Of course, I sit in coffee shops by myself and stare at people. I think unflattering things about them and I smile when they move past me. I eavesdrop on conversations and peep at book covers, I watch how long someone working on their laptop can go without checking their phone. I say I want my beverage extra hot, and I’m never satisfied.
I see the woman with the sand-coloured hair walk in, her skinny jeans welded to her behind. I see the ones wearing flats that pinch their toes and heels that cause minor injuries; there’s always a telltale bandaid, small, in various shades of nude. Possibly a hashtag feminist, campaigning against the tyranny of having to wear heels to work. I see those who wear shredded jeans in winter; maybe they go everywhere in cars. Does their body fat sufficiently insulate them? I watch Indian women, giddy with the freedom of wearing whatever they can; they choose impractical miniskirts that they keep tugging on, I catch them as they wince from the chill of the bus seats. Occasionally, while walking, I see an Indian woman in a salwar kameez, adjusting her dupatta every few seconds, holding on to a young child, closer to me in age than I’d like to acknowledge. Does she wear these clothes with confidence, or because she is not confident enough to buy what she tried on at Marshalls? Is she embarrassed by the woman who looked back at her from the mirror in the trial room, by the body that suddenly seemed to emerge? Is she worried about what her family might say, or does she not care? Is she holding on to identity and nostalgia? Is she thinking about this?
The other day, as I entered my building, I saw an old Indian couple fumbling with their keys, getting increasingly flustered and sweaty. They weren’t able to get in. I let them in and we spoke for a few minutes. They said they were here for their daughter’s graduation, and they asked me if I was Indian, where in India I was from, what floor I live on, what I’m doing here, where I study, and if I’d like to come over for dinner (“We are having idli”). I was so overwhelmed by this interaction, I told them I’d already eaten, see you later.
I don’t like idli.