-Telugu Original by DrK.Geeta
-English Translation by Madhuri Palaji
It’s been a week since we moved to America. Surya was going to the office in the morning with a lunch box and returning by six in the evening.
‘Why don’t you go to the park for a nice walk instead of lazing around in the house? You can meet new people. Nidhi also won’t feel bored so much,’ he said.
‘I am truly confused about the world, not sure if this is all real or a dream,’ I said.
‘Oh, come on, Priya! That’s jetlag. If you are really sleepy, set the alarm and sleep for a couple of hours,’ he said with an edge of irritation in his voice and then went out locking the door behind him.
In fact, there were plenty of things to do. When we relocate to a new place, it takes plenty of work to restart life, isn’t it?
In spite of that, waking up in the morning, cooking, eating, sleeping again… this was my daily routine. If I continued to sleep day and night, I would get used to this. I decided not to sleep during the day, no matter what.
After he left for the office, I took a bath and came out to stand on the balcony. No matter how long I waited, I didn’t see anyone – I could only hear loud music in some foreign language. May be from the house next to ours or from the one on the other side.
I picked a nice shirt and pants from the new clothes I bought before coming to America, ironed them and wore them.
While I was walking down the stairs, a short, heavy-built woman looked at me and silently smiled at me.
I said, ‘Hello!’
‘Ola’ she replied.
‘Where do you live?’ I asked in English.
She indicated the building two houses away from ours, in response.
I showed our house number.
She nodded her head like she already knew.
When I was about to talk more, she took the stairs and disappeared into her house. But Nidhi was pulling my hand calling impatiently, ‘Park – Park’. So, I left.
The park was adjacent to the apartment right across the road.
Surya insisted saying, ‘Do not cross the roads wherever you want. You must cross only at the signal.’ Another woman with her two kids, was crossing the road along with us at the signal walking towards the same park. Nidhi wanted me to pick her up, so I could not talk to that woman.
It was eleven in the morning. The sun was shining very bright. But it was also windy. I felt cold. I took out the sweater from my bag, wore it and covered my ears with a muffler. The park was almost empty with every few people and a couple of kids entering and exiting. Different types of faces and different types of languages.
Again, the next day, I tried to talk to a few people but neither I could speak their language nor they understood mine. I realized for the first time that all people in America do not speak English.
I kept a notebook and started writing whatever thoughts crossed my mind.
‘Hello,’ said a voice and I turned my head to see who it was. It was the woman who was crossing the road with me yesterday. Two kids – both looked younger to Nidhi.
She looked like an European.
‘Can I sit here?’ she asked, indicating the bench I was sitting.
I was relieved that she could speak English, and I happily started talking to her.
‘I’m Catherine. This is Paul and she is Sammy,’ she introduced herself and the kids.
The kids had blonde hair and blue eyes. They looked like dolls in the shop. Nidhi was busy playing with them already in the sand.
‘Are you new here?’ she asked.
‘Yes, how did you know?’
‘Nobody covers their ears here in the month of April.’
She was right. Almost everyone wore clothes covering only half of their bodies. But since I am from a very hot place, this weather felt colder. I told her the same.
‘Why did you move here?’ she asked.
‘We had to move because of my husband’s job.’ I replied.
‘No.. no.. I meant, why are you here in Mountain View? Usually Indians prefer Sunnyvale or Cupertino.’
‘Why are you in Mountain View?’ she asked again.
To be honest, I didn’t know the answer to that question then, so I smiled and remained silent.
‘Many don’t live in this area. Especially not in that apartment. Spanish people live there – I mean, only Mexicans live there.’ she said.
‘Is it? Why don’t others live here?’ I asked.
‘You’ll know eventually. Did you get acquainted with any of your neighbors?’ she asked. When I said, ‘No,’ she said, ‘Good. This is my phone number. You can come to visit our house anytime.’
While leaving, she turned to me and said, ‘Be careful. Beware of whom you make friends with.’
When I was walking back home, I could hear Spanish people talking in their houses. I wanted to learn their language. I always wanted to learn different types of languages right from my childhood. Whenever people of different languages came to our village, I used to go to their home and tried to learn at least a little bit of their language.
One day, I saw a woman wearing a nighty and feeding her baby in her arms, in the corner of a verandah. I immediately approached her and said HI. As soon as I saw the jewellery she was wearing, I could tell that she was an Indian. Moreover, they were Telugu. I felt very happy.
She introduced herself and said that her name was Vyshnavi and that she, too, was from Hyderabad. But my happiness didn’t last long. All the time she spoke to me, she only talked about the Spanish people around us.
“I didn’t have proper sleep yesterday night. My daughter was crying all night. Do you know why? There was music and a lot of noise outside. There was a party going on in the house below us. Didn’t you hear all the noise?” she asked.
She told me not to talk to them at all. She mentioned that they do small jobs for their living and told me to be careful with them. She also said that they are going to move to a different place very soon.
“What do you mean I should be careful?” I asked.
“What can I tell you? What if they harm you for money?” she said.
I was already friends with Alicia and her family, the lady whom I met on the stairs in the first week when we moved here. She used to talk to me in broken English.
I invited over to our home for a coffee. She felt very happy. She was about to wash the cup she drank coffee in. I said no and took the cup from her hands.
She invited me to her home very affectionately. She signaled to tell me that their house is not as beautiful as ours. I said that I would still love to go.
Apparently, they have been living in that apartment for the last fifteen years. There was a bad odour in their home. The carpet was dirty and dark. The house was messy with clothes, shoes and a lot of other stuff everywhere. It took awhile for me to get used to those surroundings. Then she told me that she, her husband, her brother-in-law’s family, eldest daughter, two kids, younger son, all in all, about eleven people live in that apartment. Everyone does some or the other work to meet their basic needs. She said that sometimes they don’t find work and at those times, the person who is earning takes care of the entire family. She also said that she can perform activities involving bending since she met with an accident a couple of years ago.
The apartment had two very small rooms and a small hall-cum-kitchen. It looked smaller because of the mess in it. In fact, our apartment is also similar but it is more than enough for the three of us.
She said that the members of the family pay a hundred dollars each for the rent. I felt so sad. I couldn’t speak further. She looked at my face and said, “Oh.. it’s okay. These things are normal in this country.”
I was introduced to the other members of that family. Everyone talked to me with great affection.
We bought furniture that week. We were carrying the furniture from the stairs. Alicia immediately called her family members for help as soon as she saw us.
Her husband and kids carried the furniture to our home two floors above, though we were no one to them.
I went to the elementary school in that area to join Nidhi in the school. I met a couple of Indian parents on that campus.
The same thing happened there, too.
They said that Spanish kids also attend that school and hence the school is not at all a good choice. They said they are going to change their kids to another school in a different area by next year.
There is a government school designated to each area. Everyone who comes under that area must attend that school only. There is a school for a mile radius. The infrastructure was very good in the school with good facilities in the area. Moving to another area just because there were spanish people here felt very foolish to me.
Still, I wanted to understand what the problem is with the Spanish people.
These Spanish people who were hated so much came from Mexico or South America and settled in California either legally or illegally. They do not have much education. They are hard working people who earn ten to twenty dollars by doing painting, garden cutting or house-hold jobs. It’s just that they work independently instead of working through registered agencies and that is why they are cheaper. They are not like Indians who came to America for higher education and settled for highly paid jobs. Caucasians who are said to be middle and higher class do not mix themselves with Spanish people. They are almost like the middle class people in India.
I read about racism against black people in my childhood textbooks. Black people were less than one percent in the area where we live. There is no racism towards them these days. So, I thought there is no racism in America. But as the time passed by, I realized that there is a lot of racism here.
In fact, people started objecting to me when I mentioned my interest in learning Spanish. But I slowly started understanding their language talking to Alicia’s family and friends.
An Indian family from Surya’s office visited us one Sunday for lunch.
“Why is your daughter playing with those Spanish kids?” asked that woman.
“They are family friends’ kids” I said smiling.
She immediately changed her expression and called me aside to talk, “Our son went to their school for four days and one day, he showed the middle finger to his father when he yelled at him.”
“Our kids will learn such things quickly. Come to our area as soon as possible,” she suggested.
“No matter how you feel Surya, making friends with people around without knowing their history is very dangerous in this country. You may not know, but if these illegal immigrants commit any crime and are arrested, we will also lose our immigration status for being friends with them,” her husband warned us while we were eating lunch.
After they left, Surya fell into deep thoughts. He tried to tell me something. Alicia interrupted and asked me to go with her, so I went with her. When I returned, I saw that he was in a bad mood.
That night, I remembered the first week when we arrived in America.
My luggage didn’t come along with me when we came. It arrived three days later. They put the luggage on the stairs outside after Surya left for his office. I was exhausted trying to bring those suitcases to the second floor. I paid the price for bringing four suitcases each weighing thirty two kgs.
My Telugu friend’s husband saw me while going out but moved on pretending like he didn’t see me at all.
In the meantime, a Spanish guy who saw me exhausted immediately carried those suitcases, put them in front of the door and left. He didn’t even give me a chance to thank him properly.
I asked Alicia about that guy.
She said she too didn’t know. “How can anyone ignore when you were struggling with those suitcases alone?” she said.
My mom called. I was fine while I was talking to her but as soon as I disconnected the call, I was almost in tears. “How did I come so far away from home?” I couldn’t control my sorrow. Alicia came running to me just about then. Nidhi was holding Alicia’s hand.
She held me to her heart, embracing me while saying something in Spanish. Though I didn’t understand the language, I understood the meaning which meant that they were there for me.
I cannot forget the relief I felt at that moment.
“Is it really necessary for us to move from here? In fact, these people are more loving and caring towards a stranger like me more than the people from my country in this foreign country,” I told Surya that evening.
“Caring is different, living in their neighborhood is different. As long as we don’t know about their community, it is okay. After understanding that, think about how we would feel if our daughter becomes a part of it.” he said.
What could I think? Lower class people’s lives are the same in every country. Poverty appears in their dressing, language and in every step. Outer world is scared of them. Hates them. If one person makes a mistake, they blame the entire community. Though thefts happen everywhere, they are not talked about much.
“We can stay here for six months until the lease is complete. After that, we will move from here.” he said. I absolutely said NO.
“Why do we have to stay so far away from my office and pay so much rent? I am also tired of eating cold food from the box. I heard that there are some good apartments within walking distance. I can happily come home for lunch. I will apply in advance for the apartment that is going to be vacant in a month.” when he told me, I had nothing to say.
My heart was filled with sorrow and pain.
The next day Vyshnavi invited me over to her home along with three other Telugu women on the occasion of Varalakshmi Vratam. She handed me a banana and touched my feet.
She was telling the others that my neighbors were Spanish. I couldn’t stay there anymore. I told her that I had some work to do and left from there.
On my way home, I met Alicia. I gave her that banana and touched her feet.
Though she didn’t understand what it was, she laughed and hugged me tightly.
Madhuri Palaji is a writer and book reviewer from India. Her book “Poems of The Clipped Nightingale” is available on Kindle. She writes book reviews for various publishing houses like Penguin Random House, Meerkat Press, Hot Tree Publishings, Bethany Publishers, etc. She is one of the top 50 book reviewers in India. Her reviews are available at http://www.theclippednightingale.com/