A silky Spanish voice rolling with r’s over hills of vowels expects a quick response. I stall. Turn radish red. Clear my throat and trace the base of the phone with my fingertips. “Could you repeat that please? I’m sorry—who do you need to speak with?” This nursing home has over a hundred residents plus nursing staff, so guessing isn’t a safe option.
In that ? moment, I’m a child again, staring back at my teacher and nodding as if I have a clue what she means. I want to say: “What?” but I’m too afraid to ask. But as an adult, I shouldn’t have ? moments; should I?
She tries again to no avail. “I’m sorry…I still didn’t hear you clearly. ” I cover the phone for an extra fuzzy effect.
Now her sing-song voice edges on a cliff of frustration or anger as she tries again. I do my best to guess. “Did you say Derek Shonez? We don’t have anyone here by that…oh, not him, hold on.” I thank God for the hold button. I’d like to try out my French accent: “Repeatez, s’il vous plait,” but never get to use that one. Always another.
After five minutes of struggling to understand Spanish or Swahili, I panic and transfer the call to the supervisor, the nicer one with the Philippine accent. They should have an interesting conversation. But the phone lights up again, transferred back, followed by the supervisor calling.
“Stop giving me non-nursing calls! This lady wants directions.” And she hangs up on me. Oops. First stupid moment of the evening. I should’ve figured that one out—Derek Shonez. Derekshonez. Directions.
I apologize and do my best to give directions, but she has just as hard a time understanding me. By the end of the call, I remove my acrylic sweater, thankful I dressed in layers.
The phone is silent for a while, so I relax and type to get my mind off my last ? moment.
When the smell of Chanel tickles my nose, I glance up to a woman towering over my front desk. Her blond streaked hair is swept up in a messy bun. Her eyes look questioning, but I shouldn’t have any trouble understanding her. “Hello, may I help you?”
When she answers, “Ja,” I know. Another ? moment.
“Du juh have jyogut?”
“Yogurt?” A question no one has ever asked before. She nods. “Sometimes. I’m not sure if they have it every day.”
“Duh juh have a schedool?”
“It might be listed on the menu.” Does she have a loved one she wants admitted here who only eats yogurt? Or is this an obsession of hers? She looks about a size one.
“Iz dah a vroom for jyogut?”
“A room? You mean like a Carvel?” Is that the norm in Swedish nursing homes?
She tilts her head in that universal puppy language meaning: Huh?
“Not jyogut. How do say…jyoga, like the exercise.” She demonstrates the eagle pose.
“Well, that would be nice for the residents, but we don’t have yoga.” I imagine ninety-year old Ruth attempting the same pose. I don’t think so.
She tilts her head the other way. “Re-si-dents? Isn’t dis Mike’s Fitness Center?”
Suddenly, I understand. “No. This is Westfield Nursing Home. You must want the fitness center on the other side of our parking lot.”
“Oh, jes.” She nods and runs out, probably late for her yoga class. Was anyone listening to our conversation? Hope not.
I could call it miscommunication, blame it on the constant beeping from a broken door alarm or overhead paging, or the distracting smell of sauerkraut, but no one likes to hear excuses. The truth is…when I hear a difficult dialect or undecipherable syllable…part of my brain picnics in the park. I focus on the woman’s missing eyebrow hair and wonder if she plucked it intentionally. My eyes drift toward the wren pacing by the door and wonder if it wants to come in. Before I yank my thoughts back to decoding the foreign accent, I’m in another ? moment.
The phone rings for the hundredth time, so chances are… “Thank you for calling Babel Nursing Home; how may I help you?” I didn’t say that. Chances are that I’ll have another humbling ? moment.
Yes, this is based on my true ? moments.
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