I remember wanting to go home, wanting to go back to New York where my siblings were, where my friends were, where my nephews were. I felt out of place because I was always confused about doing the things my cousins had done a million and one times before. I was struggling to speak in Bangla, struggling to make my cousins understand, struggling to hold up a conversation with my aunts and uncles. I remember the looks I got when I stayed to myself when my cousins were at school, because I felt so awkward, so different. I refused to accept this place as my own, refused to become a part of this village. And while I enjoyed my time with my cousins, I remember counting down the days till I would be on a plane home. Most of all, I remember the one rainy day and burning night that changed it all.
I can still feel the hot sticky air of the morning and afternoon even though the rain was pelting down hard on the tin roofs — my hair sticking to my face, the beads of sweat gathering on my forehead and the bridge of my nose, the uncomfortable feeling of my clothes sticking to my body. I remember drinking as much water as possible since the heat had left me parched. I remember wanting to run into the middle of the yard as the rain poured down and left muddy puddles into the ground, the sound of rain hitting the tin roof — the pitter, the patter, and the calm the sound brought with it.
I remember the boredom I felt from being stranded inside without anyone to be with while my cousins were at school and I was left to myself, listening to the chatter of all of the aunties who came together right at noon. I remember just sitting there with a book in my hand, waiting for my cousins to come back from school, while I was filled with sadness and longing for them even though they were only a few minutes away. I remember wondering, “How will it be when I’m thousands of miles away? Will we keep our promise to stay in contact or will we slip away from each other like every single time I leave? Will my last week be full of tears or laughter, or a mix of both?” I remember the confusion of not being able to tell where I was at home. But what I remember the most from that time was the cool night that followed the rainstorm that we spent around the blazing fire.
The fire danced in front of our eyes and the cool air embraced every inch of our bodies as we sat under the night sky. The stars shone bright above and the moon illuminated the darkness, something I never experienced back in the big city of New York. There I was, sat in a circle with my cousins, huddled around the warm fire that my uncle made in the yard of our village home in Bangladesh. I was at peace. For once, I wasn’t worried about disappointing people, feeling out of place or my weird accent that my cousins always teased me about. There were no worries. There was no counting down the days till the six hour journey to the airport, where I would leave this place for who knows how long. There were no thoughts of the days to come. It was just my cousins, myself and the fire.
We spent much of the time from when the light blue sky, that followed the grayness of the rainstorm, had darkened into hues of pink, purple and royal blue to the late night doing the one thing we rarely get the chance to do: be us. Moments like that one were the ones we lived for. Moments like that are the reason I kept going back to the place I was once uncomfortable even setting foot in. All I thought about was the fire and how it brought us closer together. All I could do was watch the glowing eyes and illuminated faces of my cousins, the ones that were holding me together.
The fire continued to dance in front of our eyes and it was incredible to just sit there and listen to my cousins tell stories about their lives while I told them about what I did back in New York. We shared funny stories and memories of the stupid things we did in the short two months that I was usually there. We talked about our childhood, our hopes, our fears. We talked with no care about whether someone was listening in on us or not. We spent hours talking, drinking tea and coconut water. We spent hours playing games and laughing. We spent hours just sitting there, in the middle of the yard as our parents and the kids began to fall asleep in the little tin houses. It was dangerous to be out in the middle of the yard like that but we were so into that moment that we simply forgot about the dangers of the world.
After a couple hours of sitting out there on our own, we found ourselves joined by some of our older cousins and then our parents. We all talked, which is something we don’t usually do. We were never a close-knit family as we tend to shy away from telling each other things, from sharing our feelings. It was usually the cousins talking to each other about things, and the parents talking to each other about things. There was a system as to how our family functioned but that night, it was as if all the roles and rules were left abandoned, even though it was for just that one night. There were no filters, no boundaries, no walls. And for that one night, we let ourselves be what we always wished we could be: one big, happy family.
We played board games, something we hadn’t done since I was a little girl. My older male cousins let me join in on a game of carrom board, patiently teaching me how to play even though we all knew I was a lost case. We let some of the younger kids play ludo with us, a game that resulted in lots of betting, cheating and laughter. My aunts brought out photo albums full of pictures from all of my visits to Bangladesh. We passed around the albums amongst all of us and looked through the books of memories in the fire light.
We listened to our parents talk about a time much happier than ours, a time of morals and unity. We listened to their stories of when they were much younger, going back in time to when our parents were in their prime, younger days filled with learning about family, about love, learning to fight their own battles, days of self-discovery.We shared our own memories of childhood, laughing about the moments when we stupidly chased after chickens and provoked the swans. We talked about the teachers we hated, the games we loved to play, the piggy back rides our fathers would give us and the silly fights we would get into.
We reminisced about a much simpler time, a time when our only worries were what games to play and what clothes to wear. We talked about a time when we were oblivious to what growing up really meant. We talked about a time when we didn’t have any battles to fight or struggles to overcome. We talked about a time we felt whole, complete, and never alone.
We talked into the early AM and didn’t realize how fast time had really passed. We didn’t question why any one of us were awake so late. We didn’t question why there were so many unwashed dishes and marked up papers on the ground. We just continued to feed the fire and make the flames burn higher. We just watched one another in the light of the fire. We weren’t tired, rather, we felt more alive than ever. And while the rest of the village succumbed to the darkness and entered dreamland, we were sat surrounding a blazing fire, under a sky full of stars.
And for that moment, we were hopeful, happy and at home. With each other.