She was standing by the window when I passed through the miniscule kitchen on my way to the shower. She was staring out the window, motionless as if something held her to that spot, refusing to let go.
Because I knew her, I left her and went in the shower instead. We’d been college roommates and now were both attending different universities. So when I passed through an hour later, toweling my hair, I checked the window again. And there she stood, just the same. I couldn’t tell if she’d moved at all.
She had returned from her yearly visit to India, to see family and friends. I’d begged her to come visit me at my new apartment in New York on her way back to Pennsylvania.
So far, my artistic friend was the neatest and most charming houseguest to ever grace my tiny apartment. But she’d been rather quiet lately so as hostess, so I had to find a polite way to ask if she was okay. Some things you didn’t ask outright. I had a feeling this was one of them.
Slipping into the kitchen, I microwaved two cups of water to make identical cups of hot cocoa. She’d mentioned missing that the most during her trip. I found a half-bag of marshmallows in the cabinet and sprinkled them in the cocoa.
Carrying them out to the sofa, I cleared my throat, softly.
Rani turned ever so slowly, as if with great effort. “Amy.” She murmured.
“Cocoa?” I offered one cup.
She half-smiled. “Yes, thank you.”
There was an awkward moment of silence. Then Rani took a cautious sip. For moment, her face lit up, surprise showing plainly in her pretty features. “How wonderful!” She exclaimed. “I don‘t remember this…”
“Cocoa.” I repeated. “Remember? I just put marshmallows inside, that‘s all.”
She smiled, taking another sip. “It tastes much better than what I am used to.” The smile wavered. “You know, in India, there is not that much of the chocolate stuff as there is over here.”
I rolled my eyes. “I know…you guys drink tea all the time.”
It bought a laugh.
“Common misconception!” We both chorused in the next breath.
The laughter helped to break the tension and Rani eased backwards to sit on the edge of the sofa.
I slurped a marshmallow and waited for a moment. “What’s wrong? Missing your family?”
Her head snapped up at once. “Nothing’s wrong. I am most happy here, thank you, Amy. Being back in America…I realize how spoiled I have been. Mum and Dad were happy I went to visit…India was nice.”
I couldn’t help rolling my eyes again. She was mixing up her sentences. “Rani…you’ve been staring out the window for, like, an hour. I know you, when you get all quiet like that…”
She stared down at the steaming cup in her hand.
“Well?” I prompted. “Talk to me!”
Another smile surfaced. “It’s kind of hard to explain.” She traced the mouth of the cup with one finger. “it’s just that…well, your apartment is nice and everything. I mean, it’s what you like and-”
“Rani?” I waved one hand in front of her face.
An expression of pain registered. “And then I look out the window and I see everything. People smoking, yelling, fighting…hurting. I know there are opposites in our universe, I understand that. I understand it takes all kinds of people to make a world. And then I look out the window and I wonder how many dreams have been smashed on this sidewalk? How many hopes crushed to dust on this pavement? Innocent people, hopeful, innocent life…so clueless, about this great country, America.” Tear-filled eyes locked onto mine. “We know it’s not perfection. We know. But to dream of somewhere better? It keeps the pain from killing us. I’m lucky, but then I’m here and…oh, Amy, how can you stand it? In India, people struggled to live, here people fight for it and-” Her voice broke.
I hesitated for the briefest fraction, then gently extracted the cup from her hand and wrapped my arms around her. The pain seemed to shift, mixing with our friendship. “Rani, honey, you’re one of those special people.” Her sob muffled in my shoulder. “God makes people like you to remind people like me, of things like this. We have a beautiful country, beautiful homes. We must try to never take it for granted.”
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