A Story of Unrequited Love in Varanasi
03/26/2014 - 03/30/2014 90 °F
I fell in love in Varansai.
Fell in love with a Gypsy Soul.
A sweet soul but a hard soul and with a guard up so strong even the sharpest knife breaks upon puncture. I know this soul well so I disappointed myself by falling so hard and so quickly. We only met 3 times. Everyday around sunset at my favorite Chai shop on the river before my trip to the Cremation ceremonies just up the river.
Yes, India and I are back together. I am really low maintenance so all it took was a hot shower, a meal and the sunset on the Ganges.
There I sat with my new German friend Oliver drinking Chai and the Gypsy walked right over to us, one hand on her hip, the other arm embracing a basket of flowers for Puja (a daily prayer ritual done in honor of Mother Ganga).
"You buy!" she said as if she was someone's pushy Grandma.
"No. Not today."
Awwwwwe. One flower Ma'am" she said this time with a lot more honey in her voice.
She was only 8. She wore a long, dirty, purple tunic over black leggings. Skin the color of Chai, dark hair and dark almond shaped eyes. There was a fire lit within her. She was so alive. She was wise beyond her 8 years. She was not a child and probably never given the opportunity to be one. She went to school in the daytime and by 5pm she was at work selling flowers.
I fell for her immediately. She was quick, witty and smart and she could sell some flowers! I caught on to her game though and began mocking her. She did this fake crying bit when you refused to buy so I started crying too. She looked up shocked and then mid tears cracked a smile. She knew I knew her game so we moved on from flowers to hand games, thumb wars, blowing bubbles and questions about each other. I showed her pictures of home, California and my family.
"Your Mom, she light. Your Dad dark. Hmm. Your Mom light like mine" she said while looking through my camera phone.
She told me I needed to cover my shoulders one day when it was so hot I said 'to hell with it' and went against Indian tradition and wore a tank top! A young girl walked by us also wearing a tank top. I pointed to her and asked why she could and I couldn't.
"You big, she little."
Then she roughly pulled off the scarf from my head to cover my shoulders.
"Better" she said.
I was too tickled. She could do no wrong!
When I came back the next day, I saw her eyes light up and I knew she was happy to see me. The cynical German told me she only lights up at the sight of a customer. I knew he was probably right but I carried on trying to stay blissfully ignorant.
"You buy flower today. You say yesterday you buy today."
Ok. I will buy after my Chai."
She took my word as an excuse to put down the basket and play with me. Her sister (selling postcards) and her little brother came by to play also. Intermittently she whispers to me, "you buy 2 flowers, okay?" I save for you" as if to keep me on task. Oliver and I noticed an older boy sitting behind us. The overseer. I wondered why she kept going back to the sell. Then I realized he was there as a reminder that this was work and I am the customer, not the friend. He kept her from drifting...drifting towards the freedom of childhood. I wouldn't admit it to him, but cynical Oliver was right. I am the foreigner in town a week only to leave her in the same place selling flowers. She knew her boundaries. She knew our roles. She was my first but I was not the first to fall for her.
On the third day, my last day in Varanasi, I arrived late hoping to see her one last time. I sat and had Chai but no children. At this moment, knowing I might have missed her forever, I realized how attached I'd grown in only 3 days. I sat talking to the owner of the Chai shop and there she appeared one hand on the hip the other holding the basket! She came over to me but the Chai owner scolded her in Hindi telling her not to bother me about buying. She was dressed up with a sparkly dress and I complimented her on how pretty she looked today but she ignored the compliment. All the children have an unwritten code not to accept anything from rich Westerners. No candy. No biscuits. No compliments. Only $$ and only $$ if you are buying from them, not a handout.
When my Chai Guy wasn't looking, she whispered in my ear, "You buy 3 flowers today okay?"
There weren't many left and what was left was bruised but it didn't matter to me. "Okay, 3 it is!"
Impressed at how easy that was she took it a step further. A big step. "You buy ALL okay? Only 7 left."
The flowers were only 10 Rupees each. Seventeen cents people. Money was not an issue.
"I'll buy 3 if you do a Puja with me."
"Okay. No problem."
All the while I knew I would buy them all and I am pretty sure she did too.
We went down to the river to send off the flowers into Mother Ganga. My Chai Guy offered his boat so we could properly send the flowers off into the middle of the river. As we got into the boat, I felt her becoming uncomfortable. Too intimate. Crossing boundaries. But our time had came to an end. It was time for payment. I bought all 7 flowers for 70 Rupees. I gave here a 100 Rupee bill. "I don't have change" she lied. Wasn't she clear that I was too smitten with her to ask for 30 Rupees back.
"It's yours" I replied embarrassed that I didn't give her more.
There was half a moment where I felt she wanted to hug me.
"Okay, bye" and she turned abruptly and ran off like I might change my mind and ask for my change back.
I watched her leave hoping she would turn around and give me something. A wave, a look, a smile, anything to assure me that this feeling was mutual. That I was not a psycho tourist but that we shared a moment...moments. She liked me, I know she did. I wasn't the same as the others. I saw past her games, her schemes. We had something.
I tried to remember her name. Hmmmmm....she never told me,
She didn't want to take any of these.