Immigrant in the Land of Promises – A Short Story

The immigrant's apartment
She opened the window, hoping to let some fresh air in.

I wrote the original story of the Immigrant for Hubpages, as a response to a writing challenge issued by Bill Holland.  The title was “The Door to Nowhere”. The inspiration came from my observations of immigrants I know or met along the way, who left their old homes behind, hoping to find a better life in a new country.  However, the story and the characters are purely fictional.

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Was it only yesterday that my sister showed up on my doorstep? At this door that leads to nowhere? How did she even find me? I noticed the stunned look on her face before she could hide it, her scared big eyes as she looked at me as she entered my apartment, the tears welling up in her eyes, as she looked at the mess I live in. I noticed how she was fighting the urge to cover her nose at the stink of garbage and dust mixed with dirty dishes and sweat. She still hugged me and held me tight. I could feel her hot tears rolling on my shoulder.

She cried silently. Then sprung to action. She opened my window, hoping to let some fresh air on. Air from outside rushed in, replacing the stale odor of hopelessness. It was different, though not much better. The smell of garbage and exhaust fumes was drifting up to the tiny apartment. The sound of sirens, loud cars and people screaming at each other was unbearable. No, I didn’t want the window open, I wanted to scream. It was no better out there. In this neighborhood of poor immigrants opening the window didn’t help.  

Still, she left it open. At least for a little while. She found a broom somehow. Funny, I couldn’t remember owning one. She started sweeping my kitchen floor. Then started the water running in my sink, while looking for some dish washing liquid. I thought she would have to leave to get some, but she found a bottle with a few drops left in it. That was enough, she was able to soak the few dishes left in my sink. I don’t remember the last time anyone made a meal in this place, I couldn’t understand where these dishes even came from. However, they were here, stinking up the place. This angel, this little girl I left behind was cleaning up my place.

I was supposed to be the one who made it, the one who had it all, the one who was going to help her and mom, to send them money…. I wish I could go back with her. But my door leads to nowhere. I need her to leave. She needs to go back, there is no place for her in the world of this immigrant who could not make it. 

Has it really been twenty years since I got on that plane, leaving for a perceived better world? I became an immigrant, hoping to find fame and fortune, or at least a better life in the “promised land”. My sister was a little child then, clinging to me and begging me not to leave. Why didn’t I listen to her? Though I broke her heart, she’s here, trying to save me. She doesn’t care that I didn’t even write to her as I promised, I didn’t go back bringing her presents. I disappeared from her life, yet she found me, and came to help.

I feel trapped. Trapped behind this door, that leads to nowhere. Looking at it, I realize how much I failed. This apartment is no better than the ones my family and friends live in. Not any worse, either, that’s true. But when they open their window, they hear friendly voices, their door leads to friends and neighbors who care. Mine leads to nowhere. All I hear is sirens, screams in the night, gunshots. All I see is tragedy around me. No, this is not the promised land I once pictured.

How much all my friends envied me when I got a visa to go to the famous USA! I was living everyone’s dream.  My family, friends, acquaintances, everyone had some advice for me. Most of all, they all wanted to make sure I didn’t forget them when I became rich and famous. We had this idea of everyone being wealthy and happy in this great new world. 

Back home I had a degree I worked hard for, a loving family, a girlfriend I was going to marry, and friends who cared about me. I was happy, I realize it now, I had everything I could ever want. I left it all behind for… for what? What in the world was I thinking? What did I want? Wealth? Fame? What?

It’s all over soon, I know it.  I’m barely surviving on this minimum-wage job in the tiny restaurant under this apartment. With no time to write, no energy or motivation to write, I will never be a writer in this new shiny country. In a communist country there were no real writers. They didn’t even a designated college for journalism, those who loved the written word studied linguistics instead. Just like I did. Something was missing though, and I thought I could find it here. But I see it now, there is no way I will ever make it as an immigrant.

Why did I listen to my dad? He was never part of my life before. I was four when he left my mom and me, and never even came to visit while I was growing up. Sure, he sent me money, and sometimes a present or two. But he was never there. Ever. He never sent a letter, not even a line. My mom remarried and my sister was born. We were happy. My step dad was more of a parent to me then my real dad ever was. So why did I leave them?

My dad finally came to visit in my last year of college. Not really impressed with my degree, he still offered to bring me to America, where he lived as an immigrant alien. It was the first time I saw him in over a decade.  He never offered to take me, never even visited me while I was a kid, when I needed a father.

I still accepted his offer, though I wonder why. Maybe I wanted to get a chance to know him. I was hoping for some father-son bond, I thought.  But I already had that with my step-dad,  it should not have been important to be with my real dad.  Real dad?  He is simply my biological father.  That’s it, nothing more. Even after I started living geographically close to him, he never gave me a chance to know him, to understand him.

Maybe it wasn’t about him at all.  I was shallow, I wanted to live in the promise-land, where everyone owned at least one car and definitely a house. Or I simply wanted something else, something different, when the opportunity came.  I was full of expectations, full of hopes and dreams. I left everything behind, my real family, all my friends, a job I wanted waiting for me.  

Seems like it was only yesterday when I first landed at JFK. I felt like part of one of the movies I loved to watch. In the middle of the night the city looked beautiful from the air, with its millions of lights. From high up, a few thousand feet in the air, all you could see was its beauty, nothing else.

My dad seemed happy to see me. The drive to his home was a long one.  Exhausted, I must have dozed off after a few minutes because I don’t remember talking to him during the ride. I woke up when we got to his house.

He did own a house, not as big as I imagined it from his stories, but much nicer than any I’ve seen before. It had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a garden behind. Since I never imagined a home with more than one bathroom, that was impressive to me. I met his wife for the first time, though I couldn’t tell if she liked me, she was hard to read. They led me to one of the bedrooms, and told me that I could stay there for up to six months, but no longer. During that time I had to find a job and a place of my own.

The first week they treated me like a guest. Proud of their accomplishments, they were happy to share them with someone. They expected me to be impressed by the material things they had gathered over the years. The cars they drove, the TVs they watched, the rooms in their house were supposed to awe me. Indeed, they were twice the size of what I was used to. Other than that, things weren’t much different. When they asked me what I thought, I told them. I wasn’t sufficiently impressed, I noticed. 

Soon they started pestering me about getting a job. I didn’t know where to start. How was I supposed to do that as a new immigrant? In my old country, I had a job waiting for me as soon as I got out of high school or college. That was one good thing about communist countries, they got you situated. Maybe not the way you wanted it, but you had some choices. Limited, true, but still….

No one ever taught me how to go out and get a job. Yet my dad expected to do it, and do it soon. It was scary. I thought he would help. He told me he had no time. He was working from early morning till late at night, commuting an hour each way to his work. If he could do it, I surely could, with my college diploma.

“But dad, where do I start? You know we didn’t have to look for jobs in Romania,” I told him.

“Sure you can figure it out. You speak the language, just look through the help wanted ads, and answer some.

So I did. But I couldn’t help wondering if this was what I really wanted.  Watching my dad work all day, with no time to enjoy all the things he was working for, made me wonder. Was this what I wanted from life? To have a house, a car, a wife, but no time to enjoy any of it, because I was working day and night and when I got home I was too tired to do anything?

My dad barely spoke English after close to forty years in the country.  In fact my English was better than his. His friends were all immigrants from our old town and its vicinity.  Some of them knew each other before coming here, others met here, through a network of immigrants. When he took me to one of their gatherings, I thought I landed in the twilight zone.  It was home fifty years ago,  a little island of the old country, even older than I remembered it.  I felt like I landed in some of my grandparents’ stories, only in a different place. 

One of the reasons I came was to have the freedom to be whatever I wanted. I didn’t know how to do it, but I didn’t realize how hard it was. I really did try to get a job. But without any experience, new in this land, no one wanted to hire me. A month passed, then another, yet I was far from making any money to move out. The days passed by too quickly. I felt that I needed more time, time to learn about this new world, about this new culture. A new immigrant in a foreign country is like a baby learning how to walk. Someone I know said that once, and I suddenly understood the meaning. A new, young, immigrant needs time to find his way, needs a parent to teach him how to walk.

Excuses, I know. I can’t blame my dad. He didn’t know how to be a parent. He never had a chance to learn. Besides, I was a grown man. I should’ve been able to do better. When I finally got this job, it felt like an accomplishment. I moved in this apartment above the place I’m working at. For a neighborhood of poor immigrants, it wasn’t so bad to start off. But I didn’t think that twenty years later I would still live here,  I didn’t think that I would be trapped behind this door that leads to nowhere.

My dad called me a loser when I still didn’t have a job a month after I landed. Maybe I was. Or maybe we become what we are labeled.

My sister stirs in her sleep. I still can’t believe she found me and came all the way when she heard how sick I was. I can’t imagine who told her. My sister… She is truly an angel. But it is too late for me. I don’t deserve this from her. Yet it is so comforting to know that she is here…

I see the sun’s first rays come through the crack of my door, this door that leads nowhere for me. Watching my sweet little sister sleep, I can’t help but feel a little hope. Maybe it is not too late, maybe I can go back with her, and leave this land of immigrants. If I do, if I am able to leave this place, to go back to my real home, to the people I left behind, maybe I can live again.

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The original article was called The Door to Nowhere and it was published here: https://hubpages.com/literature/The-Door-to-Nowhere-My-Response-to-billybucs-Writing-Challenge

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More fiction stories from this author:

 

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Emese Fromm

I love words, in a few different languages. I am a writer and a translator. 
I grew up in Transylvania, where I spoke Hungarian at home, Romanian in school. I wanted to be a writer. But writers didn't exist in the Socialist Republic of Romania. With every word censored, no one could write, so I studied math and computer programming instead. 
Now I live in the Sonoran Desert. I travel and write. 
And sometimes I work as a translator.
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Emese Fromm

I love words, in a few different languages. I am a writer and a translator.  I grew up in Transylvania, where I spoke Hungarian at home, Romanian in school. I wanted to be a writer. But writers didn't exist in the Socialist Republic of Romania. With every word censored, no one could write, so I studied math and computer programming instead.  Now I live in the Sonoran Desert. I travel and write.  And sometimes I work as a translator.

6 thoughts on “Immigrant in the Land of Promises – A Short Story

  • August 7, 2017 at 6:02 PM
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    This is a great story, Emese. It is sad that he did not receive the help he needed to adjust and find something better. Your story is well written and I enjoyed reading it. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Reply
    • August 8, 2017 at 9:37 AM
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      Thank you, Phyllis. Most immigrant stories are much happier – mine for example ;). However, there is another side of it, and at the time I felt the need to write about it. Of course, the family situation is another issue that plays a role in the outcome. Glad you enjoyed it, Phyllis.

      Reply
  • August 7, 2017 at 9:50 PM
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    Yes, well written and most enjoyable. I can’t imagine the difficulty in adjusting to a new life in a foreign country. I admire immigrants for there courage and tenacity and your story was most enjoyable. Thanks Emese.

    Reply
    • August 8, 2017 at 9:42 AM
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      Thank you, Tony. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yes, it is very difficult to start life in a foreign country, especially where even the language is different. Some of us are just a bit crazy and need to try it; in most cases we end up better for it.

      Reply
  • August 8, 2017 at 9:28 AM
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    A wonderful story, Emese. I think I had read it previously on HubPages, but it was well worth a second read.

    Reply
    • August 8, 2017 at 9:44 AM
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      Thank you. I changed it a bit from the original version, but it is basically the same. Glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply

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