Gerrida spoke to a few passersby, and several pleasant soft-spoken guys, in jeans and T-shirts, jogged off; then they returned from around the corner with Mintesinot and his father.
How young and bewildered the father looked! He was thin, twenty-eight, with a light beard, wearing an oversize, beige, button-down shirt, maroon slacks, and a string necklace with a wooden crucifix. If he were the person in need of rescue, I wouldnt have been surprised. Gerrida told us that the young man, Eskender (Ess-ken-der), had trained as a metalworker beside his father, but both his parents had died years ago. When he got obviously sick with AIDS, he lost his job and house. He and his young wife, Emebate, also an orphan, had made a life here, on a square of sidewalk. When it rained, they lay flat and pulled a length of plastic over themselves and their baby.
Eskender held the hand of a swaggering stocky little fellow, his son, the crown prince of the neighborhood. Mintesinot had a square, shiny dark-skinned face, long curls, and endearingly sticking-out ears. He skipped as if he owned the world. He did own this stretch of sidewalk, everybody knew him. The name Mintesinot meant What could he not do? When Minty needed a nap, he climbed over the humble barricade protecting his blanketsit was like a play fort built by young childrenand passersby tried to be quieter, reminding one another, Baby is sleeping. When Haregewoin approached him, Mintesinot eyed her warily and drew closer to Eskenders side.
I worried that our assignment was to seize the child from his father and make off with him. I felt afraid for the young man.
Gerrida unfolded a packet of official papers from her handbag and held them out to Eskender. The young father read the orders and gave a sad smile. He held out his sons hand to Haregewoin.
Na [come], Mintesinot, she said gently, but the boy pulled back like a pony yanked by the lead rope. Haregewoin bent over to make small talk with him, but he disappeared behind his father.
Selamneh decided to try. He squatted down and said, Mintesinot, would you like to ride in my taxi?
The pair of bright black eyes reappeared from behind the fathers filthy shirttail.
I will drive? asked the boy in a clear, high voice.
Selamneh lost his balance in laughter. Sitting back on his heels again, Selamneh said, Well, not this first time. Come on, Ill take you; well see if you like it.
Abate yimetal? Will my dad come?
Lets go to the market and buy a package of biscuits for your dad, a present for your dad! Selamneh invented on the spot. At this, smiling Mintesinot came out from behind his father, took Selamnehs hand, and allowed himself to be led to the taxi and given a boost up into the backseat. He waved to a few sidewalk admirers from his high perch.
I hurried back through the crowd to the father. Does he know where were going? Does he know where were taking Mintesinot? My hands were shaking for it seemed that everything had speeded up, that the taxi was revving to depart, that blocked cars were honking in protest, that people were running; distressed, I rummaged wildly through my backpack for a pen and a piece of paper and fumbled them into the air. One of the nice young men in the crowd caught them and wrote down, for Eskender, Haregewoins phone number and address. The father thanked us with his infinitely sad smile and pushed the paper into his breast pocket.
Clearly this child was his whole life; hed raised out of nothing, out of rags and refuse and handouts, a delightful and confident boy. But he knew this day must be coming. He grasped that people in good health had arrived to take away his son. He wearily lowered himself into his lonely knot of blankets. The whole neighborhood looked poorer as we departed with Mintesinot; the father had lost his only treasure, accepting, like a receipt, his sons forwarding address.
Excerpted from There Is No Me Without You, (c) 2006 Melissa Fay Greene. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury USA/Walker & Co. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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