Sarah Kay – Peacocks

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Lately… lately I’ve been living with spiders, but as roommates go they haven’t been too bad. The one in the bathroom keeps to his side of the tile, and the one in the bedroom… well he can get a little bit grabby but for the most part he keeps his hands to himself.

I guess all those car engines and hairsprays finally caught up with us, because the pollution here is so bad it makes the sky glow orange from 5pm through night till morning. Some people think its disgusting that you can wash off what you thought was a tan, but me, I can’t help but love a city that has 15 hours of twilight- If I ever have a grunge rock band I will name it beautiful pollution.

Outside the city the dark is so dark It is easy to forget which day is Tuesday. But that night there were dry lighting storms, it was like strobe lights through the windows. I went outside and stood with my face up, smiling. I thought god was taking photographs. And even though I felt silly standing there in my underwear, I figured I needn’t be embarrassed. He’s seen me in so much less.

Some nights I wake up with a black hole in my chest- it echoes like a beat-boxing hurricane and burns like a grandmother’s memory. I tried Pepcid AC… it sort of helps. I gave a haircut, with big sloppy scissors and even made it look kind of nice. It was mainly a courtesy cut anyway, everyone knew it probably wouldn’t do much for the lice  and the bedbugs.

I’ve been searching for my favorite constellations everywhere, but I haven’t seen any yet. The spaces between stars are all different here, much wider. I have always relied on the English of others, and in this rickshaw called desire it’s no different, on a concrete rooftop somewhere of the highway it is creeping its way towards night, when nineteen year old Ravi begs me to write a love letter for him.

It is for Neha, the girl he is in love with. She speaks English, he doesn’t, so he cannot explain to me that this is forbidden, that he is already set to marry whomever his parents choose, but certainly someone within the village, and certainly someone within the caste, and certainly not this someone wrapped in yellow silk smiling up at me from the photograph he shows me.

I write it for him anyway. It has something about the moon, some stars in the sky, the way her eyes sparkle and how he wishes they were together always. When I hand it back to him he takes it from my hands and reads it out loud- he doesn’t understand a single word, but reads diligently and slowly, looking up at me ever so often to make sure he’s pronouncing the words correctly. When I hear what I have written out loud, the clichés hang in the air between us like bad breathe. I wish I could take it back and write it over.

I would write:

Dear Neha, be careful about rooftops. Not about how high they are, but about how quickly your heart beats the faster you climb. Ravi’s hands are good for climbing. I like the way he stands behind his mother while she’s working, not so much to insist on helping her, but just to let her feel his presence, in case she needs him to reach for something on a top shelf. I like that he believes in love letters. His pants are a few inches too short. Have you ever come to visit him here? Probably not. The peacocks are enormous, they sound like cats, and nobody seems to pay them very much mind. But the males dance across all the rooftops of the village begging for somebody to notice their tails.

Good luck with your secret,


When Ravi reaches the end of the letter he read the words “I love you”. These are words he understands. He smiles an enormous smile and bows his head. On the way back to the car the translator tells me that Ravi wishes to say thank you. I tell him to tell Ravi good luck and he does so. He will never marry her, the translator tells me after we have been driving for a few minutes in the dark.

Yes, I say, but he can love her.

It is monsoon season and I watch as tall street corners become riverbanks and small potholes become death traps. Not even the rickshaws are safe. The cobra I met in the garden behind the lantern shed was a lot smaller then I imagined, but the mangos were just as sweet . That’s probably why when we cut one open a spider crawled out- it had made its home inside. The elephants here, they all look orange. I think its because of the henna in the soap.

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