I can see the dirt on your feet.
You’re not from around here, I keep thinking.
You brushed the dust off the plastic chair before you sat down and you couldn’t see the dust on your own cheeks but it stuck to you like ground cassava on my mother’s labored hands.
If I wiped away the sweat from your glistening face and cleaned the dust from your cheeks like you did from the chair, would your fair complexion waver like your nervous smile?
The freckles on your nose betray the hours you’ve spent in the sun but if you knew the sun like I do your fairness would fade and soon you wouldn’t be able to see the dirt on your hands and feet either. You’d have hands like mine if only you could grasp the scalding lid of the stew pot, holding tight to the spoon you use to feed your baby and your baby’s baby and the child who wanders barefoot into your house. And if you knew that child and you’d seen that child tracing figures in the mud outside your door every day only to disappear come dusk and return squatting in the dirt in the heat come dawn you’d feed that child, too, even though you didn’t know his name and you weren’t sure if his mother was someone’s mother or someone’s daughter and you went to bed famished because the eyes of a lost and hungry child resonate with a roar that drowns the grumblings of your own belly.
I can see the bags under your wide eyes, two patches of darkness imprinted on an otherwise colorless countenance. Your lack of color intrigues me. As shades begin to fill your void I can see you in a way you cannot control. When you misspoke your cheeks flushed pink. And when I asked you for a wheelchair the rosiness drained and left you gaunt and blank and your tired eyes were all I could see. All of a sudden I could relate to you in your accidental displays of weakness. You cannot hide your sense of being, your emotions. And when I see your colorings I understand how you feel. But as for me, I do not blush. I cannot drain or exaggerate the discoloration of my complexion. If I could I would, my god how I would, even though I couldn’t do it intentionally. All that I have are my eyes, but they never seem to make contact with those of another. And if people are not willing to look, how can they know my joys, my pains, my passions? How can they relate to a person they cannot see?
Tell me, dear, why you look so exhausted. I would offer you a place to sleep, but in the sweltering heat of the day I fear that you’d lie awake, restless and timid to accept the generosity of a stranger. In the suffocating humidity of the nighttime perhaps you dream of home or seek to flee the uncomfortable. You see your future and you see it separately from this moment.
You look exhausted, but to be exhausted is foreign to you, I can tell. And though I may not appear exhausted because I don’t have bags under my eyes and you can’t see the lack of color that I feel, I exist on the cusp of collapse. Sometimes I forget that I walk the fine line between supporting my family and destroying myself. What is so normal does not seem pressing, not in comparison to the moaning of my son on the floor and the crying of my daughter’s daughter as she squirms in my lap and struggles to free herself from her prison of thick air.
This morning I wasn’t thinking about myself and I didn’t think about thinking about myself but you walked in and now I can think of nothing else. I hear you ask me about my son and as I bring forth the memories that may give you your answer, I am bombarded with the intensity of my own experience. My past swirls and funnels into a present and future that look just the same.
Your skin can change. Mine cannot.
Your life can change.
Mine will not.
And you’ll never know that your efforts to change it have changed nothing but my awareness of its changelessness.
And if I were ever to see you again, you’d be changed. And I would not.
But as for now, I’m very glad to meet you.
My name is Patience.
I can see the dirt on your feet.