When my moms was still around, she told me about how they used to put our people in shackles.
They were thicker back then. Big iron shackles. So tight, apparently, the blood vessels constricted and feelings were lost in hands and legs. From our ancestral home, we was apparently brought onto boats to supposed freedom. Instead, years of slavery followed. There were no keys back then so those shackles became the bangles of the day, the number of links remaining a sign of the length of your arms and your worth as a potential worker.
I know my people suffered the consequences of generations of abuse. Maybe that is what led to my own abuse so many years later. My parents abandoning me at such a young age. I don’t know if my parents are alive or dead. My biological mother, they said, was only 14 when she had me. Her and my father never were supposed to be together. They had both runaway from their respective homes and met in an abandoned building that they calle dhome. They both needed to get by and used each other as a lifeline for that fateful year.
My father stayed long enough to watch my first diaper switch and decided that this life wasn’t for him. He went on to other cities and apparently fathered other kids. I tried to ask around, and best I know he is in the hole now – doing life for a murder. They put me in protective services when I was just 10. I didn’t realize moms had thrown me to the wolves back then. Pain was just natural. I only realize the scars I carry now.
My foster family that they set me up with decided I was nothing but a burden on their lives and who put me into labour to feed their own older biological children and their own crack addiction. I would always get the leftovers – the soupy and saucy parts of pasta and stale bread that I needed to dip in water to make edible. I often went to school with no packed lunch. Every day I needed to pretend to use the washroom and instead go to the cloakroom where I took a few pieces here and there from my classmates. I knew which bags belonged to the white kids. They always had more snacks that were easy to steal.
I always slipped out, eating lunch by myself on the roof of a nearby building. Watching the cars go by, women being picked up and driven away. Back then, I had no clue what that operation was, only that these women were real pretty and tall.
I understand that the Fosters were paid to take me in but they decided to keep any money they got to themselves. They would always sober up just enough to tell Child Services at their monthly meeting that I was doing okay and had my older “siblings” nod in agreement in a repetitive, orchestrated routine. I was told if I said anything I would get beat so I just put on that blank starey face that I still use today.
Damn, I wish I could put my hands in my head. Close my eyes and dream of those faint memories of better days. When I was hitting lead off for my high school baseball team. Coach even said that if I played the way I did in my 9th grade there would be college scouts by 10th grade. Unfortunately that year was my last year of formal education. I didn’t pass enough classes to allow me to stay at the school they said. Other schools said their schools were full and didn’t allow me to enroll.
Snap back to reality. Today, I am in those same shackles my mom told me about. Red jumpsuit. Laceless shoes. One foot in front of another, I tell myself. Those cursed feet. The same ones that led me to cross over the arbitrary line to a foreign land that seemed so familiar. To me, it all seemed like one America. Little did I know that I had broken a rule. Hell, I had broken numerous ones before. I don’t what made this one any different. One side of the street had a Taco Bell and the other a McDonalds. I was just trynna get a burger, you feel me?
The guard accompanying me looks no older than 22. Poor kid, I think to myself. He’s a brown skin as well. Isn’t that how society works? They got us coloured people enforcing each other. I wonder if I was his blood brother he would treat me the same way. Regardless, I wouldn’t know. I only met my blood brother a month back. He offered me to stay long enough to find another City to get my sorry ass to. Other than a last name we shared nothing. He clearly didn’t want nothing to do with me other than ensuring I never returned.
I don’t remember what happened over the past week. What day it is? What month it is? What led me here again?
Suddenly my shackles came loose with a pop. I tried to massage my wrist and ankles that were feeling incredibly sore from three hours of constriction and bumpy suburban van rides.
“Hands on the glass, and face the wall” – a new guard came up behind me. “Put your hands on the glass and spread out your legs.” Suddenly I felt a leg stick between mine. Hands started patting me down. This is probably not the best time to think it, but imagine I could just turn around and give a big hug. I haven’t had a hug in years. The touch of this guard made my whole body shiver. Every single human touch I had did the same.
“Do you prefer Turkey, Ham, or Vegetarian for lunch?” I think of making a wise-crack that I would love that Big Mac meal and I would have got one had I had enough money, but it was pointless. I knew the menu here. It is the same as always. “I’ll have Turkey again, sir.” with Ice Tea.
I remember that one Thanksgiving when I was five when Mom’s and I had went to Georgia to see Grandma. She made this Georgia Sweet Tea and they had roasted this big crispy turkey. Apparently it was a slave recipe passed through generations. I will never forget how rich the gravy was. You know that feeling when you hungry and wake up immediately dreaming about food. The turkey and gravy shows up all the time in my dreams, but not enough in reality.
“Where do you want to go when you leave Canada?” I stared blankly at her.
“I unno, I got nowhere to go m’aam, no family” I stammer. I was gonna go into my whole story about how I ended up here accidentally. That I had brought the can of mace from the States as I had been robbed sleeping a few months back and that I never intended to use it.
I decided against being lengthy. She probably already knew my story anyway. This woman truthfully looked like she didn’t want to be here either. I could only imagine her job was like doing laundry, except every time a batch of clothes were washed, they kept getting dirty again.
“Do you wanna go home then?” or “Stay locked up for another week.” she asked in a damned if you, damned if you don’t manner.
“Just get me home, m’aam. I’mma go crazy if I stay here just another minute.” I whispered.
“Come again? You need to speak up, sir.” she barked.
“Get me home.” I spoke – not realizing how loud my response came out. I barely had any water all day. My voice must have sounded coarse and cruel.
“No need to raise your voice,” she admonished. “We will get you home by 4pm today.”
“Sir, in five minutes you will have your hearing,” she continued. “All you have to do is tell the member hearing your case that you want to go home and today we can get you home. Alright. No further questions? Take care.” she left curtly.
I went back to my cell. The two Spanish-speaking detainees eyed me with some interest. “How did it go… esayyy?” one walked up to me.
They had not had their meetings yet and were eager to know what was up. Every time someone was released, there would be ‘high fives’ all around – woots and cheers – even the Guards would sometimes join in. The same ‘high fives’ they used to give when I hit the ball out of the park back in 9th grade. Except, this time I did not want to be a part of it. There was no reason to ‘celebrate.’ This wasn’t a Common song.
I shook my head and said nothing. I went back to my corner of our tiny, too cramped cell and put my head on my arms.
The two Spanish-speaking ones started talking to each other and laughing. They were refugee claimants. Apparently they were just missing identification documents and they would be out in the matter of days. I had taken some grade school Spanish but still couldn’t catch much of what they were saying other than the word ” dis one loco.”
The rest of the afternoon was a blur. I went in and out of a sedated state. I was offered some tylenol yesterday because of a bad headache. Maybe the medication was too strong. Maybe I didn’t sleep well enough last night. Maybe, the 5am cornflakes didn’t go down so well this morning.
I think I spoke to some lawyer. She was helpful enough. She was tall and beautiful. Eyes that had me lost like I was looking into an ocean. I didn’t grow up with any oceans though, we were stuck between Atlantic and the Pacific, dead centre Middle America.
She told me with much empathy that there was not much I could do, that refugee claims from the United States would not work, and that I had to decide whether I wanted to stay or go. “Go, I responded.” “I just wanna get out of the whole.” She wrote down a list of homeless shelters for me along with some phone numbers on a yellow piece of paper. She folded it delicately and placed it into my hands. I crumpled it into the pocket of my blue polo. “Thanks m’aam.”
The hearing was quick. Five minutes. There were two individuals in the room and my lawyer with the nice eyes. The man at the front said some thing about me wandering into Canada and violating some law about not being examined. I was banned from Canada for a year. I was told not come back without permission, or something like that. They decided they would continue to detain me until I would leave Canada in the matter of hours. I was immediately escorted back down.
When I went back, my cell was empty. All the other detainees had left. It was me. I was told to change into my regular clothes.
“Border Run time” – an Officer came knocking on my door after I got about ten minutes of much needed rest.
“What’s a border run?” I stammered back.
“Time to go home for you.” he answered.
I was put back in my handcuffs, for the last time. There was two with me. One driver in the front. One Officer to my side. The windows were tinted but it was still daybreak.
The route was different this time. It was beautiful – Is this Vancouver? The maple leafs were falling off trees, gently moving in the wind.
I saw mountains, park, children playing baseball in a park. Where I grew up it was all flat. All hood. Kids had nowhere to go but to the corner to serve as human pawns for the trade. I got really good at spotting police cars and undercover agents. I wish I was better at spotting the one that woke me up from my nap on the park bench. The plan was to pan handle a little so I could get my burger and fries. I guess it was too late. By the time I responded “who are you” I was already rolled to the concrete pavement with my hands behind my back.
This started what today is being ended – my brief trip to Canada. My brief stay in Vancouver.
I know I told this story without a beginning, middle, and end. Kind of like where I am at today.
I get dropped off at an office. The Officers receiving me have U.S. flags sewn onto their uniforms.
I’m home. I think.