shelter folktales

Текст об историях, которые рассказывают друг другу бездомные дети Майями.

Folktales are usually an inheritance from family or homeland. But what if you are a child enduring a continual, grueling, dangerous journey? No adult can steel such a child against the outcast’s fate: the endless slurs and snubs, the threats, the fear. What these determined children do is snatch dark and bright fragments of Halloween fables, TV news, and candy-colored Bible-story leaflets from street-corner preachers, and like birds building a nest from scraps, weave their own myths. The “secret stories” are carefully guarded knowledge, never shared with older siblings or parents for fear of being ridiculed — or spanked for blasphemy. But their accounts of an exiled God who cannot or will not respond to human pleas as his angels wage war with Hell is, to shelter children, a plausible explanation for having no safe home, and one that engages them in an epic clash.

This bit of folklore became an obsession for eight-year-old Miguel. His father, a Nicaraguan immigrant, worked the overnight shift at a Miami gas station. Miguel always walked down the street by himself to bring his dad a soda right before the child’s bedtime, and they’d chat. Then one night his father was murdered while on the job. Recalls Miguel: “The police say the robbers put lit matches all over him before they killed him.”

Miguel’s mother speaks no English and is illiterate. She was often paid less than two dollars per hour for the temporary jobs she could find in Little Havana (mopping shop floors, washing dishes in restaurants). After her husband’s death, she lost her apartment. No matter where Miguel’s family of three subsequently slept (a church pew, a shelter bed, a sidewalk), his father’s spirit appeared, bloodied and burning all over with tiny flames. Miguel’s teachers would catch him running out of his school in central Miami, his small fists filled with green palm leaves, determined to find his father’s grave. A social worker finally took him to the cemetery, though Miguel refused to offer her any explanation. “I need my daddy to find the fighter angels,” Miguel says from a Salvation Army facility located near Liberty City. “I’ll go there when I’m killed.”

The secret stories say the angel army hides in a child’s version of an ethereal Everglades: A clear river of cold, drinkable water winds among emerald palms and grass as soft as a bed. Gigantic alligators guard the compound, promptly eating the uninvited. Says Phatt: “But they take care of a dead child’s spirit while he learns to fight. I never seen it, but yes! I know it’s out there” — he sweeps his hand past the collapsing row of seedy motels lining the street on which the shelter is located — “and when I do good, it makes their fighting easier. I know it! I know!”


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