Saturday, April 19, 2008


When we got there, the land was like a bird with a bent neck, not the soaring eagle from the pamphlets. The faces that turned to us frowned; they didn’t smile like in the pictures. Mama, who was always glowing, appeared now downcast, as if in reflection of our new equals. The first man who met us on the docks looked like someone who believed the world—continually and without ever admitting it—kept letting him down. He tried to talk, but his mouth seemed to have been bent down so far by gravity that it seemed impossible for him to lift it.

Papa spoke with the man softly, with his Papa hands making Papa shapes. The man looked past him, over his shoulder, into a private middle distance. I could tell he didn’t hear a thing Papa was saying. The man directed us over to where everyone else was standing, where families just like ours huddled in confused groups, competing for a thin strip of shade beneath a rusting roof. Baba had been holding my hand since we stepped off the boat, and now she made mouth sounds that meant she was hungry. I caught her eye and made comfort sounds, and I squeezed her fingers. Baba squeezed back.

When we walked over to the place where the other families were, we had to stand in the sun, which was a perfectly round ball and was perfectly in the middle of the sky, so it sent heat right down onto the tops of our heads. Papa tried talking to one of the other Papas, but the other Papa did not speak our mouth sound. It seemed like all the families spoke different mouth sounds. Everyone talked in rushed, hushed whispers, as if trying to keep their air from mixing with anyone else’s.

It seemed like a world’s breath before anything happened. I was drowsy, sleeping in Mama’s lap, and Baba sleeping in mine, when I heard the rough sound of a voice. The voice jagged itself into my ears, like it was a blunt knife and my brain was a frozen ham. Suddenly, I could sense everybody moving, and, like dominos, Mama, Baba and I were forced to our feet. Everybody got into single file, and Papa swapped us around so Mama was in front of us and he was behind. I felt his hand, warm, on my head. The rest of the line was the same; everywhere hands were touching, backs were being leant against, arms silently embraced.

In the brochure, everyone had perfect teeth: white and waxy like fruit skin. Here, I had not seen a single smile. I heard the jagged voice again, and I turned my head to see the man the voice was coming from. His coat was the colour of rabbit blood, and buttoned itself from his chin to his knees. He was red-haired, like me, and had not had a haircut for even longer than I had not had a haircut. He barked orders, and his red hair shook like a mane. We all began to move slowly forward. Papa pushed me gently with his hands, and I did the same to Baba. There were more men in rabbit-blood coats, and they looked grim and stony in their faces. They had guns slung over their shoulders.

We walked along in our family line. Just kept walking.

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