They said the sea was blue. It wasn’t. It was gray, and sometimes green, but a dark, ugly green, and also white. As I watched it, I remembered they told me snow is white and I thought, what if it isn’t, what if snow is black, what if all they told me is a lie. The engines billowed smoke, black smoke, like black snow, out through two great chimneys, high into the air, forming other clouds which drifted far behind us in dark ribbons, black clouds that hid the white clouds that were much higher in the sky.
The ship shuddered as it rose and fell and I arrived in winter, winter in London. That year, there was no snow, and I couldn’t tell if they were lying or not. Many years later I saw the sea in California, it was blue, or maybe you could say it was sometimes blue and sometimes gray and white and other colours, with oil slicks like rainbows on the water, the kind I remember from the streets in London, and I wondered, maybe the sea is blue, maybe it was always blue, but who says the colour of water stays the same year after year, decade after decade, who among us stays the same, who doesn’t age and grow old.
If I took that same boat now, all these years later, who is to say what colour the water will be, maybe now it will be pink or yellow.
I have said this to people I know, and they have said my idea is interesting, that it deserves study, but how do we travel back in time, how do we find out what the colour of water was a dozen years ago, or a hundred, or a million. I am not interested in a million, I am interested in sixty, in the year I left India, and I ask myself sometimes, when a person leaves a country, the country they were born in, does something fundamental change, like the colour of the sea, is the earth marked each time we cross a border. I know there are photographs and movies, colour movies, I have seen some myself, but who will promise me the colour does not change in those too. I have photographs that were once bright, their colours strong, the faces alive, and now, like me, they’ve gone gray and thin, so old I’m afraid to touch them, because touching them might kill them.
I say this to my husband and he laughs, in that way he has, at the back of his throat, as if he doesn’t really want to laugh but wants to choke. He says photographs can’t die because photographs are not alive. I don’t tell him I don’t believe him because I know if I did, he’d start a row, but then I think maybe I should tell him I don’t believe him, maybe I should start a row, maybe that’s what I need right now, but in the end I say nothing, or almost nothing. I say, I once saw a photograph of you, before I ever met you, and that photograph told me you were alive, so maybe the photograph was too, but if you say they are not alive, I will believe you.
Before I finish talking, he is already making that laugh of his which he calls a laugh and I call choking, and he takes the remote control and turns the television on, one of those enormous televisions, and turns the volume up, very loud, and switches to a news channel where they say lots of things that make no sense, and takes his chair and pulls it right up to the screen, so that he can’t see anything, just blurs of colour, and the sound is so loud I wonder how he can make any sense of it, but I say nothing, and look at him and think maybe I should start a row, maybe a row will be good for both of us, maybe he wants a row too.
But I don’t start a row, I sit there with my knitting, clicking the needles against each other with extra force, hoping he will take notice but knowing he won’t. It hurts my old hands but I don’t care, I know he can hear, I can almost see him grimace inside, and I like that, I like watching him sitting there, face pushed up against the television, trying to pretend he doesn’t hear, that it doesn’t matter to him, but knowing he does hear, knowing it does matter, knowing it causes him a little stab of pain each time I click the needles together.
I rise slowly, making as much noise as I can, scraping the chair against the floor, complaining of this pain, of that pain, ack ack, clearing my throat, pushing one heavy leg in front of another, how it hurts, how my back screams, moving from the living room, what a name, to the kitchen, where I grip the edge of the stove to keep my balance, and finally find what I’m here for, a pot for tea, which I raise up and bring down on the iron burners with a loud crash. I like to remind him, from time to time, I’m still here, he’s not alone in this house. Silence from the other room, except for the television, but I can feel him, he heard, I can almost see his face screwed up in anger, his fist clenching and unclenching, I can hear his thoughts, asking himself if he wants to start a row or not. For the first time in days, I allow myself a smile.
Excerpted with permission from Dark Star, Ranbir Sidhu, Context.