March 3, 2015.
It had already struck me on the first night. There’s things here I thought were only true in music videos.
“Yo it be’s that way nigga. My nigga hea in a bad bad situation motherfucka! Shi-iit.”
“I can tell yo momma feedin’ you nigga. This nigga hea wild.”
“Shut the fuck up ya’all or I’ll beat all yo fuckin’ nigga-asses. Fuck.”
I’ve never heard this kind of language. The brutality. The intensity. Much tougher than I will ever get. To be very honest, it scares (the living shit outta) me. To make things worse, it is spoken on the other side of this thin plywood wall. Budget insulation makes it sound as though they’re sitting right here on my bed. How intimidating.
Cold light shines into my eyes. Though starving, I can barely move. It is cold and it is getting colder. Outside as much as inside. I wait until the sun sets, and when it sets I stay on the bed. The foul language – loud, brash, too fast to make sense, brutal and dirty – is multiplying. A blasting crowd shuffles in. Then beats make my windows, walls and jaws shake. Black History’s in the speakers. I have rented a room next door to a makeshift rap school.
“How are you liking this wonderful weather?”
A bell-like voice. In the night, on the road, an African-American goddess passes by with a smile that guts me. Large fur hood-crown over her golden curls. She’s tall and wears the most perfect skin, most perfect lips and dito smile.
“…” I smile modestly. “Well…it is beautiful tho..”
Goddess wasn’t expecting an answer and doesn’t look back. Creaking footsteps in the snow. Big-nose supertrucks pass by. I am carrying two plastic bags with groceries. My feet are getting wet and the snow sticks to my stubble and eyebrows.
Allow me to introduce you to some of my roommates. They’re in the kitchen. Colombian Latin-blooded Felipe is cooking while humming. Elisabeth from Delaware – from Finnish descent – stands upright in her safety zone in between the fridge and the corner of the corridor, hands folded behind the back. I am in the sofa, stretched out. I have tried, to no avail, to start a conversation that lasts longer than three lines. It has never seemed harder finding common ground. Suddenly, an idea pops up: what if I bring up the fact that I was woken up by the trembling of the compound this morning? I might be able to draw an interesting parallel with my adventures in Japan. That might keep us busy for a while.
“So…Felipe. Did you feel the tremors in the ground this morning? Wow. It felt like an earthquake.”
“Oh no, that wasn’t an earthquake”, Elisabeth from Delaware corrects, adjusting her proverbial glasses, “that was the machines of the print factory downstairs. It happens every day. Oh, I hope it didn’t wake you up!”
“Hermano, just machines, man. Not a thing for you to worry about. You’re safe brother”, Felipe groans with an accent reminiscent of Antonio Banderas. He puts up his left thumb.
“No. I mean it felt like an earthquake. You know, once there was a time when I was woken up regularly by earthquakes.”
Felipe turns back to his cooking. Elisabeth makes turns on the spot, hands safely behind the back.
“That was in Japan”, I continue.
“Oh my god it’s true! You were in Japan! That is so awesome. I also wanna go there some day. I’ve heard the food is amazing!”, Elisabeth says.
“That’s true. The food is great. But there’s also a lot of earthquakes. So while I was there I got woken up by them several times. But they can be so subtle that the only proof one is going on is when, for instance, a bucket and a watering can fall down from a shelf on the courtyard.”
“Ooh, that’s spooky”, Elisabeth tries, a bit ill at ease. But I won’t give up. Not this far.
“Yes. And the earthquakes you experience when you’re there make you understand why the Japanese believe everything has a soul. Every single thing in their world is permeated by spirituality and invisible forces.”
“…” Elisabeth tries to call in Felipe’s help. But he’s too busy stirring his salsa.
“The ground you walk on stirs unexpectedly, without warning. That evokes the sense that it has its own consciousness, a kind of will.”
Elisabeth and Felipe exchange an uneasy look. Do I see Felipe shrugging just there?
Elisabeth heaves a deep breath and goes for it. “Yeah. Earthquakes. I have friends – well, just people I know – in Los Angeles whose house was destroyed by an earthquake.”
“That’s awful”, I react, “did they survive?”
“Yes. But I didn’t like them so I didn’t care.”
It feels so good traveling halfway across the globe to find like-minded souls.
To be continued…