At the checkout, choosing between which essential purchases to return while warding off the cashier’s impatience. At the subway looking in your purse for the fare there and back.
Hair wrapped up tight against the cold, a man asks you for a quarter. He calls you a “fake sista” when you say you have none, and lashes the ground by your feet with his spit. You raise two fingers, and only remember much later that the V-sign isn’t a curse in this country.
Your five-year manfriend buys you a hardcover copy of Zadie Smith’s NW because you’ve read all the previews in your bootleg New Yorker subscription, babbling your excitement that she is making a harder writer of herself. Unwrap the book from the plastic bag and dust jacket, and thank him with the receipt in hand. Do not say that you wish you’d bought it yourself.
It is October. You don’t have enough overdraft for a plane ticket home, which means that you have eaten through your emergency fund, which means that you are living some version of the emergency. Don’t mention this to your parents who have nothing to give you anyway. Don’t mention this to friends who have plenty to give, but whose disposable income is tied up in distant charities. Could you bear to take their money anyway?
Yes, probably yes.
It’s only natural to experience your lack of work permit, a job, family money, cash for a hardcover book, subway fare, groceries, as a personal failure. Find something in a book you bought, back when you had a stipend, which details why bootstraps ideology is bullshit. Type it out and put it on the internet.
You are wind-in-your-twistout, sun-on-your-skin elated by the first paycheck. Scripture might have taught you the dangers of loving money, but cash makes you easier to come home to.
At the bookstore buy seven books. Buy NW in paperback and send it home to your parents’ house so you will always have a copy that’s all yours. Buy this uncorrected proof of Jamaica Kincaid’s “Talk of the Town” pieces for The New Yorker. In Kincaid’s prose is all your twisted up immigrant girl desire, all your ugly ambition. Return to these words often, hoping then as now, to become someone other than who you have always been:
“The words I spoke, the thoughts in my head, that was my writing, and I did not need to have come from the people who had long straddled the world, I did not need to come from the people who had imagined and then made real the world in which I lived. That moment became my own. In the beginning was my word and my word became the world as I ordered it to be.” - Jamaica Kincaid