1. Moving Day
According to the local bloggers, the latest census identified 98118, the Rainier Valley in South Seattle, as the most diverse zip code in the US. This happened over time, first the Native Americans, then the white settlers, African Americans from the Southern states, foreign immigrants: the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Koreans, and most recently the Ethiopians, Somalis, Sudanese, Eritreans, Filipinos. The diversity was not accidental, since north end properties once had clauses something like this: No person of Asiatic, African, or Negro blood, lineage or extraction shall be permitted to occupy said property. Amare lived south of that red line. When he’d bought a home four years earlier with down payment he’d saved up from working back-to-back shifts at a gas station, he felt he’d finally become a real American, more so than when he got his green card, his citizenship, his English proficiency certificate, his driver’s license, his Ford. He owned an unmovable, solid little plot of his new country, and that mattered. The American flag he hung the day he signed the mortgage was still waving from the porch the day he was set to leave.
The cottonwood trees near Lake Washington were already shedding their small fluffy seeds, the mid-spring winds carried the silky white fibers in the air like a blizzard blowing through the neighborhood. Amare watched his six-year-old son, Yonathan, catching shiny clusters, pinching the captured seeds, then releasing, resting them on the backs of the breeze. The block was quiet; his neighbors had long ago taken down their HOPE ’08 lawn signs, and many had since traded them for SALE signs. Some had already abandoned their homes, and long grass and overgrown hedges trapped the white cottonwood fluff in tangles of dead leaves and twisted branches.
Amare stood in the shade of a eucalyptus, now at least fifteen feet tall and gaining strength. It had risen quickly, soundlessly, had grown without Amare much noticing, a transformation like vapor from the Puget Sound over the Juan de Fuca Straight, like the great silent surge of a sparrow’s wings unfolding. He feared that he had somehow fallen outside the grace of that lifting force, the elevating promise of the country he tried to make his own. Amare struggled to hold on to the thought that neither had abandoned him, neither had given up on him, not really, even if he hadn’t known that feeling for years, ever since he lost his grounding, his wife got sick, her insurance was terminated, he had to balance childrearing/work/care-giving, his bank offered a second mortgage that had something called an adjustable arm, and the interest hiked, and the debt piled on, and he lost his wife as he spent the better part of two years on the brink of ruin until one day ruin came.
Amare swept fallen eucalyptus leaves from the porch. He moved the broom along the porch frame breaking up spider webs. He used his thumbnail and pointer finger to clip off a few dry leaves from the planters by the front door, then tucked his thumb into his shirtsleeve to polish the bronze plated numbers on the door, 374.
Someone called his name, and Amare turned to see Marla Mason walking her cat, wearing her practical shoes and covered head to toe in a colorful burka. Born in the Caribbean and raised in the Rainier Valley, Marla was what could be called a “porous” personality. She took on the qualities of her ever changing neighborhood as if her skin were no barrier, but instead an open door. A woman of many conversions, Marla had most recently devoted herself to Islam, and had started dressing differently, an act of apparent liberation for her, but a source of total discomfort for her husband, who feared what people might think it said about him (“What if our neighbors think I’m making you wear it?” he had asked her, to which she had said “So!” and he had said, “But I want you to feel free,” and she had said, “I am,” to which he had said, “But others might believe I’m oppressing you,” but by then Marla was out the door, carrying her pet, Eco, in one arm and with the other, dialing numbers on her cell, setting out to make the rounds).
“Now, Amare, sit down,” Marla said, bringing Eco onto her lap. “You’ve been working on this house so much it’s like you’re trying to sell it all over again.” She patted the step, but he kept cleaning.
“I just want to leave this property as nice as when I got it.”
“I hope you don’t feel guilty for losing your house,” Marla whispered, leaning close.
Amare shrugged because of course he felt terribly guilty even though he had done every last thing he could think to do. He ended up with only stacks of documents for his troubles, including the wild goose chase when he tried to piece together who exactly held his mortgage (the diagram he drew up had so many lines moving in so many directions it looked like a plate of spaghetti). He used to think the act of acquisition was the most difficult thing — finding a wife and getting her to marry him, or finding a good home and putting something down — but these years taught him that holding on to what one got was the harder task.
“Where will you go?” Marla asked, but Amare knew enough to avoid her perceptive gaze. “You have no family. You’ll break my heart if you tell me you’re taking Yonathan to one of those tent towns.”
Amare knocked on the wooden steps. “I got some help from my community and our church,” he assured her.
“As long as you have some help, that’s all I want to know,” Marla said, but before she could ask the question forming on her lips, she was interrupted by Tariq, who was walking towards #374 wearing his kofia, long white linen shirt, white linen pants, hands held up high to the sky, praising the good Lord wherever he went, whenever he could.
“Assalamu alaykum,” Tariq called out.
“Wa alaykum assalam,” Marla and Amare replied.
“You going today, Amare?” Tariq asked. He took a step towards them, his shirt straightening out.
“Yes he is,” Marla replied.
Tariq said to Amare, “This is turning into a quieter block now. Who’s Marla gonna check in on with that cat of hers and gossip about once everyone leaves?”
“Tariq, I could spout about you all day every day and the well would never run dry,” Marla shouted back.
“Whoa, I take it back. Not gonna put myself in your line of fire,” Tariq said, adjusting his gravity-immune arms, knowing Marla could draw some heavy ammunition. “Amare, the universe provides, and so do good neighbors. Do you need anything?” Tariq asked.
Amare pursed his lips, for few things were as uncomfortable to Amare as people going out of their way on his behalf, and he wondered if he had been a different man in that respect, then what might be different. Everything, maybe. “I’m good,” was all Amare said.
“Okay then,” Tariq shouted. “Can’t stay. The 42 bus is running late today, got me off schedule. May the dear Lord spare you from knowing any more trouble, may you be free of the trouble you’ve known,” Tariq said as he walked away with his hands lifted to the sky, his chin turned up, basking in the heavenly glow that seemed to touch him — and him alone — on the street that morning.
Marla left to walk Eco down the road slowly taking in the goings on the block, and Amare went back to cleaning the house, until, looking at its fresh paint and polish, its swept-clean exterior and interior, its trimmed lawn, its manicured hedges, he decided he was ready.
2. The Floating House
Gashe Ayeloo and Eteye Amsala’s house, #372, was next door to Amare’s. Gashe Ayeloo’s favorite way to waste a little time was to look out his window at people waiting for the bus; after all, his home had an ideal view of this little cul-de-sac branching off MLK. The house was three stories high and so old it seemed about to fall down, but instead it fell up, floating above the street below. Raised just slightly off the ground, quite literally levitating there. The exact height was two inches, according to Gashe Ayeloo. A small amount, but notable nonetheless.
Eteye Amsala was the first to notice. When she was on her way to her car one morning years back, she tripped. Looking around, she didn’t see anything that would have made her stumble. Not a stone, not a root, not a stick in sight. But she saw a shadow that had not a leafy perimeter, but a root-rimmed one. Eteye Amsala ran back inside, and summoned her husband.
Gashe Ayeloo chose to observe the miracle by leaning over the edge of his property, which he rarely left. Nothing seemed to be holding the house up. He looked overhead, but the answer was not in the sky, either. I thought I’d seen it all by now, he thought, though he wasn’t quite sure what he was seeing. A small crowd began to gather. Yonathan, Amare’s son, got a bag of marbles, rolled one under the house, then ran to the back, and returned holding up that marble, which had gone straight through. At this, the crowd shifted from a position of doubt to one of belief.
Also by this time, Eteye Amsala was hysterical. She swore up and down and left and right and side to side that she’d never step foot in that cursed abode. She stayed with her cousin until Gashe Ayeloo protested her absence by fasting. The hunger strike lasted two days, and Eteye Amsala was shamed into coming home, but she couldn’t help but creep softly through the house for fear that she might fall straight down and to who knew where. Eteye Amsala took another precaution: each morning, she’d open the gate and look outside just to make sure they hadn’t finally drifted off to who knew where either, for confronted with a mystery as peculiar as this, her imagination took flight, which is understandable.
Gashe Ayeloo’s hovering house was a gossiped about sight on this slice of the Rainier Valley … for a while. Some who were scientifically-inclined thought about conducting experiments. The romantics dreamed this rebellious house was a symbol of wild nature. The bureaucratic wondered whether Gashe Ayeloo should pay double in property taxes since he technically occupied the land around and below his house. The superstitious had their own beliefs, too, and crossed over to the other side of the street as they walked up and down that stretch of road. But as these things go, people got on tending to their own lives in this closed-off separate corner of what was becoming known as Little East Africa, where signs in Amharic, Arabic, and Tigrinya were covering up signs in Mandarin and Vietnamese, which were fading above traces of signs in English. Though Gashe Ayeloo’s house was sometimes brought up, the spectacle of it died down, was absorbed and accepted as a neighborhood quirk soon enough.
Gashe Ayeloo accepted it too, but had to take some practical measures to adapt (he said the pavers shifted on his doorstep more often than before, and swore more bugs, squirrels, and birds gravitated to his levitating parcel, and they needed shooing away), though he was surprised that the change required very little in the way of maintenance. Otherwise, there was nothing Gashe Ayeloo could seem to do to physically get that house back down, for the force that kept his home suspended was not magic, not science, not an alternate dimension breaking through on this very spot, but a force that bubbled up from the will and internal desire of Gashe Ayeloo, who had set out to never leave Ethiopia, even long after he had gone, flung into exile for publishing an incendiary pamphlet in 1990, the waning days of the dictatorship, and so he recreated his home off MLK Ave to precisely mirror the first. This reflected house, like his life in the city, and his world itself, did not quite touch down, was neither here nor there.
Gashe Ayeloo’s house wasn’t the only home afloat in this world. There were probably dozens across the city, maybe hundreds across the country, even perhaps thousands across the globe, maybe many more. In fact, if you could look at the world from the side with exacting detail, from a hovering magnifying lens or some such gadget, you’d notice a strange topography of floating houses rising just above the earth, a separate plane of existence right there for anyone to see, should they chose to look. I know this for a fact, and can assure you with confidence, for you see, I lived in one such house far from Gashe Ayeloo. I can say from experience that in his peculiar existence, he is not alone. These floating homes taken together constitute a separate place, not a nation, not a formal state with any government or ideology or agencies that require paperwork and official stamps of entry. This was, mind you, not a governed state, not even a state of mind, but a state of heart. A certain way of living in Diaspora, and dear Gashe Ayeloo was not alone.
With homes like this, there are always those days when the foundation creaks a little, poised to perhaps touch down again and re-solidify its state. When I see Gashe Ayeloo, it makes me wonder, what does it take for a man like this to consider reengaging? For me, everything had to fall apart, and a new life, wholly unexpected, sprung up in its place. For Gashe Ayeloo, how great a force would be needed?
In the meantime, he spent his days looking out from his window. That morning, as white fibers blew through the air, Gashe Ayeloo waved to Tariq whose arms were raised tall and poised recalling a Mediterranean Cyprus, or a rocket set to lift off.
3. Shift Change
Across the street from Gashe Ayeloo’s floating house stood a small apartment complex called Elysian Estates. The one-story structure had been built in the ‘70s, and from the street, each unit looked identical. The apartments were lined up in a row with their doors facing the street, A, B, C, D. Apartment A was occupied by Samson the jeweler and his wife and two kids; apartment B belonged to Marla the busybody, her anxious husband, and her docile cat; Tariq the philosopher lived in apartment C with his books; apartment D was occupied by Elsie, Hirwi, and Mamush, cousins.
Hirwi and Mamush, who had been mathematicians back home, now drove a taxi they shared. It was 11 a.m., and Hirwi had just returned from driving his shift. Every day, Mamush would go out at 11:30 a.m. to drive the day shift until 11p.m., then Hirwi would take the cab out again at 11:30 p.m. until 11a.m. They spent these half hours together for meals at 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. each day. They had a one-bedroom apartment at Elysian Estates, and Hirwi and Mamush shared the bed, since neither slept when the other did. Elsie, a student, lived with them, too. She slept on the couch.
Hirwi walked in and shook off the cottonwood fibers that clung to his coat. The three cousins washed their hands, prayed, then ate together off the same plate. As they ate, they watched the midday news, which aired a report on the earthquake and tsunami that had hit Japan and caused the earth’s axis to shift by four degrees, the earth’s geography to readjust, the nuclear reactor to melt down. The footage on the screen showed Japanese nuclear administrators apologizing to the government and the people. The administrators acknowledged that they’d made a mistake, and then, wearing suits and polished shoes, flung themselves forth, prostrating themselves in front of the elected officials, begging the people for forgiveness. Elsie, Hirwi, and Mamush were moved.
Elsie, who had grown up in the US, said, “In America, an accusation is always followed by a defense. Who would just let themselves be accused and submit, begging like this? Anyone who does this deserves forgiveness.”
Hirwi, famished from his long shift, chewed loudly as he spoke. “But Elsie, you have not experienced what we have experienced. Mamush and I lived through a revolution and a dictatorship. Forgiveness for you will be something else altogether than forgiveness for me. These men’s actions forced people to readjust their livelihoods. Maybe their people will not forgive them. There are people in my life I can never forgive.”
Mamush took a sip of water and thought about this before speaking. “But these scientists, when something went seriously wrong, they tried. I think if you try in good faith, then you can be forgiven. But as for me, there are also people I can never forgive.”
“Think of Mengistu, the dictator during the Derg.” Hirwi said, adding this descriptor for Elsie’s benefit. She’d been born in 1992, after the fall of the dictatorship, and he stared quizzically at her.
“Mengistu? I know who he is,” Elsie assured. “My parents told me all about him, and I’ve done my homework, too.”
“So you know he lives in a mansion in Zimbabwe?” Hirwi asked, then glared at Elsie.
“Yes, I do.”
“And who is the leader who gives him protection?” Hirwi asked.
“Mugabe,” Elsie said, as if she were being asked to add one and one.
“Did you know Mengistu was tried and convicted in absentia?” Mamush asked. “But never imprisoned?”
“Yes, I know,” Elsie said as if she were being told the sun rises in the East.
“And that he justifies his actions to this day?” Hirwi jumped in.
“I know that too,” Elsie said, as if he’d revealed that Scheherazade was a gifted storyteller.
“And that he has left a population feeling homeless in the world?” Mamush continued.
“Of course,” Elsie said as if he were revealing the restlessness in her heart.
“Mengistu should have asked for forgiveness, not expected exoneration,” Mamush said.
“Would you have forgiven him then?” Elsie asked. She watched Hirwi wave away the question.
“I would not, but it would have made a difference,” Mamush said.
“How?” Elsie asked.
“I don’t know exactly,” Mamush muttered.
Hirwi swallowed, then asserted, “It would have meant something to me, too. It would have mattered. I left my home to flee that man, his ruthless law, his tyrannical rule. He turned my home, our home, into a prison.” Hirwi wiped his mouth, then flicked his napkin in the air as if he were directing traffic. He said loudly, “It would have mattered to know that the events that affected me affected him, the events that still haunt me still haunt him. I might have forgiven him then.”
“But some men don’t feel remorse,” Elsie noted.
Hirwi put his napkin back on his lap. “Why should I accept that?”
Mamush mused, “Enough about the past. We should look ahead and live as if we throw ourselves at the feet of life asking for its blessing.”
“So why don’t we?” Elsie asked.
“Some of us do,” Mamush said. “Many really do.” Mamush paused, then added, “But on the other hand, some think they are owed.”
“I think I am owed,” Hirwi said.
“Owed what?” Elsie asked.
“That,” Hirwi said pointing at the television showing the repentant men still bowing down.
Hirwi took out his satchel and started adding up his earnings from his shift. “The bus was slow again, slower than usual, so I picked up a lot of fares on the way,” Hirwi said and handed Mamush the empty satchel, then gave Elsie twenty-dollars.
“What for?” Elsie asked.
“A rainy day,” Hirwi said.
“This is Seattle, so that won’t be long,” Mamush said, but no one laughed. Elsie just thanked Hirwi, and settled in front of the computer, and Hirwi and Mamush read over her shoulder as she scrolled through the online Diaspora news outlets to learn something of home.
4. The Newcomer
The time difference between Addis Ababa and Seattle is ten hours in the spring. A typical flight from Bole International to SEA/TAC might stop over in Khartoum, refuel in Rome, there would be a transfer in DC, and one final leg to Washington State, a total of twenty-hours without delays. But a trip like this felt even longer because of idling in airports, lingering in the duty free, frantically retrieving luggage, going through customs, rechecking bags. In other words, even though from Seattle, Addis Ababa was half a world away, ask anyone, it felt as far as another world all together.
Sila had not been back to Addis in more than thirty-years, and it had been that long since she’d last seen her brother. He was a writer and though she used to read his work, he’d recently stopped writing at all, and she’d heard nothing from him until that long letter asking (pleading) for a place to live in America.
Sila’s duplex was brand new, part of a large lot of identical homes that occupied the corner between Gashe Ayeloo’s and MLK Ave. The duplexes were government owned, given to low-income families. Sila’s lawn was lush, full of cottonwood flurries that clung to the blades, but despite this, the landscaping felt sterile: so much green, so little life.
Sila looked at her watch. It was night in Addis, 9:15 p.m. Mateos would be ready to go to the airport. The air in Addis would be foggy and cool, the scent of the eucalyptus already fading. Sila sat in a quiet corner in the kitchen and redialed the number for the fifth time. She was determined to say hello, to see if her brother would need anything, to ask how he was feeling, to know it was really happening. She was ready with her prepaid phone card, coffee brewed. Her husband already at work, Sila sat alone and entered the number. The automated voice, saccharine, staccato, asked for her pin. You have… thirty … minutes remaining. Sila rolled her eyes. She had wasted as much time just trying to get through, and would have to buy another card if she used this one up, and by then it might be too late to call.
All she got was a busy signal, the network still jammed. She would call back later. Killing time, she decided to inspect the basement, smoothed the comforter on what would soon be Mateos’s bed, tidied up her brother’s new space again. She had gone back and forth about the things to buy, saving, purchasing, returning, exchanging until she had at least a little something in the room that would make her brother at ease. A few books. A spare chair with extra blankets, a couple of plants. Sila often walked through the rooms and pictured what her brother might do there. What he might want, need. She imagined his presence, and the way that he would occupy the space, bring some energy to it, and put it to use.
Before, the walls had been bare, but now were adorned with two posters from Goodwill, a close-up of a Monet lily, and a single frantic sunflower by Van Gogh. There were family photos, too, some originals, some scanned and printed, all lacked luster, something having faded with age or in the transfer. She felt a strange impulse to study these photos to be sure she remembered her brother’s face. Funny things happen to memory over time, everyone knew that. What should never be forgotten can slip away, and all the wrong things can persist. She worried that she would walk through the airport, passing her brother like a stranger. She examined a photo focusing on his heart-shaped birthmark over his eye (left, she confirmed), his crooked front tooth (left, too). Then she wondered, if she had changed as much as she felt she had, would her brother recognize her?
She thought of that first flight out of the country and how nervous she had been, not of flying, but of landing, and she wondered how her brother was feeling, was his stomach sick and excited. Had he been tending to final obligations, parting promises, rounds of goodbyes, rushed favors, or would he, like her, just slip away?
Sila went back to her desk. Only five minutes had gone by since she last tried to call home. She put a CD in her computer and began listening to a Tizita, the music of homesickness, humming along to a recording that sounded scratchy and distant, and always had. For Sila, nostalgia was built on a persistent longing for a regular life, life back to normal, life the way it was meant to be, whatever that meant.
When the Tizita ended, the song (on repeat) started over. Sila imagined a record player, the arm picking itself up, and moving back to the beginning without skipping a beat or scratching on the grooves, and then she pictured that she herself held the song somewhere inside herself, that something within her was circling round and round, her veins the groves. She pictured the Tizita vibrating within her and the thought made her head spin.
As she listened to the music, Sila dragged her cursor across the Google maps screen, zoomed in on the satellite image, the arrow hovered over her brother’s house, her childhood home. She wished she could see inside. The neighborhood looked completely different again, construction cones dotted the street, scaffolding made of uneven tree trunks held up buildings-in-progress, looking like pins jutting out from square pin cushions. Sila clicked the arrows north, south, east and west to tour that slant of land where she had been raised and had since abandoned. She guided the arrow of her mouse north, the view on the screen moving up the hillside, up to the peaks that looked out over the city as she redialed the number and tried again.
By now, a crowd was anxiously awaiting the 42 bus, pacing, peeking in on neighbors, starting up one random conversation after the next, dropping stories half way to listen to gossip, spread gossip. Amare and Yonathan stood at the bus stop next to two big suitcases with Marla Mason there next to them, and Tariq, too, with his back arched and arms up high. Sila had stopped by to chat with Elsie, who used a magazine to shield her eyes from the floating lustrous cottonwood seeds, which glowed in the air like iridescent feathers.
Mamush drove the cab out of his driveway and idled in front of the bus stop. “Amare,” he called out. “Where are you going?”
“Downtown,” Amare said, gesturing with his head towards the cluster of high-rises that could be seen in the distance to the north, opposite the peak of Mt. Rainer to the south.
“Can I give you a lift?” Mamush said. “It would be my pleasure.”
Amare hesitated, and Mamush added, “No problem for me. It’ll be easier to pick up a fare downtown.” To that, Amare agreed.
As Mamush opened his trunk, and as Amare and Yonathan pulled their bags towards the cab, a large U-Haul drove by the bus stop and towards #374.
On the side of the U-Haul was a picture of a Native-American woman standing in front of a pueblo and what looked like the Grand Canyon. They watched the slow truck park in front of #374, and looked on curiously as a man stepped out of the truck and waited in front of the house.
“Where’s he from?” Mamush asked Amare.
“Latin American, right?” Tariq ventured.
“South Asian?” Elsie guessed.
Everyone was silent, curious, tense, awkwardly watching the stranger arrive on their block. Sila looked around at the cold welcome the neighbors were offering, and said, “Someone should go talk to him, welcome him.” And someone would have, but a shadow came up behind the crowd, and they turned to see an even bigger truck had rounded the corner off MLK and sluggishly zigzagged onto their street. The truck had its wipers on slow, rhythmically clearing cottonwood from the gigantic windshield of this gigantic barge of a vehicle.
“Isn’t that a… look at that, what’s on the back of that truck?” asked Marla.
“Is that a house?” Tariq called out, pumping his raised arms.
The crowd could just make out the outline of a large, two-story home.
“They’re like turtles these people,” said Marla. “Where do they come from?”
The house had beige aluminum siding and a red roof. The windows had white lace curtains, frames painted bright red. This home was cared for. In fact, it looked brand new.
“Are they going to knock down my house?” Amare yelled.
Gashe Ayeloo threw open his window, and poked his head way out. “Another floating house!” he said, but few paid attention to him.
“Hey,” Tariq called out to the driver when the towed house inched by the bus stop. “What’re you doing with that thing?”
“Welcome to our block,” Sila said sweetly, and looked around her, encouraging her neighbors to join her.
“Good morning!” the driver said obligingly, then rolled down the window to wave.
“What’re you doing?” Tariq asked again, his hands now straight up in the air.
“My brother’s moving to 374,” he pointed to the man with the U-Haul waiting down the block, “and we figure there’s enough land on that lot for two houses, so I’m bringing my family, too.”
“How nice!” Sila said right away. For the others, the information took time to sink in, and Elsie slowly nodded, then Mamush, then Tariq, then Marla. Gashe Ayeloo looked at the lot next door to his as if imagining whether his view would be obstructed by the new property.
“Why didn’t I think of that?” Amare mumbled. “Renting out part of the lot?”
“What? What would you have done?” asked Marla. “No, honey you did everything you could, and now you need to move on.”
The driver waved again and continued to steer the wide home slowly down the street like a float in a parade, but because of the size, the truck shifted from side to side, precariously making its way down the narrow road. As it pulled away, the gathered neighbors saw Yonathan had jumped onto the back of the truck, and climbed up the narrow steps leading to the front door of the house-in-tow.
“Get down from there!” Amare cried out.
“Hold on tight, Yonathan,” Gashe Ayeloo shouted from his open window as Marla screamed.
“He’s going to fall! There’s no space up there,” Elsie yelled.
“Stop the truck,” Tariq hollered banging his hands on the driver-side door. The driver hit the breaks, and Yonathan jerked forwards, then backwards, clinging to the sill like a suction doll.
The driver looked over the crowd of exasperated neighbors as Tariq asked him to just wait, and the driver said, “Okay, take a little time, but,” he added, “I need to get this truck back soon. It’s a rental and I’m no Billionaire Gates.”
“What are you doing?” Amare asked his son and climbed up next to him.
“How’d they do that?” Yonathan wondered.
“It looks like it’s all bolted down,” said Amare. “Like a ship’s furnishings maybe,” he said.
“Is this a ship? Can a house be a ship?”
“I guess in a way some homes can,” Amare replied.
“Why don’t we take our home with us, too?” Yonathan asked.
Amare looked down the street to #374, its pristine facade, its trimmed hedges, the fresh paint, the windows so clean that he could see inside from where he stood.
“Not all homes can come with you,” Amare said and turned to find Yonathan wasn’t standing beside him anymore, but trying to walk around the side to see how the home was rigged.
“Someone help him,” Amare yelled.
Tariq, already at the boy’s side, tilted his always-lifted hands to Yonathan. “Hey there, be careful!” But Yonathan stepped back and away from Tariq, closer to the precarious mechanism of the rigging.
“I’m not coming down,” Yonathan said. “I’m gonna bring my house up!”
Amare tried to pull him near, but there was so little space, and the house sloped down in the back, so it was hard for him to even manage his own weight. Gashe Ayeloo yelled from his open window, though not everyone could make out the words: “Get down! You never know what will happen to a home! Look around!”
“Dad, you gotta see this!” Yonatan said, and made space for Amare at the ledge surrounding the floating house. “See, look inside. It’s probably just as they left it,” Yonathan marveled, and it seemed to be true. The rooms were filled with furniture, couches, tables and chairs. The hutch and cabinets were still in the dining room, though stacked boxes lined the walls. There was a family photograph hanging in the main living room, and Amare looked up at the stairs like he expected a child to run down them to go play with the toys that were in the glass-faced cupboards.
At this point, the driver walked around to the back. He saw Amare standing tensely on the front steps, and Yonathan balancing on the narrow landing holding on to the banister. “Get down, you hoodlums,” the driver yelled. “Trying to rob me before I’ve even arrived?” He started to lurch towards Yonathan, but Marla intervened.
“Baby, come down!” Marla said, crying out like the pain that hung in the air was her own. “Please, please, come over here.”
“Hey Yonathan,” Elsie shouted. “I’ve got something for you.”
“What? A house like a ship?”
“No,” Elsie said, but she held up the twenty-dollar bill that Hirwi had given her earlier that day. “A housewarming gift for your new place.”
Yonathan considered the offer with wide eyes, but pouted, and snatched a cluster of shiny cottonwood fluff from the air, then picked at the soft white casing.
“Look, every home is different, Yonathan,” Elsie said. “You might keep moving until you find the right one, but look inside. Is that your home? Does that feel like your home?”
“No,” Yonathan said.
“Look at this family,” Elsie said. “Is that your family?”
“No,” Yonathan said. “Not quite.”
“And those toys are for children,” Amare added pointing to the window. “Are you going to be a man for me today?”
“Yes,” Yonathan said like he was being asked if the earth orbited the sun.
Tariq walked close enough for Yonathan to lean into Tariq’s lifted hands, and carefully brought Yonathan down, the first time that any of his neighbors had seen Tariq lower his arms. Elsie approached Yonathan cuddled up in Tariq’s embrace, then handed Yonathan the twenty. “I didn’t come down for that,” Yonathan said, refusing Elsie’s money.
She nodded respectfully. “Then take it for a rainy day,” she said, and at that, Yonathan accepted her gift.
“Time to start again, okay, kid?” Sila said to him and gave him her new phone card. “Call us, okay?”
“Okay, Miss Sila.”
Tariq carried Yonathan to Mamush’s cab, and Yonathan said to Mamush, “My teacher told our class the world is mostly water, and I bet a house like a ship could cross an ocean, go with you anywhere.”
Mamush replied, “Sometimes like it or not, you have to put down new roots again, little guy, with or without a sense of peace.” Yonathan’s gaze followed the home that made its way to #374. The driver walked around the property searching for the right spot to anchor the house. Before he could pick the location, the 42 pulled up to the waiting passengers, who filed into the crowded bus, including Marla and Elsie.
“What a morning, huh?” Marla said sitting down next to Elsie.
“It seems so,” Elsie said and looked out the window as #374 ½ was being unhitched onto level land.
Marla continued, “Oh what we all have been through to get here, what pains to leave our homes and start again, and we think that if we can just make it here, all will be well. Little do we realize that once we show up, that’s when the hardest work begins, life’s work. Leaving, crossing, arriving, pitching your home, that’s prelude. The struggle, the letting go, that long voyage, that’s all just prelude.”
The bus turned off the cul-de-sac and Marla and Elsie watched Mamush’s cab pass them, Yonathan’s hand sticking out the window catching the cottonwood seeds.
Marla scooted closer to Elsie, and continued, “I could write a book on lessons for new immigrants. For your eyes and ears only, okay? First and foremost, trust no one who doesn’t like the food you eat or the way you smell or the clothes you wear, and if you don’t know if they like the food you eat or the way you smell or the look of you, better safe than sorry. Ultimately, you’ve got no real choice but to seek out a little help when you start over, but first and foremost, turn to those who like the food you eat and the clothes you wear and the scent of you. I’ve got a lot more free, priceless advice for new immigrants where that came from. Words to live by! You should know what I know,” and Marla began imparting what wisdoms came to mind, Elsie listening with captivation, but also staring at Marla’s outfit, her fluidity, her trial assimilations.
When the bus turned off MLK Ave, and after heading north a few more blocks, most of the passengers, Latino, Black, and Asian, disembarked, and a slew of new passengers, all white, got on. Marla dropped her voice, shifted her weight uncomfortably, and whispered, “Remind me to finish this all later. Marla’s advice for new immigrants, for your ears and eyes only, to be continued —”
Meron Hadero is Assistant Micro Editor with The Offing. This story was solicited and accepted for publication before she joined the staff.