It was a Kolkata taxi that brought you from the airport to your friend’s house, and, to Alice. Neither of you spoke the same language, you communicated through sighs and sign language. The first two weeks of living together felt like hell, but Alice has become a map that helps you navigate living in Kolkata.
It’s almost too hot for chai, but you find comfort in the stability of the sweet, creamy taste of an early morning tea. Alice has created your morning ritual of toast with jam, a boiled egg and chai. At 4:30 am she turns the radio on full blast, but she doesn’t sing along until after she knows that you’re awake. It was in your second week that you recognized this was a courtesy. You imagine that she either doesn’t have the best hearing, or tries to drown out the sounds of the traffic below with the radio. It took a few weeks, but you’ve learned to sleep through it. Now, if the radio doesn’t turn on exactly at 4:30 am you wake up.
Last week you spent the evenings in the toilet from a restaurant curry with some kind of an ameba on the side. After two days of untouched food, Alice made a tea that sorted you out.
The tea was horrible.
Alice stood over you as you lay on the sofa in the main room dramatically groaning with the teacup in hand. She motioned you to drink. You shook your head and pointed to your stomach. She motioned you to drink and put the cup to your lips practically pouring the warm water down your throat. It was all you could do not to gag and immediately throw up the disgusting liquid. You were soon in the bathroom and a couple of explosions later, you were as good as new and have come to view her as a saint.
Kolkata has a mind of its own. The research schedule that you set for yourself dissolved like the 2 cubes of sugar Alice puts into your tea. However, when the days do not go as planned: when the rains pour down with such fury it nearly rips your clothes off; when you couldn’t get a Kolkata taxi to take you to a certain part of town; when you have the kind of interactions that reminds you of your status as a foreigner; and when you have happily finished a section of your research, you go home to Alice. Her presence in the house is enough to bring back your equilibrium.
After 3 months you get into a Kolkata taxi going to the airport. The plane takes off and the earth fades in the distance. You wonder if you were able to adequately convey your gratitude to Alice. If she could see into your heart and understand that she held everything together and if you are a success, it is because she helped you to be.