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Sleeping Under the Bridge

by Anupreet Sidhu
(Seattle, USA)

It was 11pm. My work shift went overtime today. I didn’t mind. I needed the money.

But now it was dark. The night was warm being mid-July. I felt the breeze through the open window, which was nice with the kitchen being hot from the ovens. I remembered summers back home where even the breeze didn’t offer relief from the blazing heat. How I missed gazing at the stars in the night, no city lights interfering in our village. The stars shone freely, lighting up all of the Garhshankar. I would lay on top of our kothi feeling mighty to be on top of our house on those dark nights alone. Only a few cows would tease the silence. The stars and moon would shine powerfully. I’d like to think it was the most beautiful village in all of Punjab on those days.

“Sidhu!” My coworker Victor called. He liked to call me by my last name. I didn’t mind. It felt respectful. “Are you headed home?”
“Yes Victor,” I said. My English is low but hearing these questions every day helps. I’m learning. “Great, amigo. See you mañana!” He waved, walking out of the kitchen. I nodded, smiling. Victor was one of the few friends I’ve made here. He always wore a hat that was a dark green. Sometimes when it’d get really busy in the kitchen he’d turn the hat backward, looking serious.
We can’t talk much, though. His English is also a bit broken, having moved his family here from Mexico just a year ago, only seven months before me. He’s taught me some Spanish. Like ‘Hola!’ and ‘Cómo estás!’ I’ve taught him some Punjabi, too. Like khaana, which means food. We use it when cooking in the kitchen. Khaana! He’ll say when he’s finished preparing a dish. He makes the day more enjoyable.

I heard him get into his car, which I could see out the kitchen window. He had bought it used from another coworker for $1,000. Its engine was really loud but it was a nice blue color. He was really happy to have it. When he finally had saved up the money he needed he hugged me out of happiness. I had told my wife and she made some gulab jamun to give him in celebration. Back home in India, we would always prepare a delicious sweet during happy times. I ate a lot of gulab jamun during weddings. My wife loves them, too.

I heard the car engine roar loudly once before it turned out the parking lot.

I took off my apron. It was wet. There were especially a lot of dishes today to wash. One of the senior citizens here had a birthday. There was lots of food and drinks. We had prepared three different types of pasta dishes for the occasion. It was my first time seeing a white sauce for pasta called alfredo. It was tasty, but it made my stomach hurt. I craved the sabzi made from the fresh vegetables in our garden back home. Raj and I would need to move to a bigger space to start our own garden here. I would grow tomatoes, onions, and corn to start off. Later, I’d try squash.

It was nice seeing the senior citizens smile and celebrate today. Usually, I can feel their sadness, probably coming with old age especially being put in a home away from their home. The feeling of abandonment being left to live the rest of their lives in the care of strangers lingers over them each day.

I shuddered. I could never imagine abandoning my father in a home.

I put on my coat. It was a denim puffer with metal buttons. It was gifted to me by my elder brother. He’s been in America for ten years now. This was the jacket he first bought when he arrived here. He had worn it when he got his first apartment here. He claims it is a lucky charm. I’ve worn it every day since coming to America.

I walked out the automatic sliding window doors. It would be a while before I was used to them. It was bizarre how
they could sense you coming, and then open just in time. I was afraid they’d unmeaningly shut again as I walked through.

Stepping outside, I looked into the darkness. My house was many kilometers away. It usually took forty-five minutes to walk home. I’d have to be back here at 4:30am again tomorrow. I glanced at my watch, a Wal-Mart brand digital wristwatch also gifted to me by my elder brother. It lit up in the night. It was 11:15pm. I wouldn’t get home until midnight walking.

I took a few more steps outside, into the empty parking lot where dozens of cars would be parked come morning. Soon, when I’d make enough money, I’ll have a car. I’d park it in the space off to the side where trees would provide it shade. A car would be good for my wife too, who is now three months pregnant with our first child. She walks to the hotel each morning where she works as a maid. My sister-in-law also works there so they walk together. It’s a fifteen minute walk from our house. It would get difficult in the coming cold winter months.

I dug out a pack of cookies from my pocket. Famous Amos, they read. Though I wasn’t sure of the pronunciation. I grabbed them from the kitchen earlier. I don’t think anyone minds -- they have so much food! I’d sometimes grab a carton of milk too when no one was around. This pleased my wife who found the milk here to be very expensive, about one dollar a gallon. A gallon would get us through for a week of chai.

I ate the cookies quickly. They were good, but my stomach felt empty. The rotis eaten from lunch had long lost their effect, and the pasta for dinner didn’t give me much of any energy. Hunger is an interesting thing. It makes you desperate to eat anything even if you’re still left empty. You think you’re full.

I walked through the parking lot to the sidewalk of the main road ahead. No cars were out at this time. People were probably home sleeping, resting for the next work day. I was tired. This walk would be too long. I’d do it only to walk back again in a few hours. I considered staying at the nursing home, but I wasn’t sure who to ask. Or how to ask it. It was too embarrassing.

I wished I could call my wife. She may be worried. Though we don’t know each other too well yet -- we’d only just married, and met, in India days before moving here. She’d feel obligated to worry.

I spotted an overpass ahead. Underneath it, the sidewalk continued but a grass hill formed beside it, moving up the cemented walls of the overpass. I walked over, assessing it. I placed my palm on the grass, which was very green next to the pale sidewalk. It was warm and felt soft. My body felt weak after 18 hours of work. I looked around the empty streets, deciding no one would be around anytime soon.

I took off my jacket, nestling it under my head as I lay down on the grass. The sun would be up soon. I thought about work the next morning. I was used to waking up before the sunrise. At five years old I was working on the family farm each morning. “Pappu, be early to rise to milk the cows!” My mother would say. My body was conditioned to rise early.

Fresh milk sounded good right now, especially after the stale taste the cookies left in my mouth. I hope eggs are on the menu for breakfast tomorrow. I also worry about lunch, not having a chance to go home for a new lunchbox. I’d have to eat American food twice tomorrow.

My coat cushioned my head well, and I felt very thankful for my elder brother.The wrapper of the cookies was in the pocket where I could hear them rustle. But I didn’t mind. My thoughts wandered, at first thinking about my wife but then my tiredness consumed me and I drifted off to sleep.

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