Third Year

Natalie Garro, 129 TESS

It’s a Wednesday.
3 of my 4 classes were cancelled today,
but my 7th graders did well on their spelling test,

I’m thirsty.
The grandmother at the store
in front of my school tells me
I’ll get fat if I keep drinking so much soy milk,
so I tell her
I’ll be beautiful fat, too.

My life here
has wrapped itself around me
like the vines that creep
along my back garden wall,
beautiful blooms
swelling into inedible fruit
before someone pulls them down again.
I know this life is temporary.

Sometimes I imagine
putting down roots here,
watching my neighbors grow old.
I imagine carrying their baskets back from the market,
reading to my students’ kids when they bring them by my house
to meet Teacher Natalie.
I imagine the whole village dancing at my wedding,
or maybe shrugging as the grandmothers ask
why I never got married, didn’t I want kids?
In these visions, I offer my usual response:
I have 300 kids already.
Sometimes I use the dating prospects here as my excuse for why
I’ll leave someday.
My host mom asks me often
why I plan to leave if I’m happy here.
And I guess I’ve been asking myself that same question
with increased frequency
the last few months.
I don’t really have a satisfying answer yet.

The temple music wakes me at 4:30AM.
I smile and roll over,
the familiar tones echoing through my dreams
until my alarms chimes, 5:30AM,
before the sun’s risen,
and I can already hear my neighbors sliding back
the rusted metal of their gates.
Tractors trundle down the side of the road,
and roosters screech,
and I hit snooze as I pull the blankets up to block
the crisp breeze of the fan.

I squeal at the frosty nip of the water,
each bucket-full sends a little shiver into my toes.

My neighbors bring me a bag of boiled corn,
their dog greets me with a wagging tail,
and I know most days I am coated in
a sticky layer of sweat;
but I also swear, nothing makes iced coconut water taste better,
or watermelon fresh sliced from the back of the fridge.

For a good long while,
I couldn’t remember who I was.
I still can’t remember.
And I suppose there’s freedom in deciding,
whoever I am now
is happy enough to find herself
so wrapped up in the folds of her life here,
she writes nothing but letters back home
for months without realizing
many of the knots in her stomach have shaken loose.
Many of the knots have shaken loose.

There is freedom here.
And love.
And maybe my time here is temporary,
but my life here is not.
And maybe goodbye will arrive one day,
but I’m glad I don’t have to think about that yet.
I have time.
I don’t have to think about that yet.

Read Natalie’s previous articles and contributions.

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