The Chipper Kid
After finishing a tasty butter masala dosa from a small shop on the side of a busy road, I decided to wash it down with fresh, oily chips. A man stood outside of the chip stand with a huge wok and managed to fry the potato slices perfectly. He stirred and flipped the chips with his left hand and played on his phone with his right hand.
I walked up to the chip stand – eager to try the fresh chips that I had already heard so much about. The stand has two big roll up doors and a high plastic counter that is made of containers of chips. As I took the last two steps up to the edge of the counter, I saw a young boy with a brilliant smile. “Nim'ma ādēśa ēnu?” he said beaming. He looked at my neck, then reached across the counter and pointed downwards at my arm. He was the fourth kid that day who asked about my birthmark. So I told him, “Oh, it’s just a birthmark.” He cocked his head and it was clear that he is confused. He repeats his question with his big grin, “Nim'ma ādēśa ēnu?” It is not uncommon for people to have trouble understanding that a birthmark can be red, and since the language barrier was clearly very strong, I tried another explanation. I lift my arm above the counter and explain while pointing to my arm, “So it’s just a birthmark, like when I came out – when I was born it was just there.” He smiled again and laughed a little. He looked at his father who was also working at the chip stand, father just shrugged and shook his head. But clearly, the boy still didn’t understand, because he repeated the question again! “Nim'ma ādēśa ēnu?” This went on, without exaggeration, for about five minutes. Other customers came and went while I continued to try to explain a red birthmark to a ten-year-old boy who did not speak a word of English.
One customer attempted to help, but she could not figure out what the confusion was. She came and went. Another older customer hopped off his motorcycle and came to the counter. I asked him, “Can you please help me understand?” He nodded his head, so I gestured at the boy to repeat his question about my birthmark, “Nim'ma ādēśa ēnu?” The older customer turned back to me and told me, “He wants to know what you want to order.” At this point, I realized that I spent the last 5 minutes explaining a birthmark to a poor kid who just wanted to sell some chips. And I further realized that, he never actually pointed at my arm he was pointing at the containers of chips that made up the counter. I hurriedly ordered 40 grams of plain salty chips and the kid visibly relaxed. He no longer had a monkey dancing in front of his store pointing at arm, pausing to think, and then pointing at his arm again. I gave him my best “Dahnyavad,” and he gave me one more big kind grin, and I left.