I made my way through busy lines of people and suitcases from the terminal to the bus stop, caring little about bumping shoulders and apologies. Smoke, exhaust and wind pushed back the cold air of the airport and welcomed me to Chicago.
As I reached the bus stop, it started to rain.
The bus arrived. I stood in line, waited to pay the ticket fee and have my suitcases put in the luggage compartment. When it was done, I quickly made my way to the door to get on the bus. Sweeping some raindrops off my hair, I sat myself down at a window seat. I looked outside, admiring the four-lane, organized highway that had no puddles even in the pouring rain.
Heavy rains and puddles carry lots of memories for a girl growing up in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam.
When I was in fifth grade, I had a routine of walking to my evening piano class after school. The class was located in the corner of a narrow market street: a little white-painted brick house squeezed wall-to-wall in between the others, peeking out behind a line of vendors. On my way to class, I stopped by a small kiosk to buy a packet of sweet bread for a snack.
I opened the packet and stuffed the piece of bread in my mouth while continuing on my way. As I put the wrapper in my pocket, I couldn’t help but think of my mother’s smile when she took it out before putting the uniform in the laundry basket. She knew I didn’t skip my snack. When I did, intentionally or not, she would scold me for a good fifteen minutes and go on for the rest of the day about how malnutrition could affect my body and my studying.
I quickly wiped my hands on my pants as I reached the classroom. I bowed to the teacher, a middle-aged, strict looking man who was leaning against the door, waiting for the student group arriving for the 5 o’clock class. I took off my shoes, carefully placed them on the shelf behind the door and went to my regular spot.
The class had two pianos facing the walls and six keyboards lined up facing a white board. During class, our teacher would walk slowly around the room, teaching and checking on each of us. As much as I loved playing the piano, having a two-hour evening class after an eight-hour-long day of school wasn’t at the top of my hobby list.
I got distracted easily by noises. Our piano class, facing out to the street with the sliding door wide open, was filled with noises. Eight instruments playing at the same time, not so harmoniously. Vehicles passing by and people talking on the street sending all kinds of sounds through the front door. Sometimes, as the noises started to enter my stream of thoughts, a tap on my shoulder would startle me. My teacher, reaching to my shoulder with the long bamboo ruler from behind me, would say in his loud and deep voice, “Posture and Attitude!” – telling me to sit up straight and not to show expressions that had nothing to do with the song I was playing.
Only rain could lift up my posture and attitude. When it rained, all the noises faded into the sound of the rain drops. The only sound left was music peacefully intertwined with the rain sound. And when it rained, I knew I wouldn’t have to walk home by myself when the class ended.
One day, as the raindrops heavily fell, I anxiously glanced at the door as I was practicing, waiting for my mother to come pick me up. Just as I saw her approaching the door step, I put away the book and sprinted towards her. My mother, resting the open umbrella on her shoulder, looked at me and pointed to the classroom. I paused, turned around and walked towards my teacher. Trying not to interrupt his teaching time, I silently bowed, and walked away as he nodded at me.
Sandals weren’t the best for a rainy day, but school uniforms required them. The market street was flooded with ankle-deep puddles. Refusing to let my feet get soaked, my mother offered me her back.
All the way through the flooded street, with her arms reaching backward and wrapping around me, my mom carried me on her back. Both my hands holding the umbrella and my head resting on her shoulder. I felt her body: her narrow shoulders, her small waist, and her soft arms that strongly held on to me and protected me. Sometimes, as my mother unsuccessfully recoiled from a splash, we nearly tipped over. We laughed.
We made our way through the flooded street, unable to avoid the water splashing from vehicles passing by and kids jumping excitedly in the puddles. Not even half way home, we were partly soaked.
It’s still pouring in Chicago.
Nesting myself in the comfy seat of the bus, I missed the warmth of my mother’s embrace badly.
I felt the engine starting. I departed for another year of college.
Taking a deep breath, I leaned my head against the window to feel the raindrops.