Last week I made a new friend at the Bushwick branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.
It was a Tuesday afternoon, and it was my first time visiting the library in my own neighborhood. (I’m surprised it took so long–it’s rather convenient, and there are outlets at every single table, and it’s very neat, and relatively quiet. And a seven minute walk away as opposed to a nearly hour-long subway ride to the main Brooklyn Library. But I digress.)
I don’t know this woman’s name or where she lives, but I do know she is quite old, very little, and walks with a cane. She is Asian, but I am not sure where she is from. When I first met her she was bundled from head to foot and her glistening, smooth cheeks were touched with cold.
“Aren’t you hot?” she asked as she plopped down in the seat diagonal from mine, catching me off guard before I understood. I was still wearing my fuzzy brown head wrap–a wrap that I have convinced myself, due to the icy wind that has essentially worn me down to the core for the past few weeks, also doubles as a fashionable headband. Very rarely do I take it off. I think I have even started basing my outfits around this one fuzzy brown head wrap, consciously or not. The winter struggle is real.
I shook my head no, that I wasn’t too hot, then smiled, trying to get back into what I was working on. She giggled and began to unwrap herself, muttering brightly to no one in particular.
Feeling I hadn’t said enough in my reply, I added: “Just wait–you come in feeling very hot, but after sitting for a while, it gets very cold.” I gestured “hot” and “cold” with my hands, partly because I was trying to keep my voice low, and partly because I wasn’t sure if she understood what I meant.
A few seconds later she popped open one of the library’s loaner laptops that a lanky high school kid (if he was maybe fifteen years-old, am I old enough to call him a kid?) with a hi-top fade had carried over for her. She’d thanked him profusely, bowing her head as if he’d carried her across the library.
The high-schooler had simply grinned at her bashfully. It was nothing at all, I’m six feet tall, he seemed to say, but she’d kept thanking him even after he had already returned to wherever he had been when this little woman had voiced her concern about transporting her laptop to a table.
After this first interaction about being cold, part of me wondered if she would be a chatty person. And I will admit that I was somewhat frustrated–in the nicest way possible–that I wouldn’t be able to do what I needed to do because she would keep speaking to me.
I was partly right about the chatty part, but the frustration part quickly faded away. The woman spoke to me a few times. Once was about the Love Chapel Hill sticker on my laptop (she liked the way the word LOVE looked, but I don’t know if she knew of the place in particular). Another time, she spoke to me for assistance.
“Can you help me?” she half-whispered, half-sang. In rough English she explained she was trying to figure out how long it would take her to walk to a particular address in Brooklyn. She turned her loaner laptop around to face me.
Google Maps filled the screen, but that was all about all I could decipher. The rest was freckled with what I was 90% sure were Korean characters. I hesitated, then told her I would look the addresses up in my own computer.
“It looks like it’s gonna take about fifty-two minutes,” I said, feeling somewhat like a doctor providing a not-so-great prognosis.
She made a face, but not one of sadness, as I expected. “Oooh, so long,” she said. “It take hour on there, but For me, it take hour and half. I have cane, I move slow. You understand?”
I chuckled, empathetic. I wanted to suggest that she take a bus. But I didn’t know what her means were, so I remained silent. If she could have taken a bus, she would have.
The woman continued. “When I walk, wind blows and slows me down. I look like this when I walk.” She shut her eyes and pursed her lips, shaking her head and moving her arms around wildly like she was braving tidal waves. I laughed even harder, perhaps the most genuine laugh I’d laughed with her at that point in our meeting.
When I’d left that day, she was eating her lunch in the foyer of the library, since there was a no food policy. She thanked me for my help and I wished her good luck on her walking trip. I called my mom and told her about my new friend.
I heard her before I even saw her yesterday, on Day 2. The library’s WiFi had stopped working; therefore, so had Songza. Working music-less for a bit, I distantly heard people come in and out of the library. Many of them, I realized quickly, were regulars.
“Good to see you!”
“How are you today?”
After I began to feel inadequate for not greeting the librarians upon my own arrival, and after I made a mental note to say something the next time I entered, I heard their greetings grow even louder for one particular person. In the back of my mind I wondered who this prodigy library attendee was but didn’t think much about it.
I didn’t need to. Soon, the woman came and sat down at my table. It was a different one from where we’d sat last week–she sat there to sit with me.
“Hi, how are you?” she said, excitedly, like we were old friends. I suddenly felt like I was in a high school cafeteria and the most popular girl in my grade had picked my table. A woman at the table nearby glanced over at us curiously before peering back at her work as I asked my new friend about how she’d fared on her walking trip last week. It took me a few tries to get her to understand me.
“Oh, it was fine, fine,” she said. She peered at the writing I was reviewing for workshop. “Are you student?”
I nodded. “Yes. I am in grad school. For writing.”
Her eyes widened. “Oh ohhh,” she said. “I pray for you. I pray for you to get a job once you finish. You understand me?”
“Yes, yes. Thank you,” I said, smiling. “I appreciate that.”
I barely know anything about my new friend. I know that she is musically inclined (I’d lent her my laughable “Connecticut is revolutionary” pen, which she commented on before scribbling notes all over a sheet of music). I know that she is religious. I know that she has a cane, and that she obeys library rules. Well, minus the talking part. But I am sure I will learn more.
Before she left the library after about an hour, she returned my pen. “Do you like ginger candy?”
I thought for a bit. I’d never actually had ginger in the form of candy, but she is such a lively woman that I would have said I liked scrambled eggs to please her (which I don’t). I nodded and she plucked a piece of candy out of her purse that would be fit for my grandparents’ assorted candy dish and handed it to me.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Of course, of course. You stay here long?”
I said yes, but that I would be going home kind of soon, because I had class later that evening.
“Oh, to…?” She held out one palm and then pretended to eat out of it with her other hand, smacking her lips together.
I smiled. “Yes, I need to eat lunch.”
“Ah, ah. Of course, of course!” She stood up. “So you have class tonight…you go to church Sunday?”
I shook my head apologetically. “No, no. I don’t go to church.” I studied her face for some kind of disappointment.
She simply flicked her tiny wrist before wrapping the remainder of her massive scarf around her neck. “That’s okay,” she said, shrugging. “I pray for you.” She put her hands together, bowed her head a few times, and smiled. “See you next time!” And she was off.