As I already announced where it needs to be announced, my fifth novel, To Live will be published by Perfect Edge Books. I’ll talk more about that on another day, I think. Maybe this weekend. I’ll make a proper post about it, the way I did with Noir: A Love Story.
Today’s story is actually a true story, which is pretty unusual for me. It probably didn’t happen exactly like this, but it did happen, and not very long ago. There are crimes committed on our southern border that are unconscionable and they’re happening more and more frequently after having never been a problem before.
He was born past the edge of an empire, on the otherside of the river. For all his life, people told him of opportunity just a river away. How, if only he had been born on that side, he would have been wealthy, beautiful, with all the world open to him. He had seen uncles and aunts cross that divide, the mothers and fathers of friends, their elder siblings, even entire families disappear across the river.
He dreamt of their happiness. How J– was probably an actor or singer now, on the cusp of celebrity. How even a janitor across the river can be a millionaire.
For long days he stared across the river. Soldiers patrolled, but not many, and not often. They carried guns but never shot them, never even aimed them.
As he grew he began to understand the dusty land of his home was not so bad. That there were opportunities and lives even here, beyond the empire. He stopped staring across the river and when his friends told him how they’d escape there, to the empire, to be rich and famous and successful, he just shook his head and told them the only difference between here and there is the direction we look to see the river. They laughed at him, reminded him of how he sat all day watching, calculating how he could make it across, slip past the empire’s guards, become a part of the empire.
It was the television that changed his mind, that told him his people were hated there, in the empire. He was foreign, illegal. The questions came then: why do we dream of sneaking across? why don’t we do it safe and legal? why is life like that up there but like this down here?
The answers came and he hardened, only fifteen years old. His dreams changed and he turned from north to south. He saw the problems of empire and beyond and he became determined. Determined to change his land, his people.
The more he learnt of his land, of the corruption, the greed, the poverty, the obesity, the less he blamed the empire or even those who led his country. He stopped blaming anyone or anything.
His studies became serious. Day and night he studied and began to excel at school, never reaching top of his class but by the following year his future took on shine and that shine spread over everyone around him.
He solved problems. It became his only goal. The uselessness of blame, he would say, is that it is stagnant. We need to forgive and move on and create the land we want. The world we want.
There was a classmate who he had loved long but never spoken to until he saw her alone by the river staring as he once had. Sitting beside her, he asked her what she thought of the empire. The girl said the usual things, that there was hope and opportunity there. He nodded and asked if she wanted to go there. She laughed. The sound crossing the river, blooming into the air, and she said, No, never.
It was then that he fell in love with her.
The girl had lost an aunt and a brother to the empire and all they got back was money. Not much money but enough for her to perhaps one day escape the border, go to university in the capitol or somewhere else. He asked if she would go to the empire for education and she said she would maybe go further south, to places where the empire’s shadow fell less cruel.
It became habit. They met in the evening to stare across the river and imagine the ways they would never go there. They talked about lands across the oceans, of different empires and what it meant to be an empire. What it meant to be a subject or colony or former of either to an empire. They talked about the color of skin, the power of language, and, after weeks of this, their talk turned to love.
It was not until the week before he turned seventeen that he said those words to her and she said them back, through heaving gasps in the back of his father’s truck under a dry hot sky.
Smiling, she in his arms, he talked about their future. No longer individual futures branching away, but one single path for both of them to walk, hand in hand and steps in sync. He talked so long she fell asleep in his arms, pressed against him, and as he grew harder, he licked the back of her neck, the sweat cold there. She moved, felt him pressed against her back, and turned to meet him. She said those words again, the ones he needed and before he took her home to sneak back into her mother’s house, he had loved her again, and then one last time.
He walked alone the next morning along the river’s edge, throwing rocks into its current, not even bothering to look at the empire when two great claps burst over the water followed by two more. When he collapsed, bleeding and lifeless, the rocks dropped from his hands and the last sound he heard was the laughter of those from beyond the river.
When we discovered my son there was rage and fear and sorrow so immense my wife tried to drown herself in that river. We organised, though. We did what he taught us to do, my son. Angry and burdened by sorrow, we sued the empire and the men who shot my son. Imperial Agents ending the life of a boy, and for what? Amusement? Practice?
We still don’t know. We were thrown away and ignored because, though the crime began within the empire, it ended here, past the river, and so the empire washed its hands of us. Of my son.
All because he was born on one side of this river and not the other.