Once in a brown moon...
An enlightening journey of self discovery through public ranting
The day was rather uneventful. There were hardly any people coming through the doors, hardly any lost souls requiring my help to find their way. I’d already spent an hour counting the number of bricks at the isolated end of the hospital to pass the time. I’d also dabbled in a customary round of small talk with the other ladies. Ooh yes this winter is the worst it's ever been. Ah yes, you’ve already told me about your cats but that isn’t going to stop you from telling me about them again. No no, you can take your break first. After all, counting bricks all morning isn’t particularly energy demanding. Slumped across the volunteer’s desk, I considered all the alternative universes in which I wasn’t stuck wasting the fruitful hours of my morning. I was sleep deprived, waking up early after a mere nine hours of sleep (okay yes I’m a weakling) and stressed as heck for an upcoming test. Why did I even bother to turn up? As I sat there wallowing in my self pity, my answer came in the form of a woman who I’m going to call Maria.
Maria was a fashionably dressed brown lady with an air of confidence in her stride. I found this surprising as she didn’t seem typical of people of my kind. I later learnt that she was old enough to be my grandmother but at first glance she let no signs of her age show. She was extremely polite, asking me where she could charge her iPhone as she was expecting a message from the wards. Since I had nothing better to do, I started chatting with Maria. I’d only really expected conversation about cats and winter but oh my god, I learnt so much about humanity in the hours that ensued.
“Family is the foundation without which society can not prosper.” Maria was a successful lawyer who had specialised in marital law. She believed that having a loving, stable family is what determines whether the next generation reaches their potential or whether they descend down the twisted path of negligence. In a way, the progress of society depends on families supporting and raising their kids right. “But marriage isn’t about love anymore in India” she explained, “it’s about bringing the two best horses together and making them breed.” There was so much truth in Maria’s daring statements. People choose their partners according to their wealth and once their honeymoon period was over, divorce promptly ensued. We touched on the hardship women face while having to work as well as look after the home. We talked about the abuse women face at the hands of their wicked mother-in-laws. Maria couldn’t fathom how one women could inflict such pain on another and allow the cycle to be perpetuated. It was in this moment that I realised how little I could relate to the society Maria was describing. Yes I was born there, my skin a constant reminder of my heritage, yet what I was hearing sounded like the struggles of some distant, exotic land that wasn’t my own.
I asked Maria what brought her to the hospital. What was a prominent lawyer doing mulling in the corner, desperately checking her messages every five minutes? It was then that I experienced the despair of a mother who had flown in to see her precious daughter having surgery. She ubered to the hospital as fast as she could but her daughter was already taken in. And yes she ubered because if I can spend all that money flying in, I can spend money on an uber. Maria was quirky in that sense. Tears began streaming down Maria’s face - she was worried sick but had to wait a few hours before any news. The confident women teaching me about patriarchy and women’s rights had crumbled into a vulnerable individual, desperately praying for her daughter’s health. I sat holding Maria’s hand for a while until I got whisked away to run some meaningless errand.
When I returned, Maria was a mess. Being left alone to her own thoughts, she began to freak out. She was on the brink of an anxiety attack. “I’m glad you’re back, I was just googling how to calm myself down.” The fact that she had to resort to google honestly broke me so I took it upon myself to spend more time with Maria. I wanted to distract her from her reality and instead learn more about her life. The more Maria spoke, my respect for her exponentially increased. She was the living embodiment of what I hoped to one day be. She called the other lawyers “money making scum” and said that she only charged those that could pay. Maria’s mission was to serve the under served. When another lawyers tried to bribe her to settle she'd vehemently refused. “I couldn’t accept” she explained. “I’m responsible for my soul.” She also couldn’t possibly move to New Zealand because the people that needed her the most were back home. And plus I’d have to redo my tests, I hate tests. She was even above materialism - “When I have only a dime in my pocket, God will multiply it.” Though when I later recounted Maria’s words, the cynics claimed that Maria must be balling as only the rich can afford to say that. I found that an interesting paradox - only the wealthy could afford to be poor.
We spent some time musing about the world but eventually the conversation came back to her daughter. She’ll be fine, I assured her. She’s in good hands, she’ll be fine. But who was I to dish out potentially false reassurances? Heck, I was just a kid who’d spent her morning counting bricks for the lack of nothing better to do. "She’ll be fine," I said with increasing certainty. Because you are a good person, you have done so much good for people. Now let others do good for your daughter. “But why does bad things always happen to good people?” asked Maria, as she launched back into another round of teary story telling. We were no longer strangers but strangely friends.
Maria revealed her deepest, darkest woe - the passing of her husband. She raised two children alone in a society that didn’t look kindly upon widows. While walking down the street with her children, a passerby had chastised her for wearing green. You’re mourning, you’re not supposed to wear green. Green was her children’s favourite colour, Maria explained. She wasn’t going to sit around and weep all day. She was a young mother who was going to do all it took to cheer her children up and provide them with all the opportunities in the world. That included sending her children here to study in boarding school.
We talked about my deepest and darkest woe - immigration. We know the struggle. What was I supposed to know about the struggle, I was only five years old when we moved yet Maria made me realise that I had still lived through it. I was part of a large collective “we” that even a five year old couldn’t escape. Now it was my turn for tears to well up. I recounted how my dad worked during the day and my mum worked during the night. They only time they saw each other was the five minute overlap between when one entered the house and the other exited. My mum was stuck working in a job where she got no respect. She sold groceries to white couples that threw money at the counter while exclaiming loudly “It’s so hard to see our own kind here.” My dad was stuck pushing wheelchairs to get so called local work experience after spending twenty years building a career for himself. Yet when we explain the struggle, we get asked “so why did you even come here in the first place?” I’m sure my parents asked themselves that every day. Now we do fine though. We frolic in town sipping starbucks, eating sushi and complaining about first world problems. The struggle did exist, but fourteen years later I had forgotten all about it.
Eventually Maria did get that text. The surgery went as planned, her daughter was in recovery and she could go up and see her. My volunteer shift had also ended. Maria and I embraced with the knowledge that we would probably never see each other again. Maria blessed me and my family stating that this is all God’s work allowing our paths to collide. Now, I’m not an overly religious person and statements claiming God’s intervention tend to make my eyes roll. But I let her have this one. She thanked me profusely for sitting with her though I wondered what I had done for her. She had taught me so much about life that I truly felt honoured to be in her presence. Maria left me feeling refreshed and alive, as though I had just finished a midnight scrolling of Human's of New York. Then, like a perfect cliché, we parted our separate ways.
The funny thing is that I don’t know her name. But I do know her story.
Why a brown moon?
Simple, our world is coloured by racial perceptions. My experience of life is inherently coupled to my heritage. So yes, when I stare out into the distant darkness of space, I don't see a white moon. Instead, I see a brown one.