Home - a place to call your own. After living away for 2 years from the heart of my heart, Bombay, I’m faced with moments of existential crisis from time to time.
“This is not familiar. How am I supposed to react to this? Do I play it cool? Pretend like I know everything that is happening or do I seek out assistance?” – a thought that plagues me more often than not. In a country that encourages you to validate your own tickets, bill your own postage, make your own salad and even construct your god damn bed frame right from scratch, it’s a given that you need to get shit done yourself. Period. Independence is not just a virtue to be admired, it is the way of life.
On a 7-hour flight from Seattle to Newark, I was contemplating what it meant to be a first generation immigrant. Lydia Minatoya warned me about the identity crisis that slowly engulfs you without giving any notice. She was very clear that the only way to survive was to adapt but we have this terrible habit of holding on to the past. In an effort to cling to what we know, we let go of the beauty of a new culture. Can we be our past, present, and future at the same time?
I waited at the baggage carousel wondering how elated I would feel if this was Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. With this cloud of rumination hanging over my head, I got out at Level 2 Door 3 to greet my cab driver.
“How are you, Miss Beautiful? I’ve been waiting for you. How was your flight?” he beamed at me with the brightest smile I’d seen all week. My body stiffened in milliseconds. My mother always told me to be extremely wary of friendly strangers after midnight. The tall man quickly hauled my luggage and we were off. As the car slowly moved out of the terminal, I checked my messenger to see who I could text in case things went south.
“Are you from India?”
“I’m live in Jersey City but yes, originally from Bombay, India.”
“I love Indians! Are you in Technology? I could tell the moment you said the destination is Newport.”
I laughed awkwardly. Yes, of course, we all stereotype. The flight was exhausting and my eyes were drooping.
“You know I was in Technology too. I did IT for 7 years. But my certification expired and then I had to figure out a way to pay the bills. America has made it so difficult with all these certifications. But I’m studying for it. I’ll get back into it soon.”
I nodded not knowing what certifications were needed to be a professional IT guy.
“I’ve applied for my H1-B visa this year. It’s a difficult process. So I know what you mean. They make it really hard for you to be here. Where are you from originally?”
“I’m from the Caribbean. My family is back home. My mom and 3 sisters. I visit them once a year. It feels good to go back home to family, you know. To see them happy, to pray together and eat meals together. Family is everything to me.
That’s why I’m here, you know. I did my Master’s and then learnt welding side by side, to get money for school. I also drive limousines in the night.”
“Oh! How come you’re driving a Lyft today?” I got out of my reverie after his last explosion of words.
“My friend, you know, young guy from Nigeria. Did his double masters. Has been jobless for 6 months. He can’t go back home… they’ve spent so much money here. His mom passed away because of cancer 10 days ago. He’s been too depressed.
I told him, you need to get out man. Get some work done. You’re not here to be depressed.
So I gave him my limousine shift for the night. He’ll get $150 out of it. I thought I’ll pick a few passengers from the airport instead.”
“Yeah. You’re right. That’s very kind of you.”
“We all got to help each other out a little. But you know, god helps those who help themselves. I can only give him work like this. I can’t give him a job. Or can’t give him money, you know. Work is all I’ve got,” a wave of imperceptible goodness radiated from him.
“There’s no shame in work. We are not Americans. All we have is education and work. My boss at the construction company tells me you don’t need education. He tells me I have a job then why do I do night school and all these certifications. I should be happy with this work. But I tell Paul that education is everyone’s right. Education is what pushes generations forward. If we want good change, then we need more people to be educated. We… Miss we… understand that because we come from a place where everyone doesn’t get everything easily.”
“You work very hard. That’s amazing! I wish more people could be like you,” my heart started swelling with an unexpected force.
“Never be shy of any opportunities that come your way. The work can be big or small. You can wait around trying to get the work you think you deserve. We all want to be in high rises and wear suit and ties. I drive trucks and big buses. Take odd jobs. Small jobs add up to a big one,” he was talking more to himself than he was talking to me now. I think he just wanted someone to listen. So, I was listening, at the edge of seat with my chin plopped on my hand that rested on my knees.
“Focus. I never forget why I’m here. You got to keep hustling, you know. Like a horse in a race with blinders. So you don’t look to the right or left and get distracted. You look straight ahead. And run as fast as you can to get to where you want to be. Don’t worry about who’s doing what or how rich your friends are, just do what you got to do.”
My vision was getting blurry. I gulped down a bittersweet dose of reality and muttered, “Yes.”
“My friend was dumped by his girlfriend recently. They were dating for 3 years. But she kept pushing him for an engagement ring. He promised her they would get married. He wanted to become something before they settled down, it was a new job. She got anxious and dumped him. Now, he’s struggling with confidence and not doing enough at work. Why do women do that? Anyway, I’ve been talking a lot! We’re here already.
It was great talking to you, Miss. If you ever need me, here’s my card.”
“Thank you for driving me home. Have a good evening,” I smiled and strolled my carry on bag inside the building lobby. The elevator doors were open. My muscle memory took over, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. After a minute of walking on auto-pilot mode, I was standing in front of my apt.
I knocked on the door, “Anyone there? I’m home.”