It’s 1987, I am five years old. My parents and I live in a compound of townhouses, set in identical rows, in a town in northern New Jersey. From the balcony, we can see Manhattan across the water. So close but so far. We are generally liked in the neighbourhood, a welcome novelty, one of the only Indian families living within these gates.
The compound has a little playground, covered in wood chips and shaded with trees. There’s also a swimming pool that opens every summer, only three to five feet deep, and even though the changing rooms smell more like chlorine than the water, mothers complain of their kids developing foot fungus by the time August comes around. I swim poorly, resembling a float more than a fish, but it’s good to have a little respite from the blazing sun.
The other children go swimming every day, but I am not allowed to. When I ask why, my mother explains that my hair takes too long to wash. Once or twice a week to the pool is enough, she says. I sulk by the window, watching my friends disappear on their bicycles.
“Why don’t you let her go?” our neighbour asks my mother. My mother is incredulous. “Go to the pool? Every day? No, no. She’ll become black.” Our neighbour’s mouth falls open.
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