ask a beautifully adorned woman in a sage and gold sari if the seat next to her is taken. She wobbles her head and looks back at her phone. We sit in decorated chairs, and when a woman hands me a slip of paper and tells me to guess the baby’s gender, I emphatically write GIRL! with a heart to balance out the boy gift I brought.
Benson wins a competition in which he must stuff his shirt with a balloon and tie a ribbon around his shoe. He receives a wrapped gift, and then another after he wins Baby Bingo. By the end of the evening, ours is the only gift left on the gift table, as all of the presents were for the guests and not from them.
(I’m still glad we brought a gift, because they served non-Indian wine, which is pricey, and I drank two glasses.)
A woman gives a speech. Hindi words flow out and Benson and I smile along. When everyone else claps, we enthusiastically applaud, too. I add a “Hear, hear!” that only Benson can hear. She then sings a song, a nasally, minor-note-heavy bit. We wipe sauces from our plates with bread and pause to clap when she finishes.
“I can’t believe we get to live here,” we agree on the walk back to the lobby.
At this moment, I don’t have to try and trust in the Lord. I just do.
Once home, we open Benson’s loot: beer mugs and burgundy lip liner.
They still haven’t come to repair the leak. The sheetrock is growing more crumbly and I see patches of white fluff.
I am trying to trust in the Lord.
I’m doing okay at it.
The Internet is telling me I don’t eat enough protein. I stare at images of people with muscles I don’t have and I second guess my bites of oatmeal. Then I remember that I really love oatmeal and I really don’t love meat, and I decide they can keep their muscles. I unfollow those people.
Some days I don’t know who to trust.
I try to seek refuge in the Lord.
I also price plane tickets to Mexico.