Sometimes I’m a little slow.
The first time I met my neighbor’s father, I brattled on incessantly and misread his blank stares as a desire for me to elaborate and not that he didn’t understand ONE WORD of English.
Now when we see each other, we wave and keep moving. Or he does. I try not to take it personally. I imagine a Chinese version of myself talking to me and I understand.
When he sees me working in the yard, he makes his usual wide arc, waves and keeps on moving.
I’ve been working for several hours in the garden. Sadly, it’s all been in the same small patch. There’s dirt in my hair, underneath my fingernails and between my toes. My back, shoulders and legs ache. Are you getting the picture? I’m one hot mess.
I sit back on my heels to admire the bed. It looks good. Now where is Chaz when I need someone to admire my handiwork? I head into the house to track him down. Just a little, “Wow! Great job!” or “I can tell you’ve been working hard” will do the trick.
I knock on his office door and twist the knob. He holds up a finger to indicate he’s on a call. Just a minute, his finger says. I mime digging then slump over and grab my lower back. I pop up like a spring and spread my arms wide. I hope he gets my sunflower improv.
Instead he turns his chair and faces his monitor, responding to a question on the call with some data he’s called up on his computer.
OK, I mouth to his back. I’ll be upstairs when you get a minute. In the garden, I add.
Thirty minutes later I’ve given up waiting on my personal cheerleader. Apparently he has work to do. Whatever.
That’s when Mr. Xiao comes into my field of vision. He points at my garden and gives me not one, but two, thumbs up. Everyone speaks thumbs up. He’s broken the language barrier with one simple gesture. I smile and flip up my thumbs in response. Thank you, I think. Thank you.