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A New Life in the States
Deva stepped onto firm ground after nearly 24 hours on a flight. His normally cool stride was jerky, and he stumbled often. This was his first time in the states, first time away from his little home in Chennai, for that matter. His parents were aging, more rapidly than they had 20 years ago, it seemed, and he dreadfully regretted their separation. As an only child, wasn’t it his duty to take care of his parents, be at their side when they need him? Yet, here he was, thousands of miles from home. Why? The answer was simple. Money. He had made 5000 Rupees a month as a bus driver in India. Yet, for the same skills, here, he could earn 5000 dollars. That would be 40 times the income! He could purchase his father a small motorbike. He could fix the leaky pipes. He might even be able to buy his mother that radio he saw on a billboard near town! Deva sniffed hope as he handed his passports to the security guard. The guard squinted at him, and Deva’s hand instinctively reached to his head. He was only 30, but he had a bald spot he was ashamed of. Especially in this new country, where he was willing to make a fine impression, his eyebrows contorted at the thought that a little patch of skin could deceive his true personality. Nevertheless, as he headed to the baggage collection area, little did he realize that hair was the least of his problems. His problem was something bigger, something he was born with. It was the color of his skin.
Deva stepped into the sunlight of Princeton, New Jersey for the first time in his life. It was shockingly… clean. Mentally, he compared it to the dirty streets of Chennai, where litter, street dogs, and dirt were accompanied by the incessant noise of motorbikes honking. Shaking out of his train of thoughts, Deva adjusted the collar of his suit once more. Though his stride was confident, he felt like he was digesting a stone as he turned the brass doorknob of the building where his interview was to be held. Almost instantly, he heard sniggers.
“Brown! You hear me? Brown!”
“I know, I know, do you know what they’re going to do?”
They’re probably talking about some baseball match, Deva convinced himself. After all, within the few short days within his arrival of America, so many people he had met said their last names were Brown, Black, and White. In fact, he was pretty sure that his interviewer was a “Brown” himself.
“Mr. Deva, please enter the room,” a voice called, and Deva obeyed. He offered a handshake, which was immediately turned down. “So, first question. Is it true that your skin is brown?”
“Why, yes, of course,” Deva replied seriously, not picking up on the mocking tone, and ignoring the increasing sniggers behind him.
“That’s a problem; we don’t want your filthy brown skin tainting our busses, now do we!”
“Sir…” Deva began, but his interviewer spat in his face. Deva gaped, and wiped his face with his sleeve, as the sniggers became uproarious laughter. His eyes were fixed on his shoes as he made to leave the room.
“John, Fred, get back to work,” another man suddenly emerged, with a much more businesslike attire. “I’m sorry, these gentlemen are just other employees. I’m your actual interviewer,” he explained seriously, but behind the straight face, Deva could see how his eyebrows narrowed every time he glanced at his brown skin. His lip quivered, but Deva managed to stay put until the interview was over. He had gotten the job, but he had lost something else: his self-respect. A tear trickled down his cheek. No, he told himself. What would father say? The answer rang through his head. Be bold. You must not give up yet.
Within a month, leaves had turned orange. Deva had gotten more accustomed to the American lifestyle, from the coffee-maker to the shower, although he still hadn’t grown accustomed to the looks and stares he received. It’s for your parents, he told himself. Don’t let anyone get to you.
Today would be his first day of actually driving the bus. As he pulled the lever to permit the students, he received the same type of looks he received on the streets. A small hopeful bubble burst in his heart. At least, he had hoped, children would be a bit more accepting and open minded. Then again, they would think the same way their parents did. After a few stops, the bus had filled up. As Deva glanced through the rear mirror, he noted that one of the students was climbing on top of the seats. “Sit down!” he yelled immediately. The student cocked his eyebrow and continued to do what he was doing. “I say sit down!” he repeated.
“Seet dovn I si! Seet dovn I si!” the boy mimicked, and the entire bus roared with laughter. This was the last straw. He would’ve turned red if his skin was paler, but his eyebrows contorted and his cheeks flushed all the same. He was instantly heading back to India. When his parents asked… Well, he would think of something. Telling his parents that a country was against him would be easy, but he simply couldn’t face a lifetime of neglect. As the students walked off the bus, a small girl walked up to him. She flashed a smile, and handed him a chocolate. “Eat it,” she whispered, and Deva submitted. Whether it was the minty chocolate or the soothing smile, the fire in Deva’s heart was extinguished.
That night, he wrote a letter to his parents. Dear parents, he began. He stopped and thought. How could he put so much emotion into one letter? I’ve learned that you should always give life a second chance, he began. Deva paused, allowing a ghost of a smile. He wouldn’t leave yet. He would give America, this wretched place, another chance.