Sunday, January 29, 2012

One Day in Late January

The sun came out on Friday. When we first got up, it was so cold we saw frost on our neighbor's roof and on the grass. We bundled ourselves for the trips to school and work.

The doors were all locked at work. A meeting. New carpet being installed in the building, so I made my way in through a back door where workers were wreaking havoc on the our offices. The seniors were arriving, so I let them into the reception area and in out of the cold, but we had nowhere to go. The room I was told I could have was in complete disarray. Made my way through the chaos and to my desk, turned on the computer, sat for a minute to figure out what to do.

Across the street is a donut shop. The sign claims them to be heavenly. Together, we picked up our lunch (delivered every Friday morning) and crossed the busy street. Hot, weak, diner coffee was poured for us, along with a couple of Lipton teas. No "buna-shai" here; we're in America, y'all. Our seniors unbundle themselves from their winter gear. We find seats. I deliver the drinks, the plastic tray of a couple dozen donut holes (my favorite as a pudgy Mississippi young-un). The sun. Oh, the sun. Blue sky outside on this dingy, busy corner in East Portland.

A senior points out that across the street our newest member is looking for us. I grab my coat but leave my purse. I jaywalk over there to collect her and bring her to us. She's Liberian, a recent widow. Knee-replacement surgery and lost 100 pounds. Arrives late every Friday due to her 9am zumba class at her community center. She takes my arm and we jaywalk back to the donut shop. I order more coffee, one for her and finally one for me. More donut holes. Everyone is talking. The sun is still shining. I pull out my new phone and start snapping some pictures of the lovelies I'm spending my Friday morning with. The old lady from Shashamene puts her arm around my head and kisses my face. She says she's my mother, me her daughter. She kisses me again. Her friend sitting across from us wants me to take his photo, so to get ready, he puts on his sunglasses and pulls out a pen from his jacket. He leans back, chin raised, holds the pen as if he's about to sign new legislation assuring equal rights for all refugees and assylum seekers in the world. I snap the photo. We look at it, and he laughs.

Our Eritrean elder arrives at his usual 11am time, having successfully found us but wondering what the hell we're doing in the donut shop. Another coffee. He eats the last powdered sugar donut holes, and we all leave together to the main office for lunch in the echoey gym. Our new Iranian ESL teacher arrives and teaches a lesson about family, food, traditions. It's a conversation. She does a good job. The strong sun is slanting in from the southern windows, and while the East Africans arrange seats for themselves in the shade, our Liberian elder places her chair away from everyone else, directly in the warmest spot available, the winter sun blazing down on her.

She comes with me to run my final work errands. She comes with me to my house where I get tea, apples, cheese sticks, and our son. On the way, she told me all about her husband, her kids. We talk adoption and church. I take her to her house, which is close to our daughter's school. She invites us in, and having some time to kill, we go inside and meet her two dogs, one of whom claims my lap as hers. I admire the photos of President Obama, the Jackson Five, and her other loved ones on her walls.

Abe and I have twenty more minutes before Beti's school is out, so we go to a hipster-central coffeehouse down the street, a place known for their pies. We sit at the counter together, and I think about that line from Twin Peaks, "This is where pies go when they die." It must be true. This cherry pie with whipped cream was that good. Abe and I race up the street in the sunshine to the car.

School lets out. Abe gives Beti her cheese stick. Parents talk. Gaggles of kids run in packs. The sun makes the time pass quickly. Before we know it, it's been an hour and a half, and some of us hear talk about an indoor soccer game being organized. In spite of the sun, our feet are getting cold, so the remaining kids on the playground and their parents go inside to the gym where we end up staying for another hour and a half. I sit against the wall listening to veteran parents discussing who's who among the staff, teachers, who you want your kid to get, who's retiring, all really interesting stuff. The organizers of the game let our little four-year-old play his strategy of taking frequent breaks from shuffling around the floor with his hands in his pockets. Our big-kid is so good and competitive that everyone swears she must have played before.

As we're getting ready to finally go home, Beti says she wants to go tell her teacher goodbye. I explain that I'm sure she's not there anymore because what teacher would be still at the school at 6pm on a Friday afternoon? Beti insists she's still there. To prove her wrong, I say, "Come on, let's walk down to her room, and I'll show you." Beti runs into the open door to tell her teacher goodbye, the type of teacher who is still in her room at 6pm on a Friday afternoon, organizing and planning for the next week. We chat for a while. She's close to retirement with her own kids all grown and out of her house, so she said she doesn't feel a big rush to get home and prepare dinner for kids anymore. She's the most "zen" teacher I've ever met. Earlier in the afternoon, one of those veteran parents described her as one of the two best teachers in the school. We're lucky and hoping our little guy gets her next year too.

As we walk out of the building with the family whose son is in Beti's class, it's completely dark and freezing cold again. We talk about how that corner needs a streetlight. We scramble quickly into our cars and turn on the heat. We mosy away, talking about where to get dinner. Take-out chain-store pizza and breadsticks await us. The kids are ecstatic. They drink flat 7-up with their pizza, excitedly blabbering about how "this drink has sugar in it!" Hey, it's Friday night.

A cold Friday night in January. The sun shone that day.


Julie said...

Your writing is like a delicious donut hole sprinkled with sugar. Thank you.

Semi-feral Mama said...

What an amazing day. What an amazing life. What an amazing writer.

hotflawedmama said...

ditto SFM.

Adrian said...

I was right there with you - thanks for sharing your gift.

Claudia said...

ah, this is astonishingly beautiful in every way.