Sunday, August 29, 2010

"My First Day In San Francisco" by Irene Clark

I would like to tell you about the first day I arrived in the United States. I was happy and sad at the same time, happy because I was going to know the U.S. and sad because I was leaving my family and very nervous because it was my first time flying in an airplane. Oh my God, I got so sick throwing up all the time, I didn't eat anything on the plane, and when I saw the people's food and smelled it, I felt worse. In the airplane, the people were speaking only English and I didn't have any idea of what they were saying, but when I heard the flight attendant say "San Francisco" and saw the people standing up and getting in line to leave the airplane, I did too. I was one of the last ones to leave the airplane, and I didn't know where the people went. I started walking and asked anyone I found in the hallway. "San Francisco" was all I said and no one answered me. I kept walking and stopping people and saying "San Francisco." I continued walking and I ended up in the parking lot, then I came back inside.

I was shaking and almost ready to cry, I don't know how I found the counter, but all the counters were empty. I was very tired and my tears started coming out. I didn't know what to do and the airport looked so immense to me. I needed to go to the bathroom, but I didn't know where to go, and I was also afraid. Suddenly I saw a man open a door on one of the walls behind the counter. I ran to him and said "San Francisco." He looked at me, but didn't say anything. Then, he grabbed my hand and picked up a phone. He started to talk, but I didn't know what he was saying. Then he hung up the phone and pulled me inside the door from where I saw him coming out. I saw a hall way. We walked for a little while and then we went inside an elevator. We left the elevator and went inside another door. We walked a little bit until we arrived at the front of an airplane door. A lady was standing there. I was shaking all over, and I felt my heart pounding so hard it was as if it was coming out of my chest.

The lady brought me to a seat and buckled my seat belt. Finally, I got to San Francisco and what a surprise. I looked all over trying to find my family but nobody was waiting for me because I was on another plane after I had missed the one I was on. I heard two men saying they were going to pick up their luggage, so I followed them and in a few minutes we were at the baggage claim but mine wasn't there. I saw a man with a baggage cart and he looked Spanish to me and I told him I didn't find my luggage and he asked me where I was coming from. After I told him, he brought me to an office, and there was my luggage. It was just a small suitcase, so I could carry it myself.

I went outside and stood on the sidewalk. It was a little cold, but I kept standing there, I don’t know for how long. Then, a man drove up in a yellow car, stopped, and said, “taxi”. I only looked at him because I was afraid. Then, he said, “Taxi, Senora?” I opened my eyes so wide with surprise because when I heard him say “senora,” I thought he spoke Spanish, but he didn’t. He asked me where I was going, and I made a motion with my head to him. Then, he said, “Casa?” and I moved my head again toward my dress pocket where I had the address written on a piece of paper. I gave it to him, and he grabbed my suitcase and motioned with his hand indicating I should follow him. He opened the door for me and put the suitcase in the trunk of the car.

It seemed as though he drove for a long time, and I was afraid because I didn’t know him, and I thought maybe he was going to take me to another place or even kill me. But after some time, he stopped and said, “Here.” I saw on the door, 3062, and I said, thank God I am home. He then said, “money.” But I didn’t do anything, so he showed me a dollar bill. I gave him the only 20 dollars I had and he gave me change. He left the cab, opened the door. I got out, and gave me my suitcase. He then drove off.

I started to walk up the stairs. I knocked on the door, but no one answered. Then, I saw the door bell, so I pushed the button. The light in the house came on and I heard someone say, “Don’t open the door. It might be a thief.” So, they didn’t open the door for me. So, I sat down on the stairs and cried. It was very cold, and then it started drizzling, then it started raining a little harder. I was so cold and very afraid on the street. I went up again and knocked on the door very hard. They turned on the light again and came to the door. The lady had a lamp in her hand, and she looked through the little glass window on the door, staring at me, and then she said, “It’s Irene.” After that, they ran to the door and opened it. I was crying. I went inside the house, and they gave me a towel and then they gave me a cup of warm milk. We all went to bed. The next day, we talked about the whole thing and they realized they had forgotten that I was coming that day.

Teacher's Comment: This is a wonderful story. It is humorous, honest, and terrifying at the same time. It is a very good example of what it must feel like to be a stranger in this very strange land. This story reminds me of the work of a great German short story writer and novelist, Franz Kafka. Here is an excerpt from Kafka's novel, "The Trial". How is this story of Kafka's similar to Irene Clark's? How is it different?

Before The Law - Franz Kafka:

Before the law sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the country who asks to gain entry into the law. But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment. The man thinks about it and then asks if he will be allowed to come in later on. “It is possible,” says the gatekeeper, “but not now.” At the moment the gate to the law stands open, as always, and the gatekeeper walks to the side, so the man bends over in order to see through the gate into the inside. When the gatekeeper notices that, he laughs and says: “If it tempts you so much, try it in spite of my prohibition. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the most lowly gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. I can’t endure even one glimpse of the third.” The man from the country has not expected such difficulties: the law should always be accessible for everyone, he thinks, but as he now looks more closely at the gatekeeper in his fur coat, at his large pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartar’s beard, he decides that it would be better to wait until he gets permission to go inside. The gatekeeper gives him a stool and allows him to sit down at the side in front of the gate. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be let in, and he wears the gatekeeper out with his requests. The gatekeeper often interrogates him briefly, questioning him about his homeland and many other things, but they are indifferent questions, the kind great men put, and at the end he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet. The man, who has equipped himself with many things for his journey, spends everything, no matter how valuable, to win over the gatekeeper. The latter takes it all but, as he does so, says, “I am taking this only so that you do not think you have failed to do anything.” During the many years the man observes the gatekeeper almost continuously. He forgets the other gatekeepers, and this one seems to him the only obstacle for entry into the law. He curses the unlucky circumstance, in the first years thoughtlessly and out loud, later, as he grows old, he still mumbles to himself. He becomes childish and, since in the long years studying the gatekeeper he has come to know the fleas in his fur collar, he even asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper. Finally his eyesight grows weak, and he does not know whether things are really darker around him or whether his eyes are merely deceiving him. But he recognizes now in the darkness an illumination which breaks inextinguishably out of the gateway to the law. Now he no longer has much time to live. Before his death he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper. He waves to him, since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body. The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the great difference has changed things to the disadvantage of the man. “What do you still want to know, then?” asks the gatekeeper. “You are insatiable.” “Everyone strives after the law,” says the man, “so how is that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?” The gatekeeper sees that the man is already dying and, in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, “Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it.”