Delete.

This short story of mine was originally published in Sky Journal, but as I continue my creative writing journey, I wanted to share with here with you, too. Short fiction is a new thing for me, let me know what you think!6D247E69-5F3F-4A33-8DF7-34F8D368D523.JPG

“You need to choose which memories you want to delete,” the doctor said as she clasped her hands behind her head and tried to appear calm and confident; the very thing she was not. But the woman sitting in the exam room would not meet her gaze. She sat on the table, wearing the lipstick she had found near the sink at home. Jimmy had promised the lipstick was hers.

The doctor made eye contact with Jimmy, a plea for help to explain to his wife one more time, maybe this time she would comprehend. He understood the look, “Ruby, do you hear what the doctor is saying? Your brain is too full, and we need to free up space. The best way to do that is to choose a few memories to delete…”

The woman on the table looked down at her fingernails, painted light blue. She had asked Jimmy, “Do women my age paint their nails this color?” She couldn’t remember, and he didn’t know so he had told her yes. Suddenly, she did remember and the nail polish felt childish.

Ruby held her husband’s hand and squeezed it tight, tight, just as she always did. “Can you please ask the doctor to explain one more time?”

The doctor bit her lip and tried to remain patient. She nodded slowly to calm her own frustration, “You have Alzheimer’s, Ruby. We found that one of the best ways to treat Alzheimer’s is to take a look at all of the memories that are in your head, and delete the ones that aren’t serving you. Over these past months, we have deleted the memories that were small and insignificant because we thought that would free up room. But the Alzheimer’s is progressing, so we are going to have to delete some memories that hold a bigger space in your brain. And then, when those are deleted, your brain will have enough space to remember things that are important to you now.  Like where your keys are. And what you need to buy at the grocery store.”

“The doctor said your brain is like a phone full of pictures,” Ruby’s husband knelt down close to her face and saw the freckles on her nose. How strange that those freckles could outlast 58 years of life but her brain could not, “We deleted all of the junk photos. We need to delete some of the bigger, higher quality photos and allow that extra room to be filled with memories we will use.”

Ruby smiled a little, remembering this conversation now. Her dimples pressed into the sides of her cheeks. She looked young.

The doctor laid out what looked like a scrapbook of laminated pages, each with a strange and vague photo. “There are just about 700 photos we have chosen here,” the doctor had explained, “Approximately one photo from every month of life. The treatment team has already deleted vague memories that have seemed to have left her mind already. You know, the useless stuff, like the route to walk to elementary school, or song lyrics from  your childhood. Now, our job is to delete some of the memories that are clearer and take up more space.”

 “It’s inefficient storage space, that’s what Alzheimer’s is,” the doctor explained, smiling pleasantly and trying to fill the thick silence in the room. She looked at Jimmy, “You just need to help her figure out which one’s to delete. Today, let’s just focus on deleting 25.” Her voice slipped and she smiled even more tightly to hide the emotion. 

The young doctor prayed hollowly to the ceiling that she would never experience a strangeness like this: choosing with her love what parts of their life to erase. Eventually, as the disease progressed, all of the photos would have to go. Would Jimmy be offended if Ruby deleted that sleepy photo of his shoulders in the morning while he stretched? Would she choose the memory of her and her young sisters twirling in the grass over a road trip with him, the one where he fell in love? Was their child’s first steps worth more than the night he proposed? Did it even really matter?

The doctor had seen it before, habitually, actually, where one person’s mundane memory was a turning point for a loved one. It was the dull memory of the way rain fell on the childhood roof that gave a person peace at night. It was an insignificant scraped knee one summer that made their partner fall in love. The danger in the game was that the importance of shared experiences rarely aligned. 

The doctor looked for Ruby’s eyes tracing the images in the laminated pages. There was one photo of her holding dandelions in one hand, a kitten in the other. Her hair was lighter then. Another photo showed Ruby, looking down at intertwined fingers, much darker than Jimmy’s hands: evidence of a past love. 

Ruby closed the book, reached up for Jimmy’s cheeks, and rubbed her forehead on his chin. She whispered, and the doctor held her breath and waited for the decisions that would change the way she remembered her whole life; and the way that Jimmy would live the rest of his.

 “I don’t remember any of these photos, my love,” Ruby closed her eyes and spoke softly. “Go ahead and choose whichever pictures you think I will want to remember. I trust that.”

The doctor stood and handed a copy of the laminated pages to Jimmy, who accepted with two hands. Tears caught on the edge of the doctor’s eyelids as she watched him stare intently at his wife’s life. He would decide. There would be no dissent.

“I’ll leave you two alone,” the doctor whispered. Jimmy nodded, but Ruby caught the doctor’s eye and gave her a tear brimmed wink. She remembered. Every page and every photo was clear in her mind. But nothing so clear as the man who sat next to her that day.

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5 Reasons the Internet Lists Have to Stop

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There are few things that have remained so consistent throughout my entire life then wishing everyone would stop telling me what to do. It’s the ride or die of sentiments, really. I know I wasn’t the only one who sat on the sidewalk after high school volleyball and blessed the day I wouldn’t have a curfew, or homework or mandatory parent designated “photo with Santa when you are thirteen” Christmas cards.

I wasn’t caught completely off guard to realize after high school, nobody ever really stops bossing you around, albeit it may come from different sources: bosses instead of teachers, payment schedules instead of coaches. But I also did everything within my power to remain as independent as possible: working remotely on my own schedule and eating ice cream for breakfast when it felt appropriate (usually Mondays and Fridays.) I was a strong, sugar infused independent woman! But what I didn’t plan for, was just how much time I would allow internet lists to boss me around.

We’ve all seen them: “30 Things You Must Do Before you are 30.” “Make sure you have checked these items off your list before you settle down!” “Three Things to do before you have Kids.” I do understand the appeal in these headlines. Something masochist suckers us in at age 32 to see what, exactly, we were supposed to be before we got here. But the messages of these so called “listicles” are rarely reasonable and overall confining. Unique journeys are discounted, and let’s face it, all of us are pretty damn unique. So here it is: the five reasons the internet lists have to stop.

1.”You Don’t Even Know Me.”

My middle school adage rings true and comes in as number one. The internet lists are (fortunately) not catered to your specific situation in life: your marital status, financial status, job, family, health, and God forbid, the dreaded “P” word, your privilege. Not to mention the other, less controversial “P” word, your preference. What the lists don’t account for is the intrinsically unique nature of all of us. Humans are so specialized in taste and circumstance, that you can’t take an arbitrary indicator (such as age or life event) and trust it to provide viable life instruction. In fact, I would go as far to say that these lists on how to live your life are about as reliable as ordering the $3.99 shoes from Instagram: they may fit great, but more than likely, you will be squeezing yourself into something that was never really meant for you.

2.Jealousy or Inspiration?

 

 

The other tricky thing about the internet these days is the pictures we see and read the articles we read are only of those who have taken the time to write it down and post it up.  In reality, smallest sampling of people that we access online feels representative of the majority of our world. Not everyone spends a summer backpacking alone and not everyone has quit their job, bought a camper van, and found a rustic and bearded man to trick it out for them so they could roam Canada together. A friend of mine repeatedly says she doesn’t follow people or read things online (Instagram, listicle or otherwise) that make her feel envious. Criteria for determining if the account is worthwhile? If it is not making you more creative, more compassionate, or more aware…then it doesn’t even belong on your radar.

3. List curators are not success definers (and neither are Instagram models. And neither are your parents.)

They are humans who lived one experience and decided to talk about it. That’s all. And whether success looks like making your own baby food for everyone of your babies, having six pack abs or six figure paychecks or six weeks of vacation, then hell yeah. But knowing your own definition of success before you allow others to tell you theirs is crucial. Write it down. Stick it on your mirror. And when the list tells you to travel the year before you settle down, remember that your mirror says “Buy my own house.” Or, “Marry my high school love.” Or “Spend more time with my family.” Or “Meet Cheryl Strayed.” No wrong answers, so long as they are honest.

4. This list is about more than lists.    

 Obviously. It’s a result of watching a beautiful and frustrated bride who fell in love young and married young because he was (is) wonderful and they were ready, but she hadn’t reached the mystical milestone age of twenty-five that means you are ready to tie the knot. It’s seeing friends meet someone special a month after a bad breakup, and turning them away because they “hadn’t been single long enough.” It’s the overwhelming sense of inadequacy because you didn’t eat organic enough, travel enough, put yourself out there enough, based on the arbitrary rules we type up and paste online like some type of divine and/or Beyonce inspired mandate. It’s madness. Because each person I have encountered, regardless of their situation is nothing short of honey and magic 

5. It’s your life. You decide the rules.

(Note: This article was originally published in Elephant Journal.)

Purely Original Things that You Most Certainly Have Never Read

The truth (if the truth is what you are looking for) is that there is nothing to write about anymore. It’s all been taken. I found this out when I logged in to Facebook and already knew what I was going to see without even looking. There someone asking for recommendations for a restaurant in place they were visiting, “Good atmosphere but not too pricey! Lol.”  And then another person would ask for advice on how to make themselves go to the gym when they didn’t want to go the gym, and they would receive comments like this, “Just go anyway haha!” That’s very lazy and very prevalent advice.  I would rather hang out at the DMV than receive advice that mundane, but everyone wants to be part of the conversation, and everyone gets to be, so here we are.

And before you tell me I should not look for original words and thoughts on Facebook, you are right, so I turned to the place that often inspires creativity: eavesdropping. But lately, even my eavesdropping has been letting me down. It’s the puns mostly, talking about how Steph Curry should open an Indian restaurant or Trump combover jokes without any real insight or intent. They’re boring. I’m all for predictability on flights and Uber’s and dentist appointments, but not with my headphones in and my music off so I can listen to strangers talk. I want ingenuity when I listen to other’s private conversations, damn it.

Wanting this depth truly isn’t fair from Facebook or a stranger. But fair or not, it’s what I wish all the same. Perhaps it’s how connected we are, how tuned into each other we stay, that we all start to sound the same, all start to use the same words and repeat the same jokes or advice over and over until we feel like we have read (or heard) it all. Or maybe it’s the fear of saying something strange or unpopular in our socially heated world. As the token “Phoebe” within my group of friends, I understand the shame of the eyeroll or the look disgust when someone doesn’t understand my joke or comment or extended  metaphor. Humans like things they can relate to instantly, without having to take time to think or process or try and understand. Hell, why do you think the racism and sexism and all the other “isms” in our world exist? It’s easier to repeat what others have said instead of thinking things through from a complex perspective. It’s easier to write “Just go to the gym anyway,” say you participated, and call it a day.

That is exactly why I started asking new questions on car rides and in the Starbucks line and in group text messages. People say you should write what you want to read, and really, I just want to read something I have never heard of or thought of before, so that is the exact question I began to ask to really anyone who would pause their podcast for me. I anticipated the furrowed brow eye-roll (which I most definitely received), but I woman’d up and asked anyway, “What’s something you think or you know that you don’t think anyone else thinks or knows?” And after I maintained an uncomfortable amount of non-blinking eye contact, I began to get some good answers. Good being defined as something that I had never heard of before, or made me think. Good not necessarily meaning I agree whole heartedly or went back and fact checked. I wasn’t trying to solve anything here. It was a chance to hear something new.

I got some very factual answers, like the first answer I received: “Adult koalas are mean.” This was great because it was 1. useful and 2. Brings up a lot of follow up questions.

Then, I learned that it takes two quarters for bad news on a stock to wear off, and was instantly launched into a conversation of how many quarters it takes other types of bad news to wear off: four for a torn ACL. Six for a stolen laptop. Nine for a heartbreak.

Someone told me people die more frequently the day after Christmas or the day after their birthday, then at any other time during the year. This is because our bodies and minds are so interconnected, that our minds can will our bodies to stay alive just a little bit longer: through one more milestone or holiday before saying goodbye.

There are three generations contained within a pregnant mother if her unborn child is female. This is because the eggs within an unborn baby girl are already developed, so when a mother is caring for her unborn daughter, she is caring for the generation after that, too.

The best way to save money at your wedding is to forgo the rental chairs and have everyone stand at the reception. The second-best way is to forgo the utensils.

The mother of a grade school student shared with me her son’s progressive religious beliefs: God has two children: Jesus and Mother Nature. We should love them both equally. God is also married. To Father Time.

And the man at the coffee shop who sat down across from me to tell me this: people often say, “It is written,” when referencing something that fate led them to, like falling in love for stumbling into the perfect job. But, what if we have it backwards? What if we are supposed to write down our dreams and prayers that we want to become a reality, and once it is written, only then will it come true? It doesn’t have to be written by God or in the stars. It just needs to be written!

I received a  lot of answers, and to be completely honest, there was not one answer that really swayed me or shook me to my core or made me reevaluate life. I didn’t receive some piece of earth-shattering advice that allowed me to understand people or politics or the electoral college. Instead, my realization was this: in a world where originality feels painfully rare and hidden, it exists. In the corners of every person you pass, with their traditional Converse and the generic coffee order are ideas you have never heard or dreamt about. And the next time the conversations lulls or you feel your eyes grow heavy in anticipation of the mundane, “Yes, I’m fine, I can’t wait for Friday, too,” I challenge you, with that unbreaking eye contact to ask, “What is something you don’t think many people know about?”

 

 

 

Sugar and Dust: It’s Finally Here

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Beautiful Humans-

I could not be more excited to tell you that my very first book, Sugar and Dust, is available for purchase TODAY.  One time I read that being a writer requires you to walk the line between extreme narcissism and crippling self doubt. I feel that more than ever right now: balancing between “Who wants to read my work?” and “The world needs this story ASAP!” But neither of those voices felt sincere and they both seemed pushy, and after 2.5 years of writing one novel, I wanted nothing but and honesty to seep through the pages of the words that I’ve written, so I am trying to come to you with a new voice: courage.

I wrote in the note section of my phone one time “What if instead of calling ourselves scared, we called our selves brave?” I remember writing it, I was a few glasses of wine deep and sharing a fiction novel with real emotion seemed particularly poignant: raw and terrifying and too much. But I truly believe that feeling is what creates the best art and reminds us just how big our lives can be. I can tell you that I am brave shitless right now, but I am brave regardless because what can I do, other than try and share beauty I have created? At the end of the day, what else can anybody do?

I do hope that if you have ever felt or been inspired by any of my words, or are simply curious what a twenty-eight year old with insomnia and a coffee problem has to say, you will take the time to check out this novel. Share it with your friends, or your grandma, or the man at bus stop with a book under his arm. Request it at your local library. Start a book club. Talk about the topics if they strike you, because conversation heals so many things. If you need this story, other’s out there need it, too. You can purchase Sugar and Dust on Amazon (either eBook or Paperback)  here.

Sugar and Dust is a work of fiction, but the setting is based on the time I spent in East Africa. The beautiful landscape, and stories I heard passed around were too beautiful to leave untold or unremembered. With a little creativity, I spun a setting into a story that talks about a lot of difficult things our whole world struggles with today. A teaser for this book is below:

In a fit of panic and rage, Isabel Carson (Isa) moves to rural Tanzania after the suicide of her mother, Ivy Supeet.  As she attempts to acclimate to her new life, Isa finds a job running the business side of a rural tribal school for girls. But while she runs away from the reality of the death of her mother, she finds a new reality highlighted by the child brides of the village in which she lives.

Penn Clemence is Isa’s friend from high school, as well as a Congolese refugee who never received DACA status in America.  Penn reaches out to Isabel with a business proposition: if she will allow the rural school in which she works to be a holding place for kilos of cocaine, then Penn, as well as any other child bride in need of escape, will receive a passport to a new country. For Penn, this means the ability to register for classes at public universities and the chance to apply for meaningful jobs. For young girls with a sealed fate, this could be the chance for a new life.

Initially, Isa declines Penn’s proposition, but as she gets closer to the young brides and the truths of their situations are revealed, she agrees to allow the school to be a holding place for the cocaine. For every kilo of cocaine that is moved, one new passport is received. Isabel is determined to receive three passports: one for Penn, one for an intelligent woman with a temper to match, and one for a teenage mother who wants a chance to start fresh. But as Isa continues to blur the lines between right and wrong, she finds herself immersed in a world where “too far” is undefined.

Isa must learn to walk the tightrope of living in a new world while coming to terms with her mother’s death and the past she ran away from. Eventually, Isa learns what she had known all along: family is not only found in blood and courage is almost always a choice.

With all the love and hope and bravery  and gratefulness I can muster,

E

 

 

A (Nearly) Comprehensive List of Things I Don’t Know

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The one thing I DO know- coffee.

I don’t know how people cook so many different types of meals. For some reason, when I get to the grocery store, the only foods I can possibly remember that I know how to eat are chicken, rice and vegetables. I stand in those aisles surrounded by food and poor lighting and Michelle Branch’s hits from 2001 and all I can remember, with every ounce in me, is that I should get some rice, and chicken. And maybe a few vegetables. One time I was feeling particularly adventurous and bought chicken broth and then I had chicken and rice and vegetable soup.  That was a day. People keep saying I need to look a recipe up online, and I understand how, hypothetically, that could add some diversity to the meal prep game. But what these people don’t understand is that’s assuming I’m going to walk into my local Safeway with my head filled with less than words and work and women’s rights and the government shutdown and gas prices, and gather enough headspace to buy the ingredients I have half-heartedly typed in the notes section of my phone. That’s all before panicking about the amount I will get back on my tax returns if I am going to buy “fish sauce” which cost six dollars for a meal I am going to make once. I will confirm all of your suspicions: I’m not a great cook. I really don’t know what I am doing in there.

I also don’t know how to save something for later (please reference the fish sauce.) I read a book by Zadie Smith where a character thought the Lord was coming back to earth at any moment, so she would always only put two dollars of gas in her gas tank, and buy enough food for one more day, and give everyone a very intense goodbye when she left them for the night. I’m not quite that bad, I will fill the tank up most of the way if it’s not too cold out or if the sky looks good and I forget to watch the numbers on the gas meter spin. But impatience is my lifelong battle and I give Christmas presents as soon as I buy them and tell lovers I love them as soon as I love them and drink the entire French press each morning, even after the coffee shakes have started. Once a psychic told me I died too young in a past life and I felt the need to leave no loose ends in this life, just in case that happens again. Maybe that’s true, I haven’t completely dismissed it. Maybe I just want ice cream before dinner most nights.

I don’t know how to let hard things flow through me without getting them stopped in somewhere inside my arms or my heart or my throat. I used to work at a restaurant and one night after close, when I was mopping up, I spilled the entire bucket of milky gray mop water (the kind that’s a mix of dirt and beer and French fries) on my canvas shoes. I sloshed home that night and with sticky feet and sloshy Vans and instantly threw them in the washing machine (the shoes, not the feet) and washed with hot water and soap. But my shoes never felt the same way again. They took on a grayish hue, and always had the slightest scent of mop water. I know I am different than canvas shoes, I get that. But when I have been caught in the deluge of life’s mop water, I tend to absorb it, to allow it sink into my pores and change the fibers that create me. Things don’t roll off of my back, they never have. It’s probably because I died too young in a past life and I have never gotten over it. But I don’t know how to make my humanity less porous. I don’t know how to see things and feel things and not let them into my bones. I haven’t figured out how to be waterproof yet.

I don’t know what you are supposed to do if you ever stop loving someone. Are supposed to tell your brain to keep loving them, even if your heart disagrees? Are you are supposed to be honest right away and hope that it wasn’t just a feeling, a bad month, a strange taste in your mouth from the bitter and the sweet and the sour memories that life force-fed you with anything but a silver spoon?  I don’t know if loving comes in waves and I am not sure if there are times where those overwhelming feelings of love don’t wash over you and the white caps don’t come. If you have been on a surfboard before, you know that waves come in sets. And when the ocean seems clear and glassy, and the water stays still, you can sit up, rub the salt from your eyes and let your feet dangle in the depths and wonder what’s below. And you can shine your face up towards the sun, because the sun needs light sometimes, too. That stillness can be peace if you let it. Are we supposed to treat love the same way, salty patience, until the waves start up again? I don’t know if I am being too hopeful.

I don’t really understand cultural appropriation, even though I have read about it extensively. I know it’s important but it hasn’t clicked in my brain and I wish it would. I don’t understand how admiration and disrespect can be so intimately intertwined. I wish the world was more patient.

I don’t understand bitcoin. I don’t think you do either.

I don’t know what I would do if I actually won a game of Bingo. Because Lord knows I am not yelling “Bingo” to a group of stamp-happy strangers. I’m too shy and too quiet for that type of success. Same goes for the Kiss-cam at baseball games. And the podium of a race. And writing competitions. And book publications. And magazine interviews. And dream jobs. Success is truly the most nauseating thing an introvert can think of. I don’t know of anyone else that feels that way, because no one has said it.

I don’t know why we keep trying to make friends the way we do: where we show only how competent and well-versed we are in life, and beg for connection from others because of what we know. One of my best friends told me that when she travelled for long periods, the best way to make friends was to find someone as confused and lost as she was. It makes sense. As brilliant and complex as humans are, we are significantly more confused and lost. It created a relationship, more than knowing the way ever would. And yet, we stand day after day on a platform of every place we have been and every accomplishment we have achieved and every single thing we know and we call it our story. In real life, in honest life, not knowing is a story and it is connection. I don’t know why I am lonely today and I don’t know where I will be next year. I don’t know why we stopped wearing flare jeans but it’s easier to ride bikes now. I don’t know how you are feeling, but I believe you. I don’t know, but I’m brave.  I don’t know, but I’m here.

You know that old adage about looking out for a yellow car? If someone tells you to keep your eye out for a yellow car, you suddenly see them everywhere, the streets are over run with them like its New York City, and you can’t believe that there are so many damn yellow cars on the day specifically that you were told to look for them. I laid outside the other night when the lights were low and the sky was black and stared at the stars with sleep filled eyes, determined to see a shooting star before I went to bed. And that night I swear I saw fifteen shooting stars all with the same brief ferocity of a wish and a flash and the realization of something so intrinsically unknown could be so beautiful. I don’t know why I am telling you this. It just felt important.

Camels, Dates, and Happy New Year

Happy Holidays, readers! I hope everyone found some peace and inspiration, however strange or small or unexpected. And while you consider your world in 2019, I want to tell you that my novel, “Sugar and Dust” will be available on eBook on March 1, 2019, and Paperback on March 15, 2019. And if you are are a forgetful person, or March feels like forever away, you can sign up on a mailing list at http://www.ellakerr.com and I will email you directly and let you know the book is SO ready to read.

Enough business talk. Below is a little bit of a teaser: an excerpt from “Sugar and Dust.”

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Friend Michael, at the camel farm that inspired this chapter of the book.

I knew where to find Maya. Not because she told me but because I saw her thick hair in the back of the brown pickup truck picking its way down the road one evening. She covered her head with fabric to shield her face from the dust, but I knew it was her. And I knew the pickup truck.

The truck belonged to a Somali man who lived ten kilometers from the Manor. He was an older man, probably in his late sixties. He had a definitive Somali look. I could’ve guessed where he was from by glancing at his eyes, his cheekbones, the texture of his hair. Legend had it he fled Somalia in the midst of the pirating days just a few years before. I heard that his brother was a pirate. I heard that he was a pirate. I heard that he was attempting to take over all of East Africa with his milky blue eyes and wispy white hair. I heard he came to this country to gather mistresses from all over the world, to have them do the pirating work for him, to loot and steal and bask in his eternal pirate glory. I think he mostly wanted peace. I think he came to live in the dust because it felt better than the Somali sand in his eyes.

I don’t remember his name, but I do remember he had one hundred and ten camels. In a land where livestock determined one’s wealth, he was a king who lived in a brick and mud house and drove a white pickup truck that sat low to the ground. It was no wonder people called him a pirate: camels were expensive, and one hundred and ten of anything made you a king.

The morning after I spoke with the Kenyan poet I got up with the sun and drove the ten kilometers to the Somali’s house. The sun rose pink and orange and full of juice that this land thirsted for.

I pulled in between the thorn bushes that formed a fence for the camels. The sun had begun to cast thick shadows of the animal’s necks on the ground.

The man stood outside: his black skin thick and shiny, his eyes electric blue, his hair white. Long white fabric covered him to mid calves. He waved when I approached.

I slammed the car door and carefully stepped my way through the thorn bushes to his home. A fire was burning outside; a young boy tended it and boiled thick yellow milk in a pot just above the flames.

“Welcome,” he greeted me in English, “How can I help you this morning?”

The camels began to stir in their thorn bushes, gracefully gliding to a full standing position, making soft snorting noises with their enormous muzzles.

“I am looking for a friend of mine. I believe she may be staying with you.”

“Sit down,” he said, smiled warmly, and shuffled toward the entrance to his home. “Maaz will make you some chai. Let me see if I have any friends you may know here.”

I sat on a wooden bench and the young boy poured the thick tea into a tin cup and set it in front of me. “It’s from the camel’s milk,” he told me in shaky Swahili.

Maya stepped heavily outside, barefoot and sleepy. She pulled a faded purple fabric more tightly around her shoulders, “Good morning, Madame,” she said, dipped her head for me to touch with my palm in the traditional tribal greeting.

Maya and I sipped the thick tea in silence for a few moments before she spoke again.

“I think the others told you what happened…” she said, looking into her tea.

“I did hear what happened. It was difficult not to hear what happened.”

“Does my father know yet?”

“Not that I am aware.”

“Has anyone said when he is coming back?”

“I don’t know, Maya.”

Another long silence, another sip of tea that went down thick and sticky.

“He’s going to kill me when he finds out. You know that, right, Madame? He will actually kill me.”

“I know.”

The camels seemed to sway with the wind.

“I can get you out of here. To Kenya. If that’s what you want.”

Maya kicked the dust with her bare feet and brought the purple cloth up over her head. I had never noticed before that her eyes were so light, a toffee color.

The Somali man sat on the wooden bench next to me and was given his own cup of thick camel tea. We stopped our conversation and finished our tea in silence. Soon he stood, grabbed his herding staff and woke the camels that had yet to rise and greet the day. He tapped the beasts gently on the hump and they rose: back legs first, then front legs. They made a soft, groaning noise in miniature protest.

“What will I do in Kenya?”

“You will attend school. I can get you a sponsor. Maybe not the schools we talked about. Maybe not the school that’s first choice, but you’ll be alive.”

“And I won’t have to watch cattle…” Maya muttered under her breath.

A hot feeling in my face rose. It wasn’t from the sun; it was at my long coming reaction at Maya’s careless and reckless actions. “We need to talk about what you did…”

“OK. Let’s talk about it.” Maya re-crossed her legs, folded her arms across her chest and smiled, challenging, “But I am happy I did it.”

“That’s the thing. I can help you; I can send you to Kenya and give you a push to make a future for yourself. But how do I know that you aren’t going to do something wild and crazy there? How do I know that as soon as you cross that border you won’t get upset again and get in a fight, or destroy someone’s property and end up in jail?”

My mind raced to all of the things worse than cows that Maya could potentially shoot: a raucous neighbor, a family pet, heroin.

The Somali shuffled back toward us and squinted at the rising sun. The wrinkles at the side of his eyes formed cracks and dips like the ground we stood on.

“You aren’t talking about taking my young daughter away from me now?” he laughed, a playful tone in his voice, “She’s a good cook you know. And those eyes are pretty to look at.” He was not rude or suggestive in his tone. He seemed to honestly enjoy having Maya around. I was wary with trust and did not want to give this man my complete faith, but he did give Maya a place to stay, and my heart did not feel nervous when he took a step towards me. The man with blue eyes did not say much, but he had taken in a girl who needed a place to stay, and that’s all I needed for trust back then.

“I want to thank you, sir, for taking care of my young sister. I can’t tell you how much you have helped giving her a place to stay given the situation….” I paused, assuming the old man knew the entire story. Of course he did. News in this village travelled faster than the dust.

“She’s a smart girl, Maya is. If you are able to help her, Miss Isabel, then do it. This girl will move mountains, inshallah.” The old man sighed. And then, just as smoothly as he came into our conversation, he floated back out, white vest flapping in the breeze like a lost seagull’s wings.

“Why does that man let you stay here?”

Maya puffed out her big cheeks and slowly exhaled, “He’s an old man. Only sons. He came and found me after he heard what I had done to my father’s cattle. He told me if I cooked and cleaned for him I could stay with him for a while. He also said he knew you would come find me.”

“How did he know that?”

Maya stretched her feet out long under my legs. She smelled like Ivory soap and the earthy scent of camel milk tea. “Because you see his eyes? Blue eyes on black skin mean they see things. Future things. Blue eyes in Africa mean you are a witch.”

“Is he a good witch or a bad witch?”

Ivy had believed in witches. She burned sage in the house to cleanse the energy in her home in New Orleans whenever something bad had happened, whether it was a skinned knee or a gas station robbery. When I was sick with a cold she would boil rosehips and brandy and force the still scalding liquid between my lips. “Brew” she called it. She never made the brew strong enough to save herself, though. She never did anything enough to save herself. I watched my hands move like her hands as I interlaced them behind my head and gently wrapped my hair up in my scarf just as she would have. I waited for Maya’s answer.

“He is a good witch. But he can see things that we can’t see. He knows the future. And he said that if I waited here long enough, and stirred the chai and waited, you would come for me and you would take me out of this place.”

In the distance, the old man patted the nose of a young camel; his wispy white hair blew in the breeze. From meters away, his eyes glittered like sea glass.

“What else did he say, Maya?”

“He said that you weren’t black and he said that you weren’t white.”

I crinkled my forehead, caught off guard by the comment. “What am I, then?”

“He didn’t say that part.”

The sun rose higher overhead and I squinted into the light, wondered if I was getting those wrinkles in between my eyebrows like Theresa had.

“Anything else he knows about me that I should be aware of?” I kicked Maya playfully but her face remained serious.

“He said the day that we would find freedom, the rain would come.”

We both stood silent and looked over the flat land, the dust cloud over the camel’s’ feet, the small squat trees with menacing long white thorns.  The children used those thorns as toothpicks when a goat or a cow was killed and the whole family feasted. They snapped the thorns off at the base and picked at their perfect teeth while they washed plastic plates in a tub of water, or gathered cow dung in lieu of firewood. We looked out past the blue hills in the distance, across from the yellow sun, a definitive circle. We looked out to the dark clouds that suddenly descended on the horizon. Deep angry gray swirled with the dust. The wind picked up and the clouds crawled closer, like a stray dog, hungry but wary, slowly, slowly making its way to our feet. And then, the rain started.