I sit on my old chair, scatter my multicolored toys around me, and start watching evening cartoons on TV. Cool Pancho shoots off through the streets in his car, feeling awesome. He’d bought the car back from the old lady living next door. Never mind that he’d paid too much, more than two thousand pounds. No problem. He slows down, speeds up, and finally stops at the green fields to go for a stroll. The episode ends, but I stay glued to the television, waiting for my truly favorite cartoon: The Adventures of Zaina the Bee. Zaina is a menacing creature; she has no other business but instigating pranks on her friend Nahhul. Nahhul, for his part, has no choice but to come crawling back to his bully-of-a-buddy every time.
I have enclosed this letter in another sent to Mr. Lama Chobuden1 of Darjeeling, India, and expect by now it has been forwarded along from him to Japan. While I am not without my concerns as to whether or not you will indeed receive the letter, if by some chance it were not to make the passage, I am given solace only by the fact that you are not in any particular anticipation of a letter. That being said, if you are to receive this letter, I am certain that you will find yourself taking some amusement in my fate. First, I am living in Tibet. Second, I have become a Chinese person. Third, I share a wife with three other husbands.
My mother comes to visit me every few weeks. There’s nothing unusual about that, except she lives in a nursing home she isn’t supposed to leave. She wraps what used to be my father’s long winter coat over her shoulders, pays one of the nurses to sneak her out, and climbs into the back seat of an idling car that waits outside.
First morning in Nueva York, in los EEUU, and Néstor in the kitchen was a stone his daughter rushed around like river water. Two years past her quinceañera, one more year of high school left, thirteen years since he last saw her. Néstor had kept running all the numbers in his head the whole way up to la Frontera, but here and now such compulsive calculations fell away, replaced finally by the actual, the reachable young woman those many years had yielded: Sara.
His coffee lasts. It’s what he starts his mornings with, early, and then he drinks half a cup in the mid-afternoon. It keeps him company. Maybe the smell of it fresh is the reason he keeps sipping it, even after it’s gone cold. Or maybe he has other reasons. Maybe he feels a certain duty, a responsibility toward it. His coffee, poured into a paper cup, changes in color, shape, and size each day, depending on the kiosk he buys it from. The man and his coffee spend the whole day together, and then he leaves it on his desk or the first ledge he sees. He abandons it without a last sip, or even a word of farewell. He leaves the paper cup of coffee and returns to his world, trusting that another one will be waiting for him in another kiosk tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and the day after that.
Sixteen years ago, my mother found my father behind the shed on a Saturday morning in June. “Get up off the ground in your good shirt,” she told him, before she understood he was dead. “He looked like he was sleeping,” she told us. “The gun glinted in the grass.”
Seven years after my father’s suicide, I opened the envelope containing police photographs of the scene. He did not look like he was sleeping. Limbs: a swastika. Angles inhuman. Violence and velocity rendered in two hundred pounds of a six-foot man. The gun glinted in the grass—she was right about that.
Join us in celebrating Issue 15 of The Common! The evening will feature readings from Liz Arnold, Emma Copley Eisenberg, and translator Lissie Jaquette, followed by a discussion with the magazine’s editor-in-chief Jennifer Acker. This event is free and open to the public.
The room was full, though not as jammed as the time I’d visited the summer before, when the space felt hot with the exhalation of hundreds of miserable souls. It was still full enough that I bumped into people and they bumped into me as we moved around with our heads bent uncomfortably backwards. A couple of women sat on the floor and leaned back to stare at the ceiling more comfortably, but an official, known unofficially as a shusher, indicated that they should rise. He and other shushers moved through the crowd of upturned faces whispering “shush” and “silenzio,” reminding us that the Sistine Chapel is a place of worship and not an art gallery.
Current city or town: Kampala, Uganda
How long have you lived here: Since 2011
Three words to describe the climate: Friendly, sunny, dusty
Best time of year to visit? All year. It can get wet in the rainy season, with flash floods, but that doesn’t normally last more than a few hours.
1. The most striking physical features of this city/town are . . . The birds. Kampala is full of wetlands. My home is near one and I sometimes see ten different species in a day. There’s a species that thrives in the middle of the streets. The marabou stork, karoli, the garbage collector. In the past the city had poor waste management and this attracted the storks, but today they have fallen in love with the lampposts and tall buildings and won’t leave, though the council has tried to exterminate them.
Featured authors include Masha Gessen, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Carmen Maria Machado, and Min Jin Lee
Amherst College will host LitFest 2018, its third annual literary festival celebrating fiction, nonfiction, poetry and spoken-word performance, on March 1–3. The event, co-hosted by The Common, features readings and conversations with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz, 2017 National Book Award winner and Amherst College professor Masha Gessen, acclaimed Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and 2017 National Book Award finalists Carmen Maria Machado and Min Jin Lee, among others. All events are free and open to the public. All author events will take place in Johnson Chapel on the College’s campus and most will include an audience Q&A and author book-signings.
Pulitzer Prize-Winner Junot Díaz Headlines Amherst College LitFest 2018