She moves as if suspended in fluid. Clicking, unclicking the seatbelt. Drawing the mask cords near, not over, her gleaming black braid. Waving at exits. Looking abandoned in the open water of thought, with no means to signal. Or in no hurry to.

How bright the scarlet of her sari, lips, and bindi. It was once sin to look upon a woman. Grievous sin, for a woman to be seen. The curry-fragranced curtains of a home guarded precious feminine secrets until the eternal fires. Yet she is bodily anchored before a seatbelted crew of Muslims, Hindus, and white men. Wearing the red of the seven fires, also of an Indian airline–bright red. Bright as a stain.

Even as Hindi admonitions for flight safety spill out of the speakers, stringing her arms along in corresponding motions, she wades away from us to a place our eyes cannot follow. She swings up into a vessel, her own person. Then sails away to a shore no man can reach. What self-possession; I envy it. The soul, an untethered thing.


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