I have not laid out the story of meeting our houseguest. It’s a good one..it all starts with some really fantastic crawfish hushpuppies from the Handsome Hog. Well…I guess those came after…
Once upon a time, a friend and I planned to meet for a lunch at one of my favorite spots. I got there early and found myself staring at the lunch-seekers who came in and out as I waited. A tiny woman and child came through the door. They looked very out of place. She was holding her phone up and he was clutching her other hand.
I smiled at her. She did not smile back.
I asked if she needed any help. She held up her phone and said ‘you will help me’ with a heavy accent. It was a strange sort of question/order that came from her. There was a screenshot of an address that would have been right around the corner from where we were. I tried to explain where she should go to get to that spot but she insisted again ‘you will help me’. Well, ok… I walked them out of the building and texted my friend to say that I would be delayed a little and we moved around the corner to the address. It was one of those strange buildings with cars parked on the main floor as if they were on display but really, they are stored or something. I thought it seemed like a weird destination. She started to cry. She said ‘I need apartment. One day vacation to find. This no apartment. I need place live with my son.’ I could feel her desperation. I tried to tell her that someone must have given her a wrong address but she just did not understand.
I felt so helpless. It is awkward to be in the middle of someone’s pain when you don’t really know what it is about or how to help to alleviate it. I tried to talk to the boy and he spoke english. He told me that she was speaking Russian. I asked him to tell her that I would give her my number and she could call me later when I would have someone with me to help translate…because…amazingly, we know people who speak russian. She nodded and I just was not sure if she totally got what I was trying to say to her. I asked if I could take her phone and then I typed in my phone number and my address. I said that she could call or come to me that evening and that I would have someone there to interpret. She walked away.
That could easily be the end of the story. My friend patiently waited for me and we ordered the yummy hushpuppies. He laughed when I told him the story and said that he couldn’t wait to know what was going to happen next. He wasn’t surprised. He knows me.
That evening, we were changing our phone service. It took forever to get new numbers, new service, transfer data…all the steps that I really do not understand. I get a call on the almost-traded-in-phone from an unknown number and I answer. It is her. She says, painstakingly, that she will come to my house that night. Quickly I call a friend and she agrees to have her son come flex his russian-language skills for us. I arrange for child #3 to go to fetch him with not much time to spare. This is the moment when I start to try to lay out the story for my husband. Poor guy…I am a hard one to keep up with.
Now, if you know me, you will know that talking to strangers is par-for-the-course in my world. Learning about their lives digging deep with them is also pretty common. My sweet husband is used to odd stories from my day and random folks showing up like old friends at the most unusual spots. My inviting a total stranger whom I could not even talk to over to our house was a new level. He, as any normal person would, had a couple of concerns. I, being fairly untypical, had not considered any of them…..not really surprising.
I call a friend and ask him to come to our house so that he would be there with our kids when the stranger was set to arrive. We would walk home as quickly as we could. In steps Verizon-Guy! He has been diligently working on our account and has heard much of the phone dealings and plans for this encounter. This guy was also a stranger to us…Graciously, he offered to give us a lift home. I know…sounds weird. Most people don’t find themselves in the back of their cell-phone dealer’s car racing home to try to get there. Wanna hear something else…he had a book from the library on Putin on the backseat! Right??!!! Surreal!
He pulls into our driveway at the same moment that child #2 is heading out of the house with her friend, child #3 pulls up with translating-friend, friend-called-to-come-over as reinforcements opens our front door since he has just arrived as well, on the street…a tiny blue car is parked. She is in there watching this crazy scene. She has a man with her. They both get out of the car and walk toward the house. I really wish we could have filmed this moment. No one could have dreamt up a more bizarre cast of characters and scene.
We all sit in the living room.
She needs somewhere to live. She needs something right away. We don’t hear her story at this point but it is becoming clearer and clearer that she is not sitting in our living room because she has the same habit of striking up friendships with strangers. She is desperate and that makes people do things that go against their nature. All of us could feel it: me, husband, child#3, translator, friend-of-ours, verizon-guy…it seems random but I start showing her around the house and telling her she can stay here as long as she needs. It went so smoothly, you would think that we do this all the time. She follows. She nods as if she understands the blather I am saying. I smile as if I know that I am understood.
We come back to sit in the living room.
She tells the translator that she can pay. We say no, no, we don’t want any rent from her. We just want her to feel comfortable here. We have lots of extra space and it really is not any trouble. He translates that to her and she frowns. She asks him something and he replies. ‘What did you say to her?’ ‘I told her that you are a very strange family…but a good one’. Yep. That is pretty much the nicest thing that anyone has ever said about us. I was touched. She speaks up again and he translates for us ‘No one in America does anything for free.’ Bam! Nailed to the wall….she didn’t mean to say anything unkind or even evocative but it rang so loudly to me of a truth that she had come to learn here in a very hard way. I wondered what prices she had been paying since she came here. My mind filled in all sorts of blanks and I pictured my daughters at the sort of edge of life that would have them in a total stranger’s house deciding if they could trust them enough to stay with them for a while. I wanted to scoop her up and tell her that her story was about to change. We did not want anything from her. Life crossed our paths and we were going to honor that. I’m a God person and for me… this was a grace-filled moment. A miracle.
Two weeks later, she moved in… in the dark…after she worked all day…after she left her son with us for three days with a leap-of-faith that I can’t imagine making. Her friend helped her. Our kids helped her. That’s how it happened. That’s the end of that story and the beginning of a new one that is still being written. We now get to have a life with a few new friends all because of that chance meeting. We have her, her son, her friend, and verizon-guy and we are all living happily ever after.
Crawfish hushpuppies are good but they don’t top that. Not even close.