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Free Short Stories Online: An Old Man Immigrant

Updated on October 7, 2012

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.

Old Man

A weather beaten face, barely literate in his own language but he knows the lore of the stars and wind, and how to help a sheep or camel give birth.
A weather beaten face, barely literate in his own language but he knows the lore of the stars and wind, and how to help a sheep or camel give birth. | Source

"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.


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      Justsilvie 5 years ago

      Beautiful short story! I wonder how well we would function in their homeland, I would hope someone was kind to us. Voted up and shared!

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      This has to be common; a new immigrant coming without living here first has to have considerable cultural shock with so many little things like this.

      Nice short story, Janis.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      You see this happen so often. It's such a shame that people don't stop and think to realize maybe the person just can't understand what is being said to them.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 5 years ago from UK

      Wish I could tell short stories!