I’m sipping cola from my almost empty can
Mommy and I shared it at first
But then she said I could finish it.
It is hot inside the bus but we cannot get off
Not yet…. We must reach the good place
Where no one will shoot us for not putting
Our “hans’up” fast enough– That’s what she says.
And there will be candy, and hotdogs, and burgers
And school to attend with new friends
I will have a school bag with books and notebooks
And sharpened pencils lined up in my jeeyometri box
Sundays will be for pizza and the fancy mall
Like they show on TV and in the movies.
There’s a big man askin’ for papers up front
“We not have no papers”– mommy whispers to me
But I’m confused… We have lots of paper–
Paper napkins– Does that count? She kisses my forehead
And pulls me closer, as she repeats her sixth ‘Hail Mary’
“Don’t say nothing,” she tells me so I stay quiet
When the policeman comes and says–“Passports please”
and then to get off the bus… Is it the good place yet?
Can it be? But everything is dark and dusty
And it smells like something died in here…
“Don’t say nothing,” mommy says again as she smiles
And fumbles to sound American but it’s no good
I start to giggle and the policeman smiles at me
He thinks mommy is funny too…
“Please no send us back…” Mommy begs him
He doesn’t answer her… not immediately.
“Hey bud, do you want some candy?” He asks me.
I nod vigorously and ask if I can have a hotdog too.
“Of course,” he laughs… “And a shower and a bed,” he adds.
“Don’t say nothing,” Mommy says brokenly
As they put handcuffs on her like they do to bad people.
They take her away…. I scream for her to come back
There is a mistake… I plead with the policeman
But I’m just lifted onto his shoulders, kicking and crying
And carried away into the grey building with no windows
I say nothing not ever– even when I’m scared
They watch us all the time like we’re bad too
like criminals…. like our mommies and daddies
They never smile no more and there’s no candy
And no warmth under these tin foil blankets that smell
of salt from someone’s tears or maybe
it’s just the chemical that was used to treat it
so we can pretend it’s a real blanket in a hostel
and not a sick game of pretend in a real prison
It makes my eyes water but I say nothin’…
They won’t listen, cause I don’t have no papers.
I’m collecting every scrap now– from the toilet, the table,
Even the bits from the warden’s cigarette box
So that when I have enough, they will let us go…
Papers don’t say nothing either but they’re heard.
Note: Cover Image Courtesy- Mother Jones Magazine