The front door was open and a bold waft of cumin, garlic, and onions traveled through the passageway, curling its way down the block, entering the windows of neighbors whose homes smelled of Glade, Lysol, and Febreze. She had been cooking for days … months … years … and today would be a feast to culminate their survival, their success—his new identity. Dutiful in her ways, she wanted this day to be festive, like the wedding they had celebrated ten years ago. But the colors of this occasion were not of crimson and shimmering gold: they were the colors of betrayal.

When Ramesh Anand stepped off the airplane nine years ago, he had only his dignity and hope to buoy him during his early years in America; beside him was his wife, Madhu, a reluctant companion. On their long journey to this new land, she had sat in silence, and as the plane touched down on the warm tarmac she clenched the armrests like a raptor’s talons around its prey. For at that moment, she knew there would be no turning back.

Today would be a synthesis of past, present, and future; one of hopes remembered and dreams revived. But lurking beneath the sweet notes of the sitar that played in the background, Madhu could feel her resistance rising … and heart pounding with anger.

Bound by tradition, she had stoically accepted her fate and slipped into a rhythm of cooking, cleaning, and raising children. She couldn’t grasp this sterile culture with its hermetically sealed homes and pristine driveways, but she adapted in her own way. She kept the pots filled with lentils, and the refrigerator stocked with eggplants and okra. Her home smelled of roasted spices, which permeated the furniture, curtains, and carpeting. But she didn’t care. This was something that comforted her, helped her through her darkest hours.

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The guests started arriving. They patted Ramesh on the back and offered sweets for such a grand celebration. Madhu thanked them, then returned to the kitchen to finish preparing the food. She listened, with bittersweet tears forming in her eyes, as voices bellowed from the living room and laughter sang through the hallways.

Ramesh came into the kitchen and beamed his beautiful ivory smile, only to find his wife gently sobbing. He approached her and said, “My lovely Madhu, why are you crying?” She looked down and quietly confessed, “Today I have lost you to America—to your citizenship. India will never be our home again.”

Ramesh offered little consolation, for he knew she was right; he had made this his new homeland, and for this he was grateful. He stepped away, hurt, and went back to the living room where friends and relatives awaited him to celebrate his rite of passage. Yet Madhu remained behind, stirring her pot of curry with painful regret. A bold waft of cumin, garlic, and onions curled upward and traveled toward the front door. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, becoming one with her beloved India … though her country was thousands of miles away, and her husband just around the corner.

Sarojni Mehta-Lissak is a poet and fiction writer from Long Beach, Calif.sarojnimehta-lissak.com

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