I didn’t die. Farrin came back with a level head, brought me water and an Indian brand of soda, and I slept and sipped and vomited at intervals.
By the following afternoon, I could keep down a bowl of cold tomato soup. While Farrin coordinated with a courier who would strap on boxes of her possessions and motorbike them to the post office, I stacked what was left in the center of the living area. I sent Bill messages in my head: You should have seen the cows in the middle of the road. I wish you had been there last night, to put your hand in the middle of my back how you used to.
Though my body had returned somewhat, I still did not feel better.
Farrin’s laptop stood open. I found an email from my mother: a cryptic “how is it” with no punctuation. An email from the New York City Police Department: “thank you for your co-operation, please give us a detailed version of your side of the events on the day of the burglary.”
I clicked open a tab for Facebook. There he was, Bill, top of the feed. He was tagged in a photo with his back to me, holding up a champagne bottle. Tagged by Katie Kerman. Something was off with this image.
His best friend had come online.
Me: Hey dood
Michael: hey gurl hows india???
Me: I shit my brains out last night but I think i’m ok
Michael: have you heard from billy?
Michael: just so you know, I do not approve of Katie
Cold stone crept through my veins, freezing me. I clicked back to the photo. Katie Kerman. With Bill, and champagne, and probably a kiss afterwards, lingering in the shadows behind a group of friends, on the same streets I had walked with him just a year ago.
Me: who’s katie?
✓ Seen by Michael Thompson
After two minutes of nothing, Michael signed off.
Who was Katie, and why did Michael have to approve of her? These are the questions surrounding a girlfriend. Not a kiss in the shadows, a kiss in the public places, the well-lit places, letting everyone sober and studious know we are together.
There were five more pictures of them. In one of them, their cheeks were pressed together in the back of the car. Katie held the camera. I almost threw up again.
Maybe I wasn’t born for these times, this flood of images and information. Perhaps it would have done us both better if all I saw of Bill was a print in my pocket and a signature on a letter every two weeks. Then I would have let them be, and they, me.
Perhaps that wouldn’t have made any difference. My gut had known about Katie before I did. My shit and vomit and everyone else, they all left me in the middle of the night.
To Bill, who was not online, I typed: who the fuck is Katie? and didn’t send it. Then I typed whatever whatever whatever whatever.
When I had deleted that, I bent over the keys and pressed them at random like an amateur pianist, probably too hard, hoping to break the computer.
Of course, of course. Of course he had asked for distance. The last time we had communicated, he had told me to “have the time of my life.” This meant, have the time of your life so I feel better about having mine with a girl named Katie. It wasn’t that Bill didn’t want to be distracted, it was just that he didn’t want to be distracted by me, specifically.
I looked her up: a bird woman. I was always being defeated by these women with light bones and minimal flesh who are good at graceful dancing. Defeated was the experience, yes. As if we were competing. I had forgotten that she was a person, with whom a person I knew intimately was now being intimate. Too much to say, too hard to conjure, too many words to be a balm for hurt.
That evening, India competed in the final game of the Cricket World Cup. I crouched in the corner of an architect’s flat drinking wine until I fell asleep, engineers and researchers and partygoers from the university stepping around me. Later, when the apartment exploded in sound, I woke up. India had won the World Cup.
We took to the streets with the rest of Ahmedabad, the rest of the country, too, watching four or five young men pile on one motorbike, weaving through people piled on the tops of buses, banging the sides, balancing Indian flags as big as a building, whipping them as they zoomed down the road screaming, “India!”
Little boys set off fireworks and threw them at people, little girls climbed on their daddies’ shoulders, entire families squeezed on motorcycles honking their horns, raising their arms at anyone they passed. Farrin raised her arms, too.
Tears filled my eyes at their pride, and because I could not feel it with them.
I wish you could live here with me, I wish you could live here with me, I wish you could live here with me. How cherubic and cat-like I had felt when I proposed that, pouting my lips like a baby. And yet I still wished it.
You’re too much, he had told me.
Yes, but that way I can do the work for both of us.
“What’s wrong?” Farrin asked.
“Bill is dating someone else,” I said. Her eyes wilted. I hated to do that to her. I should have stayed quiet.
“I’m sorry, love,” she said.
“Don’t be,” I replied. “I’m just glad I’m here with you.”
“And now is not the time for being sad,” she said.
“You’re going to be all right,” she said, looking into my puffy eyes, then she made a motion like she was tossing up invisible confetti.
The engineers, marching in front of us, turned around and gestured to her. Farrin ran in front of me, whooping, putting her arms around her friends. Most people run to happiness.
It was a silly thing, a stupid thing, but I did not know how to act that way. I knew how to enjoy music, and to dance, and to drink and laugh. But I did not know how to be happy without the help of something or someone else. I did not know how to contain it once it came, and I did not know how to conjure it once it went away. I did not know how to run to it, put my arms around it. It was such a silly thing: I thought happiness was supposed to come to you. I thought you were supposed to stand and wait for it.
I had already bought the ticket back from India to Minnesota. When I would return, I had no place to live, and most of my friends had moved out of the city. I had no choice but to barrel back and, what, live on Bill’s couch while he and Katie fucked upstairs? I would have rather walk forever until I reached the coast again, and sleep under porches in the rain.
What would I do?
The motorbike boys skid recklessly around to shake our hands, sixteen-year-old kids in Aeropostale shirts and bare feet next to their sputtering engines. We couldn’t understand each other but they gestured to the city speeding around them while the old buildings stood still.
We won, the boys on motorbikes might have been saying, and Congratulations, I might have been saying.
India forever, they might have said. India, and then what.
In the wee hours of that morning, with a rumbling, screeching grace, mass transportation answered my question. It wasn’t a comforting answer, but it was answer all the same.
What would I do? I would either get on the train, or I wouldn’t. The rails do not care if you are weak or strong; they will carry you onward if you choose. To misery, to a lush hell I would ride for 48 hours, thinking of nothing but Bill and Katie, smiling at each other, to the oblivion of what came after the next four weeks. But it would take us away from Ahmedabad all the same. I was grateful to leave the site of my pain. An action does not have to be human to be sympathetic. In fact, sometimes it is better not to be seen or heard when we are hurt.
I folded behind the barred windows, drowned by the sound of the rails. I thought of an animal injured, under a porch, and buried my face in my bag.
To Ahmedabad by Lara Avery will continue in two weeks as part of her YOU, LARA project. If you’d like to receive an email alert saying that her new piece is up, sign up here:
Front page image by Kenny Lam.