Immigrants Baggage


 Immigrants Baggage


Ahorangi was a six-foot Maori woman tattooed with tiger stripes. We always put Somali Joe between us because if we stacked our longneck Coronas on top of his head, he still would not reach our chins. This day, we were doing tequila shots on my front porch along with the beers because it was Cinco de Mayo. I was sixty-five and the two kids were in their twenties.

Ahorangi said, “You should get a lawn.”

The low sun cast long shadows across my scrubland front-yard. “I’m thinking about planting corn.”

Joe giggled. “Our clothes would make good fertilizer.”

He said that because we had just spent ten hours humping manholes restoring the high-speed data-line feed to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library after construction botched laying in new cable.

I said, “My wife,” dead more than twenty years, “used to make me strip before she would let me in the house.”

Ahorangi said, “That must have been a site for your neighbors, your shriveled white ass.”

“I did it in the backyard and I had a great ass. I still do.”  I stood and hit my belt buckle, ready to awe them.

“Please. I don’t want to go blind.”

Joe giggled harder. 

She asked, “What do your neighbors think of you?”

“What do I care?”

 “I know that, but it doesn’t answer my question.”

 “It’s a pretty white bread neighborhood so I guess I fit in? What do your neighbors think of you?”

“I’m a Mormon Maori who drinks.” She licked a space of skin near her thumb and poured salt on it. Then, she licked the salt, did a shot, and shoved a lime in her mouth.

“We are very American,” Joe said, and he followed.

They were not leaving me in the dust, so I did the same.

Joe said, “I love this country.”

While I knew what I knew about our job through 47 years of experience, and Ahorangi worked hard and retained everything, Joe was science smart. He left Somalia a week after receiving his degree in Electrical Engineering.

I said, “I told my kids that if you think of life as a hundred-yard dash? They were born on the 99-yard line. Not bad for descendants of Irish potato famine immigrants.”

 Joe stopped giggling. “People die trying to get here.”

Ahorangi said, “That sounded like you know a few.”

His head sunk; tumbled forward. I looked at her over his head and she was as mystified as I.

Eventually, without looking at us, he said, “I knew two brothers. They received their degrees in Chemical Engineering at the school where I studied. They and another friend of mine snuck onto a freighter. When our families were being hunted.” Joe had alluded to some of this before. “They made it all the way to the Mediterranean before the crew found them. The captain threw three boards into the sea, and then them.” He did another shot but skipped the lime and salt. “They stayed together and talked to keep their spirits up over the days and nights but the brothers drifted away from my friend, one at a time, leaving behind their boards. Like empty coffins. My friend does not remember being picked up by a fishing boat.”

Ahorangi said, “We should find that captain.”

“He was reported.”

“Reported? Hell. Let’s get the son of a bitch.” She was thinking what I was thinking. Joe’s “friend” was Joe.

“Those things from before? Before I became an American? They need to be left behind. Should I go back and find the men who shot my – “He caught himself. “Vengeance is a wheel.”

Detecting this Cinco de Mayo party was taking a bad turn, I changed the lyrics without changing the song. “Things have a way of coming back around. This happened when I was young. Older than you two, but – “I performed the whole salt/shot/lime routine to slow this down – to get Joe’s mind tuned somewhere else “-- Viva Zapata! It was a neighborhood sort of like this one, all white. I needed to get into this man’s backyard so I could fix his next-door neighbor’s phone service. I knocked on the door to ask for access. He opened the door a few inches. Scanned me. Had a face like a hatchet, all was dark behind him, and his right hand was behind his back. From what I learned later he probably had a gun in it. When I asked permission to go into his backyard he said, ‘No’, and shut the door.”

“I’ll bet you took that well,” Ahorangi said.

“I had the best repair completion rate in the district and I was not going to let this guy screw it up. I went next door to the customer and told him I could not fix his phone because his neighbor was a jackass. He nodded. Took it in stride. He said, ‘Let me talk to him, but you wait here’. They had it out on his porch, arguing in Russian. I do not know what was said, but it ended with the customer standing with me in that backyard until I completed the repair. He said living next to this particular Russian was like having ‘an albatross from the old world around his neck’. Whatever that meant. Must be a Russian thing.”

“Russians are white,” Ahorangi said. “They blend right in, no matter how messed up they are. We,” she indicated herself and Joe, “stick out.” She popped a beer and handed it to him. She opened two more, and handed me one.

I said, “The customer told me his neighbor was a former KGB agent. That is the Russian communist party’s secret police. What I am telling you I did not learn all at once. While my customer was able to get into America because of his skills, the KGB agent made it in because he ratted out his own. This was long after any one he pissed off would still be looking for him. Per the customer, if someone wanted to kill him, they already would have. What set him off was my showing up dressed as a phone repairman. That was the disguise he wore when he whacked people. Like you said, Joe. Vengeance is a wheel. It came back around. Seeing me messed with his head.”

Ahorangi said, “If you had not been able to get into that backyard and he hurt your completion rate -- you would have killed him.”

“That was just what I was thinking, about a month later when I needed access to that yard again to perform a repair for a different customer. I did not even bother to knock on the KGB door. I went straight to his Russian neighbor.”

“This neighbor,” Joe said, “is a man the agent would have killed in Russia.”

“Yeah, I guess that is irony for you. I got the impression he was the only one who would talk to him.” I took a sip of beer because the chill of what happened still shook my world. “Seeing me, a phone repairman on his doorstep set something off inside the agent. The day after I knocked on his door, he shot himself.”

Leave it to Ahorangi. She asked, “Did have on his telephone repairman disguise when he did it?

Cy Hill


Cy Hill spent eleven years in the Navy, and fifteen in manholes and climbing poles for a phone company. He is currently majoring in Biology.

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