A Flash of White
In Mumbai, the cab drivers used their horns more than their brakes.
Joseph had to learn to write with his right hand — to do everything with his right hand — because, apparently, using your left hand for anything was a grave insult.
The curry was too spicy, the language incomprehensible, and the heat was miserable.
The phone rang.
Joseph fumbled his phone out of his shorts pocket and answered, “Hello, Joseph Campbell speaking.”
“Don’t you ‘hello’ me, Joseph. Your first draft was due weeks ago,” Cheryl said.
There was a pause, then, “That’s it? Really, ‘I know’, that’s all you got?”
“Yup,” Joseph said, popping the ‘p’. “There’s nothing here, Cheryl. It was a massive waste of time.”
“Look, stay a couple more weeks, I’ll extend your ticket. You’ve got to find something there, Joseph. You signed a contract, and I can’t keep putting them off much longer.”
“Then don’t.” And with that, Joseph hung up. He silenced his phone and tossed it onto the ugly striped sheets of his 200-rupee hotel bed.
Joseph walked to the window and scowled down at the hustle and bustle through the bars of the window cage — one of those iron monstrosities that mothers would put their babies into to ensure they got fresh air.
Joseph watched as an old woman carried what had to be three times her bodyweight strapped to her head, as she headed toward the mountains.
He watched as one child distracted a vendor, while a second and third quickly stole bananas and pomegranates before darting away.
He watched as one food cart yelled out “Five rupees” while one across the street yelled out “Four rupees”; both serving spicy rice in wax-paper packages tied with twine.
He watched as women and children and men scurried back and forth, a whirling kaleidoscope of bright, eyesore colors and flashing scarves.
Joseph watched as a too-white tourist walked down the street with a box and a sharp stick, picking up the discarded chip bags and wrappers — as if he was going to rid the world of pollution, and that mission started in India.
A flash of white caught the corner of his eye. Joseph turned to look, and ceased to breathe.
She… was enchanting. She was dressed entirely in white, and stood out like a swan amongst ravens, and Joseph was entranced.
For the first time in months, Joseph’s fingers itched to pick up a pen.
Her hair was a peach fuzz of ebony black, and Joseph wondered at its softness.
He longed to trace the proud tilt of her jaw, to sketch the demure downturn of her mocha eyes, to follow the curve of her lashes with India ink on English parchment.
He wanted to write out the story sealed in the slant of her burgundy lips.
The crowd parted before her, none daring to touch. A mother yanked her child away from the woman’s path, yelling out, “Vhidhava. Dalit.” The crowd murmured the words, growing louder and louder.
Joseph grabbed his phone and opened his translator app. After a moment, the Hindi to English translation appeared on the screen: Widow. Untouchable.
Joseph looked up from his phone to see the woman disappearing around the corner. He scrambled for his shoes, managing a flip-flop and a tennis shoe. He ran down the stairs and out the front door of the hotel, dialing his phone as he went.
As it rang, Joseph shoved his way through the crowd, having a much harder time than the mystery woman had had.
Cheryl’s voice answered, “Joseph?”
Joseph burst around the corner, just in time to catch another flash of white.
Breathless, fingers twitching around an invisible pen, Joseph only said, “Extend my flight.”