What Fear Keeps Us From

I see her walking outside.

I notice her because she will not go a step beyond the pavement outside our apartment block.  She will walk the 20 or steps from her front door to the spot where I park my car and promptly turn around and do it again.  I've never been patient enough to observe how many times she does this because I am in Georgia and you avoid being outside when air conditioning is an option.

Yesterday and other times before that, I have seen her just standing on porch staring into space longing for something.  I know what that something is, I have experienced it myself; she is longing for home. Like me, she is an immigrant.

I don't know where home is. It could be India or Sri Lanka. I've seen her in a Sari before but mostly she wears a Salwar Kameez. Her face needs no Botox but you can tell the years she has been through just by looking at her.

I noticed her because of her fear.  She looks uncomfortable whenever anyone walks by her.  Her fear takes on a different urgency when someone that looks like me looks walks by. She walks faster or gets out of the way quickly.

This makes me sad but I have seen it enough to recognize it and call it by name.

I have read enough Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni books and been around enough women from her part of Asia to know that she is new to America and her children have brought her here to either retire or visit.  Maybe her husband has recently died and they do not want her to live alone.  The children have to work all day and so she is left alone happily cooking food for their return but that only fills a small part of her day.  There are to many TV remotes to figure out and even if she figures them out, she doesn't understand most of the programming.  Even the news gets old very quickly.  How many killings, kidnappings, and car accidents can one watch daily and not go numb from?

And so she breaks the monotony by walking her walking her 20 steps forward and 20 steps back. And when she gets tired of sitting down, she steps out to the porch.  This is such a difference from the full life she has left behind.  Back home she has friends and family and her own garden to pick food from or at least give direction to whoever picks it for her.  Back home she has someone serving her. Here, she is the one doing the serving.  But this is America and her children have brought her here. They probably saved for a while and had it all planned out.  This is not something you say no to.  When they send for you, you simply pack your bags and come.

Yesterday I watched her on her porch and thought about how she needed a friend and I could be that. But it is clear from how she becomes jittery and nervous just by walking by me in the past that she has chosen to believe what the TV has told her about people that look like me.  Pair that with whatever she heard about us back in 1965 and I know that if I knocked on her door, she will not open it to me.  This makes me sad for only a moment and then I laugh because we are everywhere, even at this fancy Apartment complex in the affluent suburbs of Atlanta that her children have brought her to. What's even funnier is that we have a beautiful walking trail right here in the complex that she'd enjoy more than this back and forth.

Yesterday I settled on giving her a smile, a wave and a hello as I walked from my car to my apartment.


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