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Anjali Dhanekula

Grade: 12

Hathaway Brown School

Instructor: Scott Parsons

Unfinished

Writing Portfolio

Unfinished

Culinary

Last night,
I dreamt of lychees.
Round, red balls of fruit
Dropping off the tree in the back.
Lychees taste like hope
on the worst possible day.
I can remember
Biting into the sweet flesh,
Juice trickling down my chin,
Followed by a goofy grin
And my mother,
Always ready with a napkin.
Last night,
I dreamt of lychees
Somewhere in a world far away.
Nowhere near the
Too ripe,
Out of season cherries
I have in front of me.

Last night,
I dreamt of jalebi.
Freshly made,
Piping hot,
Covered in glaze.
Tastes like home.
Tastes like the anticipation of dropping dough
In burning oil.
Reminds me of mother,
Letting me fry but not cut.
"Knives are dangerous, beta,"
She says.
Last night,
I dreamt of jalebi
Somewhere in a world far away.
Nowhere near the
Sickly sweet,
Strawberry pastries
I have in front of me.

Last night,
I dreamt of apple pie.
Flaky,
With a golden-brown crust.
"Brown sugar is my secret."
Says the pioneer woman.
I watch intently,
Eyes glued to the TV.
Someday I hope to be
My own kind of pioneer woman;
Maybe a pioneer mother.
Someday I hope to make the best pie
The world has ever seen.
Last night,
I dreamt of apple pie
Somewhere in a world far away.
Nowhere near the
Stale,
Crunchy Costco cookies
I have in front of me.

Last night,
I dreamt of filet mignon.
I've heard of it once,
In first grade.
Mary said that her parents had it
At a fancy French restaurant.
She said it tastes like steak.
I don't know what steak tastes like,
But I imagine it's better than chicken.
It should cut like butter, apparently.
Serve it with glazed carrots
And a brown butter sauce
Or something fancy like that.
Rare.
Last night,
I dreamt of filet mignon
Somewhere in a world far away.
Nowhere near the
Chewy,
Overcooked chicken
I have in front of me.

Tonight,
I'll dream of me,
Wearing an apron and a white hat.
Looking even just a little bit

Culinary.


Unaccompanied Minor

I never looked back.

There it was. The white giant rolled toward the window, its shadow looming over everything in its path. I stared it down and saw two people dressed in white shirts trapped in its clutches. Its nose was slowly advancing, coming closer with every breath I took.

"That's the plane you're going to go on, okay? Now don't talk to strangers, stay with the flight attendant, and eat your food. Ok and uh, let me take a picture of you." My mother was a mess.

"Now boarding, zone one. Zone one passengers, you may now board the flight." I turned to my mom and squeezed her as tight as I could. I came up to her waist and figured that was about where I'd always be. I turned and there was the flight attendant, smiling bright like always. Her teeth were unnaturally white and her hair was pinned back in a neat bun. I took the hand of the lady. We walked out of the gate and down a long hallway. All four walls of the hallway were metal, and a pile of wheelchairs and strollers marked the end.

"This is the terminal. We're not in the building or in the plane. We're in a long tunnel that's not touching the ground." Her perky voice echoed.

To me, that was the best thing in the world. How could I be in the air but still have my feet on the "ground?" I walked straight ahead to the entrance of the plane. There was a gap where I could see the ground and feel the wind blowing. I stepped over the space and into the plane. Suddenly, all my fear left me. It felt magical; it was something I had wanted to do forever. I quickly found my spot. The window seat filled me with happiness. I gazed through the glass pane at the scene of airport workers and different planes. Waves of people piled onto the aircraft. I watched as each person went through the same routine; they would find their seat, shove their luggage up above, plop into the small metal chair. The pilot made her announcements and flight attendants went over the safety procedures. I listened intently until it got too boring. Gazing out the window once more, I had a clear view of the wing and propeller. The image changed as we rolled down the runway. The propeller blades started turning and I heard the roar of the wind pushing against the blades. We were going up and up, and the ground was getting farther and farther away until everything below looked like tiny figurines. Suddenly, we were in the clouds. All I could see was a sea of white and blue. It didn't even look like the sky. I could have lived in that moment forever.

I was in Germany. It wasn't as cold as I thought it would be. The plane had reached the end of its journey and it was time for me to get on with the second part of mine, but first I had to wait. A different flight attendant guided me inside the airport and to a lounge. There were sleek, black couches everywhere, video games, candy and food, and best of all, other kids. I thought, this is the place to be. I sat down on one of the comfy couches and relaxed. While I was minding my own business, two girls felt the need to strike up a conversation right next to me.

"You know that Santa isn't real, right?" said one girl.

"Yeah, One day I saw my dad wrapping presents in the night. I asked him what he was doing and the truth just spilled out," answered the other girl.

"Me too. On Christmas Eve, my mom came into the house with a bunch of presents and wrapping paper. My sister just explained it to me after that."

Were they talking about Santa Claus? My eyes started to water, and a tear rolled down my cheek. How could this be true? How could I not know so much about the world?

I boarded the next plane, once again walking through the long metal hallway. We got Indian food as our meals, but I wouldn't eat. The palak paneer and chole looked like they were fake and made me lose my appetite. The green mush smelt putrid and the beans were too oddly shaped to be real. I was so hungry and I thought I wouldn't make it, but then the flight attendant brought me some gummy bears. The mix of colors filled my mouth with wonderful flavors, and I dozed off. By the time I woke up, we were at our destination. We were in India.

We walked and walked and walked. My feet were already starting to feel like bricks, weighing me down. "Are we there yet, Tata?" I asked.

"Not yet, beta. We've only been walking for five minutes."

I stopped to scratch my foot, taking notice of the cracked pavement underneath my bubble-gum pink sneakers. My eyes followed the cracks to the sides of the road, and I continued walking. I gazed as we passed the ice cream shops and stray dogs searching for food. Hawkers beckoned us over, yelling things like, "Guava! Two for five rupees!" or conversing with customers in bits of Hindi and Telugu that I vaguely understood.

"Here we are," said my grandfather. I looked up at him. My Tata was so tall. He was the only person I knew that had grey hair. I remembered all the times that I made him read stories of Krishna and Lord Rama. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana would be ingrained in my brain forever. His voice always sounded powerful but soft at the same time. Dark brown eyes under thin, wiry spectacles stared back down at me, and I made my way forward.

I sat down on one of the many benches, strategically placed underneath a run-down roof. The benches, like many things in this town, were shabby. Once again, my gaze drifted down toward the cracked surface under my feet. A noisy sputtering sound caught my ear and pulled my eyes from the ground. A bright blue bus pulled into the lot and came to a halt with a loud hiss. The smell of exhaust filled my nostrils as bodies spilled out of the bus doors. People pushed and shoved their way onto the vehicle, and the conductor made several ticket transactions. I was hooked. Once every person was tucked away, the bus clunked out of the station.

"Are you done watching? Shall we go home?" he asked.

I took it all in once more. Even with the stray dogs, crowds of people, and papers and banana peels littering the street, I knew this would always be my second home.


Big Shoes to Fill

Strappy sandals, worn-out sneakers, and the black dress shoes she wears to work line the linoleum floor of our mudroom. Her Indian dress shoes hidden behind white cabinet doors emerge once a year for Diwali. The lonely pair of stilettos tucked into its rightful cardboard box is shoved deep inside the closet. She claims she is "too old" to wear them. My mother passes the high heels down to me, saying, "You'll grow into them."

Although she'll never admit it, she has a lot of shoes for me to grow into. A pair of size eight stilettos awaits, along with the rest of her dreams. "Go do the things I've always wanted you to do," she says.

There is a mountain of shoeboxes in our garage, standing about as tall as I was when I was five. Each one houses a pair of shoes destined to be mine. The yellow box with the running shoes says, "Dream big." The blue box with the heels screams, "Go further!" The red box with the sandals tells me, "Make her proud."

She counsels me in the car, while we're driving, like I'm a boxer and she's the cornerman. She tells me I have to be louder, more direct, more confident.

We go to Applebee's for dinner one night to celebrate my finishing 8th grade. The waitress asks me, "What would you like to drink?"

I respond with "Coke, please," but she doesn't hear me. She asks again. My mother answers for me this time. The waitress walks away, and my mother scolds me because apparently, I was too shy. We practice talking to cashiers and store workers after that because supposedly I need it.

I try to be like her. She's strong and confident. She doesn't take bs from anyone. She fights for what she wants. She's ambitious.

She always tells me, "Don't settle for being mediocre, Anjali. Strive for excellence and success will follow."

It's not as easy as it sounds.

One time she was telling me about this idiot at work and how he tries to mansplain things to her every chance he gets, and she says, "Don't be like me."

I'm sorry. Don't be like you?

I thought that I was growing into your shoes. I thought that I was doing the things you've always wanted me to do. I thought that I was, I thought that I was… But then you clarify. "Don't be like me. Be a force to be reckoned with. Be stronger. Don't care so much about other people like me. Dream big. Dream bigger."

You want me to do more than just wear your shoes, as if those aren't big enough.

When I was little, I used to put on your red lipstick, jewelry, and those stilettos you used to wear and strut around the house. In that moment, I was powerful. But eventually, the lipstick smeared, and the shoes fell off.

Now, the stilettos fit. You took about a million pictures of me at homecoming wearing them and commented on how I was getting too old. I've grown into them.

They still don't feel like mine.


Me

My name
Has never been too
Kind
To others.
They always add a
Disclaimer.
"I'm sorry if
I say this wrong."
I'm sorry too.
Start.
Stop.
Try again.
Stop.
One more time.
Stop.
I step in as a
Courtesy.
The first time,
I laid it out
Like a red carpet.
With a grand flourish,
I declare it loud and clear.
They choke on it.
Like an unexpected chili,
It's too
Spicy.
It's water going down
The wrong tube.
I try again,
This time slower.
Elongated.
Syllable by syllable.
"Un"
"Juh"
"Lee"
They trample and trip.
It comes out in
Wary sounds,
A question mark.
The first time
It was a
Declaration:
Pride.
Now it's…
"Hello."
"I'm Mr. Smith."
"I'm your teacher."
"I'll be taking roll now."
"Ella"
"Joseph"
"Kyle"
Then,
The anticipated
Pause.
He's mulling over
How best to approach
It.
"An—"
That's me!
I interrupt.
That's me.


Diagnosis

When I was in 6th grade, Samantha
Broke her arm. I watched as
Tiny fingers
Slipped off the metal bar.
Pinky, ring, middle, pointer, thumb.
One by one. There was the
Crack, so loud I could hear it through the audience
Scattered on the playground. Then there was the
Scream.

She emerged from the battle a war hero.
Her trophy, a proper pink cast,
Begged to be signed by everyone, a
Beacon as we gathered in the cafeteria.

That day, shards of pink plaster
Lodged themselves into the backwoods of my
Memory.

I am not broken like she was.
I am simply cold hands and headaches.
I lose sleep not in dreams but in nervous wonders of what could be.
I am a conqueror of submit buttons.
I am a pleasure to teach.

But I hide scars of red pen that I trace to where it went wrong.

The succulent living on my windowsill is dying.
I can't see my bedroom floor.
I hold my own hand.

I am fluent in reaction,
A firefighter cast in the glow of a computer screen.
I sigh in relief.

I sleep in class, eyes wide open,
Dark purple bruises where the questions hit me.
I was never good at dodgeball.
I do not know the answers.

I am not broken.
I am not even sprained.
There is no sling, and there is no brace.
There is only forward.

Yet I crave the diagnosis:
Something to tell me it's real,
Someone to tell me it's really there,
A pair of eyes that will do nothing more
Than see.


Silent

I've grown up to see that the person I've become is not who they need. They are calling. I cannot hear in the grumble that is the thunder of trees. They are parting oceans to reach me, wading through knee-high marsh, sinking deep, calling out. The leaves decay, and worms crawl into the sewer grates. The wind blows through it all. They are calling. They are calling. They are still calling. Can they not see that the whole world is setting me free? I never expected the world to rest right under my feet. I never expected the Earth to carry me. I am flying by the feet of birds and sitting dry in the roughest storm. I am moving restlessly through fields of corn, ears pressing up to mine. I am racing across dirt roads, splashing in shallow pools of rainwater. I can see my reflection between the ripples, the sun waving goodbye behind me. They will never pull me from the beauty, so long as I have the world in my hands. Mud slips unabashedly through my fingers and toes, dark streaks across my cheek. I stare at the geese as they make their way home. I follow across the barren stretch, feet slapping on rough ground. They are still calling. I am silent, running aimlessly.