Slowing my pace and breath, my face blooming into the unfortunate crimson red that is my natural post-running state, I noticed the two women standing by the car peering at me. They were perhaps at the end of an afternoon walk and coffee, with conversation about their working-aged sons in the city, about the jobs from which they have recently retired, potentially fear about my beet-red face.
I notice that they are looking at me a bit quizzically, one woman’s hand frozen on the car door, the other retreating from a quick hug goodbye. Their mouths are silent, turning upwards until crooked, well-meaning smiles battle the questioning in their eyes. They must decide that I am something sweet, for the smile triumphs, and they follow my person with their gazes until I pass by, giving a halting smile in return.
I glance back again at these women, taking in the warmth of their meaning. Thoughts gather in my mind, undulating, until I reach the house, then my eyes catch the mirror as I bend down to splash my face with water. What is that red thing on my head?
My mind bounces back to the course of the run. Back to the cyclists who stared at me as they whizzed by, the pedestrians looking up and doubling back to confirm what they saw. I see a recognition of foreignness but a clash when faced with my running shoes and mesh shorts, the signs of a summertime pavement warrior mixing with that of a faraway wife.
It was an Indian holiday, a day to ask for the health and prosperity of my new extended family. I had brought in flowers, dabbed a circle of red powder to my forehead, completed a short, beautiful ritual in a suburban home, where windows framed with hopeful tomato plants and ever-present hum of a lawnmower foster a summer backdrop to my interwoven life. The women on the side of the road had looked at me with interest, seeing in me a newcomer, something different, curious, a hybrid. Although I am firmly rooted in this country, and the rituals which I haltingly perform can seem more foreign than the sidewalks and politics of America, that same foreignness is an undeniable and visible part of my identity. Yet, to be identified as Indian above all other identifiers always surprises me and gives me pause.
Day to day, the Indian pieces of my life slip in and support the rest. Colorful and spicy, these powerful influences help me to mold me into my next self, taking me into and through the swirling eddies of each circumstance.