“Are you from the Ukraine.” The man sitting next to me on the bus says this. No questioning tone. It is statement-like, accusatory.
I’ve only asked this stranger if he knew where the correct stop is because I don’t know this city and he thinks I am from the Ukraine.
“No. No, I’m not from the Ukraine, ” I utter. I laugh too quickly and loud as if the mere suggestion is absurd as well as insulting. “I’m from Holland, ” I add, sitting up a bit straighter.
I glance out of the window, unsure if I am missing my stop because I really don’t know this city and it makes me nervous. It’s a city which is demure compared to cities I’ve lived in before; a pussy, yet big enough to intimidate me. That thought adds to my nervousness, the realization that a change in mindset can creep up on you unnoticed. What other things have changed without me noticing?
“Oh, ” he says. “There are a lot of people from the Ukraine here.” Another statement. He sounds as if he isn’t entirely convinced of the fact that I am Dutch. Or I’m reading too much into people. But when you communicate mainly with villagers, speaking to city people is different. I speak Village Galego. I don’t speak city Spanish. I try, but I mix it up.
“They come here for work, ” he continues.
I nod. “Yes, I’ve heard about that.” Maybe I look like a tatty immigrant. If it hadn’t occurred to me that a small city could intimidate me until now, but then maybe I just don’t realise I look like a tatty immigrant.
I asked my grandma once what it was like to look in the mirror when you were old, if it was horrible, and she reassured me it wasn’t because the changes happened unnoticed. She lied, it occurs to me. Changes never happen slowly. They tend to announce themselves rather radically. I glance at my reflection in the window. Haggard. I look away.
“Lots of people from other countries.” The bus slows down. I half rise from my seat. “This isn’t your stop yet. It’s the next one.” Embarrassed, I sit back down again.
“Someone thought the other day I was Portuguese, ” I say.
He nods. “Yes there are lots of Portuguese here too. For work.”
“I used to live in Portugal for a while. Lots of British and German people, ” I laugh.
He is slightly balding. I think about Milan Kundera who wrote something about someone who had the possibility of a bald patch and he wrote it so well. I think how odd it is that I remember it impressing me so much but for the life of me cannot remember the essence of it.
My mind does this when it gets nervous. It diffracts.
The bus driver announces something, I don’t understand what he has said and glance at the man. “This is where you need to get off.” The bus slows down.
“You are from here now, ” Villager J said the other day. He was being nice. And he knows I am not from the Ukraine.
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