Thursday, January 28, 2010

sisters, brothers, and others

by malic moxie

“What do you want me to call you?”

Crazy. Half-drunk. Halfway through a pile of coats shoved absentmindedly in a corner—all of them black, including my own—all but one.

Hers is orange, she says.
Red-orange like the flags that dot the lakeshore sometimes.

There is an important number in that coat, she says.
A number for Haiti.

So I am wading through them, limp arms intertwined like the bodies that used to be in them, bodies that fumble on the living room dance floor—college kids sweating out winter and alcohol.
Too many bodies in too little space, too warm for January in Chicago.

And I am wading through shells of bodies while she wades through real bodies in her head, bodies she might know.
Counting bodies, counting change she’s been collecting since the earthquake hit.

She sways a little in her heels, grips the window frame.
She hasn’t slept in a week, she says.

“This is my fun night out and I am having fun, damnit!”

Until tonight we hadn’t spoken for months, but I can still hear the worry beneath her bravado. She isn’t as drunk as she’d like to be.

And then I see it—a flash of orange like warning—and tear it from the bottom of the pile. She clutches the coat in her hands and thanks me, producing a worn piece of paper from its pocket, folded and refolded in nervous fingers.

With the coat slung over her shoulders now, she clumsily reaches for her phone and starts dialing.
But she pauses unexpectedly, looks at me so hard that I freeze.

“What do you want me to call you?”

My brain reels back to the first time I heard that question in the basement of an abandoned building.
The speaker loomed over me. A punk show raged on above our heads.

“Malic is fine.”

And that’s exactly how I answer now, words muffled by techno thump that shakes the floor we stand on. Our eyes are almost level.


She nods seriously.

“Then that is what I will call you.”

Now it’s my turn to thank her in so many ways.

Hey, thanks for the work you’ve been doing for Haiti. It sounds lame. I try to personalize it, make my gratitude and admiration carry the weight it deserves. Someone I love has friends there, I tell her.

“I have friends there.”

She looks past my shoulder and her eyes cross an ocean, latching onto an island as if she can pull it closer, hold it in her hands instead of jars of spare change.

“Malic,” she starts to call me something else, but she stops herself.
“Are you my sister or are you my brother?”

I’m tempted to quote a phrase I learned recently—“sisters, brothers, and others”—a witty way to gender neutralize camaraderie.
But I don’t. We come from different places and we rarely say hello in passing, but we are not Others here.

“I’m your brother.”

“You were my sister and now you are my brother.
That is what I will call you.”

She nods decisively and finishes dialing, leaving me in a sea of bad music and black coats.
My sister strides out into the darkness of early morning.

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