After a few weeks of a nagging loneliness in Quito, I made an effort to find some delicious tea. Tea is warm and alluring and subtle; tea is comforting and fills the empty spaces of the soul. After wandering to several markets, I finally found a tea that was love-at-first-sniff: a black chai, spicy and strong, and the moment I lifted the lid and inhaled the dark aroma, I knew I had found the perfect tea. It has all the exotic taste of the chai I used to drink so often in India; but I’m in Ecuador now, so it lacks the exaggerated sweetness and creaminess of its milky, authentic Indian cousin.
When I get back each evening, inevitably huffing from the steep hill leading to the Casa door, I start the water boiling. I open my window, take off my shoes, and pour my chai. I only drink my tea on the roof, something I swore to myself when I bought it. Going to the roof is like going to therapy. I have to leave my corner, my room, my privacy. It’s three floors up, passing the closed doors of other renters. Sometimes I pause before leaving my room, clutching the steaming mug and standing in silence just inches from the door, afraid to enter the house where Spanish echoes through stairways and the courtyard. I’m about to go out and perform without an audience.
I sit on the roof, on a cold cement bench, and try to look like I’m thinking of something profound. To the right is a kitchen full of character; dirty, cluttered, claimed. Hand prints in bright paints with their owners’ names decorate the walls while an ever-growing stack of books left behind fills the window. There are books in Spanish, English, German, French – all that unites them is dust and neglect. Along one wall is a waist-high barricade of empty bottles, a testament to the nights of revelry fueled by wine and beer. Thriving green plants keep the open cement of the roof outside the kitchen from too dismal a façade. Whenever I hear a noise, I tense up and grip my chai. I sigh, and take a sip.
I am not thinking profound thoughts. The curves of the Andes hide the setting sun while the city begins to flicker. I am not thinking about philosophy, unless it’s to feel guilty for not reading enough. I am not thinking about anything abstract or absurd. I am thinking about home. As the sky grows darker and the lights paint the hills in slender lines of orange and yellow, I am thinking about a place that does not exist.
Sometimes I do not know why I came on this journey. My ideas are muddled and indistinct. Perhaps I thought children who do not know the security and stability of a family could teach me to be happy. If I am honest, though, I think I came on this trip to find children who share my loneliness, to find how they survive, knowing there is no maternal lap in which to lay their head at night, knowing that the darkness of the night does not, may never, yield the silhouette of someone they need not fear. Perhaps I wanted to meet these children and tell them, “I will remember you. I will think about you even when I am far away. Someday, you are going to find a family and you are going to make your own home.”
The cathedral is illuminated, and I take another sip. My family found me. Six angels with green couches and hearts big enough to make space for another bed upstairs; a family that brought me to Paradise, that accepted me with all my flaws and weaknesses and demons. My mother found me. She held a bruised adult who still cried the tears of a 10-year-old. She found the pieces and nudged me to put them back together. Maybe I was just lucky.
Then I stumbled into my family. A Romanian, an Italian, an American, and a rabbit. I stood on a Transylvanian corner and fell in love. We didn’t always understand each other but we understood everything. We laughed at broken eggs and broken hearts. We ran through the streets at midnight and drank champagne on an idling bus. We shared the blessing of a gypsy and then watched as we each drifted our own way, always moving farther away but never growing farther apart.
The wind has taken the warmth from my chai, but I take another sip. The blue and purple draping the black outline of the mountains, dotted with glowing orbs, takes me back to the valley of Nainital. I stood with Prakash, while my small tin-cup of chai lost its heat and I tried to avoid the skin that had formed on the top. We shared subdued laughter about marriage and love while at a wedding. I touched his feet and he cried when I rode away. The pain of leaving a friend never outweighs the bliss of finding one.
I always look across the table, to the cement bench parallel to me, and wonder what would change if someone was there. I wouldn’t think so much, and my heart wouldn’t hurt so acutely. I could share the breath-taking view of a valley enveloped in twilight, but I would probably miss its more entrancing nuances. Perhaps my companion would go back inside, when the warmth of the fading sun yielded to the crisp darkness and the tea had lost its heat. The spice is still there, though, the memories that drown me with each sip.
When my toes are numb, and my mug contains nothing but escaped sediment and my mind, escaped sentiment, I sigh, take a final glance at the glittering mountains, and release myself.