I felt dull in my jeans and white button up shirt amongst the colorful saris that made up the van I was on. The decorations of the van were vibrant. Many ornaments hung from the rear view mirror. The interior was made of a faded red. People thought of color and decoration as normality. Plainness stood out. I stood out.
We were watched. I watched back.
A woman with thick eyebrows and kind eyes, with curves that had obviously bore a child nursed her child in the seat near the driver. She looked healthy. Her bright red sari below her dark breast. Her baby boy taking her attention away from the rest of the chaos.
Three women sat in front of her. They all had gold nose rings. They gossiped. Eyebrows acting shocked and intrigued, mouths moving as fast as one could listen.
Another woman sat parallel to me. Her sari was duller than the others. She looked tired. She looked unwell. It was hard for me to look at her. It was hard for me not to look. She nursed her baby boy as well. She did not grasp her baby tight. Instead she allowed him to grab hold of her. She did not have energy. Her eyes hollow. Her physique malnourished. She made my heart ache.
I felt eyes. They were big and hazel. He was young, but not an infant. He held a toy gun in his hand. He stood staring at me, pointing his gun in my direction. When we made eye contact he smiled.
I felt sweat dripping down my spine. I held to whatever I could as we made our way up the dirt, windy roads. People squeezed their way to whatever available space there was. The colorful saris were unconcerned of discomfort or the human touch. They were open with their touch and unapologetic.
An older woman made eye contact. Her entire ear was filled with gold hoops. A piece of red yarn was intertwined in her long, coarse gray hair. She simply said “Namaste.” I smiled. She smiled back. I felt success.
Green hills passed through the window. As we got higher, the crops looked like blankets keeping the hills warm. The hills were rich with life and color.
Her hand grasped my knee and I reveled in the touch. She was trying to steady herself. But she made eye contact. Her face was tan. She wore no makeup. Her wrinkles were allowed to be seen. Her eyes looked stressed but grateful. Her color contrasted with my plainness. She was not intrigued by me. She saw me as a woman. A steadying woman. Her hand was strong and weathered. I loved this woman for this moment. She did not take her hand from my knee when the van steadied. Her strong hand stayed on my plain knee until we got there. She was unassuming. She was gentle. She was grateful. I felt respected.
The colors filed off the van, making sure not to hit their heads. The woman with strong hands did not turn around. She walked down the steps carefully, no longer needing my steady, plain knee.