It wasn’t said. What we were, beneath the skin of our respectability. My father, a doctor, his accent learned from Indians who studied in England. My mother, a Mary Kay consultant: pink makeup kits in the living room, the paperback success story on her night table. How I dreamed of her winning the pink fur-trimmed coat, the pink Cadillac.
Unsaid, as she held my brother’s hand, going door to door to find out who had beaten him with a bag full of bottles. Her wrist a golden ribbon between the gap of coat sleeve and glove.
Once I woke in the morning and looked out my window to see boot prints in fresh snow. A trampled path, as though someone had taken a shortcut through our backyard, suddenly unsure which way to go. As though I’d rubbed my eyes too hard, opened them again to see dark stains on the light. An afterimage. The watermark on my grandfather’s stationery.
I went outside in my nightgown and winter boots. Stomped it out, beat my arms, did a little chicken dance of fury and shame. Paki. I wasn’t even – A word, mouthed in snow.
I perfected my English. That is not what I am. I wasn’t even from there, didn’t speak that language, was not dark brown like the servants, les bonnes who cleaned our house, the chauffeur, the gardener, the tailor “back home,” Bhai Aziz, Bhai Yousouf, Shiva. Did not carry the bitter scent of turmeric on my skin, the smoky rose of agarbhatti; did not glisten with the shine of almond oil and sweat. That is not what I am. That is not what I am. I perfected my English.