It was a cold winter day. There was no snow in Austin, but in my head, ice flakes were flurrying down and all around. The skin between my index finger and thumb had gone dry, causing cracks in my skin. Dried blood. Shivering, I waited. I looked between my feet and waited. I looked at the neat, beautiful houses in rows and waited. At the cars going by. And waited.
My mom sat beside me as we both squinted into the distance, eyes searching for the signature university colors of dark orange and white. Upon seeing my chattering teeth, Mama took off her woolen jacket and wrapped it around me. I stayed quiet.
Ten minutes felt like an hour. But at last the campus bus came, and we shuffled into the warmth.
In the crisp air of the night, we waited for the campus bus, again. At that point, I had adjusted to the winter, and my light brown skin did not brittle as it used to. Beside us was a young black man.
Shuffling feet in thick winter coats passed us in the dim light, their faces faintly illuminated by the glow of street lights. The ring of bikes dully sounded. I exhaled, creating snow-white apples in the dark.
Restlessly, my mom fished around her purse, digging out the food she had bought just earlier. She gave me some bread. Then, turning to the man beside her, she offered him some food as well.
The man smiled brightly. He thanked my mom and accepted the food. As he chewed, he talked with pride of Jesus and his church. He doted on my mother’s kindness and told her we should convert to Christianity.
My mom, in her Indonesian-accented English politely told him that we were Muslim. The man nodded, but he didn’t let that quench his enthusiasm in gospel. We ate together, in the shade of the lights, waiting still as the discussion turned to religion.
It was my first day at school. My mom and I waited at the bus stop-the same one we waited for the campus bus. She was told that there would be a school bus to pick me up and drop me off.
Soon enough, a huge yellow bus passed us with the words School Bus on the side. My mom and I frantically jumped up and down, trying to get notice of the bus driver. Unfortunately, she didn’t stop.
“Kenapa dia engga berhenti, Ma? Why didn’t she stop, Mama?” I asked.
“I think you’re not supposed to do that here,” she replied, frowning.
Unsure what to do, my mom decided to walk me to school. First, we took the campus bus to the street which led to school. Then we trudged up a hill, passing through a neighborhood with an old abandoned house. As the hill got steeper, we slowed down, and my mom offered to take turns carrying my backpack. Gratefully, I let her help me. When we reached the top of the hill, the school building loomed, waiting, as I arrived half an hour late.
Mama continued to do this until she figured out that the bus stopped in front of the laundry, precisely at 6:30 a.m. Everyday. This was after she found out that everyone in the apartment complex had mailboxes. Ours overflowed with sealed envelopes- one of which was a letter from the school district, containing warnings about my multiple tardies and absences.
I still wonder if it was luck or coincidence- how my mom discovered the mailbox just in time before we were sent to court.
They don’t do that in Indonesia. You could have ten absences but the worst they can do is expel you. And that is if you don’t live in a very rural area, where you might have reasonable excuses for those tardies.
I will never forget, however, how she took time during those days of perplexed wonder to walk up that steep hill every day to drop me off at school. Everything was new- not only to me, but to her as well.
It has only occurred to me now that I am older how much of a hassle I must have been. I often cried, made messes, and gave her so much more to think about. She had to take care of me all by herself. As a foreign student, in a land far from home. However, Mama didn’t mind. In fact, her heart wasn’t whole yet, because there were still two people missing from our small family. My sister in Indonesia and my dad, who was studying elsewhere.
It amazes me how strong she was at that time. How resilient and brave.
Above all my mom is a pioneer. She is my inspiration and the strongest woman I know. But above all that, she is a human with a heart like my own. A heart that beats with love, life, and laughter. A hand that cooks to a perfection that only she could create. Eyes that always watch and guide from afar. Hands that taught me how to walk- on my own. Ears that listen even when I am quiet. A gentle voice that will forever be clad in my heart.
Mama, thank you for being such a wonderful, human, down-to-earth mom. I can’t imagine anybody better at the job than you.
No matter where I go in life, you will always be
my light, my guiding voice, my inspiration, and my heart.
Thank you for all your wisdom and your love.
My love for you is as eternal as the stars above.
Please forgive me when I fight with you
get mad at you
and say “I hate you”
I never ever mean it
And I’m sorry if it hurt you.
thank you for everything that you have done…
To Pluto and back-
that is how much I love you.