- Travel and Places
Free Short Stories Online: An Old Man Immigrant
An English Lesson
The #20 southbound from Broadway Station pulls up in front of Starbucks. A Sunday crowd pushes aboard, jostling babies, fumbling for coins, balancing grocery bags where knobby durians and pork buns poke through the plastic. Wearing sunhats and plastic flip flops they herd toward the back, searching for seats. As the crowd settles, quiet melodic conversations in Spanish begin. Twangy tones and glides of Cantonese stand out. Polish gutturals mix with a few languages I do not recognize. I catch an occasional phrase in English. Most of us sit in silence, wishing the guy whose i-pod is blaring would turn the volume down. He sits oblivious, moving to his own beat, the cord of his head phones bobbing in time.
At 44th Avenue a dark-haired olive-skinned man with deeply lined weathered face limps to the accordion bi-fold and stands there, waiting for it to open. He glances at the bus driver, then back at the door.
"Stand on the top step and push on the door to open it," a young Caucasian guy calls from the blue bench near the door.
The passenger mutters to himself and does not move. Leaning forward, he presses long-fingered hands on the cool metal and pushes lightly. The door rattles yet does not budge. He glances toward the driver at the front of the bus, then down at the steps in front of him.
"Step down," the crowd repeats, impatient at the delay. Why doesn't the guy just leave the bus already? The instructions for opening the door are written right there in front of him.
"Step down and push the door to open." A stenciled black hand on the folding door shows where to push.
Feeling the crowd's rising anger, the young man gets up and steps on the top step for him. He looks at the man, old at forty, and sees the lines in his face, the fear of the world at his time of life in an unfamiliar city with a foreign language. Illiterate in English, perhaps unschooled even in his own language, is he a shepherd from the hills of Afghanistan, a villager from Bosnia, a refugee from some homeland lost forever?
The door opens, and the dark-skinned man steps down and shuffles off, the broad stripes of his woven tunic visible on the sidewalk long after the #20 pulls back into traffic and disappears.