Many Worlds

 

“I know I walk in and out of several worlds each day.”

                                                                      ––Joy Harjo

 

Travel makes the passages between many worlds more apparent. They are always there, within reach, but something about being constantly in motion––and constantly confronted with new experiences––makes the windows and doors between worlds more apparent. I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is how I wander. 

~

A tropical remix of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” comes on the speakers and two by two, Fijian dance couples take to the floor. The fluorescent lights overhead have been wrapped with pink and green streamers such that the light coming through them is dim and colorful.

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The partygoers who have chosen to sit this one out rest on woven mats at the edge of the room, snacking on shortbread cookies and taking long sips from coconut halves full of grog or plastic cups of mango juice.

A Fijian guy grooves over and taps my knees to ask me to dance. I get up and walk into another world, another time: Farmingville Elementary School, the fourth grade spring concert. The cafetorium is hot and thick with the collective breath of a hundred nervous students and their assorted teachers and parents in capris and sundresses.

We practiced the line-up of Disney songs for months: “Be Our Guest” and “Wish Upon a Star” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and a few others I have forgotten.

I tried out for a solo, thinking I wouldn’t get one, and I did! My moment of fame: the closing “weeeeeeeeeeeee-o-eeeeeeee-mum-bo-weh” to round out the song about the sleeping lion in the jungle. It is a complicated task; to get to the microphone, I have to navigate from the uppermost of four levels of risers down to the center of the cafetorium floor.

Meghan opened the song with her solo, an identical version to my own. All is going according to plan. I sing with the whole of my lungs and try not to look out at the audience. Seeing my parents would definitely make me lose my marbles. I vaguely remember our chorus director’s instructions that if we feel nauseous, we are to walk down the center aisle of the audience immediately so as to avoid barfing on our classmates and ruining the song. My stomach turns inside out and back again but miraculously holds. 

Back in Fiji, the song winds on:

Hush my darling

don’t fear my darling

the lion sleeps tonight.

And back in Connecticut, it is my moment to shine. I wave my way through the tightly-packed risers of fourth graders, mumbling excuse me and pardon me at appropriate intervals so that people move out of the way. We had practiced this. I am ready. So ready.

At long last, I find terra firma on the linoleum and walk with almost-confidence to the microphone, removing it from its cradle with my barely shaking hands.

“Weeeeeeeeeee,” I begin. The boombox that accompanies our music charges on… but no sound comes out of the microphone. I recover and tried to pick up “o-eeee,” but it is hopeless. Voiceless, I start to cry. This is not how things were supposed to go. (Bonus points: my dad has the whole thing on tape somewhere.)

Mrs. Bennett, the chorus director, walks over to the boombox to start the song again. “We’re going to do this one more time for Devi,” she smiles. “And Meghan, don’t turn the microphone off this time.”

The second rendition of the song is much, much better.

Back in the sticky, converted dance hall the song is over. I sit against the wall and stretch my toes and smile. A bit of rain from outside drips on my shoulders through the slatted windows. The bass line of a Fijian song vibrates the left side of my body closest to the speaker set. I let my eyes trace the outline of palm fronds and flowers gathered from outside that festively decorate the walls.

I close my eyes and drift in and out of past forms of myself. I am many worlds at once.

~

I move through many worlds. Some are shimmery and difficult to explain. Many are tangible. There are worlds where I eat mangos at every meal and sip from oceans of black tea while I perfect my rudimentary understanding of many languages. There are worlds where I write all day and never stop. In one world I tear through fabrics, all sorts of fabrics: ocean fabrics, clothes fabrics, mosquito netting. There are worlds where I walk and walk and never stop walking, worlds where I am a passenger on a very tippy boat, worlds where I beam messages to people I love in far off places, worlds where I am re-living my mother and my grandmother’s stories, and worlds where I am alone. Worlds of fish. Aquariums. Coral. Turtles. Worlds of silence. Worlds of sleep. Worlds of waking dreams. The passageways between worlds are never twice the same. Sometimes I gain entrance by dancing through. Sometimes I am pushed from behind. Some worlds can only be entered in flight. Wherever I go, my worlds go with me. Wherever I go, I am constantly in motion.

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