It was in September, a few days after the eleventh, that I traveled to Oklahoma for the first time. Almost immediately, the hushed appearance of the place struck you. The airport, otherwise alive with the buzz of connectivity in any other city I had visited, stood still here, as if silently awaiting ghost passengers. Glowing neon signs welcomed you to Oklahoma. Behind one, a conveyer belt produced the baggage of precisely six people. A few days before, my brief had appeared simple enough: to convince my sister to stay in Norman, Oklahoma. As the taxi sped down wide and desolate roads with low-lying buildings and grey warehouses, I realized this trip was not going to be easy.
Her room was a windowless space in a square low-rise apartment block. There was a tornado warning on, so we sat in her room, had tea and played hindi mp3s. Govinda and Karishma Kapoor filled it, and it occurred to me that the music was an artificial attempt to win over silence. Oklahoma at night had a heavy quietness about it, a weight lessened only by human company. We both realized this, turned down the volume, and talked.
Over the next few days we shopped, drove to Dallas, were caught in a fierce rain storm on a desolate single-lane highway, visited malls and restaurants. Everything was far away. Coming from close but comfortable cities, the vastness of Oklahoma was disorienting. Even people seemed distant. Five years younger than me, she found the adjustment too great to make.
One night we walked back to her apartment from a nearby tornado shelter after an hour-long alert. The street lights were dim and the roads once again empty. Heavy metal blasted out the door of a bar, but there was no other sound, barring the crunch of gravel as we approached the dour building. A week had passed since my arrival and each day I found convincing her tougher. She was what? Seventeen? There would be plenty of time to study in the future. I called up the parents and told them she would return to India. They were tired by now, of the uncertain mind of a teenage daughter, but welcomed her return. Why don't you come along for a month as well, they said to me, for we had not met for a year. Now seemed as good a time as any. New York had been battered recently and the job market had been affected. I agreed.
We celebrated quietly at a diner that night, where she devoured waffles and pancakes greedily. Those last days were full of excess, where she hungered for things she wouldn't, and did not want to, see again. I would have done the same had I known the visit would turn out to be a migration.