Sore-throated and restless, our hero today discovers the root.
He moved to a new city last week, and has been learning the language. Technically, it’s an old city, old language, since his family is from here originally. For this, something tells him he has returned to the city, although it is his first time ever outside of his, of his . . . of what would normally be considered a hometown. For him, however, his new apartment is his only home. This doesn’t bother him.
In it, he mumbles to himself. Then, he grumbles half-tired as he puts on slippers. He didn’t slept that nor hasn’t sleep any night in weeks, even before the move, soon after his job offer. This does worry him a little, but not as much as something else.
A job makes a fantastic excuse to do or not do anything. He interviewed over video, wearing the same sweat pants he has on now. The job begins this very day. This worries him, too, but not as much as the something else.
Outside, a roar of trucks and clank of construction, couples kissing in the morning dew, newspapers hitting mail. Inside, a tea kettle whistles. His private little head senses and labels the things around him. A fork becomes a fork, a kitchen counter extends, and sunlight enters to blanket the brown floor tiles. Meanwhile, an bag of coffee perfumes the kitchen. It crinkles in his hand, the bag. His mouth, it waters. He remembers living with roommates and mutters, the kitchen looks clean. No cockroaches, no dirty dishes, not a speck, just span. Just grounded beans, but oh shit, they spill all over the floor on accident. That’s the last of the coffee, no more clean kitchen. That sucks, but the worst is yet to come.
In this moment, and not just in this moment, his biggest frustration is not knowing the new language of the new city. How was he supposed to work the new job? How was he supposed to fit in? Do anything? He didn’t necessarily lie. During the interview, they looked at his last name, said it was good, done.
In the simplest scenario, not knowing the language is a problem because you couldn’t even communicate to a friendly neighbor that things around you are spilling or breaking, much less know how to ask for spare coffee. In another scenario, you couldn’t ask your real cute neighbor on a date. We already know working would be near impossible. But, on the deepest level, really, the problem with a new language comes from feeling confined to the very vocabulary of the old language. Everybody else, people less intelligent, less refined, less global can speak it, so why, why, why not us?
Like a mute in a conversation, like the lame in a race, he just couldn’t. If only he could complain, like a normal person, using the language of the normal people around him, things would be better. Until then, everything appears as it should, as it always has: fork is fork, spit is spit, broken is broken, unspoken, words rotting in his head, in his, his . . . in what would normally be considered his mother tongue. But in reality, his mother never taught him the words she had learned in school, so instead he grew up learning, apart from her, someone else’s words. Now he is here, for what, c’mon, to get back to something he never had. Some roots.
What is sometimes called a teacup, our hero attempts to return to its cupboard, but fumbles. It smashes against the coffee bean floor. What do you call shards of ceramic in the new language? He curses in the old language. At the window, for no reason, he launches a loogie, smack. What do you call loogies? He examines the spittle spanked against the windowpane, puts his eyeball as near as a microscope over it, and examines the glistening droplets falling. What are those?
Stepping back, the bits of ceramic crunch under his soles. Sharp pain. He bumps into a chair. The chair falls. So does our hero. The room turns in slow motion as the back of his head lands on a tile, meanwhile a slipper flung in the air, slowly, tenderly, alights on his face with a thud.
In the living room, a clock chimes. The slipper stinks. No matter what, BO is BO by any other name.
What some people call dizzy, he feels, dragging himself to the bathroom, his shoulder leaving what in our language we call a streak. Bump on his head.
What do you call beer gut? He didn’t know. He grabbed his with both hands and shook the thing up and down. The razor, the trimmer, and a pair of scissors told him without words to cut down on whatever the thing is that we call fat. The three potato dinners, though, those stayed. And toilet? The hungry bowl swirled a thirty yes. He brushed his teeth and hair. Mumble meanwhile he continued to do, incoherently.
What do you call, never mind, pornography is pornography in almost any language. And finally some silence. The shades drawn, slacks and tie neatly folded in bed, our hero kneels before his alter, prayer stick in hand. There is time.
At last, clarity of mind receives him. Unnamed tissues curl and fold. Nuts cupped, he gets up. Sunlight, that polyphony, crystal colored, breaks through the blinds to extinguish the darkness with an English rainbow.
A knock at the door, our hero waddles. There is no one there. Only a box of tea, a smiley face drawn on it, laid carefully on the doormat.
He remembers the hot water. There is none left. He opens the tap. Starts again. Good thing tea is tea is tea, or chai.
Tea from the motherland, his new home, the old city. How nice, a friendly neighbor, a sort of root.
He adds a burst of lemon, a spoonful of sugar, spins. Time passes, as in any language, any city, the same. It is time to greet strangers on his walk to work. At least, he can do that. For now, he will do that. Grow from there, to here.