Pasta and Protest

Dinner was something of a casserole dish, loaded down with brittle peas lurking under noodles and smeared with a gritty cream that stuck to the roof of my mouth. Mom’s head and hands were elsewhere when she’d made it, so I picked and prodded carefully, while things went from uncomfortable to unbearable between Dad and Samir.

They sparred with words. Beliefs and laws. And what wasn’t said with words, about beliefs and laws, was inflicted with eyes that sliced across the table. Crossed arms and heavy snorts.

“It just seems to me,” Dad was saying in that older, statesman-like way of his. Samir no longer called him Dad but Eric. It had been strange at first but now it would have just as strange had he called him Dad.

“…that you have nothing but a manufactured issue. Let’s see, you’re in college, you come from a middle class background—”

“I come from Uganda.”

I stopped mid-snap on a crunchy pea. Mom coughed. Dad—Eric, set his fork down and tilted his head, trying to play along but obviously wounded from the strike. A strike that seemed to surprise even Samir himself.

Of course we all knew that Samir was from Uganda. Mom and Dad had adopted as a baby. But I’d known him since I took my very first breaths. My brother Sam. Simple as that. So I’d thought.

Dad sniffed, took a sip of water. “That is true, Samir.”

He’d demanded to be called Samir two years ago. Up until then it had always been Sam, a name I still called him at times, because it’s hard to rename something that means so much to you. To me it would be like calling Dad Eric, or my journal a clock–although it does tell time. So once and a while Sam still slipped out, like when we laughed or got caught up in a funny story, or sometimes just for no reason at all.

Samir hadn’t touched his dinner. He sat straight, bolstered by Dad’s admission.

“Isn’t that much obvious? And my cause is not manufactured, Eric. It’s as real as your privilege.”

Dad sighed, getting huffy puffy about white guilt and privilege. Samir pounced.

“Uh, huh. Was it manufactured that time at the mall, when security held me for walking with Emma?”

I swallowed down the pea, remembering school shopping last summer. Just the two of us with Mom’s credit card. Security approached, something about suspicious activity. A tall man, dark as midnight, shouting at a prepubescent girl. Yellow hair, blue eyes. Sunburn. Come this way please…

They’d held us until Mom arrived, in tears, shouting and casting threats at anyone who would listen. That the boy was seventeen, her son. How dare them and all that. The guards apologized. Samir didn’t say a word, only marinated in a tight, quiet rage. All because I’d wanted a snow cone and Samir had said it was time to leave.

Dad/Eric rolled his eyes. “Samir, things aren’t perfect, I know that. But haven’t we always tried to do the right thing. For both you and Emma. We treat you–”

“This isn’t about you!” Samir on his feet, the back of his chair flat on the floor. He paced, two strides into the living room, his lanky body undecided between thin and muscular. He was taller than Dad, had been for a while, but now he seemed too big for the house.

“It’s about me.” He pressed his hand to his heart. “Where I’m from. My home.”

“This is your home, Samir.” Dad’s voice was loud too now, breaking, pleading, piercing the walls and finding the studs. Mom’s body shook with sobs, and if it weren’t for her tears falling into her noodles I would have thought she’d found something to be hysterical. My own eyes burned with a desire to go back in time.

Samir looked up from the floor, to the three of us, his voice hardly over a whisper. “Then why doesn’t it feel like home?”

Dad’s face dropped in defeat. I was on the verge of screaming. I wanted it back. All of it. The blindness of summer sun. Vacations in the back of the car, singing, giggling, fighting over the last Capri Sun. Screaming our lungs out on the roller coasters. Sam and I in the pool. His smile so wide I thought I could jump into it. Before he pointed out the watchful stares when we were together, the guarded eyes under the white women’s sunglasses. Before he pounded the walls in the confusion of being ridiculed by black kids at school over his dark skin. When he was just my big brother, not my black brother.

I wanted that blindness back.

Dad wiped his forehead. “Very well.”

Then he stood, and in the evening sun I saw my father’s eyes glistening. He wiped his mouth and faced Samir, who used to wear Pokemon t-shirts and skateboard at the park. Who curled up in bed with Mom and me at bedtime and read princess stories until I fell asleep. Now it gave me chills to see his face like that. Like we were mall security.

Samir opened his mouth, closed it, then turned and walked out the door.

My eyes fell to his chair on the floor. Then to Mom with her face covered. Dad wiped his eyes and held his mouth tight. Very Well?

Very Well? 

I jumped up and raced out the door.

“Samir!”

He was already in his car. Mom’s old car. The music was loud but I screamed over it. I screamed his name, or, the name I missed so much.

“Sam!”

The car stopped. Samir shook his head, looked straight through the windshield. Tears filled my eyes.

“Wait. Please, don’t go. I…we…they…”

His eyes fell to me. For a moment they were soft and I saw my brother. I saw I and we and they. He’d once said that he was too black to be American and too American to go back. But I didn’t see an African. I didn’t see an American. I saw only my flesh and blood.

I reached in for his hand. “Can’t we…”

Facing him I realized that I had no idea what to say. Talk about it?  Sit down with Dad? Work things out? Change the world?

He looked at me the way he used to, when I was a little girl and wanted to tag along with him and his friends or help try to solve a puzzle with a million tiny pieces. Now his world was a real life problem that I couldn’t solve and was only now beginning to understand. I had a quiz in Earth Science tomorrow. A crush on Jake that I would take to my grave rather than admit.

“Emma. You’ll always be my sister. Just remember that, okay?

Sam leaned forward and kissed my forehead. I felt his hand slip out of mine and the car find the gear. My body was numb as my brother backed out or our middle class driveway. Back to college. Or to Uganda for all I knew. He was off to fight his war and demand his justice. To find his peace.

Something he never found at home.

 

 

–Pete Fanning/2016

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4 thoughts on “Pasta and Protest

  1. What a fabulous story! I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until the end. That paragraph about wanting back the blindness was like a song that has the near-the-end riff where the music gets intense emotionally and you want to hear the song again for that piece. Great pacing and emotion. What a powerful story to tell.

    Liked by 1 person

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