some afterthoughts

There were two Indian women on the subway. Each of them wearing a colorful sari and holding an enormous blue cart at their feet. Like a grocery cart but twice as big. The carts were filled with large cloth sacks, which were filled with I don’t know what. The older one had a small stud in her nose. We were sitting directly across from each other and I wondered if they had just arrived from India or maybe Bangladesh. I looked closely at their mouths and tried to see if they were the kind of mouths that form English words.

A man with a gray goatee and a Puerto Rico baseball cap sat down next to the older one and accidentally brushed her elbow. They smiled at each other in the way people on the subway do when unintentional contact has been made. She then turned away from him and back towards me. She put her head on her daughter’s shoulder and giggled uncontrollably. Her eyes had fireworks in them. I imagined he was the first American she had exchanged idle pleasantries with. Between bouts of laughter she would whisper a strange language in her daughters ear. My heart nearly exploded, I diverted my eyes and concentrated on those mysterious cloth sacks. I wanted to know their secrets.

In Berlin I met a Russian man at 4 o’clock in the morning. We were the only people around and we both wanted company. I spoke zero Russian and he spoke zero English. We drank two beers together, throwing non-sequitors back and forth to keep the silence at bay. His countenance was sort of frightening but I decided it was just a cultural thing. I imagine our conversation may have gone something like this.

“I am going to Prague in two hours. Sad to leave Berlin. Beautiful people here.”

“I don’t understand a word you just said. What a shitty night it‘s been!”

“Oh, that's interesting. Have you ever been there? I want to see the Charles Bridge.”

“You’re a strange person, aren’t you? Thank god for beer. Why on Earth haven‘t you gone home yet?”

“…My sister broke her leg once taking out the garbage…”

One morning in Amsterdam I awoke to find a ladybug had made a home for herself in my belly button. I had been dreaming about flowers. Beautiful flowers of all different colors and impossible compositions. They were everywhere and for some reason I lacked coordination and kept stepping in their beds. Every time I stepped on a different flower it made me feel terrible. I really didn’t want to step on them, but my muscles were not in my control. So to awake from this dream and find a ladybug had made a home out of my belly button -- well, I stayed in bed extra long so as not to disturb it.

When I finally got up I scooped my little tenant onto my finger and she walked around a little bit. She was disoriented with sleep but at least I hadn’t squashed her. I hopped down from my bunk bed and took her to the porch. This woke up my Italian roommates. I told them all about it but I’m not sure it really came across. I do not speak Italian.

It was the first time I’d been out of The United States in over fifteen years. I was traveling alone and I only got back a week ago. Ever since returning home people have been talking to me more on the streets. They ask me for directions, they comment about how nice the weather is, one little kid even asked me to pet his dog. Nobody spoke to me before the trip. I had been closed off somehow without knowing it. Furthermore, certain elements of the tourist still compel me; the landscape will not be lost on my lens. This is New York City, after all.

The Indian women, they understood this. It was an enthusiasm we shared. They got off the train at 104th St., deep in Queens. Their gargantuan carts thumping as they jostled from the train to the platform. They pushed their carts westward, the mother walking ahead of the daughter. I continued on until 121st St. in Kew Gardens. I don’t live here. I am cat sitting here for a friend of a friend while she is in Seoul negotiating fabrics. That was a long train ride. I was on my way back from downtown Manhattan. You can sit on the steps of Federal Hall with it’s bricks and winding sidewalks and forget for a moment that this is where you live.