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The Blue Road

The Blue Road

A Fable of Migration
edition:Paperback
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The Lost Sister
Excerpt

I was the cowardly sister. But that day in June of 1998, I somehow fooled myself into bravery. I waited outside for hours, wandering through the public library stacks and small streets and parks of my neighbourhood as the sky turned deep blue and settled to darkness, a few feeble star points surfacing above the city's pollution. It was my first real attempt at defiance.

I wanted my older sister Diana to get in trouble.

How could you let your little sister stay outside, alone in the dark? I imagined my father reprimanding her. You're fifteen. You're supposed to take care of her!

But as I made my way back home, the pleasure of getting my sister into trouble sieved away and I was skewered by doubt. Why didn't you stay with Diana like you promised, Alisha? You're hardly thirteen. She's in charge of you. I could never be sure my parents would choose me over her.

My chest was tight; my heartbeat ricocheted to my throat. The sidewalks were emptied of bikes and strollers and pattering children, and even the few passing cars seemed quieter than usual. It was just me and my wheezing breath, my stinging legs, hurrying past buildings and townhouses that were dark rectangles, past bushes and trees that were billows of black.

Stoplights and orange-yellow street lamps and empty backlit bus shelters glowed. As I turned onto my street and approached my apartment building, I passed some teenage boys. They were crouched at the curb, passing a smouldering blunt between them, their ball cap visors pulled low. The smells of spicy food that always wafted out of the apartment windows at dinnertime had already blown away from the block: the curry and jerk and cardamom and masala.

I jogged over the patch of grass and up the front steps of my building. I shoved through the broken outer door, jammed my key into the inner door, and dashed into the lobby to stab at the chipped elevator button. All I could picture was my mother and her queenly gesticulations. Off with her head!

From inside the elevator shaft came distant pings, hollow clangings, humming. An elevator had roused itself from the floors above and was making its way down to the lobby like a metal sloth.

Hurry up, hurry up, I thought as the beat-up doors parted lazily in front of me.

I reached the twenty-third floor and bounded down the brown-carpeted hallway. Light leaked out of the slit between our apartment door and its frame. My mother never left it cracked open like that and would get upset when me and my sister forgot to close the door ourselves. You want these people to stroll in here? she would say, flicking a hand to implicate the whole neighbourhood, as if everyone wanted to step on our parquet floors and admire our furniture and our squat television set.

If I'd had the presence of mind I would have been gentler in my entrance. Instead I tumbled into the apartment, battering the door like I was the leader of a police raid. My mother sat on the couch in front of me, her narrow frame curved in on itself and her face contorted. The lamp on the side table glossed her skin. My father stood in the kitchen to my left, braced over the counter with his fingertips on his forehead and the phone to his ear. The stove's blue digits read 10:23 P.M. and the night beyond the living room window was lit up by the high-rises and the headlights and the street lamps that stretched into the distance.

The apartment depressurized and bloated again in a second. My mother rushed to me and wrapped her arms around me, crying and trembling. I felt tugging at my elbows and hands as my father tried to claim me as well.

They talked over each other. Where were you? We waited and you didn't come.... Your mother, she nearly had a heart attack.... And your father called the police.... It's dark out there, how could you come home so late, how could you do this to us? Mommy waited and Daddy drove around the whole place, up and down the streets.... We thought you died, we thought both of our children had died.... Alisha, baby, oh my baby...where's your sister? Where's your sister?

I was so astonished by my parents' reactions, so pleased at their concern for me, that I hardly heard their question.

My father stepped back to look out of the apartment doorway. "Why isn't she with you?"

"Where did Diana go?" my mother asked, gripping me at my shoulders.

Relief had hardly had the opportunity to set in before dread was already mounting, threatening to crash over them again.

"I don't know," I answered.

My father clutched my elbow. "What do you mean?"

His brown skin was pale and his neck had developed a sheen. By that point in my life I had already witnessed every emotion my mother possessed. I knew her pretty face better than anyone else's because I had spent my whole childhood adoring it and tracing its lines in my mind. But my father's face had always contained unknowns. I had never been privy to this look of shock and desperation, and his wide frightened eyes struck me.

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