The Intelligence of Wild Things by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
A mother in Calcutta, India; a daughter in California on the west coast of America; and a son in Vermont in the American east. They are a family divided by time and distance, love and anger. The day comes when sister must talk to brother, when they must reconnect with the past and with each other. But where are the words that will cross that great, lonely divide?
There is grey in the sky and a strange bleeding pink I’ve never seen before. Or perhaps the freezing cold is confusing me. I hold a wool coat around me, a coat that is too large for me, borrowed from my brother Tarun for this boat trip. I am trying to remember how it feels to be warm. I am not quite sure why we are on this ferry, why we are attempting to cross this frozen lake. The wool has a smell of something dark and secret and close to the body, a smell that I find hard to connect with my brother, younger than me by five years, the baby of the family. How angry he used to be when I called him that! And now, this smell, as new to me as the hard adult lines of his face next to me, dark against the snow-covered banks of the lake. And just as disturbing.
It is March in Vermont, on the eastern side of the United States. The last day of my visit. Tomorrow I will return to my husband Sandeep, my two daughters and my garden in Sacramento, California, where it is so warm that purple bougainvilleas flower even in winter. I haven’t done what I came here to do. I haven’t found a time to tell Tarun that our mother, to whom he hasn’t spoken in years, is dying in India. I haven’t found a way to beg him to go to her.
The River Queen shakes under my feet as the boat makes its uneven way across the lake. I can hear ice breaking somewhere below. Perhaps there are fish down there, their thin, silver bodies broken by the ferry’s steel teeth, the water slowly turning the same pink as the sky. Wrong again! my brother would say if he knew what I was thinking. The fish know they have to stay away from the boat. They have the intelligence of wild things.
Or would he say that? I’m not sure any more. I pull the coat collar further up and turn away from the wind. It’s been a long time since we shared our dreams, our fears.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived at Tarun’s apartment yesterday was the photograph on his bedside table. A laughing girl with fair skin and reddish-gold hair. She was wearing jeans which I thought were too tight. There was blue in the background, perhaps this same lake.
I was wrong to be angry, I knew that. He had the right to his own life. To run around with a white girl, if that’s what he wanted. He had the right not to tell me. Ten years of living in this country had taught me that. I still felt angry, though…