Thursday, May 31, 2007

vignette: preparing to walk

When Papa, stoop-shouldered and pale, finally returned from the village council and told us of the decision, Mama let out the tiniest gasp before breaking into tears. Grandma Polo shushed her, wagged a finger in her face, and in a strained voice told her that it was all for the best. I held Marion, my little sister, barely three years old, and distracted her from Mama’s helpless sobs. Papa came to us, tousled Marion’s hair, and gave me a look that I will always remember: it was like livestock at the butcher’s just before the killing knife fell.

“She’s not going anywhere,” Mama suddenly shouted. “She’s not – she’s not-”

“The decision has been made,” Papa said, proving the strength of his thin arms as Mama struggled to free herself of his embrace. “We have no choice. You know this.”

We began to prepare for the Walk when Mama calmed down. She’d cried it all out, she said, dismissing her tears as a matter of maternal shock. But she was fine, fine, fine, she told everyone within earshot, which by that time included all our aunts and uncles and cousins, all the other families and neighbors – of course everyone had heard of the council’s decision.

When I tried to bring Marion over to her, Mama said that there were things, food things, goodbye things, travel things, countless things that she had to handle, and that it was better if I held on to Marion. Grandma Polo snorted as she busied herself with her own business, which consisted of picking out the shoes that everyone in the immediate family would wear, adding several new layers of hard leather to the soles, and complaining about her personal sacrifices in near-soundless whispers that sounded like the hissing of tiny snakes. Papa went outside to find out just who else was going on the Walk, with a scratchfeather death-gripped in one hand. It was later, when we began to walk, that I realized that more than half of the village would accompany us.

I was eight years old.

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