Independence Day

He looks me in the eye when he tells me it is okay to be fifteen and raped on my marital bed. At least I was allowed to be born, and it was nicer than being married at eight. He used to say I had to die at my husband’s pyre. I told him then that the flames could eat my lungs and suck the marrow from my bones, but they’d never digest my spirit without ripping their orange skins apart. He tells me oppression is culture, I say culture is evil.

And sometimes he holds my hand when I cross the road, his eyes going below the hemline of my skirt. He shakes his head. I am permitted, but not allowed, to look pretty on my terms. But I’ve made meals of constitutional decrees. It scares him when I talk about freedom. He hasn’t heard that word spoken with such conviction in years.

He is the sum total of all his flaws. It is all I see, pockmarked face, each imperfection made worse by how he celebrates suffering. He has multiple personalities, I know, but I’m tired of only seeing one.

On the 15th, it rains, and he runs out under the August sky with his wet shirt sticking to his shoulders. I smile a little. It is sad. I know he still has trouble talking about his scars, especially that one on his shoulder that occasionally bleeds. Time heals, he says over and over. I don’t have the heart to retort, forgiveness heals time itself. I watch him sometimes, staring to the horizon beyond which lies the fruit of his Partition. “Do you think fraternal twins can still have that twin connection?” His tone is wistful, like breezes whipping through Banyans as though they’re late for an appointment with the sky.

I have nothing to add. He knows exactly how they’re connected. The dog bites they’ve left on each other’s arms have spread rabies into our bloodstreams. Why would he want to know when his brother feels emotion?

“There’s a difference between caring for and spying on.”

“Not much,” he replies blandly. The water on his face is acid rain. It still sticks to his shoulders like kisses. He laughs, I shake my head. He looks into the eyes of storms, and sees kindness few would recognise. “There is humanity in you,” he says to everything he sees, and when his gaze catches mine, it is fond and a little apologetic. “I am as you imagine me.”

“Your cruelty is real.”

He is drawing spirals into mud. “Has time made me any kinder?”

I wouldn’t know. I am small.

His birth is Insistence, that’s all I can say. He rose and fell many times over many years, but this picture burst to life from force of will. It’s how all life is born. White men told him he couldn’t be. A foolish concept, impossible even in theory, they said millions were in fact pockets of a few, separate, different, opposite.

“Insistence,” he says even now. “Insistence is how I was made. I am a song of millions sung in harmony, and though sometimes you stumble over the lyrics, you never lose the rhythm. I am the result of millions wishing me to life with their eyes closed and their hearts beating, the same under all that blood-breaking difference. You took an idea of plurality and made it into the palanquin that takes me onward. It is like making rooftops out of sand.”

Millions and millions.

His hands are cracked from sculpting futures out of polluted oxygen. He wipes his eyes on my sleeves and pulls me close to his chest. “I am sorry. I have failed you.”

The only failure is surrendering to the fault lines, and he has never given up before.

He sounds tired then, and maybe a little proud. Freedom is a rope that binds him to his stories. Knowledge glows bright in his feet. He smiles. “They used to say I won’t make it to seventy.”

I say, “I know.”

We stand quietly under an awning as the rain dances on, both of us silently wondering how we made it this far.