For two years, twice a day, at two different ticks of the clock, I took a twenty minute drive along an identical route. I wasn’t always aware of my surroundings, rarely paying attention to what was going on outside my window, mostly answering my son’s questions, ranging from “what is god?”, to “where was I before I was born?”, to my favorite “are we there yet?”. It was repetitious, boring, a chore. I no longer drive along those roads, and now so clearly remember what I saw.
The smell of an aromatic cigarette in the elevator, and the plump lady that smoked it every day, lighting it outside her door downstairs, walking with it to the bus stop down the street.
The old man, in the garden of the building next door, oxygen tank in hand, cigarette in mouth. Sometimes I’d see him in the cab always parked in the same place, without license plates, sitting in the driver’s seat with the engine on.
The Pakistani man walking through the line of traffic at the lights, selling tissues, cutting flowers for my son from the weedy sidewalk. The first year I was cautious, afraid, uncomfortable. My son would roll down his window, smile, say thank you, and wonder where the “nice man” was on rainy, cold days. One day in spring, I saw him hand out daisies to an entire school bus, little hands sticking out the cracked windows, and my fear turned into warmth.
The trucks and bulldozers that we’d count on the road when he was only two-and-a-half, terrified of the new, strange place that took him away from mommy. The counting grew into the number of pigeons resting on the electricity cables above our heads, then red cars, and finally into sing-a-longs to favorite songs on the radio.
The posters randomly stuck on the streetlights before our final turn, changing in accordance with the political climate, weekly call to strike, local concerts; they layered them, one on top of the other, glue on glue, a medley of Greek society.
The amazing boy, almost a teenager, being lifted on and off the school bus for kids with special needs. Paraplegic, happier than any child I’ve seen, especially when his father scooped him up from his wheelchair every afternoon, cradling him like a baby, holding him close. I teared up every single time, reminding myself of how lucky most of us are, holding on to the moment as if a reminder of that beauty, tenderness and love are the most important thing in our routine, they keep us going, steer us down the same roads, bring us back.
The little boy, that after a few months of crying “mommy, don’t leave me,” ran through the doors of his preschool with glee, and dove into the box of plastic insects with his best friend.
The old, sick woman that was placed on an uncomfortable chair on the balcony of the house next to which I’d park. “Hey! Come up here!” or “Hey, throw this away!” she’d yell every day, either motioning me to the chair next to her, or throwing a bag of garbage onto the curb.
“Be quiet, Fotini, leave the woman alone,” her caretaker would say.
The peace, sometimes magical, sometimes lonely, as I gathered bits of breakfast and legos from around the house, estimating the hours I had before I’d have to go on my journey again.