Everything is more exciting when you’re going fast. My foot hit against the freshly paved sidewalk and gave my scooter another push. Even though I was being passed by trams, cars and bikes, I still felt like I was on top of the world. Nothing could catch me when I was going that fast, not schoolwork, not classmates, not worries, not anything. I was invincible. I made a sharp right and continued on my high speed chase against myself. I wove in between people and around street signs, the wheels beneath me barely touching the ground.
When I lifted my foot again to try and gain more momentum, my scooter slid to the side and I fell on a sharp metal grate. My heart dropped to my stomach as I flew towards the ground. I landed on my hands and knees and felt a sharp pain. My palms were dirty from trying to catch myself and it hurt to shake the tiny pieces of asphalt off of my hands. I took a few deep breaths and looked down. My knee had a large scrape on it, a few inches long. The cut stung, and I was nervous about putting weight on my knee.
While I waited for my heart to return to its normal pace, I glanced up. All around me I saw footsteps passing by, polished loafers right below perfectly ironed slacks, small feet pounding against the pavement in red and blue tennis shoes, tall heels clicking, like the sound of a watch slowly being wound, and me, sitting on the ground, staring at my own loosely tied green Skechers I got the year before that looked as worn out as I felt. Everyone looked so confident, so purposeful. Even the Swiss flag above me looked sure of itself as it stood proudly, waving in the wind. But even after almost six months, I still felt out of place in this new country where everyone always seemed to understand exactly what to do and how to do it.
People were constantly walking past me but no one stopped to ask me if I was alright. It didn’t make sense. Almost everyone I met when I was walking to school or getting groceries would nod or say hello, but while I was alone sitting on that grate, a thin trickle of blood running down my knee, it seemed like no one cared. Still, my apartment building was only about fifteen minutes away. Even though I was new to the area I already knew my way there and back like the back of my hand. Once I got home I’d be fine, I told myself, everything can be fixed with Neosporin, band-aids and a cup of hot chocolate. I just needed to stand up.
I attempted to push myself up with my hands, but I wasn’t strong enough to stand up all the way. Every time I moved, my knee would begin to hurt again. I pounded my fists against the grate in frustration and resentfully thought about everyone walking by me. For a second I considered stopping someone and asking for help, but if I was too weak to even push myself off of the ground there was no way I’d find the strength to talk to a person I’d never met in German.
Panic started to rise and a thousand possible scenarios of what could go wrong flashed through my mind. What if my parents never found me? What if I’d be stuck there forever? A tear slipped down my cheek, not from the cut on my leg, but from the fear that had somehow gone from a size puddle to the Atlantic Ocean in just a few minutes. I closed my eyes and tried to calm down. Above me, I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Are you alright? Do you need help?” a man with a thick accent asked me in German. I timidly opened my eyes to see a man in a button down shirt and jeans looking at me with concern. I froze, horrified at the prospect of speaking a foreign language to a stranger. I thought that I would be relieved for someone to help me, but instead I just wanted to disappear. I knew what to say in response, but I couldn’t form the words on my lips. After months of going to school in Switzerland and taking additional German classes as well, I was still too afraid to say thank you.
The man looked at me inquisitively and offered his hand to help me up, seemingly not bothered by my lack of response. I shakily raised myself to my feet, holding my scooter, and right as he was about to go I forced the words out.
“Thank you for helping me,” I called after him, trying as hard as possible to sound like a native speaker. He turned around and smiled.
“Of course,” he said. The man adjusted his watch, smiled again and walked away. Although I was walking home with a slight limp, I felt taller than I ever had before.