They drove mostly in silence. Day 2 of being married. Day 3 of having to communicate without an interpreter. The quiet seemed easier than trying to communicate; so she drove and he looked out the window at the orange, red, and gold covering the trees like a cloak.
A few minutes from their destination, she tried, “Almost there!” She kept her tone bright. He turned his head to look at her, at first with a blank expression. Seeing the smile on her face, he mirrored it with his own forced smile. “Yes,” he said in his native tongue, but they both knew he didn’t understand.
With a sigh, she settled back for the last stretch. How could they be anything but strangers at this rate? Well, at least the green card papers were going out next week. Once that came through, they could part ways as almost-friends.
The apple orchard was teeming with people when they arrived. Children ran, chattering loudly, and parents jogged to keep up. Couples held hands, beaming at each other. And groups of friends joked and made bets on who would pick more apples.
They seemed to be the only pair of strangers undertaking this venture. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Either that or a day of awkward silence in her one bedroom apartment. She had googled a picture of the apple orchard and let him read the website text through Google translate. But now that they were here, she felt depressed. They contrasted sharply with the animated families, couples, and friends.
Lost in thought, she tripped over a gnarled root jutting out of the ground. Jolted back to the present, she made to brace for impact. An impact that never came. He had caught her arms and steadied her enough for her to disentangle her feet from the root. Her face was flushed from the imminent fall, but she looked up at him in gratitude. He didn’t speak her language but his features were arranged into a universal expression of concern. A genuine smile spread over her face for the first time in days. “Thank you.”
His face once again mirrored hers—this time the smile was genuine. They both realized at the same time that his hands still encircled her arms. They drew apart in some embarrassment. But she quite liked the way he gingerly released his grip. The care it showed was heartwarming.
She turned toward a nearby tree that was laden with apples. Pointing to it, she mimed climbing up the ladder, picking an imaginary apple, and tossing it toward him. At the end she pointed to the basket on his arm to suggest he catch it in there.
Chuckling at her game of charades, he nodded vigorously and held open the basket, apparently ready to catch the apples. With a “here I go” smile, she climbed the ladder. Plucking the first apple, she tossed it down only to have it decisively miss the basket. He rescued it from the ground and tossed it into the basket. The second throw would have missed in a similar direction, but he was quick on his feet and moved the basket right under the falling Red Delicious.
She laughed and gave him a thumbs up. His hands occupied, he chuckled and nodded at her. Was a thumbs-up a universal gesture, she wondered for a second. In any case, her nonverbal cues seemed to have conveyed the message.
Plucking a third apple from the tree, she determined she would not miss the basket this time. Contorting herself sideways, she used an underhanded throw. The apple appeared to move in slow motion before their eyes: Up out of her hand a short ways into the air, and then arcing down, down, down. As they traced its path down, both of their eyes widened in a moment of horror as the apple descended straight onto his head with a plunk. It then bounced off onto the ground.
They were both frozen for a second, processing what had just happened. Then out of the pit of her stomach, something seemed to rise up, and unable to control herself, she began to giggle. At first it was a soft giggle; but soon she had to grab the rungs of the ladder to steady herself, doubling over in hysterical laughter.
He looked confused for a second after the apple had bounced off his head. But as she succumbed to her giggling fit, his face took on an expression of mock anger, and he let out a stream of vaguely indignant words in his native tongue.
She glanced up, still guffawing, to see him pick up an apple and bring his arm back in preparation for launching it at her. Laughing even harder, she held up one hand in a weak attempt to block. He swung his arm with the apple toward her and she flinched with a yelp.
But there was no apple. “You faked me out,” she yelled and collapsed into another fit of giggles. He fake-lobbed the apple at her a couple more times. She flinched each time despite the uncontrolled laughter. He was laughing too now.
“Okay, okay. Truce!” She gestured for him to help her down. Tossing the apple into the basket, he held out a hand, which she leaned on as she climbed down. The laughter had quieted down now, though short giggles were still erupting from her here and there.
He pointed down into the basket and held up three fingers. Three apples. His expression had mischief in it. Saying something in his native tongue, he stuck both arms straight up into the air. The universal sign of victory. She laughed and mimicked him. “Yay! We got three apples. We are so good at this.”
Then she lowered her arms and put a hand on her own head in the approximate location the apple had hit him. He was watching, trying to understand. She reached the same hand toward the top of his head, seeking silent permission. With a smile, he bent forward to bring his head below her eye level. He indicated where the apple had struck him, and she felt the spot with her fingers. There was a slight bump.
Now that the giggles had subsided, she felt apologetic about what had happened. The presence of the bump made her feel worse. In a moment of impulse, she lowered her face to where her hand rested and quickly kissed the spot. Then she drew away from him to see his reaction. He wore a surprised look as he righted himself. But a smile was slowly spreading across his face as he processed what had happened.
So many genuine smiles today, she thought. A sudden shyness made her break eye contact and pretend to be looking for other trees. A warm feeling was settling in her belly.
A spell was upon them now, and the rest of the morning passed in a haze of giggles, gestures, and gala apples. Later, as they walked back to the parking lot, she heard him say something. She turned to see him holding up his phone. The web browser was filled with writing she did not recognize, but in the center of the frame was a picture of apple pie. “Aa-pill paai,” he said. With an excited clap, she said, “Yes! Apple pie!” He mimed the act of making apple pie and she bounced with a “Yes! This afternoon. Let’s do it.”
With a pleased nod, he slipped the phone back into his pocket. As they continued to walk side by side to the parking lot, he gently reached for her hand. For a moment they looked at each other and you couldn’t tell them apart from any of the other beaming couples.