This day in November, the Americans’ Thanksgiving, and I am making my way through the InfoShirdi security queue, emptying my pockets and turning over all my personal belongings to Kavi, the security manager. Durjaya and Utam are behind me, arguing over who can be Robert Ritchie tonight. Both are sizable fans of the Kid Rock. Sometimes, at lunch break, Utam makes his entrance into the call-center cafeteria and screams, “My name is Kid,” at the top of his heart, sometimes scaring many of us. Utam made request to Vishal that his call name be Kid Rock, but Vishal said no, that even in America people are not named Kid. When Durjaya (who is eager and curious about all things American) discovered on Google that this is indeed true, that Kid Rock is in reality Robert Ritchie, he made request for that name. Vishal agreed. Two weeks ago, Utam made this selfsame discovery, and began to pester Durjaya to turn over the name. “It is my name,” Utam said. “It was my idea to be Kid Rock, therefore I should be Kid Rock.” And then he sang, “I am the bullgod,” into Durjaya’s smooth, handsome face. As if he, Utam, really was. It was Durjaya’s nice idea to share the name, and the arrangement has worked purely until now.
“But tomorrow is Sai Baba Jayanti,” Utam says. “Very important to me. The festival starts directly at five a.m., right after our shift. Many thousands of pilgrims are on their way.”
“You don’t think I know that?” Durjaya says. “But I don’t see what that has to do with anything. Padma—” He turns to me. “Padma, settle for us this problem. He had the name yesterday. Today is my turn.”
Utam says, “Robert Ritchie would bring good luck to me on this big day, here and in America. I am better on the phone with that name. It comes off my tongue very well.” He unclips his Blackberry and places it in the plastic bin that Kavi holds out to him.
“With name, without name,” I say to Utam, “you are not that good.”
“Oh,” he says. “Oh, with you.” And he waves a finger at me, then scratches underneath his turban with it.
“Listen to the lady,” Durjaya says. He lowers his eyes at me, and I feel my face go hot.
“I am the bullgod, I am free . . . ” Utam sings.
“Utam, stop,” I say. “Robert Ritchie belongs to Durjaya. It is his day. You agreed.” I step through the metal detector. Now I am Christine. No one argues over that name.
Vishal is a small man wound tight on the inside. Like a volatile element. He races from desk to desk to listen in on the calls, gesticulates with great enthusiasm when something is right and with even greater rage when something is not. He wears the same thing every day: light-blue button shirt, dark-blue tie, grey slacks. Behind his back, we laugh at this, his exterior sameness, and wonder why he can’t go to the mall—to even the Gap at least—and buy some nice khakis or a crisp polo. We wonder how he became manager without the latest in attire.
All of us on the shift—thirty-two of us, here to relieve thirty-two others—gather in the cafeteria for Vishal’s debriefing. In this cafeteria, we get two breaks of fifteen minutes each and a lunch of one half hour. If you desire to smoke, there is a room for that—right over there—with eight plastic chairs and ashtrays on the floor. My cousin Shweta is a BPO worker in Gurgaon, for Nestlé, and she gets to go outside for breaks and lunch, has many opportunities to enjoy the festivals and breathe new air. She insists that she can secure employment for me there, but I cannot leave. My mother and my brother are here, and they—especially maataa—need me. Therefore, I indeed need InfoShirdi.
“Okay, people,” Vishal says, and he’s already pacing. He wears his headset—he always wears his headset—and the coiled cord flails behind him, mimicking his jerky walk. In his hand is a rolled up piece of paper and he wields it like an ankus, beckons us to draw closer. “Today will be very, very busy,” he says. “The Americans’ Thanksgiving. Already calls have started to come in, but it is just now five a.m. in New York and preparations are underway. Mistakes and desperations will follow, and then come the calls, the flood of them. Robert Ritchie—”
I look over at Durjaya. He is stunned to hear his call name, to be selected out for one of Vishal’s—what is the American phrase?—pop quizzes. He wishes now that he had let Utam have the name. “Yes, sir?” he says.
“At what temperature is an eighteen-pound turkey to be baked?”
“Three hundred and twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit.”
“And for how long?”
“Three and a half to four hours. Or until a meat thermometer, when inserted deep into the turkey’s breast, reads one hundred and eighty degrees Fahrenheit. ”
“Yes, but not breast. Leg—thermometer inserted in leg. What if the caller lives in Denver, USA?”
This is a trick question, on a subject we covered in training only tangentially, not at all geographically.
“Uh,” Durjaya says, and I am yearning big for him now. He looks small and cute like a little shy boy in a hard school. His face turns the colour of saffron. “I—I don’t know.”
“Altitude, Robert Ritchie,” Vishal says. “Denver, USA, is a city at 5,280 feet above sea level. One thousand six hundred and nine meters. Why is this important? Rebecca Smith.”
Rebecca Smith is a woman named Tanvi, which means slender in Hindi. I’m afraid she is having a hard time living her name. Too many trips to McDonald’s. But she is smart, knows America almost as well as Vishal, and was top of the phonics class. Last July, when we were selling second mortgages to “rubes” (a word Tanvi learned from one of her American DVDs), she received a nice basket of pomegranates from Washington Mutual, along with a forty-thousand-rupee bonus. Now, she steps forward, confident even despite her size. “For every five hundred and forty feet of altitude gained,” she says, “the ambient temperature drops one degree Fahrenheit. In Denver, therefore, the temperature is approximately ten degrees Fahrenheit colder than it is at sea level and cooking times need to be adjusted upward by approximately one half hour.”
Vishal smiles. “Very, very good, Rebecca Smith. If the rest of you have given even half the attention that Tan—Rebecca—has to this then we shall enjoy great success this Americans’ Thanksgiving. This is what it’s all about, people.” Vishal unrolls the paper in his hand. It bears a picture of a large turkey roasted to glistening perfection. To me, the skin appears wet and pocked with small boils, and I cannot help but think of my mother and her skin, the way it looks when she wakes up sweaty and professing the reality of her mad, cancerous dreamings.
My first call is from a girl who identifies herself as Maggie. According to my computer, she is calling from a Hesston, Kansas, USA. The phone number is registered to Hank and Dolly Turner. It is four a.m. there and Maggie Turner has risen early to start the turkey, to give her mother a big surprise. She says, “But like, I can’t even get the plastic off.”
I say, “It is still frozen?”
“Uh, like, yeah.”
“Oh,” I say. “Hold for me one moment please.” I click a few things on the computer, pull up the reference sheet I need. “Okay, Maggie Turner—”
“How do you know my name, my last name?” Her voice goes up to high pitch. “Uh? How do you?”
I say, “Caller identification.”
“Where are you?”
“I am in North Carolina.” In phonetics class, we practiced the pronunciation of this place many times, and I believe I have it perfect now.
“No you’re not,” Maggie Turner says. “You’re in India or China or some place slanty, aren’t you? Don’t lie.”
“I am in North Carolina. Now, Maggie Turner, this is what you need to do.” I tell her that her turkey, at twenty-one pounds, needs to be soaked in cold water for eight hours, and that the water must be transposed every thirty minutes.
“Transposed?” she says. “But we’re eating at noon. That’s like seven hours from now.”
“Eight,” I say.
“Whatever,” Maggie Turner says and hangs up. I feel the distance between this girl and myself as if it were lodged inside me, stretching me far apart.
Since InfoShirdi received this contract, we—even Vishal from time to time—refer to it in a joking manner as the 1-800-BUTTERBOLLY account. We are not stupid. I hold a degree in chemistry from the University of Mumbai. I know what “slanty” means. But that is why the American businesses hire us. We are smart and cheap and will tolerate poor treatment with our mysterious but rational stoicism. And even though we do well here—we wear nice clothes and I was last year able to finance a brand-new Maruti—it is still nothing, and we all know it.
Utam, who sits in the cubicle next to mine, leans back in his chair and says, “I have some abuse on hold. Old woman just called me ‘curry grinder.’ A variation of ‘curry muncher’ I’ve not heard before.” He smiles, disappears behind the partition again, and I hear his voice: “Yes, ma’am. No, ma’am. I told you: North Carolina, ma’am.”
A woman from Waco, Texas, cannot remove the plastic rings that hold the turkey’s legs together.
A woman from Bennington, Vermont, wants to know if the stuffing needs to be cooked before it enters the cavity.
A man from St. Petersburg, Florida, has removed the turkey’s skin and claims to be wearing it as mask. He wants to know how many minutes before the skin starts to dry up and smell.
Once in a while, I’m glad I’m in Shirdi and not North Carolina.
It is seven thirty p.m. and time for first break. I get a Coke and a Snickers out of the machine and sit down with Durjaya, Utam and Shobha, a new girl that Utam likes. She is pretty except for a large mole that sits on her chin like a hairy peppercorn. When she talks, it is hard to pay close attention. Like in Austin Powers: “Nice to mole you. Meet you! Nice to meet your mole. Don’t say mole.” One thing I must give to the Americans: they are not afraid of the foolish. Fortunately, Utam is telling a story so I do not have to look at Shobha Mole right now.
“So this guy,” Utam says, “this guy calls and tells me that his wife of many years left him last night. Night before the Americans’ Thanksgiving. He is trying to make turkey anyway, but does not know how because his wife has always made turkey. He is crying on the phone and I am telling him ‘Remove gizzards from cavity,’ ‘Fill cavity with cold water.’ Vishal then plugs in, gives me the hurry up signal—” Utam demonstrates, twirling his small dark hand in a fast spiral. “And then I say—middle of his crying—‘Happy Thanksgiving, sir,’ and disconnect him.”
“That’s very terrible,” Shobha Mole says. “He was hurting.” She is new and still thinks of the callers as people like herself.
Utam sees this, and he changes his smile into a look of shared concern. “No—yes—you are very right, Shobha. It is Vishal’s fault. Man has no heart. All business for him.”
Durjaya sits directly across from me. He is quiet and picks at a tin of curried vegetables with a small plastic fork. He and I have longing for each other, it is a clear fact. We have had it from day one, as the Americans say, which is a purely accurate expression, because Durjaya and I both came to InfoShirdi at the same time, studied in the same phonetics classes, donned our initial headsets on the same day. But there are reasons against us, and we do our best to act just as friends. Sometimes, though—like now—it is hard even to look at each other.
“Hey yaars, I have an idea,” Utam says. “I want you three to come with me to the Samadhi chamber after work. It will be so early, the wait will not be that long. We will be there just in time for Kakad aarti, when they wake Baba up.”
“Are you nuts in the head?” Durjaya says. “There will be queue of a kilometer. Today is not the day.”
The rest of us are shaking our heads, too. We all are Hindu and we all believe in Baba as a saint. In that respect, it is a true blessing to live here in Shirdi. While others must come from all over India and the world to pay respects (as Baba himself said, “Like ants attracted to the nectar”), we are only a short walk away from the temple square. We can perform the darshan at any time of the year, during any part of the day. To do so on the Jayanti, Baba’s birthday, requires the highest amount of shraddha and sabur (faith and patience).
“You are not the believer I am,” Utam says, “just as you are not the fan of hard rock and roll that I am. You do not wear your turban and you do not like the new Mudvayne CD.”
“Mudvayne is noise,” Durjaya says. “And do not question my faith. You have no right.”
“Utam,” I say, “we will walk over with you, but I cannot wait in that queue. I will be too tired. Durjaya, Shobha, you will come?”
Durjaya looks at me, directly at me, and I feel my heart go faster. He is bound to another woman, will marry her in one month’s time. I am bound to the care of my mother, may she live another month. For us to be in love is pure folly. But we are, and I can see it in the deepening of his almond eyes and the set of his jaw. I want him to come across the table and devour me like a ripe mango. “Yes,” he says. “I will walk over.”
Vishal plugs into my fifty-third call of the night. I am speaking to a woman from Vancouver, Washington, USA, who’s trying to determine if her turkey has gone bad.
“I can’t tell,” she says. “My husband says it smells fine, but I think there’s something funny about it. A little bitter to the nose, if you ask me.”
I have never even seen a turkey in real life. How a dead one that’s been frozen for weeks is supposed to smell . . . well, I know only that the carbon double bonds in polyunsaturated fats are the points at which initial oxidation occurs and that it eventually leads to those fats going rancid. But how do you describe the smell of that process, over the phone, from ten thousand kilometers away? I believe that is something you either know or you don’t know. “Mrs. Patterson,” I say, “please forgive me, but I—”
Vishal gives me the signal to turn the call over to him. He thumps his chest once, then drives a finger into the spot. His lips are pressed against one another with such force that they look like two squashed caterpillars.
“My supervisor can help you with this,” I say.
Watching him with this call, I now understand why the Americans chose him to be the manager. He tells Mrs. Patterson to pinch the turkey’s skin and roll it gently between thumb and forefinger. “Do you notice a mealy or overly slick texture?” he asks.
I am still on the call so I can hear Mrs. Patterson. She says, “Well . . .”
“Concentrate,” Vishal says. “Recall other turkeys you have made for past Americans’ Thanksgivings.”
“Where are you located?” Mrs. Patterson says.
“North Carolina, but please, Mrs. Patterson, that is not the issue. What do you feel between your thumb and forefinger?”
“Feels like turkey skin.”
“Now put your nose to the turkey and take a deep insuck of breath. Do not let go of the skin.”
“Breath deeply through your nose, Mrs. Patterson.”
Over the phone, I can hear her, taking in the smell and promise of her dead bird. One breath. Another. Pause. “I guess it smells okay,” she says. “Yeah, I think it’s fine. Silly me.” She laughs with relief.
Vishal thanks her for calling. “You have a very happy Thanksgiving,” he says, and disconnects her. He looks down at me. “Make believe, Christine,” he says. “Make Americans believe the meat is well and they are happy.”
Lunch time, and I am at a small table with Durjaya. He is eating aloo gobi out of an orange Tupperware. I have dal and chapati spread out before me, but I find it hard to eat in front of him. I am fearful that I will rain lentil upon my blouse and embarrass myself.
“I have received one hundred and two calls,” I say.
“Really?” Durjaya says, dabbing the corner of his mouth with a paper napkin. “Me too. One hundred and two—exactly. What are the chances?”
I shake my head and smile. “I do not know about such kinds of things.”
“It can’t be all coincidence.” He is smiling as well, but suddenly, his teeth disappear and he is serious and looks at me directly. “How is your mother, Padma? Is she any better?”
I shake my head again. “She is not well, no. The doctor has quit coming.”
“Oh,” he says.
“We just wait now and . . . and it is hard to sleep. The apartment is very small and she is up during the day while Raj is off at school. I am tired most nights.”
“I’ve read that one’s body never gets truly accustomed to working at night, no matter how much sleep you receive in the day. It is not natural. We are meant for the sunshine.”
“Yes,” I say, but cannot muster any other words.
“Padma,” Durjaya says, “I am sorry about your mother.”
“Thank you,” I say.
“May I tell you something?”
“Of course,” I say. “We are friends. You can tell me anything you like.” I can hardly channel breath into my lungs and my cheeks burn like stones in May.
“I have been thinking that I will let Utam have Robert Ritchie. For permanent. Now that I am about to be married, Padma, I can’t be a child anymore. And there is nothing more childish than American hard rock and roll. I have known it for some time now. I will not be listening to that music anymore.”
“Is that it?” I say.
“Yes,” he says. “I wanted you to be the first to know that I am changing my life, growing up. And your respect means so much to me.”
“That is it?” I say.
He moves his face back, as if to avoid a large bug that is flying too close. “Padma, yes, that is it. I’m sorry, but—”
“It is okay to stay a child in some ways,” I say. “What? Do you want to hurry death, too?”
His mouth hinges open, then closes. He looks down at what’s left of his aloo gobi, stabs a floret of cauliflower with his fork and swirls it in the sauce. We finish our lunches in silence. When the bell rings, we return to our respective cubicles without saying so much as accha.
Between eleven p.m. and four a.m., I receive one hundred and eighty-nine calls. Various shades of desperation, I tell you. Some of it, thank Krishna, can be assuaged. But for some callers—those, for instance, who misread the instructions and set their ovens to 525 degrees Fahrenheit and not 325—there is nothing I can do for them. Often, I become the target of their resulting sad rage. One woman asks me why all the ropestarts can’t leave her country alone. Another woman tells me to crawl back into the terrorist cave in which I was born. A third suggests I know more about goat genitalia than I do turkeys. I tell her (in a fit of honesty I’m glad Vishal does not overhear) that goat genitalia are profoundly more interesting than anything she might have to say to me. Then I disconnect her.
Not to say that all—or even most—of these Americans are rude to me. I receive many thanks and good wishes from many varieties of people, even if they know for certain that I am not calling from North Carolina. Some even express a tacit sorrow for me, which is confounding to say the least about it. I have a job which pays me six hundred thousand rupees per year. That’s $15,147 American, according to rupees2dollars.com. And yes, much of my income has gone to pay maataa’s medical expenses, but I still wear very nice clothes and my Maruti 800 is brand new, its color is Silky Silver, and it plays crisp loud music through its Kenwood stereo system. I am living quite large.
It is only when the shift bell rings and Tulasi, my replacement, takes my headset, do I understand how purely tired I am. My throat is coarse and my eyes hurt from staring into the computer for so many hours. I am hungry (I ended up eating only a few bites of chapati for lunch) and I have the sense that my skin is weighted with hundreds of tiny rocks. I feel that if I do not shed myself of these stones, my skin will slide off my bones. With the blades of my hands I brush my blouse, flattening the wrinkles that have formed at my waist and elbows, and for now, I feel better.
Utam, Durjaya, and Shobha are awaiting me on the other side of the security queue. I reclaim my purse and cell phone from Kavi, and soon we are all pushing our way out the revolving door and into the Shirdi streets. It is four fifteen a.m., and already there is much traffic on the road—cars, trucks, buses, and wagons. There is a steady stream of pilgrims, whose relief and joy at being here, finally, after such a long walk, is evident in their glistening faces. Their chants are loud now, drums and cymbals clang with anticipation, and the constant, excited chatter is like the hum of life itself. Many carry flagons of milk and rosewater with which to bathe the idol at the Samadhi Mandir. Groups of men shoulder ornate palanquins that overflow with offerings: jasmine flowers, garlands, coconuts, and hand-painted images of Sai Baba himself. And even though I am tired to my very soul, his face—with those quiet, resolute eyes and the beard that is like the colour of dove feathers—it awakens me, charges my body like an electric shock. Utam grabs Shobha’s hand, Shobha grabs Durjaya’s, and Durjaya grabs mine, and together, all four of us—looking strange in our blouses and slacks and polished shoes—are swept into the stream and carried southward to the temple square. I squeeze Durjaya’s hand as if it were a rope cast into stormy waters.
There are already hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people in the square, and the queue to get inside the temple has already grown out the door. Utam looks momentarily disappointed.
“But it is so cool and nice,” he says. “And this breeze. Ahhh . . .”
For some reason, we all look up, as if to catch sight of the wind. The temple’s flags twist and flap, the leaves of the holy neem tree send down a whisper, and above, the stars pulse to the rhythm of Shirdi’s drums.
“You will wait, then?” Shobha says.
“Yes, absolutely, I will wait,” Utam says. His smile nearly splits his face in two.
“Then I will wait with you,” Shobha says.
“Padma, Durjaya, are you coming?” Utam holds his hands out, as if he might scoop us up and carry us inside like defiant children.
I look at Durjaya for the answer and he shrugs. “No,” I say, after a pause, “I am so very tired and my mother will be waking soon.”
“You are sure? Sai Baba almost always grants favors to those who pray.”
“I know, Utam,” I say. “Perhaps another time. When it is less busy.”
He and Shobha say their goodbyes, turn, and disappear into the crowd. Several seconds pass before I realize I am still holding Durjaya’s hand. I pull mine away and look over at him.
“I will walk you home,” he says. “Is that okay?”
I nod. He looks down at me intently, his eyes gone to black in the thin light of the square. Then he turns away, and does so with such quickness and certainty that he runs into someone and knocks him directly to the cobbles. Durjaya, of course, is quick to apologize and helps the man to his feet. But the man, who wears a saffron robe and clutches a bouquet of hibiscus flowers, is not like us, not Indian. The skin of his face is white and his eyes are clear like water. Except for a patch of pale grey stubble over each ear, he is completely without hair. I am not a fine judge of age, but I would guess him to be more than sixty. He holds up his hands and smiles, to demonstrate that he is unhurt.
Durjaya tries English: “I am so sorry,” he says.
“You speak . . .” the man says.
“Yes. We do,” I say.
“I am so sorry,” Durjaya says again.
The man waves away the apology. “This is a crowd, young man. Accidents happen. No need for sorrys. You’d have to do a lot more to keep me from performing the darshan this morning.”
Though I already know, I ask the man where he is from.
“America,” he says. “Ever heard of it?”
Durjaya and I glance at each other.
“Joke, you know, joke. Ha-ha, funny.”
“I have heard of America,” Durjaya says, smiling. “We know it very well. I received three hundred and thirty-six calls from America just this day. Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Wow,” the man says. “You must have many American friends.”
“We labor at a call center,” I say.
“Yes,” Durjaya says, “a call center. BPO.” With his thumb and pinkie, he makes the shape of a telephone receiver and holds it to his cheek.
The man nods his head. We are all silent now, considering what it is we should say.
“I walked from Mumbai,” the man says. “Took me twelve days.”
“I have lived in Shirdi for almost the entirety of my life,” I say, “and have never met an American who has walked here. They all take the train and come for curiosity only.”
The man chuckles. “Don’t hold that against all of us. We’re not walkers, most of us. I’m not a walker.”
“Excuse me?” Durjaya says. He leans in closer to hear the man.
“I do not walk much. I have never walked so much.”
“Why didn’t you just take the train?”
“I told my wife I would do it. I promised her.”
“Your wife?” I say. “Why would she make you do this?”
“My wife is—was—from here, India, Chennai, but lived her whole life, most of it with me, in the U.S. She always wanted to do the pilgrimage to Shirdi. When she was dying, I promised her I would do it for her. Now here I am, talking with a fine young couple with lots of American friends.”
“Oh,” I say, “we are not—” And I make a gesture between Durjaya and myself.
“No,” he says, “Padma and I, we—we are just friends, yes.”
“Okay,” the man says. “Are you going in for Kakad aarti?” He gestures toward the temple and the line of people spilling out of it.
“No,” I say, “I have seen it many times.”
“So what can I expect?”
I consider his question. “Well, they pull back the curtain on the statue—that is the waking part—and then bathe it with milk and rosewater, dress him, and adorn him with flowers—ropes of flowers. Then there are prayers.”
“Ah,” the man says, “yes. I suppose I should get in line, then, if I—”
“It is very long today,” Durjaya says.
“But worth it?”
“Oh, very much so,” Durjaya says, “Go. You do not want to disappoint your loved one by being late.”
The man smiles, offers a small wave, and, like Utam and Shobha before him, dissolves into the crowd like a cube of sugar into boiling chai.
A block off the square, Durjaya stops and turns to me. “You should go back,” he says, “and pray to Baba.”
“Why should I do that?” I say. “I mean, why today?”
“Your mother, Padma. You should pray for your mother. I will go with you and pray also for your mother.”
Over the buildings, the sky is beginning to lighten with the first colours of sunrise. The noise from the temple square is not so much here, and I can make out a koel’s dulcet call lilting off a nearby rooftop. “Durjaya, no,” I say. “I don’t think that even Baba can save my maataa. She is very sick. This cancer, it . . .”
“That man has come all the way from America,” he says, pointing back toward the square, “and I wager he will pray for his wife even though she is already dead. Please, let’s go back.”
A sudden heat rises in me, and my jaw begins to tremble. “Why do you care, Durjaya? What business is it of yours anyway? What? Is this part of your ‘growing up’ charade? My mother has been sick for many months and just now you care so much?”
“You know what I believe? I believe that man, that American, is a fool if he is to pray for his dead wife. He should have saved his American dollars, stayed home, and believed that the meat is well. That, Durjaya, is all he can do for his wife now.”
“I don’t know what or why . . . ”
“You don’t know anything. If you want to go back to the temple to pray, don’t do so for my maataa, do it for yourself and for your fake life. Leave me out of your puja.” Though I want to run, out of his sight and out of this town, I do not turn away. I remain, with arms folded across my chest, chin trembling.
“I don’t know why you are angry with me,” he says. “If you think I really want to marry Radhina, for the person that she is, you are mistaken. But that does not make my life a false one. I still breathe air and eat food. I have responsibilities. To my family. To my religion.”
These are points, lines of logic. But I do not want to hear logic. I want Durjaya to cast it away like last year’s fashions, to sing me a Kid Rock song, and kiss me like a movie star. But he doesn’t. He simply awaits a measured response to his measured argument. “You are right,” I say. “Let’s forget it and go home.” We stand there, looking at each other. The sun is breaking over the buildings, the stars are fading away, and from the square comes a deep-throated howl, followed by a flurry of drumbeats. We begin to walk again, side by side, until he must go that way and I must go this way.
“See you tomorrow,” I say.
“Yes, see you tomorrow,” he says. Then he smiles—oh, that smile—and turns away.