28 de abril de 2014

birds of paradise

When the plane started descending, I opened the shutter and looked out for the first time. I expected to see a million yellow street bulbs shining in the night, the surprise of a city being even larger than one could imagine and the red lights of the cars travelling through highways like little fast ants through labyrinths. And then, as we got closer, maybe the layout of the city, the shape of the blocks, which areas were the fanciest, the houses with a backyard and maybe even a pool, and which ones were just landscapes of miserable existence, where people lived together like chicken, waiting to lay eggs, die and be eaten.
I saw none of that as our plane approached Kathmandu. Just darkness. I closed the window; you should never ask too many questions when it was yourself who chose to be put in a ridiculous situation. Floating in the middle of the sky in a tin box, that´s what I mean. There was not much to think about and a lot to accept as it came; reason does not really apply effectively every time.
I had slept during most of the flight. I had had a lot of help from whiskey, pills and three sleepless nights prior to the flight. I was thankful, most of it had occurred without me even noticing. The seat belt sign turned on and a lady´s voice spread through the plane. Had I been a native English speaker, I would have taken the microphone from her hands and delivered the message myself. One´s language can only take so much offence.
Anyway, it was only then that I noticed I had two seat companions. They most certainly weren´t there when I first got on the plane. A woman and a man. Their hair was straight and black as a horse´s. Did they know each other? The loud humming of the plane and the annoying voice from the speakers vanished as I tried hard to figure out my neighbors. Their eyes were facing to the front and every hand I could see was resting on its corresponding knee. There was no sign of physical closeness, yet their hair was so the same, it could all have been twisted into a single braid.
In my stomach I felt how the plane stopped descending and just flew into a void in time, a soft caressing of the clouds. Then it happened: the one on my right bent her head over the other one´s shoulder. The hands on the knees moved rapidly and scrambled into a hand holding frenesí.  They kissed, they were Chinese and married, I saw rings. My eyes were immediately drawn to her feet. They were as big as mine, bigger maybe; she was wearing short white socks with red ribbons in the front. I had recently gone to the doctor for a checkup and in the waiting room I had read an article in a magazine about Chinese women´s feet. Apparently, until a hundred years ago or so, it was almost impossible for Chinese women to find a husband if they had big feet. Small feet were seen as a symbol of beauty and sexual attraction. In order to get them, a young girl´s mother broke all her toes and wrapped them tightly in silk bandages.  They did this every day during all their lives. And when their mothers were dead and the girls became too old to do it themselves, their daughters in law would do it for them, maybe even their sons. When this tradition was banned, families kept doing it in secret and girls would hide their feet from police officers and politicians. I was amazed I could just stare at this woman´s feet with entire freedom, her socks looked really comfortable.
My hand was swollen from the plane. I followed the blue veins that led to my knuckles and my nervous bony fingers. My grandmother had a limited repertoire of stories about each of her grandchildren´s lives. She used to tell me the same one every time she held my hands:
-The day you were born and the nurse handed you to your father, the first thing he did was count all your fingers and toes.
Apparently, only when he saw I had all twenty digits, my father started breathing again. My grandmother found this hilarious for some reason; I always thought about what would have happened to me if I hadn´t been so lucky as to have all my body parts with me. Did this mean I wouldn´t have been as loved? Anyway, who cared about fingers? In my father´s place, I would have wished for better things for my daughter than twenty meaningless sticks poking out of her extremities. I would have wished for beauty, beauty and extreme insensitivity.
Anyway, I knew I was in Kathmandu because of my grandmother and there was extensive work to be done. The plane´s final descent was announced. I squeezed the seat with my hands. My heart was racing.
-When you get nervous, say before an exam, and your heart starts pumping like crazy and your hands sweat and your pulse shakes, this is your body getting ready to fight or run away fast. We live the way we do, yes, but don´t forget we are just animals: we are designed to hunt and look for shelter.

The international airport in Kathmandu was a two story wooden house on the outskirts of the city. It was only when I was waiting in line to go through immigration that I realized how different I was to everyone around me. Women in colorful dresses made of one piece of cloth, long hair tied in the back and dark lines under their eyes were walking around, carrying their babies while men pushed enormous old woolen suitcases, screaming children were running and holding hands and single ladies hid in the corners of the room. Signs all around me read Welcome to Nepal. Some of them were accompanied by curious facts for us visitors.  Did you know? In Kathmandu, horning is almost a language in itself.
The two men behind the counter were wearing long grey dresses. The desk was wooden and full of scars. It was roofed with small pieces of white paper, just like the one I was holding inside my passport. Where are you from, how old, are you a criminal and how many days are you spending in our country? All this information from countless strangers flew around in a hurricane around the top of the desk. I could barely see their eyes among all the little doves that went up and down and to the front and the back. The magnificence of the scene made it almost worth filling out the paperwork; so many facts, so much time and ink and paper invested in this beautiful piece of performing art.  

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