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Excerpt from The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Parking Lot Attendant

A Novel

by Nafkote Tamirat

The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat X
The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2018, 240 pages
    Aug 2019, 240 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Print Excerpt

In my last-period study hall, lulled into drowsiness by the rhythmic snores of the monitor, I saw my father in a new light: perhaps he, too, was embarked upon this path of solitary intellect. We all knew the man could unclog drains and reanimate lifeless pieces of heavy-duty machinery with the best of them, but perhaps, concealed behind his curt responses and taciturn companionship, he was generating theories that he thought too mind-blowing for the world and the century into which he had been born. I wondered if he realized that I, his sole progeny, had inherited his burden, that it was I who would be compelled to carry on the mantle of brilliance once he had departed for other, lovelier shores.

I went straight to Ayale's lot after school, where I posited that Tess of the d'Urbervilles was less a novel, and more the pathetic swan song of an imbecilic weakling. He asked me if I had read a lot of Thomas Hardy. I was surprised that he knew who he was and then ashamed. Ayale noticed, I think, but didn't say anything.

"Did you tell your father that I'd like to really meet him?"

"What do you mean by 'really'? Have you met before? I thought you didn't know him at all."

Ayale patted me approvingly.

"I'm glad you caught that, good listening. Keep your ears open for inflection, tone shift, odd word usage. It will tell you everything you need to know about the person you're dealing with."

I was so delighted that I forgot to pursue my line of questioning. I watched as Ayale talked to customers, mostly older white women at that time of day, wives who no longer worked because they didn't need the money, who volunteered at urban youth centers in order to fill the otherwise idle hours between when their husbands left for their in-name-only directorships and when they returned with a bottle of something that Jean at the wine shop had promised was the best the Loire Valley had to offer. I've never understood how much money one must accrue in order to be certain that one no longer needs any more. Even after a windfall of frozen boiler systems, my father still had to save for when work would fall off around the school holidays. The difficulty with money wasn't earning it but controlling it.

Ayale had an enormous wad of cash that he kept in the back pocket of his pants. It was this lump that he added to and withdrew from as he accepted payment and doled out change. He barely looked down at what he was doing, laughing and gesturing with abandon, and yet, if you watched closely, his attention never strayed from the precious cargo he carried under the bulk of his fleece jacket. One of his favorite topics was his luck at having escaped the plague of office work and its accompanying tortures: the ties that choked, the bosses who hovered, the cigarettes that were forbidden, the buttons that constrained, unlike the twin blessings of zippers and drawstrings.

The location of the lot was ideal for escaping unwanted—i.e., unpaid—notice, surrounded as it was by an uneven ring of massive glass buildings, all starkly contrasting with the filthy square of the lot, whose lines demarcating parking spaces had become so faded that they barely counted. Because of their angles, many of these structures didn't reflect the lot, and later, when I couldn't bring myself to leave Ayale's side, I would sit in the attendant's booth and stare through its window at the building directly in front, unable to see myself or the people around me. I imagined scenarios where the lot was a magic box that no one could see into but from which we saw and judged everything. The accumulated dirt and cigarette ash of the parking area gave off a unique stink. If I could do it all again, I would.

It was five P.M. when Ayale went into the attendant's booth and closed the door. He emerged minutes later carrying two yellow manila envelopes with names and figures written across them in fine black pen. Ayale always bought the same brand of pen and could abide black ink alone. Blue drove him into a rage.

Excerpted from The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat. Copyright © 2018 by Nafkote Tamirat. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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