Sitting in the café, I joked: Understanding what’s going on is overrated but I was whistling in the wind. I didn’t mean it. All my life had been predicated on understanding what was going on. If I didn’t know something, I went to the library and looked it up.
To go from that to the pidgin of a two-year-old was a comedown.
After I left the café, I paused in front of a store window, as if its display could bring me up to speed. Some sort of meat was being sold until el fin de existencias, which I read as until the end of the world not until it sold out. The next store, I left without buying anything because its display contained both a rooster in full feather from cockscomb to spurs and a skinned rabbit still wearing its head and soft bunny eyes.
I caught two words out of every five. As I walked down the street, young women pushed elderly people in wheelchairs, which made me realize I’d never seen an old person in a wheelchair other than in a nursing home or a doctor’s office before.
I lived in a city, not mine. It was hundreds of years old, and bloodstained. What did my New World heart know about plague? Or revolution? There was no way I could understand where I was, no matter how many language bootcamps I signed up for.
For some reason, a man was lowering his cellphone to the sidewalk to snap a photo of the asphalt. I was at the same time at home and not home. The name of the band I was listening to through my earbuds was Big Thief.
Fear is the thing that fucks you up, I’d also said, long before I sat down in the café with a group of untethered women who’d hate to be referred to as expats. Fear fucks you up. So I’d come to this country even though I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to. I pretended I didn’t care that once I got here, I became stupid — but I did.
And that, I begin to realize, is a certain sort of fear itself.
When you lose one sense, others grow, to compensate. I didn’t understand anything but all around me on the street, people were carrying long bars of bread like their hearts in their hands.
That I was here, in my stupidity, to witness that, had to be a good thing.