The night before I’d felt like death. I had been so hungry but, paradoxically, I didn’t feel like eating, which was alright because I was pretty sure my stomach was digesting itself. I tried to eat some pasta, but on the second plate I opened the wrong side of the Parmesan cheese container and dumped an absolutely horrendous amount of it on. Despite my love of Parmesan I learned a lesson in moderation, which is to say that that amount of cheese made for the one of the most surprisingly terrible dining experiences of my life. And that’s not to even mention how aggressively exhausted I was, with an obligation to hand out children’s clothing that night. After I brought the clothes in and laid them in a pile I was at the point where, if I didn’t leave for the bed now I’d probably never make it. I imagined dying on the sanctuary carpet and decomposing into bones and being the study of NeoNepali Archaeologists one thousand years from then and I excused myself.
In the morning, I felt better, if only slightly, and I continued to improve the whole morning and by breakfast I was even feeling nearly sub-human, maybe even able to pass for a person if looked at with a deep squint. It was church then, they do it on Saturdays here, and I got into a tie and a nice shirt. Mom came in and said I looked handsome. It’s funny, Pramita had said that, too, when I first got here, and that was kind of weird. I thought I looked like a pile of half-deflated whoopie cushions stuffed into a shirt with a mop stuck on top with scotch tape. When I’d stumbled out of the airport they’d probably mistaken the bags under my eyes for suitcases.
Anyway, downstairs in the church there were two sides. One was the chick side and the other was dudes, so I slipped into a dude-side chair and put my drawing stuff down under the seat and then sat there, uncomfortably, with a little aisle between me and all the people I knew. Someone I knew from previous trips came up and said “Hello, Jamashi!”, which is a christian greeting, and I returned it. He held his hand out a bit, to shake I thought, so I reached for it. He pulled it back but I was too late, and I grabbed it awkwardly and shook it twice but it was entirely limp and he pulled it away. A solid three seconds of palpable silence and then he nodded and left and I slumped back in the chair but it pulled my shirt in the back so it was nearly untucked and I sat up.
The cross above the pulpit was surrounded with shining blue string lights, they cast a cool glow on the ceiling and made an ethereal upside-down image of the cross on the slick panel wood. They started the music going. It was a similar experience to the birthday band from before, but not quite as bad. It wasn’t the sort of music you’d hear in hell, per say, just the one of the more unpleasant wings of purgatory. It was interwoven with strings of practice music and I could pick out a few loose bars of hymns and Mozart.
A few of the orphanage kids walked past my chair and as they did, stopped and gathered around me to stare. I smiled, said Jamashi, and they smiled and said it back. If the silence had been palpable before, now you’d have trouble seeing through it. I tried to make some type of conversation, and they responded in a fast-paced slew of Nepali. I nodded politely and the smile froze on my face. A little huddle formed around me of cherub faced girls in flowery sundresses and boys in collared shirts they probably pulled at when no one was looking and worn bibles under their arms. The looked at me quizzically. The only entertaining thing I could think to do was pull my hair down in front of my face and pull it apart a bit so just my eye peeked out from behind it. They seemed slightly impressed, like I’d begun to at least feebly brush the surface of their expectations, but I couldn’t think of anything to do to ride that high so it quickly fell to silence again.
They moved on past to the front of the church, all except a boy. He sat next to me and just sat, smiling and staring. I nodded awkwardly, said hello. He didn’t move. I said Jamashi. He returned the sentiment and then went back to doing that not moving bit. I turned away but I could feel his stare on the side of my face. I dropped my pencil and he raced dutifully from his chair and under mine to get it. He brought up everything I’d put there and I took it and said dhanyabad, which is thank-you, and put it on my lap.There was silence for a bit. He pointed to my tie and said “tie” and I said yes. He said tie again.
“Yup, you got it.”
He nodded, smiling. I smiled awkwardly and nodded. He picked up my sketchbook and looked at me. I said it was my sketchbook. He looked blank. “Drawing”, I said. He nodded. “Drawing”. He stared expectantly. I blinked. He tried to open it. I opened it instead and leafed through it. I hadn’t drawn in it much and all I found was this:
He seemed unfazed. “Drawing!” he said, happily. “Yup”. Then he started talking in Nepali, rapid fire. He asked me about fifty questions, all responded to with a smile and nod and the occasional shrug. He pointed at my hair and the chair and the stairs and I stared, unblinking. It was a tide that hit me, I picked out a few Nepali words I knew but not even close to enough to give any context. Eventually I focused on the music and looked away. I tapped the seat in front of me in time to the music. He pulled my hands away and rubbed the seat and looked at me expectantly. I put them back and rubbed the seat and he smiled. I nodded, not even smiling this time, and went back to not looking and tapping again. He picked my hands up and made them clap a few times. I indulged him and when he let go I carried on for a few more claps. He was delighted.
Eventually he developed an entourage of four or five other kids. They had a quite refined pallet for strange Americans and seemed thoroughly bored by my presence. He wanted me to show them the hair thing so I did it weakly but they seemed unimpressed. He kept looking back to them and then back to me, grin fading. The speakers screamed with feedback and it was nearly deafening. I sighed. Then the music stopped. Someone started praying in Nepali so I thought I should probably close my eyes. The boy tapped me and kept on talking until Pramita made the lot of them go back to their chair. I relaxed a bit. Ahhh, now I could just sit there and “Would Pastor Kirk and Sister Liz and Brother Will please come and accept gift?”
The sigh blew out of me. I had no control of it whatsoever. I sadly and heavily pulled myself out of the chair and stood behind my parents and tried unconvincingly to seem like I wanted to be conscious. He announced us and talked a bit about Dad and Mom. I hoped I would only be mentioned in passing. I mean, what could he say about me that would be THAT BAD, right ” I hope I do not embarrass Will here, but…” Ohnoohgodpleaseno. “I think he can take a nice Nepali wife from here, eh!” Yep. There it was. ‘course, yeah, Nepali wife. A hundred eyes bored into me blankly. The guy talking grinned at me expectantly. My smile faded a bit and I moved the bouquet of flowers over my blushing face. No one laughed and there was silence. If the silence had been hard to see through before then now you could cut a piece off and use it to prop the leg up on your coffee table. I tried to say something, ANYTHING, but all I managed was “Wife. O… Okay.” I shrugged and he laughed nervously with his mouth open. My parents and I walked back to my seat and slumped. The back of my shirt came untucked all the way but I didn’t care. The little boy came back and sat. He looked at me. I looked at him. He smiled. I smiled a bit. He pointed to my tie and said “tie!”