Desert Life / Arathi Devandran

I am at A’s house. She has taken the day off to spend it with me. We went for a long walk in her neighbourhood, looking at artisanal stores and home decor. This neighbourhood is new to me, but soon, it will be mine too. My husband and I are getting ready to move into our next home in this country where we met, fell in love, got married, etc. 

We have been back for about a week, a week that feels like a lifetime. 

I have taken refuge in A’s home(s) many times since I’ve known her, always finding a place of comfort, laughter, and most importantly, a good and true friendship that has carried us through some strange and turbulent times. A has opened her hearth (and heart) to me once again, and as always, I have scuttled into her warmth. 

I am sprawled on her couch, lazily stroking her dog, L. A has rented John Wick 3 for me to watch. She is appalled that I had not finished the series since she left me in the US many moons ago. I laugh, and explain to her that I struggle with films, struggle with most things except reading and writing these days. She scoffs, and presses play.

John Wick 3 is, unsurprisingly, as ridiculous, and wonderful as John Wick 1 and 2. Keanu Reeves cannot be killed. He dodges bullets, knives, axes. Watching him pick a knife out of thin air, A crows, quoting her father, “It’s all in the mind, my dear”. Reeves barely speaks, he is still fighting crusades for his dog, and now his friend, and underlying all this bloodshed and violence is sweet, sweet love. 

A new scene begins where he is searching for the Elder – the camera pans across the wilderness of the desert. He is trudging across the expanse of sand with an empty plastic bottle because this is John Wick, and everything he does is ridiculous and wonderful. He is a dark silhouette against fine gold, against the setting sun (or maybe it’s the glare I can’t tell) and there is something so particularly beautiful and lonely about the image that it makes me catch my breath, as if something in me recognises that loneliness, that expanse of sand, the brutal wilderness of going through something so particularly solitary. 

Tears prick my eyes. 

==

Several days after I landed in Singapore, I went for a checkup to make sure my breasts were okay. My mum had had breast cancer when I was younger, the first in her family to have any kind of debilitating illness. It was a difficult time; about 12 years ago, we knew a lot less about cancer than we do now, and my mother had already gone through a litany of health issues by that point. Since then, I’d always been aware that it could happen to me too; really, it could happen to anyone. 

So there I was, at the doctor’s office, lying down, my eyes staring blankly at the ceiling. My vision began to blur slightly as I tried to focus on what the doctor was saying. There were words. Lumps. Irregular shaped. Concerned. Mammogram. Ultrasound. Biopsy. 

Words that I’d become too familiar with. This time though, it was a little different. Those words were about me. 

The doctor finished her examination and patted me softly on the shoulder. Briefly, we looked into each other’s eyes. I took a deep breath and buttoned my top.

My husband and mother were seated in the office too. They looked shell-shocked, my husband more terrified than anything else. I composed my features and forced my mind to think about the practical steps. I asked the right questions. I took note of the things that had to be done in the coming week. 

We trooped out of the doctor’s office. My dad was waiting at the pick-up spot in his car and my mum briefly updated him about what transpired.

It has been a long year for all of us. 

I cleared my throat and said, we’ll see what happens. Everyone nodded. The car fell silent.  

==

I have never seen the desert. I have been told that it is a very specific beauty, that the barrenness hides teeming life, that the life forms are spectacular because they survive despite the conditions, that they are a true testament of resilience and adaptability. 

I find myself googling images of these organisms that survive in the desert despite the harsh heat and the lack of water. 

There’s the fennec fox which haunts the land at night, with batlike ears that help it regulate its body temperature. Turkey vultures and black vultures urinate down their legs – as the water in their urine evaporates, it cools them down. Jackrabbits are suited to survive in arid conditions because of their spartan diet and need for little water. I stare at the beady eyes of rattlesnakes and the colourful patterns on the scales of gila monsters. I watch videos extolling their adaptive natures. I think about how complex life is, how every living being is so unique, so different in its own right, and how in its own way, it is gifted with exactly what it needs to survive, despite the odds.

I recognise the lesson here for me. 

I continue googling images of animals I may never see in this lifetime. 

===

It is a strange season. 

For the first time in a decade, I do not have to worry about work. I am in that weird space between jobs. I was supposed to have my magnum opus break – spend time with friends and family; travel, to the desert no less to see the birthplace of Moses, among other things; figure out this new relationship to this land that I have returned to, out of choice. 

It is a time of in-betweens, for many reasons. In a week, I will be at the doctor’s and I will have a clearer picture about what’s next. 

I find myself tearing up randomly, my body processing grief and fear in strange ways. I think about all the things I would like to do, and make a list, as a reminder that all these things await on the other side, whatever the other side might look like. 

I look up pictures of septum piercings: I’ve been considering getting one over the last few weeks, because, why not. However, if I have to go for surgery, I need to remove all piercings, and healing takes time, so it makes no sense for me to get one now. 

But what if, what if. 

I’m reading multiple books at once, as if a part of me wants to hoard all this knowledge while it still can. 

Another part of me chastises my panic, my fear, then steps back, because it understands that all these emotions can exist at the same time. 

I can be completely calm, and completely terrified. 

I can be completely tired, and completely hopeful. 

I can be many iterations of the same thing. 

I am many iterations of the same thing. 

We are back to this pesky liminality again. 

===

I dreamt of my grandmother several moons ago. I was in a room, full of plants and trees. I was searching for my aunt, who was somewhere else in this forest-house. 

Suddenly, I feel a breeze against my face, a breeze made by the flapping wings of birds. They swoosh past me and I watch in awe as one large crow perches on a branch close to my face. All at once, it is quiet in my dream. I turn to look at the crow, and slowly, its face morphs into my grandmother’s. 

I smile, I had missed her so. 

My grandmother opens her mouth, and I hear her voice, just like it used to be in my childhood, and she says clearly “Your mother loves you.” 

Tears start streaming down my face from joy, from witnessing her, from hearing her voice. 

I wake up. 

===

I’m sitting outside. 

There is a slight breeze in the air. I’m taking deep breaths, acknowledging the wave of hopelessness that just washed over me. 

I honour my emotions, wipe the tears from my eyes. 

I continue writing my story. 



Arathi Devandran curates personal experiences, snapshots of the world and the stories people are willing to share with her through prose and poetry www.miffalicious.com

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