Love in America
Poppy was a Bangladeshi student studying in Fayetteville at the University of Arkansas. It was Friday, and as she stepped out of her classroom and headed home, she had a good feeling about the weekend. Two days of rest.
Her youthful face broke into smiles, for the cold weather was fading, and spring sent whispers in the air. The snow had melted, and muddy water streams ran along the pavements. Poppy took cautious steps for the mud could splash and soak her clothes. Traces of wet soil was visible around the garden with tiny patches of light green grass. The weather had turned to be unpredictable with global warming, and there was unusual snowfall in America's Midwest, including Arkansas. She smiled, imagining that snow came that year to welcome her.
It was late afternoon, and Fayetteville's streets were busy with the cars and buses carrying people home from work. The students stood out with their backpacks among the other people. Poppy usually walked the short distance from her university to her dormitory, a twenty minutes' walk. She found the walk refreshing. On some days she took the bus after her classes and went shopping from the Indian shop called "Chandi" in the nearby town. It was only six months since she had come to Arkansas, yet she was entirely at home. Looking at her, no one could not imagine that she was a newcomer to the great state. She loved wearing the traditional sari and salwar- kamiz, but they were not practical for the winter.
The thought of the weekend brought lightness in her steps as Poppy walked in her blue jeans and a white T-shirt. She wondered if she could go to the Indian grocery shop since she had no classes the next day. With her slender frame of twenty plus years the straight black hair, she looked beautiful. Her brown complexion glowed, and her face was of a lovely heart shape. She had dark eyes fringed with long lashes, a beautiful sharp nose, and a full mouth.
Picking her steps carefully in the wet pavements, Poppy looked for more signs of spring and noted few crocuses showing their early purple buds. The tall spruce trees standing by the roads looked fresh in the snow washed green. They reminded Poppy of Bangladesh, and she missed her beautiful village home in Sylhet. Momentarily transplanted in her village, she thought of her mother, her sweet face, and she seemed to hear her mother calling her. But a sudden gust of cold wind brought her down to the earth. Nostalgia filled her till tears welled up in her eyes. On the other side of the world were a loving home and her beloved family. When she approached the sidestreet along the small lake bank, she was glad that the water was flowing. A few days back, when the Polar Vortex had given a hard brought in intense cold, the lake was frozen to a sheet of ice. There was a time when Poppy would have never dreamed of coming to the great land of opportunities, great America. Poppy often pondered on this thought and knew that she was fortunate to win the university's scholarship to do her graduate program in the Sam Walton Business School.
The wind was picking up, still quite cold. Poppy tucked her scarf slightly deeper around her neck and walked faster, hoping to feel warmer with speed. She became aware of a voice behind her.
"Poppy, Poppy…hey Poppy…" Hearing her name, Poppy stopped on her way. She smiled to herself when she saw a familiar figure of Randy Thomas, a young man from Colorado in the graduate classes with her. Poppy smiled to herself. How could Randy, a pure American, find her so attractive? Since the first day of their first meeting on the campus, he had been helping her settle down. He found the apartment for her, helped her catch up with her new classes. Randy had made her familiar with contemporary society by teaching her to dance, hang out in a bar, and go to open-mics. She had felt a little shy at first, but somehow, his friendliness had made everything seem natural as if she like all the things she was learning at the university.
As she waited for Randy, he caught up with her. She smiled, thinking of how Randy said, "When in Rome, be like the Romans." In her cultural integration, he has been her solid rock. As he walked up to her, his handsome face looked flushed with the strain catching up with her. However, his tall frame was as sturdy as ever as he gave her a brief hug; his touch never failed to excite her. He had soft brown hair and blue eyes that seem to look right into her heart. Every time he looked at her eyes, she felt like opening up like a book. She was brown, and he was white, a kind of Radha Krishna couple. He often said that they were Radha Krishna in America. She had to remind him that Radha is the fair one in that story, and Krishna is the darker one, quite the opposite to their skin tones.
"Poppy, why didn't you ring me up before starting as a lonely duck?" he asked, looking up at the sky as they began to walk together. "Looks like it's going to be a breezy day, eh?"
It was like him to always make remarks on the weather. Maybe it was because Poppy mentioned Bangladesh's sunny winters, and he thought that snow and cold depressed her. He went on to say,
"Wait till full spring hits, and then summer! Boy, you will feel lucky you are here. Our state is called the "Natural State," you know, it's beautiful." He squeezed her hands as if reassuring of the coming, good days.
Poppy gave his hands a brief squeeze, saying, "You know Randy, I am missing the snow now. The white snow-laden world has a beauty of its own."
"If you like snow, you have to stay in America with me." Randy was looking mischievously at her. Poppy smiled up at his eyes, looking intently into hers as if trying to find the answer to an unasked question. But she had learned that Americans usually do not go about beating about the bush. But she did not want to leave Randy in confusion.
"Randy, I cannot stay here forever; I will have to go back to my country, to my parents. Especially because…." Poppy stopped short and looked at Randy. It was as if it was for the first time. She was looking at him as a person, not as a foreigner, or an American who had befriended her. He was a good man, honest and kind. After the past months of life in America, she felt like she belonged here. There was so much freedom, nothing like the conservative society she had grown before coming to America.
Poppy had been on the verge of saying that she fell in love with the new place when she felt a tingle on her ring finger. In a flash, it all came to her. What had she been thinking? Wasn't she supposed to get married after her return to the home country? It had been her mother's wish that she be engaged at least before she leaves so as not to leave any loose ends. The man she was to marry had been chosen for her as was quite customary in her family. Poppy must have been fingering her ring, for Randy too was looking down at it. Both stopped in their tracks.
Randy took her hands and quietly said, "I had meant to ask you about your ring; I know you are not married." Poppy had never mentioned anything to him. She wore plenty of jewelry, and he wondered if that was another part of her culture. But the next words shattered his thoughts.
"Randy, you see I have got an engagement ring? I have to go back and get married to the man my family had chosen for me. I hardly knew him before my engagement." Poppy said.
Randy was shocked and said, "Do you mean to say that you didn't know the guy, and you were tied to him to be married?"
"I will meet him properly at night of the wedding; it's an arranged marriage. Not a great deal in our country where such marriages are so common." Poppy smiled at him sadly.
Over the past months in the USA, she grew conscious of her feelings. And that she had a mind of her own outside her cultural boundaries. She was beginning to believe that her freedom chained with the engagement ring. People in America were free to pursue happiness in their ways. Here no one forced anything on others, especially in matters of the heart.
Randy held her by the shoulders and unbelievingly whispered. "Gosh, first you marry, then you meet your life partner? How crazy can one be even in this twenty-first century? Don't tell me you support it?" His eyes blazed into hers. He saw the softness in the Bengali girl. How fragile they were. How gentle Poppy was. Since I had met her, he had not seen her get angry or ever say anything hard. Her soft face always reminded him of Holy Mary, purity undefined. Poppy could give; she hardly took anything from anyone. He felt a sense of protection for her; he thought he could not let her go back to Bangladesh. And not marry a stranger she had not even met.
"Poppy, you don't believe that you can be happy like that, do you?" Randy whispered to her as they stood together. His right hand held her chin up, forcing her to look into his imploring eyes.
Poppy was suddenly lost, lost in a pair of blue eyes which seemed to see far beyond her dark ones, seem to be reading the confusions in her heart. She felt lightning strike her as Randy's arms closed around her. What was happening to her? Wasn't she a strong Bengali girl? Wasn't this kind of behavior forbidden for her? She lost her thoughts as she felt the warmth of Randy's body against her as he held her as if saving her from coming danger.
While all these raced in her mind, she knew only one answer; she could not chain up her heart, nor can her customs or values. She had read stories of love crossing boundaries, but it was hard to believe that it was happening to her. Poppy felt the gentle touch of Randy's lips upon hers, and then she completely surrendered herself to him. She felt as if she was in the heavens.
She remembered the engagement ring on her finger and pulled herself away from Randy. She slowly took off the call and placed it in the pocket of her jeans. Randy gently pulled her to him again. "You won't regret it, sweetheart; this is my solemn promise." He whispered in her ears as he kissed her repeatedly.
Poppy remembered her mother and hoped that she would be happy for the daughter who had found love in America. Really could anyone ever chain up a heart, especially when it wants to soar up into the sky, wants to love and be loved?
Tulip Chowdhury: “I am an educator and writer. I have authored Visible, Invisible and Beyond: a metaphysical fiction, and Red, Blue, Purple: a poetry collection. I live in Massachusetts, USA.”