Mala sits on the edge of a yellowed mattress, her small hands cradled in her lap. And she waits. She overheard Mukesh talking about fresh arrivals from America, and she knows tonight she will not sleep.
Three years ago, the tall restaurant owner – who, with his big chest, tailored suit, and...
<p>Mala sits on the edge of a yellowed mattress, her small hands cradled in her lap. And she waits. She overheard Mukesh talking about fresh arrivals from America, and she knows tonight she will not sleep.</p>
<p>Three years ago, the tall restaurant owner – who, with his big chest, tailored suit, and Fedora hat, seemed like Brahma himself – led the man to her family’s door. When he opened his leather satchel and spread before them pictures of the riverfront restaurant where he employed over fifty servers, Mala thought, <em>Now my mother will cease her crying and my father will stop his begging for “one more week”.</em></p>
<p>The day she left in her white dress with pink cotton flowers stitched around the scalloped collar, her mother packed her favorite dish and her father held her close to him and said, “You are a good daughter.” Just twelve weeks and all debts would be paid and she could return home to her family.</p>
<p>The restaurant owner shook her parents’ hands and then directed Mala toward a black Mercedes-Benz. Patting her head before she climbed into the car’s backseat, he repeated her father’s words and laughed.</p>
<p>Tears slipped to the corners of Mala’s eyes, and she turned around to wave goodbye to her mother and father. The raised hands that moved mechanically back and forth in the air betrayed the grief squeezing their hearts. Mala shut her eyes, hoping that if she kept them closed, her mind would keep a photocopy of the home she was leaving behind. When she opened them again, she did not see the two chickens pecking around her yard’s dirt floor, or the small, bamboo house shaded by the arms of a jujube tree, or the green hills speckled with marigolds. Instead, county roads had morphed into city lanes, and fragmented images flashed before Mala like the pictures in an animated flipbook: people moving in every direction on scooters and rickshaws and bicycles; wooden trucks carting crates of chickens; pigs and dogs and cows rummaging through piles of trash; dilapidated buildings with bright colored signs announcing “readymade garments” and “fresh grain”; vendors lining the streets with their wares of fruit and meat and jewelry and clothing; people warming themselves around a fire placed outside of tents made of sheets; an old woman with white eyes stretching out an open hand; and a naked girl squatting in a dirty pool of water.</p>...