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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
    Paperback:
    Aug 2019, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Print Excerpt


"I'll give you a ride home if you show me the way."

Thanks to my recent habit of idle exploration, I didn't hesitate. He drove expertly, never speeding up to overcompensate for previous hesitations, using every single one of the mirrors and, what's more, using them correctly. When we arrived at my building, I got out and thanked him. At that moment, my father rose from the stoop and stepped forward, zipping his navy blue jacket up to his Adam's apple. Ayale peered out of the passenger-side window, smiled, and offered his hand to shake. My father took it after the tiniest moment of seeming like he might refuse it, like he might detest Ayale with all of his heart. Ayale told him that I had been very helpful, I had finished my homework, he was lucky to have such a wonderful daughter, it was nice, so very nice, to meet him.

"Do you have any children—"

I could tell he wanted to give Ayale a title, at least the traditional Ato, but Ayale laughed too hard to let him finish.

"Everyone calls me Ayale. I don't think I could take a sudden surge in respectability; it might kill me."

Ayale smiled as my father finally, almost grudgingly, chuckled.

"I don't have any children. Luckily, it's only too late for us men when we die, isn't that right?"

"That's what they say."

"I've always wanted a daughter…"Ayale trailed off. I had never heard anyone sound wistful before. He recovered quickly.

"I'll see you both soon?"

My father nodded, and I kissed Ayale on both cheeks before he drove off, coming to a halt at the corner stop sign.

"Had you met him before?" I asked my father.

"Only heard of him."

His tone was abrupt, forbidding further comment. As he walked behind me along the hallway, I kept turning to look at him, trying to slow down the military pace he'd set, but the obscurity never left his features, and his insistent speed never lessened. With the door closed behind us, he put on the kettle, still not looking at me.

"Do you see my khakis on the back of the chair?"

"Yes."

"Take the belt off."

I didn't understand. I handed it to him. It was black leather and surprisingly heavy.

"I'm going to beat you."

The announcement sounded mislaid in the stuffiness of the room. I stared at him, confused, as he turned on the fan. It didn't help.

"But … why?"

"You were late coming home. You didn't call to tell me where you were. I've been worried sick. I went over to the school. I went to all the hospitals that I could think of. I bet you didn't even think about me, not once. You must have passed so many pay phones. You always remember to call. You could have asked Ayale. He's the kind that has a cell phone."

Each sentence was a right hook to my gut; later, I was surprised to not find any bruises.

"I'm sorry! It's the first time! I won't do it again!"

It seems silly now that I was so scared, hardly able to speak for the tears that were choking me. After all, he wasn't wrong: these were the rules, and the rules had been broken. I was guilty; I had to suffer the consequences. I can only offer up the explanation that he had never told me what punishment would ensue from going against his word. I had simply always done as told, a gag reflex, a lack of imagination.

He allowed me to finish my babbling and turned the kettle off when it began to whine its dirge of completion. He poured himself a mug of tea and set it on the countertop. When I had tired myself out into whimpering, he told me to pull down my jeans. I did. He told me to lean against the couch, which served as the dividing line between the living room and the kitchen. I did. In that eternal moment between the first downstroke of the belt and the crack-snap sound it made upon contact with my skin, I closed my eyes. When I screamed, I opened them and saw that his mug was no longer steaming; I remember thinking it was the fastest-cooling tea I had ever seen.

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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