It’s 8:30 pm and I’m leaving earlier because Ronny agreed to swap with me to close the bar. I would close on Friday (a busy night) if he closed tonight.
I made a point to park in the same part of the garage in case my little friend decided to make an appearance. Because it was earlier I’d have more time to talk and wouldn’t have to rush home to feed his royal highness.
I leaned against the hood of my car and lit a cigarette. I’ve been trying to quit for what seems to be forever. I’ve finally gotten down to four cigarettes a day: one mid-morning, one mid afternoon, one after dinner and one before bed. This seems to keep my nicotine monster at bay and feels somewhat virtuous. One day I really will quit but as I said, I’m not quite ready to give up this source of comfort.
And sure enough, behind the huge green pickup truck, I see a little twitch.
“Hi” I say keeping it casual.
“Hello” she responds in her odd sibilant accent.
“How are you doing this evening?”
This banal question seems to flummox her.
After a long pause, I try again.
“Is it OK if I ask you some questions?”
“Yess” she says cautiously.
Now I’m a little stuck. I don’t want to scare her away. But I am curious.
“Do you live here at the airport?”
“Do you live in the hotel?”
“Where do you live in the airport?”
There’s a very long pause. I wonder if she’s left. But then I hear,
Now DIA doesn’t have a basement though it does, as I said, have lots of tunnels and storage spaces. I decide to try an easier question.
“What’s your name?”
“You can call me Maya.”
“That’s a pretty name,” I say.
“Like the poet.”
“Yes. The caged bird.”
Wow. She lives in the basement of DIA and reads poetry by Maya Angelou. I’m impressed.
“Do you like poetry?” I ask her.
“Yes. Do you like poetry?”
“Some,” I say truthfully. “I like Maya Angelou’s poems.”
And then she recites the entire poem, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
I’m dumbfounded. I’m standing in an airport garage smoking a cigarette and listening to this strange person I barely know recite an entire poem in that strange sibilant voice.
“That was beautiful,” I tell her, “Thank you Maya.”
“It’s very beautiful” she replies.
“Is Maya your real name?” I ask her.
“My real name is hard for you to pronounce,” she says and then says something that sounds like a combination of clicks, hisses, and gurgles.
“What language is that?” I ask her and she replies with another string of clicks, hisses, and gurgles.
OK, this is not any language I’m familiar with. I know there are some African tribes which use clicks in their language, is she from Africa?
“I don’t know what language you’re speaking in,” I tell her, “What you’re saying sounds almost like an African language. Are you from Africa?”
“I am from here.”
Curiouser and curiouser.
I try another small talk type question.
“What do you do for fun?”
“Umm, something you do just because you like to do it.”
OK this makes sense, she does after all like poetry.
“Where do get books?” I ask.
Tattered Cover is a beloved Denver area bookstore and has a small shop in DIA. In my mind I see Maya creeping around the airport at night, slipping into a book stall and reading poetry.
“I like Tattered Cover, too,” I say “Sometimes I wish I could get a job working in a bookstore like The Tattered Cover.”
I’m running out of easy questions to ask her but I don’t want her to leave yet.
“You can ask me questions, too.”
“What’s your name?”
I start laughing. Such a simple thing to ask.
“My name is Clara.”
“C l a r a,” she seems to be trying out the word. “Clara is a pretty name.”
“Thank you,” I tell her.
“What do you do for fun?”
I’m a little surprised that this question actually makes me feel sad because there isn’t much room in my life for fun at the moment.
“I like to hike in the mountains,” I tell her. “I feel happy when I’m in the mountains.”
Whoa, this girl lives in Colorado and doesn’t know what mountains are? I try to think of an explanation.
“Mountains,” I say and I point to the West. “The big purple rocks.”
“Yes,” she says and then she says something in her own language which I assume means mountains.
“I have seen the mountains. You go to the mountains and you hike like the book pictures.”
I feel a little sad again. The only thing this girl seems to know about hiking and mountains is what she sees on the cover of books like “Ten Best Hikes in Colorado.”
“And you use boots and poles and bags?” She asks. Clearly she sees all kinds of mountain gear at the DIA stores.
“Sometimes,” I say “I don’t do very hard hikes where you need lots of equipment.”
“Equipment,” More hissing and clicking.
“Do you ever leave the airport?” I ask Maya.
“Leave? No I do not leave this place. It is my home.”
“Well people leave their homes. I leave my home and I come here to work. When I’m done working, I return to my home.”
“No, I do not leave this place to work. This is where I live. This is where I must be.”
“Why can’t you leave the airport?”
“Outside the airport is not safe.”
“That’s too bad Maya,” I say. “The mountains are outside the airport. I would be sad if I couldn’t go to the mountains.”
“Yess, it is sad.”
It’s getting late and I’m not sure what else to talk about.
“Would you like to talk again, Maya?”
“Yess, I like to talk with you Clara. You are nice.”
“I’ll be here Saturday night and we can talk some more, OK?”
“Yes, Saturday. Two days and one night. I will talk with you again Clara.”
Copyright © Judy Murdoch