Instructor: Maysan Haydar
Sunlight flooded my eyes as I exited the car. After such a long time on the airplane and an eight-hour car trip to Coimbatore, India, I was finally at my grandparents' apartment. I surveyed the area around me. The road leading straight into the apartment building was surrounded by local grocery stands, along with foods prepared by sellers of every dish, vegan or nonvegan. As the Toyota neared the building to drop off the rest of my family, the gates slowly opened.
I walked into the complex with the Toyota following me. With an approval from my mom, I ran inside to room 116, where my grandparents lived. My mom and dad opened the door for me while I continued brooding. I wore my best smile and entered the room. The paintings first caught my eyes, as they filled the entire living room. I stepped into a bright hallway with hues of yellow and blue strewn across the walls of drawings of every classical storyline from Hindu texts. The Ramayana and Mahabharata, two epics based on Hindu religion, were displayed on the right and left respectively. It wasn't like talented artists drew these pictures; it was little kids, proven by the large smiles they painted that extended beyond every character's face. I walked through the hallway to meet my distant relatives, chattering excitedly among one another.
It was a blur. Most of the faces I did not recognize, but a few I did. Memories returned in a jumbled nine-year- old's head: the shaking of hands, the bland questions that served no purpose for me. Relatives came and went, mostly talking to my parents rather than me. As I did not want to waste time with people that didn't bother to notice me, I walked into an empty room, where my grandparents were trying to lift up a table. I helped them and was rewarded with 500 rupees, equivalent to 10 dollars back then. Although I was reminded to keep my manners in check around them, I couldn't help but smile and run out with my money.
In America, I wasn't allowed to go anywhere beyond ten feet of my home, whereas here, with everything within my boundaries, I found a loophole in the strict rules told to me. I slipped outside to spend my new riches on something and walked across to one of the many stands, its good food drawing me closer to it. The most special part about Southern India is that it has a variety of dishes, vegan and non-vegan, that are available in different sizes and portions.
As I was going over to the stand, a crack resounded from the common area. A ball, shining green, flew up toward the sky and landed with a thump on the sandy pavement. I went over to pick it up. A large crack had spread over the side, with the wood sprouting within it.
"Boys!" cried the vendor, "Stop hitting it near my stand!"
No reply came from the common area. Going back to the party would not bring any fun on my part, and cricket seemed like a good compensation for that. I went over to meet the kids. Ten people, I thought. There's normally eleven in the game. I had seen my dad and his friends play this game, and watched multiple live games on television. Unlike the well-maintained grass in professional games, rocks, dirt, and sand hid cricket balls with all sorts of deformities. I glanced at one of them. Similar to the one hit near the stand, this one also had splinters of wood displayed from the large crack it suffered from. Four benches surrounded the area, with a drooping flower pot next to each one. Dented pillars lined the outskirts of the large area, and one was chipped off on multiple sides. I had not realized how dangerous this game could be. I had never gotten as much as a scratch from this kind of game. Snatching the opportunity, I stumbled over the sand to greet the pitcher.
"You, the American?" one asked. I shook my head, gesturing no. Of course, I wasn't American, but if that was how people knew me, then I needed to address it. I shook my head.
"No? You come from America then?" he restated.
I nodded my head to this. A glimpse of disgust and envy flashed across his face. He smiled and showed me how to play. I did not understand what he was saying, as he spoke in Kannada, but he didn't care, droning on and on about pieces of equipment. When he finally stopped, he dragged me into the game. I did not know much about cricket, however, I gave it a chance.
I was third in line of batters, and I remembered my dad's short tip about this game: the goal was to protect the sticks. In such a game, the goal for the fielders is to throw the ball in such a way that it hits the ground and tries for the three, fragile sticks; they get to do anything with the ball, as long as the sticks fall down. The first boy hit the bat in such a way that the ball rolled off the side, and throwing the bat, he ran for first base. The second flew into one of the apartment homes. When I came into bat, the pitcher (the boy who "taught" me the game) smiled. He rubbed the ball with the sand and stood at the ready. He lifted his leg, sort of mocking baseball pitchers, and threw the ball straight at me. I did not realize what was happening. It came toward me like the wind, rolling with such fiery speed, everyone stood dumbfounded at what had happened. I turned to run, but the bat's heaviness slowed me down. I could avoid the ball's wrath.
Imagine stomachaches. The uncomfortable feeling that rises deep within the body. Pain fired up throughout me. And I coughed up blood. Real blood, like the kind from deep wounds, dark red blood tainting everything. I got up, clutching my stomach. They each ran at the sight of a wounded kid, leaving me with the pitcher.
"Americans playing cricket? No. We have reputation too." He too got up and left. That statement: We have reputation too, clings to me till this day. I was too young to understand. Although he was twelve and I was nine, he was poor, and I was considerably better off with a brighter future ahead of me.
I saw the watchman run up to me. I squeezed my eyes in an attempt to hide my tears, but they came out. I cried until I realized my mistake. How gullible I was to try and make friends with such a stranger. Someone with such envy at my place in society. I kept thinking about that, even when I walked back home with the watchman's help, back to my family.