American? Independence: Excerpt Solo, Sea Captain

The temperature had most definitely grown cooler but there was no wind. Bagel shivers, but it may not be from cold. I retreat to an easier subject. “Those people, the family that was walking you around. Where do you think they’re from?”

“Their eyes were familiar to me, but I guess it would be ridiculous to think they were all the way from Guatemala.”

“I wish I had their blanket. That would keep us warm. We could make a cave like Saba made.”

“There was something familiar about their blanket. The patterns of the shapes and the smell of the woven fibers had been touched many times by fingers. Not the same as the winter quilts for Sera’s bed.”

“Maybe the woman wove them.”

“I used to watch women in the village twirl the strings on their fingers.”

“Maybe the family is from a tribe like that. I think the humans are as like each other as we are to the dogs Saba tells stories about or the ones you are constantly communicating with in the neighborhood. They just get confused with each other because of all the different sounds.”

I consider Bagel’s reference to “sounds”. I can list at least three. The most buried is my first the guttural and choppy communications I shared with Rafa and his village, almost. Then there was the sing song and ever high pitched voice Sera used in the street, and the more measured tone she shared with the Lord. “If they were, would they treat each other better? Respect each other’s things? Each other’s place?”

“Out in the wilderness, you are not arbitrating barn cat disputes. More than that, you have no chip. If someone catches you without Sera, you’re undocumented, an outlaw.”

“Coyotes successfully navigated free of settlements for years, long before they were forced into other lands bordering humans.”

“Be careful. I read a Shoshone creation story where Coyote was supposed to carry a basket to a girl across the water. He wasn’t supposed to look inside but he did anyway.”

“The one Rafa left with was able to navigate even those invisible lines left by humans. The ones I can’t smell in the fields but that Sera pulls me back from crossing.” Which meant that the coyote was as much defined by what others saw in him, like Bagel seeing Sera as my mother.

“Okay. So say you can trust them. What if they think you’re a thief instead?”

I bark in another direction to relieve my anger. I don’t want Bagel to think the raised hair on my back is for her. I’m not even sure it is. I’m just so uncontrollably angry.

“Solo. I’m sorry about your body, and your book, but you have the stories inside you, like Saba does.”

“I used to think he may have stolen his land, but it doesn’t matter. Humans are coming for it anyway.”

The flicker of faraway lights hovers against the empty sky at the top of the hill. I pretend the color is a waterfall of multicolored strings. A beam of light swirls upward barely tracing symbols in the stars. They go too fast. I can’t read them, if in fact that is possible at all. Flashlight, the word comes back to me from winter nights. Is Sera searching? The question makes me sad. A night bird twitters. Bagel looks like a tiny wren in her nest. Her jagged teeth show in her beak like mouth as she yawns. “Solo, let me tell you a story I think you’ll like. It was a footnote, but I think maybe it’s more, like one of your buried trails.”

Once upon a time, the canyon slopes and dusted red mesas jutting against the blue sky were called Dietah, and, a people lived who called themselves the “Dineh”. This meant “the people”. Today the books call them Navajo.

“I think I smell a bunny.” I interrupt over the gurgle of my empty stomach. Bagel had been right about bringing food.

“So chew on some grass.”

“I’m not a bunny. I want to eat the bunny.”

I turn to scratch the stony soil dusted in leaves so that I can slump back down with my head on Bagel’s rising and falling back. “Go ahead.”

Their creation story tells the tale of four worlds. The first world was the dark world.

I feel the darkness of the far flung wetness and then the brig when the cages would rattle. My heart moves in my chest like my “siblings” and I in Nute’s stomach. First there were three of us. Then there had been just me.

The second world was the blue world. Many blue birds lived there.

I long for the walks high above the glittering water between the villages, the not so easy up and down. I stretch my paws but I can’t circle them to hold anything that might weed milpa rows or paint script in books. I see the photographs the Lord had shown me of lakes and oceans. When Sera had taken me to the lake shore, I had been afraid to touch the moving surface with my paw.

The third world was the yellow world full of larger animals.

I look down at my own coat and see the Lord’s mustache, the Capitán’s beard. Did I want to trade my fur for another world? Can I go back and forth?

The fourth was the glittering world. There the people traveled. The Navajo live in that world. First Man, First Woman and First Coyote emerged from a great hole into the Glittering World.

“What happened to them?”

“They broke up into smaller bands in order to find land to live on.”

“They must have learned that from the coyotes.” Animals are amazing creatures.

“Today more than 170,000 people speak Diné Bizaad, the traditional Navajo language, but others forget.”

“I don’t want to forget.” Bagel is getting better at telling stories, not just reading words as they are straight from books. But, I miss familiar handwriting, the comfort of recognized slants and loops. “I wish I still had Rafa’s letter.”

”Solo. Your words are worth listening to. Coyote was an indigenous word first you know. Coyotl. When humans move across the lines on the map, the humans forget where they came from, because every time the humans move, they get a new name from the map. Did you like the story? I think it sort of sounds like yours. I thought maybe you would find it comforting. Even if the story isn’t yours, the fact that someone saved it.”

“I want to dream Bagel, but matyox chi ri ujer tz’ij.” At times I had wished to exchange my spirit for a greater being like a jaguar, but perhaps the steady and mentoring nature of pack animals might teach me better how to survive. Bagel circles her body again several times before nestling into a leaf pile.

Fire, that word became a dark sky streaked in fire. S E P T I E M B R E the script hung on the wall read just as Lidia had written it in the disappearing ink at school. Banners the color of sky and sea had been draped over buildings and crowds huddled in the street. The streets were seldom so populated. Those hours belonged to fishermen, dogs and men that hoped to stand long enough to find a home or corner that could cradle their rolling limbs. On that evening loud screeching careened down from the mountain. The artificial fires blinked in all the colors found at the hands of women weaving. I squinted my eyes and pressed an ear against a building to drown out the noise.

Behind the metal beasts came the runners. Their stride and arc of head filled me with pride and the responsibility that came with receiving urgent or interesting news carried with such haste. They came pounding down the stones. One, in the very front, an honored man carried the fire. It stunk of more than brush, but I was captivated by such a prize. Angled shadows with the artistry of glyphs I once made with my hands were cast upon the dirt ridges behind the runners as they wove down into the town. Fire was an honor. Fire was a responsibility. They yelled amid the low guttural chirps from the transport.

“Qué viva Guatemala!”

“Qué viva!”

“Qué viva Santa Catalina!”

“Qué viva!”

It was an homage. I was sure. But the names were not from any place I knew.

I look down. My hands are feathered. Not green. Not just green. Purple. Waqi’. Lajuj. Pinkish red. Blue. Jun winaq. Twenty. One person. I feel the long hair on the crest of my back prickle. It clinks like coins and chains.

“Capitán! Capitán!” A call comes towards the sea birds hovering over bones. They are splayed across the Captain’s map: España.

“I should have known better than to trust your words. You’re no better than a street dog.” I hear the words in Sera’s voice. She takes books from a shelf that rests upon the bow of the ship. Each book is placed into her backpack. I can’t tell how they can all fit. “You can’t have these.”

I want to say they’re mine, they’re my family’s, they’re my language, they’re who I am and who I’m supposed to be. All that comes out is “Matyox qawey. Thank you for our food.” Someone comes up behind me. He ties my paws together. He gags my mouth. Someone kicks me. My neck curls under as my head turns into my back. I feel the bag’s tension but not the ground. I smell sugars and humid cloth. Fish and tomatoes. I see darkness. Then, I see bars.

As night’s dark blanket rolls back, I know how Bagel feels when Sera uncovered her every morning, and the tuck of her head told me she wasn’t sure if she was quite ready to face another day. But I had to be. We hadn’t driven so far across the map without circling back for me to give up my golden prize now. I would dig, dig my feet into the hot dirt and push forward. I would dig, dig my nose into another world, in case it had been my own.

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