“I support you fully,” says the voice on the voicemail. Her call waiting beeps on ‘support’ but I can still make it out. Walking through Times Square I need that support right now. Hours earlier, for the first time in years a movie had made me cry. I walked this same street afterwards, cursing everything this country stands for then retreated to my cavern to brood. Six hours behind the blinking lights, as the music attempted to soothe my soul. It only worked partially.
Walking east on 42nd street now, I’m happy someone has left the lights on. The studio does that. The darkness. It’s why I go. The bright lights of the city night are not the sunshine the message told me to find, but they will have to do. Looking at my watch it is after one in the morning. But it was the right time.
* * * * *
Why my momma have to be like that? Doesn’t she know how much it hurts him. Look at him. He won’t even look at me now.
“Times are hard on everyone, we’re doing the best we can,” I tried to explain.
“And the best you can is a mechanic. I understand.” She said it like he wasn’t even there, as if our kids weren’t sitting right across from her. “I never thought I’d bring my family to this country, where dreams are supposed to come true, so that my daughter could marry a mechanic.” She says this in the spanish we speak when we’re back home.
He’s a good man. He works hard to provide for me and the kids. He loves and respects us, doing everything he can to make us happy, but she never approves.
“Where’s is family from again?”
No matter what, she’ll come down on him. I hate to see him like this. I know he’ll get over it but I just don’t like to see him so hurt, especially when he has done nothing to deserve it. The kids are almost asleep, they don’t notice, but I do. I try to stroke him calm, but he just sits quietly eating away at the orange with his little knife. We just need to get home and this train is going local. Where are we? Bleeker. That’s a whole forty-five minutes before we get home. Mama, why do you have to be so mean to him.
* * * * *
“What are you doing about it then?” Mohammed asks me sarcastically in our native tongue. He is drunk; we all are. The MEIG open bar we are coming from served us well. On our own we would have probably passed out, but together we support each other, sort of. “You’re sitting in the land of cream and honey trying to get everything you can.” Everyone else is fading in and out, but Mohammed is going strong, reveling in his drunkness which, sooner or later, only leads back to the source.
Tension in the Middle East are getting worse and more people are dying because of it. It was a world reality many of our families came to America to escape. But the tension was pulling us in, even at this distance.
“Have we succeeded in this America?” Mohammed asks. “Or are we hiding and pretending? Sure we’ve got money now and we throw these MEIG parties to flaunt success at each other like good Americans.” The 4 train had pulled in to the station. We boarded the first car. “But when they look at us they know we are not them. We’re not ‘American.'” He stumbles as the train takes off holding ‘American’ in quotes. We take up a whole row of seats, Mohammed and I in the center. “To them we still are where we come from, ‘the Middle East'” Again held in quotes, switching to english to get the trains attention before returning to our native. “American weapons are being used to kill our people. This means us. We’re a part of the problem. So the look at us different no matter how much we succeed. Take him for example….”
* * * * *
“Excuse me,” one of the drunk men says to daddy. But he is in one of those abuela moods that doesn’t go away for three or four days after we visit her. He raises his eyes toward the drunk man without raising his head. When he does this to us we know not to bother him. The drunk man goes back to talking funny with his friends. Mama tries to comfort daddy, rubbing her hand on his forehead. She’s always close to him in these moods. I don’t like to see him in these moods, but I love to see her that close to him.
“Do you?!” One of the drunk men is yelling at daddy again. It is as if he thinks daddy could understand their funny talk. But daddy is in abuela mood; he just keeps picking at his orange with the little knife.
One of the drunk men stumbles to his feet. “What? You can’t even speak to us? We’re not American enough for you?” The drunk man bumps into daddy’s leg, but daddy just kept eating his orange. I nudged Antonio awake. He always complains about missing this kind of stuff. “But you dirty like us. One day they will bomb you too, and the whole country will be yelling ‘kill the spics!'” Daddy looks in my eyes, takes a deep breath, closes his eyes and returns to his orange just shaking his head. Mama is inching us away from daddy and the drunk men.
“You think you a big man because you got knife,” one of the other drunk men was says. “Fuck you! You are shit! Your knife shit! Fuck you! Fuck people like you! Fuck America!” The train is pulling into a station and all the drunk men are standing up to get off mumbling in english and the funny language. They keep looking at daddy who just sits there in abuela mood eating his orange with his knife as we pull into the station.
* * * * *
Music is calming my nerves. I change the tape to the newly unwrapped “Kid A” and press play just as the lights appeared down the tunnel. Distorted voices over vintage sounds and then lyrics, “Everything/ everything/ everything in its right place.”
The train pulls into the station the doors open. Something is about to happen.
As I step on the train five middle eastern guy’s get off, one door down, shouting back into the car, but I only hear music. Inside I see a man sitting eating an orange by himself while a woman is standing up with her two kids. It is too late, I am already in it.
The soundtrack is playing. Lyrics: “there are two colors in my head.” One of the middle eastern guy’s pops his head in the middle door as, ‘ding dong’ they close. He spits at the man with the orange. The woman rushes her kids down by me. The doors open. The same guy spits again at the man. The spitting man is urging the sitting man to come outside. I stop the soundtrack.
“You shit!!!” The spitting man yells.
The little boy with the woman looks me in the eye on the verge of tears. We both wanted to do something. The sitting man stands up and they are fighting.
‘Ding-dong-ding-ding-dong;’ open and closed and open and closed. Then the sitting man is walking toward us.
“I cut him,” he says. “I just wanted to chill but he kept spitting. Are you okay?” He asks the woman. I see the spitting man outside the car, holding his cut hand. He’s still trying to get the man with the knife off the train.
“Just stay in the car,” the woman says. The driver is on the PA system trying to get the conductor to close the doors. But it’s too late. Someone had said the magic words – “get the police.”
Fifteen minutes after that the woman, the sitting man’s wife, is kissing him as the cops put him in handcuffs. Fifteen minutes after that the whole car is trying to convince the officers of the sitting man’s innocence. Fifteen minutes after that the search is on for the wife after the man sitting across from me tells the officers, “well he gave the knife to his wife.” The whole car thinks, some of us out loud, “what the fuck did you tell them that for?” Fifteen minutes after that the train pulls out of the station, the sitting man still in handcuffs. He’s going to jail.
Between 86th and 125th street I’m going through that phase where I feel I should have done something more, tried harder. In my head I am cursing this country, this America. I look to the other end of the car. The wife is walking in with her two kids. She thanks those of us still on the train for our help. Her name is Carmen.