"Breathe," she says to me.
I let my breath go and breathed deep. I hadn't realized I'd been holding it in. My shoulders were tense. I try to relax them. Ten minutes go by.
"Samira, breathe," she says again.
"You're not breathing."
We're not doing anything particularly stressful. I'm at the piano trying to get the fingering right on a Bach piece. Ok so it's a little stressful. Why did Bach have to make these runs so complicated.
"Relax, it will be a lot easier if you relax. And you've stopped breathing again."
We do a breathing exercise. In for eight, hold for eight, out for eight. It's hard work learning how to breathe again. Sometimes when I forget, I catch myself. But mostly I don't. It's become my state of being.
Maybe it's the expat thing. Don't get me wrong, the expat life is a charmed life. At least mine is. I'm probably never going to be able to travel as much as I do now, to the most random parts of the world. But underneath there's always that feeling that at any moment you could have to drop the life you've gotten used to and start over somewhere else. Somewhere where they call you "Africa Girl" with both interest and contempt. Where you almost fit in but not quite.
To breathe deeply means to feel everything you lose in the process: the community that you've finally settled into; the people that just get it; the ease of being a foreigner and being allowed to be just a little bit odd. Breathing means allowing yourself to be open.
I try to breathe again but a lump forms in my throat so I stop. I hold my breath. I get yelled at again.
"Ok, your hour is up, but I'm giving you homework."
"Yes, the Bach. Also the breathing exercise. I want you to do it every day."
"Don't try, just do it."
She gives me a hug and sends me out the door. I stand on the sidewalk on 7th Avenue, take a deep breath...and start coughing. So maybe the middle of Midtown New York is not the best place to do this exercise.