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Locked Out

On most days I forget that I am an immigrant. I have been in this country for almost a decade, and the space I occupy is comfortably mine. The tint of my skin is of concern only when the summer scorch threatens sunburn. My mutable mish-mash accent, which can be described as deeply Indian with a pinch of British posh and a dash of Southern drawl, doesn’t hinder my ability to communicate effectively.

I am different. Yet I fit in where I feel like a good fit.

When I am not busy channeling my inner writer, I apply myself as a parent volunteer. Over the years, as my two children move up grades at what would seem to any mother an alarming pace, I have pledged my time to various school committees. From organizing reading events and donation drives to proffering my rather questionable culinary skills at community gatherings, I participate because it brings me joy. Besides, it beats being a tiger maacontinually comparing math scores with other Indian mothers over chai and samosas. We Asians do that. A lot.

Stellar report cards are the gilded jewels in the safe glued to the ground in our bedroom closets.

I embarked on my volunteering career with what I thought was a seemingly inconspicuous behind-the-scenes task. Just to get the lay of the land. After all, I had heard stories about stay-at-home I-am-a-CPA mothers conducting cost-benefit analyses of lemonade stands. I figured I had to earn my stripes before I could run with the tigers.

I signed up with the Teacher Supplies Committee. Collect forms from in-tray every Monday. Open supply closet. Fill bag with requested items like Kleenex (not “tissues,” but “Kleenex,” got that?) and hand sanitizer. Deliver to respective classrooms. Easy as pie.

Or so I thought. I could not unlock the combination dial lock on the supply closet.

Who would swipe wipes and Windex, I wondered, frustrated by this most embarrassing development.

I was stumped. Locked out, as it were. I checked again the numbers that had been emailed to me by the chair of the Teacher Supplies Committee. I rotated the dial and rotated and rotated some more. I listened closely for the whisper-soft clicks and subtle ticks of tumblers falling into place. I imagined myself a meticulous but devil-may-care safecracker out of a Hollywood production, James Bond on a covert mission to stem the spread of dripping snot. Yet the darn lock refused to play its part. Safe to say I have no hope of forging a career in espionage — a proposition I may have considered once the kids set off for college.

I slipped out through the back door, went home, and called in sick. The flu, I said, had wiped me out. Could somebody else make the delivery in my stead? I recruited my husband to take over my carpool duties for a couple of days, lest any of the other committee members spot my face through the windshield tattooed with school-allotted carpool decals.

I consulted YouTube for instruction videos on how to open the inscrutable lock and found (I hoped) the solution. On a Monday morning I strutted down the corridor behind the library and approached the supply closet with supreme confidence. After all, I had learned to drive between the white lines in this country. Which is quite feat, if one is accustomed to weaving through a kinetic maze of motley vehicles, stray animals, and vari-paced pedestrians on the lane-less thoroughfares of India.

I failed. Again. I stood by the closet, pretending to conduct business on my smart phone, waiting patiently to accost an affable teacher for assistance.

Sure! Happy to help. This is exactly like the one I had on my high school locker!

High school locker.

There were 56 students in my high school class in India. I was lucky to have a desk and chair.

I never asked for help again. Forget the lock. From then on I would collect the requisition forms. Drive to a convenience store. Purchase the required items out of my own pocket. And deliver them to the classrooms.

For the record, I did eventually succeed in unlocking the supply closet just before my term with the Committee came to a close. I left it unlocked, for the next immigrant.


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