Sitting in the Dark

One evening in July somewhere in Maine, my spouse wouldn’t wait until morning to look at the creaking, shuddering, fan/light assembly hanging over the dining room table and he turned off the electricity.  Now our dining room was too hot to sit in, and our aging brown wicker-patterned friend–its perpetual summer circling arrested–needed some tinkering with. Actually, I got my valiant spouseto turn the whole house’s electricity off so he wouldn’t hurt himself; he often rushes into the home maintenance jobs he loves because he has so little time after commuting and working.  Not endowed with feline vision, I decided to stay out of the way and seize the opportunity for a bit of rest.  Lying on the sofa during our own little load-shedding (the term used in India for when the electricity goes off for a while because the supply cannot keep up with the demand) with my head towards the big living room window framing the fluttery tree, I noticed the pink edge of the sky you don’t see in our tree-laden suburban neighborhood unless you’re outside walking.  It came back to me that during my childhood in the arid little town of Hijli, in West Bengal not far from the Bihar border, my parents would let twilight grow through the house most evenings.  They wouldn’t turn the lights on right away, just to enjoy the gradual fading and displacement of the harsh sunlight of the day.  We would sit on the veranda or in the living room and just let it get darker and darker, chatting or playing.  Our street of small university houses was still surrounded by grazing fields for cows and goats and a palpable stock of uncanny quiet.  A car or jeep might go by once a week, and most movement was by foot, bicycle or cycle-rickshaw.  In the evening, the voices of passersby–families strolling together, or friends in ones and twos hailing us from the front gate–carried into the veranda of our little cement house with the smooth floors, or through the wide open living room windows, long before we could see them clearly.

This sitting around in the twilight was a less self-conscious form of relaxation than the fun activities we pitch ourselves into these days—bike rides, bookstore browses, and so on—because we are so aware of needing them.  When the lights finally came on in our Hijli house, it would have been for a 9 o clock supper, and it was always a blazing shock after the softening into the dark our eyes had enjoyed.  The idea then was to stay awake until the rice of our late meal was eaten, but I was a slow child, and mine would always get cold.

(July 2011/September 2012)