The pungent smell of black coffee followed by sweet wafts of cinnamon draw me out of bed and into the kitchen. “Welcome to the wooorld!” he softly sings to me while handing me a warm cinnamon bun. He slings his backpack over a shoulder and comes in for a quick kiss, before heading off to work at the newspaper.
I glance up at our round kitchen clock, and quickly scarf down the sugary bun. A thirty minute walk to language school awaits me. Reaching for my own backpack, I stuff in scrap notes, two textbooks, and a dictionary the size of a small loaf of bread.
On the rickety elevator ride down past Mr. Hussein from Iraq’s apartment, I wonder when we were going to see him and his family including his son Said, the pop singer. Once on ground level, I poke my head into Tina’s parlour for a quick hello. Soothing music and spicy whiffs of massaging balms and relaxing oils meet me at the door.
She greets me with a kiss, holds me at arm’s length, and peers up through shiny eyes, dark like obsidian; each greeting reminiscent of long lost friends seeing each other after decades. Until I see her again that same evening.
She briefly tells me of her teenage son in Thailand and how he’s still been trying to get a visa for months.
“Don’t forget your appointment,” Tina yells after me in English tinged with a Thai accent. “We can always reschedule too,” she adds. After all, she lives just one floor above me next to the Moldovans. I leave her with a smile and continue on, making my way past the modest five-table Japanese restaurant next door, remembering I still owe Suuni a sushi dinner order.
Unagi sounds good; I ponder, strolling past the small neighborhood convenience store where on occasion, I get an onion or carton of milk on short notice mid-cooking. “You should meet the two new attendants there,” my husband once shared, not too long ago. “I think they’re from Nigeria.”
This morning, I see the Nigerians, a young man and younger woman, running full speed to catch the train and only manage a short wave as I continue on my shortcut through sparse straggly woods, bursting onto the paved walking path on the other side. The tarred trail takes me past the gym I visit on occasion where young Iranian men lift weights and grunt so deeply that sometimes I flush, embarrassed.
The path winds past the Thai kiosk where Jen churns out scrumptious Pad Prik King and stir-fries which lure me back so frequently that at our last meeting with eyes twinkling, she asked “Are you pregnant?”
I carry on past tan brown apartments where Ricky from Serbia lives. In his early fifties, Ricky physically remains the envy of many in their thirties including my husband who used to play basketball with him, along with Lukas from Greece. Now, time demands more from the trio, and their ball days seem a distant memory.
I notice Alganesh’s petite form sauntering towards me, followed by a wide toothy smile and a tall unfamiliar man. “This is Bereket,” she introduces after a quick Hej!. “He’s from Eritrea too!” Today, they join me on my walk, our destination the same.
Our conversation ebbs and flows: from families left behind in homelands to new friends gained in foreign lands; from challenging pronunciations to differentiating between sjö and sju in Swedish.
Eritrea. East Africa. I wonder if my friend Dayana from Colombia who works at the resebyrå might be running airfare specials to Kenya and Tanzania and the spice isle of Zanzibar. I wonder if she has deals to Eritrea too.
Then Alganesh and Bereket can see family often.
Together we walk past a young shapely Muslim woman wearing a vivid blue Mona Hijab over her head and shoulders, past the pizzeria run by bubbly Yüksel where I usually get juicy Turkish kebab pizzas on lazy evenings, past the basketball court where pubescent Swedish boys with sun-bleached blond hair shoot hoops.
Each neighborhood block passed, a jaunt across the globe.
We stumble into class seconds before Andy does. He sashays androgynously to the front of the spacious room. Raking delicate fingers through dyed blond hair, he welcomes us warmly. I’m not sure where he’s from but he speaks seven languages fluently including Swedish which I am learning today.
Note – Occasionally, I’ll be sharing snippets of narratives I’ve written over the years but never shared publicly.