Monkeys chasing each other across rooftops.
The smoke from your cigarette.
The curtain of the night falling behind the Taj, its shadowy silhouette.
God is close.
Allah moves across the face of the stone, never seen, but always present.
Prayers called up to the night sky, shouted and sung from speakers like megaphones, echoing across Agra at sunset.
You say you wish they’d be quiet. That prayers are meant to be whispered, shared only between you and God.
A chorus of prayers.
A family of monkeys. A mother sliding down a wall to scoop up her child, who looks too afraid to climb.
In the street, a little girl plays with a yellow balloon, dodging motorbikes and the big, dark puddle in the middle of her street.
You tell me the Taj was more beautiful years ago. That now the pollution gets in the way.
You tell me that not all Indian men are like what they say but to be careful in Delhi.
You tell me about a French woman you took to dinner and showed around for three days and how she asked you to come see her in France and how, when her plane finally left, you couldn’t believe she was gone.
How you refused your family’s proposals for arranged marriages, put it off by getting degree after degree, and finally just said “no.” You were sent out from your family’s home. You only talk to your mother now, occasionally. Still, your younger brothers can’t get married until you do.
You say we are different. We are both different. That’s why you talk to me. That people here all go in one direction, but you go the other.
You believe in God but are not religious. When a bell rings—a Hindu sign for good luck—you don’t pray like your friend, but you place your fist to your chest and then to your lips, the same thing my friend did whenever we passed a Hindu temple on the road.
You say we are all connected. That race and religion can’t keep us apart. We are different, but we are connected. Continue reading “In the Shadow of the Taj”