The 3 PM Kind of Heat
Written by: Aleksandra Anđelić
Translated by: Aleksandra Marković
They sent the driver to pick me up. He waited in front of the passport control. They usually wait at the arrivals, but this one came a lot closer. He had a small placard with my name on it and people kept track to see who was this little white girl approaching, in her pinkish skirt. He escorted me through the fast track passport control with no queue, no waiting, and we took the company car. All I was thinking about was how confused I must have seemed.
There was three of them in a tiny apartment even though I expected only her. It was too hot and that was all I could think of. It felt as if I were melting but I wasn’t at the seaside, plus it was nighttime (what was it like during the day?!). It was as if everyone around me stopped caring about the heat long ago.
We took the rickshaw and the hot wind made us feel relieved a tiniest bit, and once we arrived, we realized that too many people came to watch the game live stream. Some of them were smoking, so all the fresh air was completely gone. Some guy noticed I was the new one around and decided to say hi:
“How long have you been living here?”
“For an hour.”
There was an old guy from Argentina in the apartment that apparently has a house near Garda. I didn’t manage to say anything back in Italian so we spoke in English. That’s when they found out where I was from – I could’ve guessed the reactions. Later on,I heard that he makes jewelry and that he buys materials here, selling them in Europe at a high price. They told me that even though he was comfortably situated, he loves a specific village the most, and always goes back there. I noticed he was always wearing a long white shirt and linen trousers. I commented on that and he nodded saying:
“I have a hundred white shirts. That’s all I wear. I always have a spare one with me, neatly ironed and folded.”
They later told me he adds a golden thread or tiny needlework to each one,that he makes belt buckles…
We sat on the terrace the first morning and I had no food with me, and I didn’t know whether I could count on what I find in the kitchen. Then Veronica’s husband brought a bag full of mangoes and showed me how to cut them open. I don’t know whether it was the hunger but that mango was exactly what I needed to realize where I had woken up. The old guy had some with us and then left to his mountains.
The office had the view over the green park and over the approaching monsoon. I had work to do, a real job, but I wasn’t strictly focused on that at all, instead I tried to travel as much as possible. I lied once that I was sick to stay longer in Mumbai. My coworkers must have figured it out but I didn’t care. While there, we went to a slum. Oh, all those ways people live! And still, women wash clothes, craftsmen work, recycle and process leather, kids run around… In the evening, we went to a rooftop and watched the sun set into the Arabian sea. There was also a chic bar in that building, and all that existed so close one to the other just like that – in one day, in the same clothes, I went to two entirely different places, while trying not to stand out in neither one.
When you go somewhere on your own, you notice other people. They got these long looks at white folks (sometimes they even approach me for a photo together). There are skin whitening creams sold at stores. When I use the subway, I ride in the passenger car for women. The streets are narrow, poorly lit, with cables hanging around and blocking the view upwards. They are not exactly pedestrian friendly since cars took over the space and have no intention of going anywhere. Then I stumble upon a vast space, a wide road or a park. And the city at times seems green, with rows of trees on both sides with treetops leaning into an arch. I feel good when it’s spacious, when there’s air, when there’s a breeze while the heat is constant. I feel good when I see their women with long shiny dark hair, when I share a small watermelon with an office assistant, when I see small stands with unusual handicrafts in the streets. There are so many interesting new flavors, ingredients, dips, naan breads and spices. It’s as if I have lost my memory and I am seeing and trying everything for the first time. I eat with my hands, but locals are so much more skilled – I keep dropping everything and my plate becomes a mess.
We went to the east coast, towards Chennai. We swam in the ocean and let the waves of the Bengal Bay sway with us. During one of those drives from one place to another, the driver put on some French retro music, and it was hot, the after 3 pm kind of hot when it becomes pleasant. The windows were down and I felt like I was in a movie. It felt as if the melody playing was addressed precisely to us and to those frames, and as if the wind was meant to be right there in our hair and the reflection of palm trees in our eyes.
Months go by faster when you stop keeping track of time and when all roads are new – like path towards Jaipur, east from Marina Drive in Mumbai, southwest towards Pondicherry, along the Ganges river towards Varanasi, towards Chandigarh, all the way up almost to the border next to the Golden Temple in the city of Amritsar… We were getting closer to Diwali when terraces are adorned and lit up with tiny lamps and candles. That’s just about when the heat became more tolerable and monsoons came less often. That’s just about when I thought I might have started to understand some things. That’s just about when it was time to head home.
Aleksandra Anđelić (1991) – She finds it interesting how people choose their words when they talk or explain something, when they are trying to convince somebody or when they negotiate. She is better off listening than speaking. She grew up to family stories, and has a brother Vlada, who no one can mess with.
Translator, Aleksandra Marković (1995) born in Belgrade, she is currently finishing her studies at the Faculty of Philology of the University of Belgrade (English Department).
This article was published in March of 2019, within the Awakening topic.
Read the other texts published in the Travel Literature section.
This article was originally published in Serbian and you can read it here. Translated into English by Aleksandra Marković.