By Chaitra Somasundar, Staff Writer
“Don’t trust people easily” mother said. “It is your first time alone in a foreign country. Be cautious”. Father’s face was much more calm and composed.
I wondered if she and dad would be able to sleep that night as I boarded a 28 hour flight to US. I pondered about her thought processes as I shut my eyes. “Will I be made fun of for being different? Will I feel loved? Will I make it safely to the campus from the airport with a 78 kg baggage? What if I get robbed on the way? I have quite a bit of cash.”
The phone rang as soon as I reached the Thunderbird campus. “Reached safely, ma’! I’ll check into my dorm room and call you back. Love you.” She breathed. I knew dad had just decided to sleep after hearing my voice on the speaker. While checking into my room, I met Disar, an alumnus who was planning to move off campus in a few days for his full-time job in Phoenix.
“Hey. Are you an incoming student?” he asked.
“Yeah, just got here from the airport” I said.
“Do you want to grab something to eat? You look terrible.”
“Yes. Thanks!” I said, relieved that I won’t be the girl sitting alone at the college cafeteria table on my first day.
He walked me to the parking lot instead. I blinked. I saw the deserted campus and the closed cafeteria. I nodded and stepped into his car in the dark. I felt my heart racing with fear while mother’s panic-stricken words rang in my head over and over again. I remembered that my cell phone number was not in a working condition. My life journey flashed by in my mind in a blur. I thought of mother’s face, her carefree laughter. I wondered if I’d given that up for ambitions. The 10 minute drive felt like a lifetime of heightened emotions.
He stopped at a fast-food joint and said, “It’s my treat! What would you like to have?”
I pointed at what vaguely looked like a chicken burger on the menu. He bought the same thing for himself. He picked up the food at the counter and said, “Sit. Eat.”
We sat down at the table and he asked about me. I shot the same questions at him, cautiously calculative. Then, he brandished his infant daughter’s photograph in front of me.
“I can have my family stay with me in the USA now that I’m doing well career-wise!” he said happily.
His voice struck me. I thought of the pride in my father’s voice when he had introduced me to his colleagues with his arm around me. I gazed at the food at my table and remembered mother’s bossy voice ordering “Eat your meal, Chaitra”. I raised my head to look into Disar’s face and felt overwhelmed. With guilt, with relief, with affection and most of all, with the feeling that no T-bird could be a stranger: They care and love you enough to make you feel you’re home – with family.
Names have been changed to protect privacy.