Two young boys clamber onto the upper berth across from mine. I glance at their eager faces. Weary but awake, I’m hand-writing blog posts into a lined school notebook purchased in an effort to catch up on my lagging storytelling. They lie on their sides, heads propped in hands, and the usual questions to begin: where I am from, where I am going. But childhood’s curiosity extends it more and more and…
what is your birthday? sign? when you were small what sports did you play?
The boys are Rithik, seven, and Kamal, nine, from Mumbai but traveling with their parents for a holiday. I flip every question back onto them; it’s a flurry of information moving along a train roof hurtling across India.
do you like to read books? the cinema? what is your favorite actor? your father’s name? mother’s?
The notebook rests in my lap, abandoned, and I beam at the two happy bright utterly interested faces, taking every question seriously. Because questions are very important when you’re seven.
what do you think of india? what time do you get up in the morning?
This goes on for a very long time. The older one loses interest, but the younger pauses to think of questions, reaching into every corner of his brain to see if there’s something left that he might want to know. When I think I may have exhausted his mind, he picks up a new line. I fool him briefly, pretending to be asleep (these are only a sliver of the questions, it went on all afternoon).
Bridget? Bridget? …Bridget? Bridget? Bridget?
what is your city like? do you have big buildings? does everyone in america have brown hair?
I take out my little traveling photo album, which draws the elder back up the ladder to join his brother. They study my family’s faces, tracing their fingers over the wrinkling plastic, and flip the pages until they discover the Chicago postcards. I try to explain America’s visual diversity ––
there are people with orange hair??
Rithik uses a page of my notebook paper to tell my fortune, something almost exactly like MASH, the American count-to-eliminate-your-options game I played as a kid. The future looks good, although I can’t quite tell what it is.
Children everywhere, if not the same, have a lot in common.