Excerpt from the story "At the Birthplace of Sound"
You are a convenience store store owner, a taxi driver, a doctor, a terrorist, an IT worker, an exchange student. An Egyptian, a Pakistani, a Trinidadian, an Indian. You wear your skin like it’s something borrowed, not owned. Like all those hand-me-downs your mother saved that belonged to your brother, so you were always five years behind the latest trends. Who you are right now is temporary, you tell yourself when you break out with acne and miss an audition. You are careless with your mouth and say things you shouldn’t say to waiters, to pedestrians, pretend you are tougher than you really are. The fact that you’re an actor makes your off-screen bullshit feel natural.
You are thirty but can pass for someone seven years younger. Occasionally, you try out for movies and sitcoms about high school and college students, where everyone is in their twenties, unblemished, past awkwardness, fitting into each other’s bodies with ease. Your brother thinks you’re an idiot. He’ll never tell you this exactly, but he’s a lawyer for a big pharmaceutical company and lives with his wife and daughter in a six-bedroom house with brick walls and purple hydrangeas and a half doughnut of pavement, so he never has to back out. You’re not jealous because he lives in Jersey, the armpit of America, while you’re in Manhattan. The cheap three-bedroom apartment you share with two roommates in Washington Heights is still Manhattan.
When Arjun calls you for dinner, you think of the distance you must travel, the twenty-five-minute ride on the subway and then the hour on the NJ Transit. But when he says, “Karna, Anita wants to see her uncle,” you cave in because you imagine your niece’s small face looking up with her deep wishbone smile.
You lug a black knapsack and a grocery bag with what you cannot fit. You rarely make this journey out to Jersey, so when you do, you usually stay for the weekend, visit your mother if she’s around.
--Reprinted Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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