They are black. I am white. We are both in a place that is not our home. They traveled here in the darkness, in silence, in boats that barely crossed the oceans. I traveled here by plane over the oceans. We both arrive on Spain’s southern coast of Spain. We both wish not to get wet. We both wish not to drown.
Bedie dedie drum dum.
Bedie dedie drum.
Their movies I do not understand. To me it's all bad acting, but they love them. Drinking Vita Malt and shouting and watching and not watching the movies all at the same time. Confusion. Such confusion and madness. This is what they live for; this is what they ran away from.
Or often they don't shout or talk, just sit around, waiting. . .
"Waiting for what?" I ask them as they play with my long hair and touch my face. My facial foundation smears their fingers. I ask them again and they only laugh and giggle. This is what happens when they cannot hide or run.
They hit their kids, love their kids. They say I should have kids, ask why don't I have kids. Don't I know it's an insult to God not to have kids? It is God's gift for us to have kids.
They hit their kids on the head with objects or slap their faces or drag them on the floor by their feet or by their hair for punishment. I tell them that there are other ways to punish a child. I tell them many times that just by talking, reasoning with them, that this is also acceptable discipline and that it is okay, in fact better than all the slapping. They do not understand me. The bum is for caca and the face is for spanking.
The children are loud and unruly. They do not know how to control them. By the age of three they are professionals, kicking and screaming, and know every cuss word on this planet in three languages and know how to throw things back and know exactly where to kick to hurt and what words to use that will hurt most.
I tell them many times that there are other ways for punishments but when I see them walking and giggling with the policemen, playfully touching their hands and the policemen touching them back on their breasts, when I see them quiet and stone-like with black purplish eyes turning yellow, hushed quiet by the other tall African men walking through the stores and the other knowing African women shaking their heads (such shame...such shame), I keep quiet. Yes, there are many ways to avoid punishments and many ways to administer punishments.
Many of them work as prostitutes. I know this. The town knows this. The country knows this. I have seen them on the streets. Two a.m. or beginning at three p.m. on special holidays. Only one tells me the truth, the others either don't answer or giggle when I ask.
They love Vita Malt. It is brown like dark brown sugar. Sweet and sticky like honey. Non-alcoholic beer. Very popular, they tell me. Lots of vitamins, they tell me. Good for the immune system. They give it to me every time and each time I try not to gag after drinking it.
They teach me how to eat. All of us with one hand free and a bowl of water nearby to clean our hands and we dig our hands into the sticky yellow doughy yam, curl the dough into our hand and then dip into the red tomato beef sauce, scooping it up into our mouths, red sauce dripping on our chins. I sink my hand with them into the bowls and eat with them and I think which ones of them have AIDS. Could be that one over there lounging by the barred window or that one hanging on the TV set or it could even be this girl, my friend with the African name that I cannot pronounce. And I think; I try to remember how many years will it be until one is diagnosed. It is ten years. Ten or nine years. I have ten years. I have ten years before it all goes bad and start to fall apart.
I try to make conversation among the smiling, smacking, and giggling Africans.
"This is good. What is this? What kind of meat?"
They look at me and each other in confusion.
"It's meat," they say.
"Yes, but what kind. . . ."
More confused stares, more giggles.
I explain: "Beef, chicken. . . ."
"Oh, it's cow. Cow meat."
They invite me to their beauty salon stores with the rotting banana plants and expired beauty products sailed from Africa. They invite me to their restaurants, waiting for the customers to increase, desperately quietly praying that this will work and they will not have to go back to the streets, working them. Desperately quietly praying that the Malagueno landlord who does not know any English will leave them alone for two more weeks until more money comes in to pay for the rent that's already four months overdue, and when the money does come in, they go out ecstatic that God has heard their prayers, and buy a brand new big-ass TV and change their hair, put on new wigs or new extensions, invite friends over for a big bash, forgetting momentarily their problems. Only momentarily.
They invite me to sit. And I sit. I sit there in the green plastic chair, the fan blowing on me, watching a buzzy gray VH1 video. They hand me a Vita Malt.
Stay, don't go. Wait. Eat. Are you hungry? You must eat. And when will you be married?
People come and go. The cook runs back and forth, handing out the only two dishes that they have.
"What is it that you want?"
"What is it that you have?"
"We have fish or meat. Red stew."
"I'll have the fish."
A nod and then screaming in African dialect to the bus boy, explaining what this person wants and where is that beer for that man over there?
Nobody smiles. I smile because I am appalled. I should go.
"No, please, stay."
Friends come in. I recognize them from the street; one of them especially. Her eyes were dazed as if she was doped, drugged, walking home on a Saturday morning three a.m. just as I was from a wild night of dancing in suicidal four inch heels. I look at her. Yes, it is her. That same woman. Only her eyes are not dazed anymore and have now grown accustomed to her surroundings. And she changed her wig. Her hair is now blonde, long and flowing to her waist.
Tension is in the air. They talk loudly. I wonder how I can leave without being noticed, without being rude. . . .
They gesture, their faces two inches apart. The Saharan heat from the desert comes over me, where will I go? Everywhere I go it is hot, suffocating. There is nowhere to go. This is my home, this is their home. We all have no place to go. I will stay. I will not be worried until a wine bottle is broken; shattered to pieces on the floor, then it is that I will go.
A wine bottle is broken. Pieces clang to the floor. More yelling, more wine bottles are breaking, more heavy bodies stand up. The girl, the blonde hair girl, falls to the floor. She is crying. The men surround her. I shift my sticky arms and legs off the plastic chair. I unpeel my clothes and shake them loose from the clenching sweat. I hide my Vita Malt behind a chair. I squeeze through the big men’s legs and come close to her.
I touch her. The scars on her face, I count them. I move down to her arms and count them, too. I lead her hand to my scars the ones by the bright blue veins on the wrist, the ones up and down my arms. We are both home. We lightly tap our fingers over the scars, feeling them. We are all home. We count them even the unseen ones. We have nowhere to go.
We start again from the beginning and count them saying the numbers out loud; our voices rising. The number reaches into the hundreds. We are both home. The number reaches into the thousands. We are all home. She grabs hold of my hands. The number reaches into the stars. I squeeze her palms. We have nowhere to go.
Xenia Taiga lives in southern China. Her website is http://xeniataiga.com.