Friday, July 19, 2013

Both hands steal into the swollen summer air, a blind reach

A PCC interaction 3

Here's a little interaction I witnessed the other day while reporting a separate story.

Yves Mutara missed his first bus home. The next southbound 4 wouldn’t come for another few minutes. He spent the first of those moments staring at the beard.

In three decades of living in Democratic Republic of Congo, Mutara had never seen a beard like that. The hair was wild and white and seemed to float around, rather than protrude from, the dark face wearing it.

Mutara looked down the road for the bus. No sign of it. He approached the beard.

“Excuse me,” he said. His voice was soft with a trace of the French accent he learned in Kinshasa in school. “How old are you?”

A pair of eyes lit up underneath two equally wild and white eyebrows.

“In my soul or in my physical body?” the man asked.

“Your physical body,” Mutara explained. “Because, see, when I watch you, you look young. You have energy. You are strong. But as I get closer, you look …”

“Old,” the man finished.

He laughed and introduced himself as Thimmaiah. He was 67 and studying basic English at Portland Community College’s Cascade campus. Thimmaiah was born Tadaga Doddathimmaiah in a Southern Indian town called Mysore. He's still learning to speak, he said, but that didn't slow him down. Every word seemed accompanied by its own exclamation point. His eyebrows bounced independently of each other.

Mutara, still quiet, explained he was studying business at the school.

“Why are you white hair everywhere?” Mutara asked. “Is it fashion? How do you look so good?”

“I trained for wrestling. And I never smoked. And I never did drugs. And I can teach you tiger breathing right here,” Thimmaiah said.

“I also never smoke,” Mutara said, his voice rising.

His bus stopped, let off a few passengers, then continued down North Albina Street without him. He moved here two years ago, but moments like these, where he feels he fits, are rare.

“Are you 26?” Thimmaiah said.

“That’s right, 36,” Mutara said, mishearing. “When I see you,” he told his new acquaintance, “I see the glory of God.”

“You don’t have to tell me about God,” Thimmaiah said. “He’s in my soul. I was raised Hindu, but Jesus is the energy that brought me to this country.”

They exchanged email addresses and stories of the way God had pulled them from worse situations.

“I was lost,” Mutara said. “And now I am here with you.”

Thimmaiah lunged at Mutara, grabbing him in a hug. That white hair enveloped him. They pulled apart after half a minute. Then Mutara walked to catch the bus, a strand of white hair shining out against his navy button-up.

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