Friday, February 25, 2011


He should have counted himself lucky (had he been able to count) that he had arrived during a different age in this dimension. His mother and father might have done some tallying of their own, had they not been otherwise disposed. The truth was that they themselves were too young and ill-equipped to fully take hold of the texture of the period they occupied. After all, were there not countless settings they could stroll through without being accosted? The possibility of seeing the eyes of God on a limp swing at the edge of a branch was an abstract one. And they had never grinded their teeth by lamplight, crouching, with windows barred and ears straining to hear footsteps approaching in the wind. Instead, they wore iPods, with sixteen bars pounding on their eardrums; and reclined in front of forty-two-inch screens that made their skin glow from pink to blue to green.

The elders, now well past their prime, were quietly certain of the child’s good fortune. It almost astounded them that he was just three and could access cell phones and laptops with startling familiarity, even if mastery would not come for another four, five years. Whenever they all gathered, they took turns throwing tales about their grandchildren gleefully onto the table, and sat back to watch them bounce together like marbles among competitors. The young child’s parents convened with their own contingent, staggering in from jobs they disliked, making plans to pay for extra studio time, and sending the boy and his toys to the back bedroom so that one of the guests could commence with the splitting of the Dutches at the kitchen counter. Their pungent phrases drifted on fog to where he was contentedly navigating his toy Hummer; they swirled around him; they swooped him up; and when the child swore in front of the elders the following day, everyone was aghast.

These were signs of the times, the elders said. They shook their heads and walked away, and left the young to tend to the young. The boy was boosted in his booster seat as his parents chuckled on the ride home. He marveled at how quickly the houses and trees raced across his window, and the cars. Cars! There were cars in multiplicity roving right beside him; cars for him to pick up and roll clear across the ground or to fling from high on the bed to see them crash. He giggled. Ooh…there was a white and black, no blue car pulling up alongside them, a car with flashing lights! The child called to his mother to share his excitement, but she just placed a pacifying hand behind her seat and tugged his leg. He was not convinced she could see it. The boy called again…Daddy saw it! Yes! But somehow the man was not pleased. He said something to his passenger. They turned the music down.

The vehicle slowed and then stopped. A man with a helmet and something reddening his cheeks was at the window, taking papers from Daddy. He left. He came back. He disappeared once more and returned. The blinking lights mesmerized the child, but he tried hard to focus on what his father was saying to the man. The two seemed to be disagreeing about a grave subject. Daddy started yelling. Mommy was yelling too. The voices formed an echo that made the child’s ears hurt; it frightened him when it reached into the back, undid his seatbelt, and yanked him out of his chair. The boy was cloaked in his mother’s arms. She squeezed his back to her chest and moved out into the grass. Her hair was blowing wildly around her face.

The boy stared at the rotating red glow, allowing its magic to penetrate his eyes. A sudden instinct made him seek out his father. The man had put a lock on Daddy’s hands and was taking him away. What was he doing? The boy’s distress mounted, and then, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” The child hollered, feeling his mother twist him to the side. The boy attempted to spring from her arms as the lights began to taunt him – their earlier radiance now changing unexpectedly to a darker tint. The red flicked fire at him, scorching its image into his memory. The wheels started a slow roll. They were taking his father away. The child was overcome with dread. He let out a frantic shriek as the car pulled off, with his father’s head bowed in the back, and those lights dancing jubilantly in the midst of his tears.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Gathering (Rewrite)

They came in a caravan, tumbling one on top the other like a line of dominoes; a convoy of characters mimicking something in a biblical parable. But they rode in cars instead of on camels, and replaced sandals and robes with designer boots, sweatshirts that read Brooklyn, jackets branded with pricy insignias, hats with wool sewn at the sides, and jewelry. There were no rods or staffs, no shawls or blankets, no water receptacles or metal pots. It was quite the reverse. They sipped caramel drinks out of cardboard cups, plugged neon-lit phones into the dashboard and rotated CDs every hour…tapping their fingers, nodding their heads, and throwing grim glances out of the passenger windows. A jingle erupted in the back, signaling yet another text message from someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend perhaps. How far had the vehicle advanced from the city? The dearly loved would have wanted to know. When would the exact return date be? And so on. There was a phone call soon afterwards and a hushed backseat conversation. There was an irritated sigh up front, and then, a hand found the plus sign on the radio and pumped the vintage Whitney Houston up a notch. One or two of those present, secretly wished to feel a cell phone suddenly vibrate; they wanted to hear some familiar voice on the other end tracking their own movements, sending peals of sentiment over the distance; waiting eagerly for a grand reunion. However, they hastily shook themselves from the feeling. This was not the time to think of such things.

The house appeared festive on the surface. The new arrivals walked through the door and there was a noisy greeting; hugs for the cousins, kisses for the aunts, and a clasp of hands between sisters. The baby walked a little unsteadily, still being unused to the art of the activity, but drawing the crowd in his direction nonetheless. The driver made the final entrance, climbing up the last leg of the long trip. He held a traveling bag in one hand, and in the other, a plastic bag containing goods from the homeowner’s favorite Caribbean restaurant. The entire company seemed to have been awaiting his arrival. He felt it. He greeted the elders with some affection, but not too much. He greeted his siblings. They had all gathered like flies around honey coated glue, and he greeted them. A longtime family friend sat in the corner with worry hanging on his face. It was a disturbing sight. The driver smiled and presented the man with a cheerful salute. Always the strong one, that one, the eldest boy, you know…was what the driver heard him say. He acted as if the words did not reach him, and kept moving.

The group was energetic, pretending not to notice that the phone was ringing incessantly. They passed the baby from hand to hand and made a gigantic fuss. They chattered on about the inane, anything but the event that was to take place in the coming days. No, they would wait to speak of hospital waiting rooms and the specific instructions that were given directly by the surgeon. They would wait even to think of it. Someone put the music on. Yes, that was what was needed. There was brandy and ginger ale on the table, and ice making its way into the glasses. Something heavy had been seeping into the air, but the assemblage quickly turned their backs to it. The driver felt it. That dear family friend downed his drink in one go. He started to talk loosely about courage with a crack in his voice. The driver focused on his game with the baby, thinking…he better not dare cry! The older women were in the kitchen cooking something big. “So, you’re only on liquids now?” Someone was heard asking, making light out of the heavyhearted. Laughter jumped up and out of the kitchen, high and loud as if to cover up the thing or drive it away.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

At Hill And Bedside

Some woman came to the door, and it was a surprise. Some woman came to the door barefoot. She held it open in a way that indicated the visitor should enter. This visitor, the young teenaged boy, seemed to provoke much curiosity from her; she just stood there assessing him, wondering probably if this is what the children in America looked like, pulling in the smell of detergent from his clothes. She was thinking, maybe, that there were green bills folded neatly and concealed in the large envelope he was holding. And the young man could not access any emotion. There was anxiety perhaps. He felt it. After all, he had been awakened quite early that morning and called upon to set out on this much-anguished about segment of his visit back to the country of his parents; the country of their ancestors and those that had brought them there by force; his country. But the land had belonged to no one, at least, not anyone who had come by ship. And that indigenous group who stood most in right to lay claim to the creeks and waterfalls, the internal islands and the rain-drenched leaves, the tough bark and minerals that rose to the sand’s surface like stars reflecting on water; those who stood shoulder to shoulder and greeted the barges as they sailed in, did not subscribe to a philosophy that allowed them to see nature as a possession. It was natural to behold how the trees ascended and bended to the side. He had remembered them that way, looking as if they stopped in the middle of some sort of dance. He had sensed how time itself seemed different when he stepped out of the airplane. It was at once familiar and terrifying. He felt the commingling of the spirits. They swayed in between the coconut palms. They spoke languages in the wind that beat against the blue pick-up truck, which whisked him away from the airport. He could barely believe that he had been born in this place. That he had actually been produced there. And now, he had returned as a mere observer; a visitor with roots somewhere in the vicinity.

The boy was made to understand that he could not let his month-long vacation end without visiting his grandfather. It was a mandate. The task had been looming like a loose chandelier above him and now the inevitable was actually happening. He had sat quietly in the passenger seat of the vehicle as it climbed into the hills. He watched the bungalow houses flicker past him on stilts, and was mesmerized. It seemed appropriate somehow that this man would live in a place as removed from the city as it was. Everything about the old man was obscure, his story spoken about in patches and pieces. What had any of them really known about him? The boy had watched his own father discuss the elder with that aloof look held by those that are simply speculating. His eyes were devoid of familiarity. There was no ownership in his tone. And still there was a mandate.

Some woman had come to the door and ushered him in. He walked past her stare and into the back room. She watched him walk to that back room without compassion and left him there alone with the old man. The wood on the walls was graying from neglect. Bags of clothes had been flung into a corner and leaned on one another for support. A solitary window opened out into a budding jungle and was held up by a stick. The old man lay in his bed. He beckoned his grandson with a trembling voice and mimicking hands. The boy approached his relative. He pulled a nearby chair closer to the bed as he was instructed to do. He looked at the man’s face and saw something in it that he had known. The man started to speak. He asked about the boy’s mother and father, his brother and sister. He spoke about age and isolation and learning by living. He wanted to know what life was like in that other world. Was it not cold? Was it everything people described it to be? He had always wanted to discover for himself, he said, the answers to those questions. The boy nodded, not being able to imagine that he had ever known any other kind of existence, although he had. But all of that recollection had grown dimmer with time and relevant only as a point of reference, as something that had shaped him in some imperceptible way. He remembered this man, standing above him at a standpipe, pouring liquid on his head from a bucket of herbs and saying prayers of protection. It was the memory that devoted him to this elder in secret; the idea that someone thought him precious enough to protect in such a sacred manner. The boy was unexpectedly overcome. He huddled by his grandfather and gripped the edge of the mattress. And he was suddenly taken aback, for the old man started to weep. He just wept and wept.