On a late fall morning in northern Idaho when the trees are dead, and I am bundled in a scarf that smells of homemade chili paste and Bath & Body Works’ gardenia, there is only one more person beside me at the bus stop. He’s old. He’s white. His frayed jacket matches his blue jeans, his grey beard taps his belly. When he wipes his hands on his jacket, I notice his age spots, like the splatter at a TV crime scene. A good five feet separates us but I imagine if I draw any closer, he will smell of fire and gunpowder, smells I associate with small-town Idaho.
Stay away, Mr. Duck Dynasty, I implore. When I feel his eyes on me, I pull out my phone. I don’t want to make eye contact. I don’t want to talk about the weather. I don’t want to tell him where I am from, “originally.” I absolutely do not want to know how Jesus can save my life. I want to keep scrolling through what Daisy ate for lunch, what Ivan thinks about Oprah’s newest tweet, and all the photos Leila has liked of Henry’s travels to Hawaii.
A raucous flock of Canadian geese bisects the sky. In the New Delhi in which I was raised, the only ducks and geese I knew belonged to poultry farms and the Disney universe. Nobody I knew owned guns either.
We look up at the strange formation the geese are flying in; a triangle, an arrowhead. He chuckles, “Good day for duck hunting.”
Of course it is! I construct Mr. Duck Dynasty’s life from photos I’ve seen of hunter-friends on Facebook. I give him a truck, a freezer the size of Idaho, a camouflage jacket tie-dyed with blood. I see him alternate between holding up a fishing rod from which dangles a silver trout, or a still-smoking gun responsible for a dead moose.
What if Duck Dynasty is armed right now? Hastily, I recompose myself. I smile. I hope it’s not too late to be sweet. “Is that right?” I say, “Unfortunately, I have never gone duck hunting.” As if I have hunted everything else on the planet. My fingers clutch my phone tighter. I should tweet something meaningful in case tomorrow’s headline ends up being, “Shots Fired at Idaho Bus Stop; Woman from India Dead.”
The bus turns the corner, heads our way. In a voice so low I can barely hear him, the man says, “I wouldn’t know, you know. I don’t hunt. I’d rather watch ‘em fly.”
The doors swing open. He boards the bus, the frayed threads of his jacket swishing in the breeze. I realize I don’t know the color of his eyes. I never did make eye contact. I imagine they carry less judgement than mine.
Sayantani Dasgupta is the author of Fire Girl: Essays on India, America, & the In-Between—a Finalist for the 2016 Foreword Indies Awards—and the chapbook The House of Nails: Memories of a New Delhi Childhood. Her writings have appeared in several national and international publications and she teaches in the MFA program at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Website | Twitter
Photo by Seth Schulte.