This story describes the experience of a little girl in a strange country. Her name and subsequent way of expressing herself is that of an immigrant, one who may not have a very firm grasp of the English language. The story was meant to be seen through the eyes of the little girl. No part of the following work is meant to offend or negate any race, people, or culture.
Apartment #501, Gable’s Austin Colony, Sugar Land, Texas. It was a sunny morning, one of those where the wind was cold enough to make it seem like it was winter still. Little Areeha was sitting, with her knees crossed, aalti paalti, her grandmother called it, right in the middle of the beige-carpeted living room of her parent’s little apartment. It wasn’t much; they had just moved in. Two bedrooms along the far side, an open kitchen, with a small bar where Areeha could already visualize eating her omelet on a high, black-leather bar stool. She was watching TV, the only thing in the small living space besides the chipped-at-the-edges table. It was a borrowed television, a friend of the family had lent it to them. It was Saturday morning, and little A couldn’t help thinking that life was good. The weather was nice – there was a breeze coming in through the sliding glass door that opened into a small balcony. She watched her mother take laundered clothes from a basket and wring them before hanging them up on the clothesline, a green, nylon rope that stretched from one end of the balcony to the other. There was a little bayou that ran right in front of their apartment; about ten feet from their front door, the grassy ground sloped down steeply, ending in a creek-like bayou thirty feet below. It was here that Areeha had found a snake, and her brave big brother had stepped on it with his brown sneaker. Yes, the immigrants were fitting in well, so far.
If one stood on the footpath that led away from their cluster of apartments, and turned to the left, there was a basketball court to be seen, where small children marveled at the shiny-with-sweat bronze-glazed muscles of the Latino boys who wore big sneakers and wore their hair in short, oiled spikes that never moved as they darted back and forth over the blacktop, jumping, yelling, the orange ball a blur of brightness against the dreary background. There was other boys too, the tall, warrior men. Dark as ebony, there pulsed within them a hint of purple, their color like the flowy warmth of dairy milk chocolate. They wore big shorts, falling to below their knees, and even bigger shirts, shirts that Areeha would drown in, with no sleeves and big tick marks on the front. It’s like when the teacher checks my homework, thought little Areeha. When I get something wrong, she puts an X, and when it’s correct, she puts a small red tick. That settled it then. These boys were RIGHT. They were always better at the game too. ‘Ball’ they called it. “We playing ball, Ma. Whatchu want?” she had once heard a boy say into his phone, a lime green thing. They always liked bright colors, these dark men. Colors like the neon lights in front of the salon. Chen Ying Beauty Salon.
Let’s go back to the apartment. Living room. Mama was spreading the wet clothes. She came inside and sat down, deciding not to shut the glass door so that she could enjoy the breeze. And then, all of a sudden, before Barney on the television screen could finish singing I Love You, You Love Me, there was action. That’s all her brain registered. Movement. And a black man. A tall one. Another one. One plus one is two. Two black men. Pink. What? What was pink? She looked up and down. Pink hands, holding her mama. What? Pink hands with a wire, tying up her mama. WHY WERE THEY PINK!? Her mind seemed unable to understand. OH. OH. She saw it now. OH. They were woolen gloves. The man was wearing pink woolen gloves.
What was happening? Her mama was quiet, her face stiff, blank. Her hands were tied up, handcuff-style, in front of her, with the curly cord off of their telephone. She started noticing little things, as her brain made a stunning recovery from not being able to form complete sentences to whirring like a ceiling fan. One man was taller than the other. The short one had that fat-noodle type hair that these people had sometimes. Tall Man was wearing sneakers with the tick. The tick? But this could not be right. Whoever graded him was WRONG. This man was WRONG. She knew because of the gun. She knew what it was. It was a pistol. It was black and she has seen it in all of those movies where the troubled teen took it to a store and aimed it at the cash man, screaming, while women cowered behind shopping carts. So that’s what he was. It took a while to sink in, but as they herded her towards the smaller bedroom, she knew. Tall Man was a troubled teen.
Bedroom. This was her brother’s bedroom, Areeha noted with a small smile. There was a large mattress on the floor, temporary arrangements until they had time to go furniture shopping, and a small walk in closet towards the corner. The men herded them in, and against the wall. Mama was white with nervous tension. She wasn’t afraid though. Areeha could see that in her eyes. Short Man With Big Nose sat on her brother’s mattress, with the gun pointed at them, and Tall Man started rummaging through the closet, throwing a tin coin box around, going through clothes and shoes. Areeha looked at Big Nosed Shortie. She could hear her mama whispering prayers as she stood behind her. He had barely visible eye-brows, small almond-shaped eyes, and big, full lips. Right in the middle of his face, like a large frog, squatted his wide-nostrilled nose. Before she could contain it, the words popped out of her mouth. “MAMA, look at his NOSE!” Her mother yanked her back, towards her body, protectively as the man let out a yelp, covering his nose self-consciously. “Don’t look at my nose!” he said, in more of an unsure highschooler way than a I-am-a-thieving-criminal way. The pistol had been thrust forward, and was now aimed directly at Mama. Mama clutched at Areeha, whispering fervently, “Pray! and stay quiet!” It was a firm command.
Areeha’s focus switched back to the Tall Man. He pulled out a Walkman. Aiwa. To Areeha’s utter astonishment, Mama stepped forward. “NO.” Tall Man looked at her in confusion. Big Nose looked at her in confusion. Even little Areeha looked at her in confusion. What was happening?
Mama’s face was composed, stern, in that Eat your vegetables now look that Areeha knew so well. Her hands were at her sides, and she had stepped past Areeha to face Tall Man up close. “I bought that for my son. It is his present. He worked hard and made honor roll. Put it back.” Calm, clear words. What? The man was confused. He slowly put the Walkman down. Areeha looked at the Walkman. It was silver, and a circle, with a little clear plastic part from where you could see the CD going round and round and round and –
“Why are you doing this?” The words cut through Areeha’s thoughts. It was Mama again. What?! Thought Areeha. More talking? She saw her mother, looking straight at Tall Man, who, for a second, didn’t know what to answer. Just like when I ate the last hotdog even when Mama told me not to, thought Areeha. She felt sympathy prick at her heart. Mama could be tough.
His answer was simple, “I have to pay my rent.”
In the end, they took the TV and a video recorder, but not much else. They cut the phone lines before they left, and Areeha cut her mother out of the telephone-wire-handcuffs as soon as they left. They called the police, Daddy and the neighbors. A Japanese lady came over with cans of pepper spray as a gift, showing them how to use it. A police artist asked Areeha to describe the thieves. This is the world Little Areeha and millions of kids like her have to grow up in.
This is an immigrant’s first week in America, the land of the free.