Posts tagged ‘new york’

May 24, 2011

Scream

[Short story was published in “The Southampton Review” in July, 2007, and was named a “Glimmer Train” award finalist in April, 2007 and a Pushcart Prize nominee]

Hot. Steam rises from their heads. This one in my hands squirms when I douse him with water. He sits in a steel basin the size of a large soup bowl and shrieks like the rest. The tent morphs into a cavern of yelps as we pour cupfuls over their burnt skulls then squeeze the dirty excess from washcloths. I wipe Chidi down, he cries louder. Every touch — the lifting of an arm to get underneath, the pulling back of an ear to wipe behind — is a pinch or the cause of an ache. Each movement demands energy his cells don’t have. Energy requires food, after all, and here there isn’t enough. The heat saps the body like a mosquito drinks blood.

A crooked rivulet of sweat itches my cheek, sinks and drizzles off my chin. I swipe at the trail with a shrug then finish bathing the boy. The children are washed inside the tent in the mornings, if their mothers let them be taken. Salaam comes to me next. I call him Sam and Chidi is his brother. They are the same height, roughly the same weight. Chidi is two years older, but was born premature: a cruel thing, to come into this life early. Then to suffer kwashiorkor: the further starvation an elder child endures when a new born arrives, demanding care.

Chidi’s disposition is rightly cantankerous. He wails when I dry his body and set him back down beside Jumilla. With the wet washcloth removed, he again sits bare beneath the glare of the sub-Saharan sun. Sam merely cringes when I gather him into my arms to carry him from his mother and their hut, a mound of straw draped in blue-and-white plastic sheeting to look sturdier than it is.

The Oxfam tent is green and full of tears. To bathe Sam in it, I must step over and through twigs called limbs. A crunch on an arm will break it, an inadvertent kick to a leg can cause a spasm, a seizure. I cradle Sam close so I can see my feet as I walk. His warm cheek braces against my shoulder, his eyes squint at the sun, which smolders us slow. Spittle forms about the corners of his mouth. Three years old and his stomach looks like it should belong to a boy of twelve, a menace from Louisiana with a passion for French fries.

Sam has suckled his mother, but hasn’t eaten since I last bathed him, three days. I place him on the edge of the wobbly table. His legs thin like stork limbs dangle off. He sits, quiet and hungry, while I dump out the water dirtied by Chidi’s grime into a basin. To bathe them, I have a jerry can of well water, washcloths, and a small ceramic cup decorated with roses. Sam is a good spirit. We’re not to get attached to them, of course. They don’t stand much chance of living past five. I lift him into the tub and give him a bit of soft rice, folding it into his mouth. His lips part quick, grazing over my callused hands like innocent kisses. Chewing is a chore for Sam, swallowing an exercise. I shake a rattle in front of his face. Gold tint covers the toy and Sam, as any child would do, follows its motion with his eyes. His ears, I hope, delight in the sound, making it easier for the rice to slide past his esophagus into his bloated, malnourished belly I smooth with a sponge.

The bellies: I’ve seen them all my life, clicking by on the TV. Bellies like this, fat, hard, ripe for sickness. Sam’s kidney fails him when he digests. A rock would serve as a better sieve than his liver. The boy has diarrhea. His body’s organs are so whittled they can’t absorb the nutrients of the bits of food he gets, such is the devilishness of famine.

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August 11, 2008

How 9/11 Changed New Yorkers

[Retrospective essay by Adrian Brijbassi published in the Sept. 11, 2002 edition of “The Record”]

Everybody was okay. Me, my wife, our friends and neighbours, the few family members we have here. Friends and relatives had been calling since morning. No one was hurt, I told those who were able to get through on the phone lines; all of us were safe. Later in the day, professional acquaintances began to make contact. They were mostly reporters looking for first-person accounts from Canadians living in or near New York. I couldn’t give them a harrowing story on Sept. 11th, and I am as grateful for that now as I was back then, when I awoke to learn that the twin towers of the World Trade Center had each taken a bullet in the form of a passenger plane and had crumpled on a pristine Tuesday morning that would have been routine if not for the unfathomable machinations of 19 disturbed men.

As we tend to do when huge events halt life, I sat frozen in front of the television. I was barely able to watch and at the same time could not help but. Seeing the carnage happening 35 miles away from my home, then getting glimpses of the catastrophe at the Pentagon and the crash site in Pennsylvania, all I could do was worry fretfully about what might be next.

Since then, life in America has been about repair; individually and collectively, physically and psychologically. For me, it has been easier than for others. Having lived in New York for six years now, I suppose I am fortunate to have no roots here. Then whom might I know? Who might I now say I had known? As such, my life has returned to that “normalcy” politicians and psychologists felt was so important to attain after the attacks. My circumstances, I realize as I reflect on the past year, are not all that unusual. The fact is, Sept. 11 marked the most significant event in my lifetime and that of my generation, but it is not the most significant thing to have happened to us as individuals. For me, it would be my immigration from Guyana to Canada when I was five. For others, it might be a marriage, or parenthood, or the passing of a loved one, an accident or brutal event of another sort. As such, I don’t think I live in an America now that is very different from the one I was living in on Sept. 10. There is less optimism, certainly, more wariness and a broader global perspective. But many of us have not changed, and there is good in that as well as bad.

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