Mrs. Hira's Daycare
You can find Mrs. Hira’s daycare in the apartment complex on 50th and Lake Street, the one you were told to steer away from as a child. It’s renovated now, along with the rest of the block and some of the people. Recently, there have been fresh arrivals, weary-eyed, hungry, looking for something new. The apartment building is a prime spot, affordable and suited to their arrival, just a few blocks down from the metro and another connection or two to the airport. It’s quite pleasing, really. There are fresh carpets and plastic vases in the lobby, some nice seating, too, cushions that will make room without being asked to. You must try them out sometime. Perhaps they will help calm your nerves being in this part of town. When you’re ready, feel free to take the elevator. It’s newly installed, still fresh with plastic wrap creased over the buttons. You see, the residents here don’t come from much, they don’t come by new things often, and they would prefer to leave the protective plastic as it is. They’re careful that way, they’ve been forced to be.
On the way up, in case you find yourself accompanied, don’t be afraid to make conversation. Mr. Kaaf has a tendency to ramble on quite a bit, and most of his words get lost in that hefty accent of his, but I’d say you take what you can and go with it, he’s trying his best, and if you find yourself sickened by Ms. Mishka’s Eau de Parfum (it’s awful, I know), a breath in and out your mouth can do wonders, but my point is, they’re all good and honest and safe, nothing to be frightened of. Most likely, they’re on their way home from work just as you are. I don’t mean for that to rub you the wrong way, of course, in case you’re now muttering a bit about stolen jobs (I’m sure you have no wrong intentions, it happens now and then). I only mean to say they have nowhere else to go. Take one good look at Mr. Kaaf’s shoes: tattered grey ASICS that are hanging on by the seams, they were white when he bought them long ago, did you know? I must assure you, their lives are not so glamorous, certainly not anything more than yours.
When the doors slide open on the third floor, feel free to end the conversation there (in the most pleasant way you can, of course) before you hop off, take a left, right, and you’ll find the daycare. What you see there on the door is not Russian propaganda, it means “welcome to our home.” Mrs. Hira runs the daycare in their two-bedroom one-bath roughly from 9 AM-5 PM, although we run on flexible timings here, in case you’ve got an early or late meeting, or you thought you’d make a quick run to the dry cleaners, but god, doesn’t time fly by? Or you’re sorry your carpool has quite a long route (of course, you didn’t intend to plan it that way), or you’re terribly tired/sick/angry (perhaps all of the above) and children are too much work. It’s no problem, really. When you arrive (and we hope you do), you will find your child leaning into Mrs. Hira watching Indian soaps on the TV, or at the table with her own family, her teenage daughter (she’s nothing to be worried about) and Mr. Hira, eating foods your child will learn to call bread and potatoes (we promise the spices do not make them fat). Please, do not be angry if your child begins to ask for bread and potatoes at home, or perhaps begins to walk around the house shouting adamant phrases from the Indian soap dramas. PB & J’s do get bland, you must admit, and the words they are shouting are nothing to be concerned about. Slightly dramatic, yes, but nothing harmful. Perhaps you’d prefer they learn French or Italian, something more sophisticated, more appropriate, but we teach them what we know, that is all. And they are just children, you must remember, little sponges that absorb with their every move. So, I must remind you, before you come complaining and angry, do consider the malleability of children, and if you’d prefer they end up something like yourself, keep them at home, please, perhaps ditch the iPads, show them what you’d like them to replicate. They learn quickly. We are just teaching them what we know.
Now, about Mrs. Hira, she’s certainly a big woman. I should warn you, she tends to take up space in more ways than one. And her words—they are not the easiest to understand. It’s the accent though, she’s grown into it, and perhaps you’d prefer she grow out of it too, and I promise you, she would, if accents were as interchangeable as a pair of pants (just a hop right in and out, how wonderful would that be?). Occasionally, she will not be as pleasant or patient as this country has conditioned her to be. She will not melt for you in the way you’d like. She will ask you to repeat your words (she has trouble with English, as I mentioned) and she tends to speak in that loud, overbearing way of hers and forget her please and thank-yous (she was never taught them as religiously as your children are) but please, do not be bothered by the loud immigrant woman. This is the only way she’s been able to get by all these years, by being tough, resilient, and asking for what she wants. The truth is, once you’ve lived this life too long, lived here in this country, too long, you begin to see that all of this is nothing more than a pre-existing arrangement, a contract you’ve unwittingly accepted. It’s only a matter of time before everyone starts to fall into the same rhythm. It’s been tiring for her, living like this, and over time she’s learned the only acceptable thing to do is to fall right into her place within it all. To accept what’s been handed to her and cherish it. So, please, do not be fooled by her bold presence; she’s learned to be silent and accommodating in all of the places in her life where she must be. This country has forced her to soften her ways. Still, you should know, she’s certainly not a honey-I love-you-sweet-PB-J parent, not one to let children develop recklessly, aimlessly. They are sponges, as I said. They must learn to bounce back quickly. I hope the occasional pat-on-the-butt does not bother you. What I’m trying to say is, she will teach the children well. Before long, they will grow on her, and she on them.
The apartment doesn’t have much, there’s a sofa set (it’s not in the best shape, the children treat it as something of a jungle gym sorts), a TV in the living room, and kitchen counters with peeling surfaces Mrs. Hira does her best to keep empty and out of reach of the children. You should understand, the family is careful with everything, they buy only what they absolutely need, and they have learned to make use of things until there is a certain worn-down, lived-in sense to each and every one of their belongings (nothing brought into the apartment has an easy way out). There’s no need to worry about the children, for them, there are cardboard boxes of toys from Goodwill, cupboards with sippy cups and applesauce in the fridge. You will find that the children take priority here. Mrs. Hira will put their needs above her family’s. Perhaps the sight of the interior will make you uncomfortable (the stark vacancy of it, the frigid lighting and the absence of a plant or painting or two, they are more concerned with making do than they are with indulgence), but Mrs. Hira will treat you with hospitality, she will always offer you what she is cooking (although you have refused enough times for her to stop making the effort). There’s just one thing to ask, if you wouldn’t mind getting the payments in on time. Mr. Hira must pay the rent, his daughter’s tuition, and make sure to send some back home. That’s all we ask, if we may, nothing more. And our prices are negotiable, certainly not comparable to the New Horizon downtown (still, if it’s too much, please do let us know).
We tread this country on light steps. We are reliable. We will do the dirty work. We will feed your children, bathe them, take care of their diapers, their spit, their vomit. We will tend to their tantrums, the screaming, the crying, the throwing themselves upside down on the sofa and clinging to our arms and legs out of hasty obstinance. Occasionally, we will resort to the candy and soda in popping colors to soothe them (it always seems to work). Along the way, we don’t intend to change the children, but they do, sometimes. Perhaps they will learn a little bit about our way of things. The loud, messy, unappealing nature of the love and comfort we share during our time here. It’s hard to find in this country, we know, so we do share it, far and wide. We will feed it to them, whisper it to them as they fall asleep, and when you come to get the children, we will hand them off to you because they are yours. We only hope you will do the same for them. When they begin to grow out of our reach (and perhaps yours too) we hope they will remember their time with us, that they will treat us and our children and our English with tolerance, if anything. We don’t ask for much more.
We have learned things have a way of running their course here, that the people melt and harden along with the seasons. The children are the same way, although we cannot say it is entirely their fault. They, like the most of us, are only a product of their surroundings. As they slip quickly through the years, they will begin to see us differently, getting a broader sense of what’s out there—something beyond what we’ve been able to give them all this time. Before long, we suppose, they will lose sight of our efforts, bothering our children at school, making check-out counters difficult, shouting slurs at the subway station. Will Mrs. Hira be the woman they grow to mock? Or, perhaps they will take the back-door approach, following in your footsteps, putting on an act for what it’s worth. Perhaps, in a dozen years or so, they will be smiling at us, seemingly grateful, seemingly pleasant, and when the time comes, they will put in a word for us to be gone. It’s only a matter of time, as we have learned most things here are. At the end of the day, we will wonder where our time with them has gone. We will wonder if there is anything else we could have done. And still, we wonder what difference it would have made.
Regardless, I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I did forget a few things, though, just some concerns of yours I’d like to clear up. We are not affiliated with any of the gangs, no, not any of the money laundering schemes either (we are just as prone to the scam calls), yes, we have our documents with us (in the cupboard in the back, we can show you if you’d like), and we don’t carry foreign diseases or infections (there is the occasional flu, but as you know, the weather isn’t very friendly this time of the year). Okay? Okay. And one last thing, please do spread the word. Business has been slow lately.
Dedeepya Guthikonda is a high school junior from Minneapolis. Her work has been recognized
by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and Ringling College of Art & Design, among others. She
is a Counterclock Arts Collective Fellow and an alumna of the Adroit Summer Mentorship Program.
She enjoys long walks and bubble tea.