Priya knows that she was still feeling at odds with herself back then. “Time had passed since I’d emigrated, and yet I had long remained terrified there’d be a Trinidadian lurking somewhere who’d see me and report back home to the entire country.” And, so, she hadn’t been forthright with Prakash about her sexuality, neither in particular regarding the woman they both knew, nor generally, regarding her own orientation; as a result, the lingering tension spreads to her current relationship when Priya announces that Prakash will be visiting.
Priya’s present-day partner, Alex, immediately has questions: “You and I, we don’t share a past. I’m impressed that he, a straight married man, the father of three children, would come all the way down here to seek you out after so many years, and he intends to spend a night. What doesn’t make sense is that he’d come on his own, without his family?”
These questions are heard through Priya’s narration but, later, the narrative shifts to afford direct access to Alex’s perspective. That segment of the novel offers some balance and resolution but mostly resides in the need to accept that resolution is often unavailable.
In one sense, Priya and Prakash and Alex are all presented in the process of becoming, forever unspooling:
“When you’re young, it’s inconceivable you’d ever reach your parents’ age, and when you do arrive at the age at which they had once seemed so ancient, the world has changed so much and you realize they were not role models for the changed world you’re living in. There’s triumph and disappointment at once. It’s a miracle we survived our youth and evolved in the ways we have.”
Whether or not these characters have known one another for a few years or for many years, unanswered questions that hover at the margins. What we speak of, how we speak of it, the weight of the unsaid: these things make us who we are. But what happens when we do not understand our own selves—how much can we share?
“As Prakash spoke, I realized that, forty-three years later, in telling this part of his life, he used words that were of a different time and place. Lorry. Jitney. Traders. Hooligans. Words, I thought likely exchanged among people here who’d survived the same experiences, those people he’d told us about whose only bond was this singularly profound and defining experience. I asked him if he had been scared.
‘Yes, yes. I’m coming to all of that,’ he said.”
Here, Prakash is speaking, but Polar Vortex is really Priya saying “Yes, yes. I’m coming to all of that.” With some impatience for having been pressed for explanations. And a swath of emotions that aren’t named, that might only be recognizable when someone else forces an uncomfortable confrontation with what’s been consigned to the past for too long.