By Shiharu Yamashita
The apartment buzzer buzzes as Mom opens the lobby. I enter from our room, comforted by the heat of the building. Then, I hear a familiar hum of the lady – the “Moo Moo Lady,” my family calls her.
“Moo moo moooo…,” she sings in a melody that she always sings. As I walk to the elevator, I see her with her back hunched with the white baggy shirt, holding tightly onto the “old lady” shopping cart that all grandmas in Queens own. She is probably doing the laundry; I can tell from a slight scent of ammonia from her bed sheets in the cart.
She looks at me and I smile. Her light brown hair is thin, her green eyes small, her veins showing through wrinkled skin. I wonder if she recognizes me from the previous encounters. “Hi,” she quickly says before going back to humming.
The elevator door opens, and she tells me to go ahead. I press number “1” for her, and then “5” for me. “Thank you, thank you,” she says.
“You go to Halsey?” she asks. We’ve had this conversation before.
“Yes, I went to Halsey, but I’m not in middle school anymore,” I laugh. “Did you?” I ask even though I know the answer already. I know she likes to talk about herself.
“70 years ago,” she says. “I’ve been living here since I was born.”
“Wow, really! That’s amazing,” I react as if this is my first time learning this, seeing youthful days in her eyes as she talks of the past. The elevator door opens.
“Kamsahamnida,” she bows with her palms together as she slowly makes her way out of the elevator. I smile while holding the door and don’t remind her I’m not Korean. Her hum echoes in the hallway as she walks to her room.
As my brother, Komei, and I walk out the elevator into the lobby, I hear the usual hum of the Moo Moo Lady far in the laundry room. Komei goes to the mailroom to check the mail. I hang around in the lobby.
Suddenly, I hear a loud noise, and I don’t think much of it. But then I hear the Moo Moo Lady calling: “Can you help me?”
I rush through the hallway to the laundry room and see her on the floor with the shopping cart and sheets scattered all over. “Hey, can you help me?” she asks again. She tells me she’s just fallen. I try to help her stand up, careful not to grab her arm too hard, but she is too heavy for me alone.
“Komei!” I call out, and when he finally comes, we are able to help her stand up again.
“Are you okay? Are you hurt anywhere?” I ask, but she talks even quicker than usual, saying, “No, no, I’m okay. Thank you very much. God bless you two.” Komei puts the sheets back into the cart. I catch him smelling his hands to check if he’s touched the source of the ammonia scent, and I’m annoyed that’s what concerns him right now.
We help her to the elevator, and I wonder if she has any relatives. If she falls in her room by herself, who helps her back up? My chest suddenly tightens, wondering if she is lonely. But she goes back to her usual humming, and she seems fine.
“Kamsahamnida, kamsahamnida.” She bows to us as the elevator door closes.
Shiharu is a third-year student studying psychology and music industry. In her free time, she likes to sing, go on road trips, and eat good food.