Read an Except
Below are the first pages of Sarah Raughley’s story “The Vagabond of Trudeau High” from Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders:
There was this old white guy. Academic. You know the type: highly revered, widely read. I’d never read his stuff myself, mind, but I had come across a summary of one of his essays once. And from what I read, the guy has a pretty interesting view of the world.
See, according to him, people were either tourists or vagabonds. You know, it’s all about privilege. Some people can pick up and go anywhere they want, make a home anywhere, buy out any plot of land in any continent and damn whoever’s bones may be buried deep beneath their newly built six-bedroom flat. Others are forced out of their homes. They go only where they’re wanted, and stay only as long as they can before the mob comes and chases them out. “Take your strange gods and alien words! We don’t want you!” the mob would say.
Vagabonds. They wander, looking, but never finding, a home to call their own.
I had always called Canada my home. I mean, why wouldn’t I? I was born here. My Nigerian parents immigrated here in the nineties, having me in Kapuskasing, and spending a few years in that rural haven of lumberjacks before moving southward to Toronto where we were no longer one of two black families in the city. We’d moved voluntarily. We weren’t rich, but we’d still been able to make a home in Toronto. In Canada. And I had always called Canada my home.
It must have been the sight of my dad’s tooth sailing in the air that made me reconsider. As I cowered in the chill of night behind a vacant bus stop booth watching two of Toronto’s finest pull my dad out of the driver’s seat of his own car and work him over, the word vagabond crawled out of my memories and settled into my consciousness, like some fat slob with a can of beer, pay-per-view, and hours of free time to kill.
It was all a coincidence. I was walking home from the convenience store at the same time my dad was coming back, probably from the mechanic. Before I knew it, I was hiding, watching and crying. I reached into my phone to call the police, only to realize that they were the police. They were the police, beating my dad in the middle of the empty street a block away from our rundown apartment on Finch.
That was when I realized: I had no home. The truth of it ground my bones to dust.
One punch. Another. Canada fell out of me in layers, first the dust, then the flesh, the organs, the heart. It all fell away until only my skin remained, dark umber bright under the street lamps, blazing like a neon sign: “I’m black too! Come kill me!”
I didn’t dare announce myself and the cops didn’t notice. My hands shook against the glass of the booth. Even when I tore my eyes away from the wet stains on the front of his pants, I could still hear my dad begging: “It’s—it’s my car! I swear! Please!”
We weren’t anything. I should have known. The stench of death surrounded us and I should have known.
Help us. . . . I forced my hands to do the sign of the cross, then clasped them together, squeezing my eyes shut. God . . . Someone. Anyone. Help . . .
It was sudden. The warmth leached out of my body as if someone had sucked it clean from my blood. Maybe that was why the air now felt heavy and damp, hot against my skin, while my insides were cold as a cemetery. And the smell . . . I’d smelt it before, though I couldn’t quite place it. It reminded me of the smell of that church in Nigeria where we’d placed my grandmother’s white casket. The rustic spices and petroleum and bodies. I could hear the talking drums they’d played then too, frantic rhythms rising in the still swamp of air.
Death. I was surrounded by the stench of death . . . was that it? Was this some kind of death premonition?
If that one doesn’t help you, maybe I can, sha.
The voice echoed in the chambers of my mind. Male. Deep baritone. Yoruba accent.
A business card dropped unceremoniously next to my feet. I bent low and picked it up.
“Fumi’s . . . Eatery . . .” I read the words numbly. The cops had hopped into their getaway cars and were already half-way down the road.
Crying and crying in the street. The man’s voice in my head carried a hint of mockery, each syllable a new round of laughter at my expense. Has your situation not already gone out of hand? Tell me, what is your wish, child?
Wish . . .
My back straightened up. Revenge.
My eyes trained on my dad breathing, bloody, at the foot of his car. Then, when I looked back down at the business card, I noticed a word scratched very sloppily into the bottom left-hand
corner as if with a long pointed nail: ‘basement.’
Then find me, Monisola. When you are ready, I will make that road for you.
Monisola. My name. “How do you know my name?” —he—and then I knew. He was behind me.
I whipped around and saw his skull-face first, his stretched grin the pearl gates to a graveyard. Skin, dark as coal. I only just caught a glimpse of his straw hat before he stepped back and disappeared into the night as if whisked away by the frenzied drumbeat.
I was screaming, my hands tightened around the business card.
I think my dad and I lost consciousness at the same time.
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Below are the first pages of Tyler Keevil’s story “Voices” from Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders:
This woman is talking but I can hear only buzzing, not words: flies pouring out of her mouth, filling the office. Beside me, Moira, my wife, is listening attentively, nodding along. Moira has her serious face on. Having worked in TV as a presenter, she is skilled at adopting the appropriate expression for particular social situations, like this one: a parent-teacher talk, which should normally be a straightforward event, a kind of parental rite-of-passage.
“Calum,” the teacher tells us, “is an exceptional boy.”
She must be trained to do this—to start with the positives. For Calum there are many. He is five and has the reading capacity of kids three years older, equally adept in both Gaelic and English. He excels at arts and crafts and can spend hours carefully constructing “unique shapes” and “distinct patterns” (those are the terms she uses) and is fascinated by mazes and puzzles. My wife nods, pleased—though of course we know this. We see it at home.
“He gets that from his grandfather,” she says. “He was an architect.”
The teacher smiles tolerantly. So accustomed to these little flashes of parental pride. How many parents, I wonder, has she seen today? A dozen? Two? Each with the same hopes and fears for their child, but ultimately all of them amounting to the same thing: a desire for them to fit in, to belong, to be at home.
The phone rings. The teacher says something in Gaelic—by way of apology—and picks it up. A quick exchange, the language completely beyond me, as elusive as a handful of water. The syllables sing-song, like a chant. I have been taking Gaelic for beginners, via a government supported scheme, along with a few other parents and immigrants. All of us seeking to merge ourselves with the culture of our adopted country. My wife finds it quaint, endearing. I haven’t told her what a struggle it is: that the course is having the opposite effect from what I have hoped. I have never had a “gift” for languages, and trying to fit my mouth around the throat-clogging consonants, hard and awkward as stones, makes me feel more alien, not less.
The teacher hangs up. The phone call has provided a convenient interlude. She now changes tack: Calum’s “exceptionalism” is not entirely positive, or at least not without its drawbacks. He has trouble socializing, making friends. He gets teased about his clothes.
My gaze wanders past the teacher, to the window overlooking the schoolyard, where children are playing while their parents chat idly, waiting their turn for an interview like ours. Calum is among them—though not quite among them. He sits alone on the swings, sweeping elegantly back and forth, gazing skyward.
Today he’s chosen to wear a Superman T-shirt and a pink skirt. The skirt billows in the breeze like a flag.
“What’s wrong with his clothes?” my wife says, tightly, defensively.
I imagine, if we were back home in Seattle, the teacher would discuss this in a more delicate, polished, tactful manner: trained in the nuances of gender-neutral children. Here, in rural Ireland, the heart of the Gaeltacht, that discourse is distant and inapplicable.
She says, “Well, he’s a boy and he wears girls’ clothes. The other kids, they don’t understand. We do our best to discourage teasing, but you know how kids are.”
My wife tells her that it’s the school’s duty to ensure kids don’t bully each other, and that all the children feel secure. It sounds more than a little testy. The teacher—attuned to this—seeks to
redirect the conversation, or deflect the accusation.
“It isn’t just the clothes,” she says, smoothing her own skirt brusquely. “Calum keeps to himself, doesn’t interact with them.” She hesitates, checks her watch. “Then there are the voices.”
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Below are the first pages of Rich Larson’s story “Porque el Girasol Se Llama El Girasol” from Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders:
Girasol watches as her mother shakes the entanglers out onto the hotel bed. They are small and spiny. They remind her of the purple sea urchins she was hunting in the netgame she can’t play anymore, because they had to take the chips out of their phones and crush them with a metal rolling pin before they left Las
She is not sure she will be able to swallow one. It makes her nervous.
Her mother plucks the first entangler off the bedspread and peers at it. Her mouth is all tight, how it was when they checked in and the clerk passed her the little plastic bag.
“Peanut butter or grape jelly?” she asks, because she took a fistful of condiment packets from the breakfast room.
Her mother peels the packet open and rolls the entangler inside, globbing it in pale purple. Girasol takes it in her hand, getting her fingers sticky, and stares down at it. Ten points, she
thinks. She puts it in her mouth.
She gags it back up. It pokes in her throat and she thinks she can feel it squirming a little, like it is alive. Her eyes start to water.
“Squeeze your thumb in your fist when you do it,” her mother says. “Squeeze hard.”
It takes three tries, and when it finally stays down Girasol is gasping and trying not to sob. Her throat is scraped raw. Her mother rubs between her shoulder blades, then takes the second entangler and swallows it. Her face twitches just once. Then she goes back to rubbing Girasol’s back.
“My brave girl,” she coos. “Brave girl, sunflower. Do you feel it?”
“I don’t know. Yes.”
For a few moments, Girasol feels only nausea. Then the entangler starts to prickle in her gut. Warmer, warmer.
“You should feel it.”
“I do. I feel it.”
“It should feel like a little magnet inside your belly.”
“I feel it.”
Her mother’s voice is stretched out like it might snap. “Okay.”
They test the entanglers outside, on the cracked and bubbled tarmac of the parking lot. Emptiness on all sides. Their motel is last in a ragged row of gas stations and stopovers, after which there is only the highway churning away to horizon. In the far far distance, they can see the Wall: a slouching beast of concrete and quickcrete latticed with swaying scaffold. Workers climb up and down it like ants; drones swarm overtop of it like flies.
Girasol has never seen the Wall in real life before. It makes her feel giddy. Her teacher only showed them photos of the Wall in class, and had them draw a picture of it on their smeary-screened school tablets.
While Girasol drew, the teacher stopped over her to ask, in a cheery voice, what her parents thought of the Wall. She gave the answer her mother told her always to give: their country was so good that bad people always wanted to come in and wreck it, because they were jealous, and the Wall was good because it kept them out. Then the teacher asked Fatima, and then Maria, but nobody else.
Girasol is still staring off at the Wall when her mother’s charcoal coloured scarf drops over her eyes. She feels her mother’s strong fingers knot it behind her head.
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