A ‘BANG’ doesn’t necessarily mean a tire blow-out!

I was literally laughing all the way to the bank, on a sunny, beautiful day in Baltimore. I was going to deposit my paycheck, happy to get out of my office during lunch break, I had a spring to my steps. The sun was on my face, the bitter winter was over, the air had the promise of spring. If only my husband was in town, my happiness would have been complete. But he was in Ghana. As I walked across the street to get on the block of my bank, I heard a loud bang. I instantly thought “Oh, some poor guy just had a tire blow out!” All of a sudden, I saw people in suits and ties running towards me, I looked around and realized there were at least 5 or 6 police cars. I was puzzled, and then another bang. This time I saw a police officer run toward me, with his gun drawn, as he took cover behind a police car, he yelled at me, “GET BACK, LADY, GET BACK!!!’ Things were happening so fast around me that my poor brain wasn’t sending messages to the other parts of my body fast enough. I couldn’t move, I stood there, in the middle of a side-walk, by myself, with my arms crossed across my chest, hoping I wouldn’t get shot in the chest. By that time, I had figured out that those loud bangs were no tire blow outs. For some strange reason, I thought if I got shot in the chest it would be very gruesome, so I had my arms protectively around it. Strange how we all react in emergency situations! A bank was getting robbed while I was skipping to MY bank on that sunshiny, gorgeous day, happy to be young and alive. The bank robbers shot a couple of rounds before fleeing. I was the only one standing in the middle of the road, my arms covering my chest and probably my eyes closed. Must have been quite a scene. My friends in the bank yelled at me to go in there, I found my wits and willed my legs to move. We were cordoned off for half an hour, I called my work to let them know I was stuck. Once they let us go, I sauntered back without giving the incident much thought. As I entered my work place, my colleagues gathered around me ‘Are you ok?’ ‘How awful!’ ‘Do you want to go back home?’ I started to shiver then, thinking I could have been seriously injured that day, or even worse, killed!

I love almost everything about Baltimore. The city has a character of its own. It is not classy like Boston, or cosmopolitan like New York. It is in a league of its own, though. It has a down home, genuine feeling, a warmth that I love! I love the people here with their ‘believe Hon’ attitude, the bee hive, hair-sprayed hair, the fancy nails which I think is no less than any intricate art work, the funky looking crab statues in every nook and cranny of the city. The Charm city has its own charm, for sure. The crime, however, is a problem. A big one!

We lived on the top story of a 3 story house on a relatively safe and very funky street of Baltimore. I walked back from work late at night and never felt threatened. My husband got catcalls from time to time, but not me! And I learnt, eventually, not to take it personally! It wasn’t me, it was just my gender! Anyway, one evening, only a few days after the shoot out incident, I heard a lot of sirens! Since the sirens were just an integral part of the city sounds of Baltimore, I didn’t pay much attention, till they got louder and louder, and seemed to culminate at the doorstep of our building. Sean was still in Ghana. I ran to the window to see an extremely drunk man sitting at the stoop of our building with a loaded gun. The police were in the process of extricating the gun from the man and unloading it. I snatched the phone and dialed my mother-in-law. I just had to share the exciting moment with somebody. I continued to give her the running commentary, ‘Now the Police have their guns drawn, they approached the guy, they are taking his gun, he is in handcuffs….’ and such like, while she kept telling me sternly ‘Get away from the window, NOW!’

My husband called the next day to find out how his newly wed bride was surviving, a relative newcomer to a new country! ‘How are you doing?’ he asked. ‘Well, lets see…. I was in the middle of a shoot out the other day and there was a guy holding a gun on our stoop last night. Other than that, I am doing fine, babe. When are you coming home???’

I was a library grandparent once.

I was at our local library talking to the volunteer coordinator about my volunteer application. She looked at it and turned to me and said, ‘We need a few library grandparents, would you be interested in something like that?’

‘What exactly does a library grandparent do?’ I asked, bewildered.

‘You will read to the children!’

Yes, I would love to read to the children but being a library grandparent didn’t seem that grand to me. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be a grandparent….one day! Maybe, twenty years from now! Sahana, are you reading this? Anyway, to show I wasn’t really that old, I said, ‘I can only volunteer during the morning hours since that is the time my son is in PRESCHOOL!

Lady, my son goes to preschool, I am the mother of a preschooler, don’t make me a library grandparent!!! The sweet woman was very accommodating. She figured out a time that fit my schedule, smiled, thanked me for being a library grandparent and sent me on my way.

That evening at dinner table I proudly told the family that I will be volunteering at the library once a week. They said awesome, what will I be doing. ‘I am a library grandparent!’ ‘You are what??? Hahahahaha! A grandparent?’

The day I went to volunteer, the coordinator took me to the librarian in the children’s section and introduced me as ‘This is Piyali, she is our new library grandparent!’ The children’s librarian looked at me, chuckled and said, ‘She doesn’t look like a grandparent to me, may be we should call her something else?’ Thank you!!! But the coordinator had better things to do than get into the nitty-gritty of names. What’s in a name anyway? So there I was, serving the community as a library grandparent for two years.

I loved being the reader in the library. I took my book and read quietly on a rocking chair till I felt a little presence by my side. It was fun to watch the different personalities of children. There were the outgoing ones who brought the books of their choice to me and wanted me to read them, then there were the shy ones, who wanted to hear a story yet didn’t want to make the first move. At first, I asked them if they wanted to listen to a story, some said yes and came to me, others said no, yet stayed close by. I picked up a book from the table turned the pages and started a soliloquy about the illustrations, characters, words, colors. Slowly, I felt the little body sliding closer to me, I didn’t make eye contact but kept looking at the pictures and talking about them, when the child was next to me looking at the pictures, I went to the first page and started reading the story, he or she stayed. The parents gave me a grateful smile and wandered around looking for books or sat nearby, taking a break.

The biggest perk of being the library grandparent was bumping into my library grandchildren in stores and supermarkets. Familiar faces came up to me to say hello. I, of course, with my swiss cheese brain couldn’t place the faces till they reminded me I read to their children. It definitely made standing at the check out counter in the supermarket a little sweeter when people came up and told me that their child would like to come back for more book reading, which day did I  read at the library.

Now I work (read volunteer) behind the scenes in our new, swanky library. For company, I have a staff member and a scary, loud machine that spits books into different bins to be sorted and interfiled. It often shrieks “System Jammed” in a mechanical voice (oh, yes, it is a machine) till somebody flicks a switch. I am surrounded by books and the smell of books, I get the first pick as well. This job has its own perks. I am learning a new skill and developing a renewed respect for librarians. I had no idea so much work goes in to provide us with shelves full of lovely, wonderful books. Love that. But I do miss my library grandchildren.

Eventually they changed my name or designation from “Library grandparent” to Guest reader. How boring!

Can’t end this post without a bow to my man, Ben Franklin. Ben, you are “The man!” Thank you for creating the first free libraries in the U S of A. I fell in love the day I walked into the Enoch Pratt free library in Charm city and the love saga continues!