e are on our way to Budapest:
Bastard and Chipo and God-
knows and Sbho and Stina and
me. We are going even though
we are not allowed to cross Mzilikazi Road, even
though Bastard is supposed to be watching his
little sister Fraction, even though mother would
kill me dead if she found out; we are going.
There are guavas to steal in Budapest, and right
now I’d die for guavas, or anything for that mat-
ter. My stomach feels like somebody just took a shovel and “Can’t you see her stomach is still small? The baby has to
dug everything out. grow.”
Getting out of Paradise is not so hard since the mothers “A baby grows outside. That’s the reason they are born.
are busy with hair and talk. They just glance at us when we So they grow.”
file past and then look away. We don’t have to worry about “Well, it’s not time yet. That’s why it’s still a stomach.”
the men under the jacaranda either since their eyes never “Is it a boy or girl?”
lift from the draughts. Only the little kids see us and want “It’s a boy. The first baby is supposed to be a boy.”
to follow, but Bastard just wallops the naked one at the front “But you’re a girl and you’re a first-born.”
with a fist on his big head and they all turn back. “I said supposed.”
We are running when we hit the bush; Bastard at the “You. Shut your mouth, it’s not even your stomach.”
front because he won country-game today and he thinks “I think it’s a girl. I don’t feel it kicking.”
photogRaph: saRa Mcdonald / petiteaRtichoke.info
he rules, and then me and Godknows, Stina, and finally “Boys kick and punch and butt their heads.”
Chipo, who used to outrun everybody in Paradise but not “Do you want a boy?”
anymore because her grandfather made her pregnant. After “No. Yes. Maybe. I don’t know.”
crossing Mzilikazi we slither through another bush, gallop “Where exactly does a baby come out of?”
along Hope Street past the big stadium with the glimmering “From the same way it gets into the stomach.”
benches we’ll never sit on. Finally we hit Budapest. We have “How exactly does it get into the stomach?”
to stop once for Chipo to rest. “First, God has to put it in there.”
“When are you going to have the baby anyway?” Bastard “No, not God. A man has to put it in there, my cousin
says. Bastard doesn’t like it when we have to stop for her. He Musa told me. Didn’t your grandfather put it in there
even tried to get us not to play with her altogether. Chipo?”
“I’ll have it one day.” She nods.
“What’s one day? Tomorrow? Thursday? Next week?” “Then if a man put it in there, why doesn’t he take it out?”
BostonReview.net nov / dec 2010 BR 43
“Because it’s women who give birth, boy with wings. We stand and stare, soccer ball, not too big. We all look at
big-head. That’s why they have breasts looking to see what the face will do, the woman’s mouth and wait to hear
to suckle the baby.” when the window opens and a small what she will say.
“But Chipo’s breasts are small. Like voice shouts for us to stop. We re- “Oh, this? It’s a camera,” the woman
stones.” main standing, not because the voice says, which we know. She wipes her
“They will grow when the baby told us to stop, but because none of hand on her skirt and pats the camera.
comes. Isn’t it Chipo?” us has started to run, and because the She then aims what is left of the thing
“I don’t want my breasts to grow. voice does not sound dangerous. Mu- at the bin by the door, misses, and
I don’t want a baby. I don’t want any- sic pours out of the window onto the laughs, but I don’t see anything funny.
thing, just guavas,” Chipo says, and street; it’s not kwaito, it’s not dance The woman looks at us, like maybe she
takes off. We run after her, and when hall, it’s not anything we know. wants us to laugh since she is laugh-
we get right in the middle of Budapest, A tall, thin woman opens the door ing, but we are busy looking at the
we stop. Budapest is like a different and comes out of the house. She is eat- thing, flying in the air like a dead bird
country. A country where people who ing something, and she waves as she before hitting the ground. We have
are not like us live. walks toward us. Already we can tell never seen anyone throw food away. I
But not an ordinary country—it from the woman’s thinness that we are look sideways at Chipo.
looks like everybody woke up one day not even going to run. We wait for her, “How old are you?” the woman says
and closed their gates, doors, and win- so we can see what she is smiling for, to Chipo, looking at her stomach like
dows, picked up their passports, and or at; nobody really ever smiles at us she has never seen anybody pregnant.
left for better countries. Even the air in Paradise. Except Mother of Bones, But Chipo is not even listening, she is
is empty; no burning things, no smell who smiles at anything. The woman busy looking at the thing lying there
of cooking food or something rotting; stops at the gate; it’s locked, and she on the ground.
just plain air with nothing in its hands. didn’t bring the keys to open it. “She is ten,” Godknows replies for
Budapest is big, big houses with “Jeez, I can’t stand the heat, and the Chipo. “We are nine, me and her, like
the graveled yards and tall fences and hard earth, how do you guys ever do twinses,” Godknows says, meaning
durawalls and flowers and green trees, it?” the woman asks in her not-danger- him and me. “And Bastard is eleven
heavy with fruit that’s waiting for us ous voice. She takes a bite of the thing and Sbho is eight, and Stina we don’t
since nobody around here seems to in her hand, and smiles. A nice, pink know.”
know what fruit is for. It’s the fruit camera dangles from her neck. We all “Wow,” the woman says, playing
that gives us courage, otherwise we look at the woman’s feet peeking out with her camera.
wouldn’t dare be here. I keep expect- from underneath her long skirt. They “And how old are you?” Godknows
ing the streets to spit and tell us to go are clean and pretty feet, like a baby’s. asks her. “And where are you from?”
back to the shanty. She is wiggling her toes. I don’t re- I’m thinking about how Godknows
We used to steal from Chipo’s member my own feet ever looking like talks too much.
uncle’s tree, but that was not stealing that, maybe when I was born. “Me? Well, I’m 33, and I’m from
stealing. Now we have finished all the Then I look up at the woman’s red, London. This is my first time visiting
guavas in his tree so we have moved chewing mouth. I can tell from the my dad’s country.”
to strangers’ houses. We have stolen vein at the side of her neck, and the “I ate some sweets from London
from so many, I cannot even count. It’s way she smacks her big lips, that what once. Uncle Polite sent them when
Godknows who decided that we pick she is eating tastes good. I look closely he first got there but that was a long
a street and stay on it until we have at her long hand, at the thing she is time ago. Now he doesn’t even write,”
gone through all the houses. Then we eating. It is flat, and the outer part is Godknows says. The woman’s twisted
go to the next street. This is so we do crusty. The top looks creamy and soft, mouth finishes chewing. I swallow
not confuse where we have been with and there are coin-like things on it, a with her.
where we are going. It’s like a pattern, deep pink, the color of burn wounds. I “You look fifteen, like a child,” God-
and Godknows says this way we can also see sprinkles of red and green and knows says. I am expecting the woman
be better thieves. yellow, and finally the brown bumps, to slap Godknows’s big mouth for say-
Today we start a new street and so like pimples. ing that, but then she only laughs like
we carefully scout around. We pass “What’s that?” Chipo asks, point- she has been told something to be
SADC Street, where we already har- ing at the thing with one hand and proud of.
vested every guava tree two weeks rubbing her stomach with the other. “Thank you,” she says. I look at her
ago. We see white curtains part and a Now that she is pregnant, Chipo likes like what is there to thank? and then
face peer from a window of the cream to play with her stomach every time at the others, and I know they think
home with the statue of a urinating she talks. The stomach is the size of a the woman is strange too. She runs
44 BR nov / dec 2010
a hand in her hair, which looks mat- else joins in. We shout and we shout GoinG back to Paradise, we do not
ted and dirty; if I lived in Budapest I and we shout; we want to eat the thing run. We walk nicely like Budapest is
would wash my whole body every day she was eating, we want to make noise now our country, eating guavas along
and comb my hair nicely to show I was in Budapest, we want our hunger to the way and spitting the peels all over
a real person living in a real place. go away. The woman just looks at us, to make the place dirty. We stop at the
“Do you guys mind if I take a pic- puzzled, and hurries back into the corner of AU Street for Chipo to vomit.
ture?” house and we shout after her still. We Today her vomit looks like urine, but
We do not answer because we are get hoarse shouting. Our throats itch. thicker. We leave it there, uncovered.
not used to adults asking us anything; When the woman closes her door and “One day I will live here, in a house
we just look at the woman take a few disappears, we stop and slowly walk just like that,” Sbho says, biting a thick
steps back, at her fierce hair, at her away to find guavas. guava. She looks to the left and points
skirt that sweeps the ground when she Bastard says when we grow up we to a big blue house with the long row
walks, at her pretty peeking feet, at her will stop stealing guavas and move to of steps, flowers all around it. Her
big jewelry, at her large eyes, at her bigger things inside the houses. When voice sounds like she knows what she
smooth brown skin that doesn’t even that time comes, I’ll not even be here; is talking about.
have a scar to show she is a living per- I’ll be living in America with Aunt Fos- “How are you going to do that?” I ask.
son, at the earring on her nose, at her talina, doing better things. But for now, Sbho spits peels on the street and
T-shirt that says “Save Darfur.” the guavas. We decide on IMF Street, says, with her big eyes, “I just know it.”
“Come on, say cheese, say cheese, on a white house so big it looms like “She is going to do it in her dreams,”
cheese, cheeeeeeeese,” the woman en- a mountain. In front is a large swim- Bastard says to the sun, and throws a
thuses, and everyone says “cheese.” My- ming pool, empty chairs all around it. guava at the durawall of Sbho’s house.
self I don’t really say, because I am busy The good thing with this pretty The guava explodes and stains the wall
trying to remember what cheese means house is that the mountain is set far pink. I bite into a sweet guava. I don’t
exactly, and I cannot remember. Yester- back in the yard, and our guavas are like grinding the bull guava seeds es-
day Mother of Bones told us the story right within reach, as if they heard we pecially because they are tough and it
of Dudu the bird, who learned and sang were coming and ran out to meet us. It takes a long time to do, so I just grind
a new song whose words she did not doesn’t take long to climb over the du- them gently, sometimes swallow them
really know the meaning of, and was rawall, onto the tree, and fill our plastic whole even though I know what will
caught, killed, and cooked for dinner bags with bull guavas. These ones are happen.
because in the song she was actually big, like a man’s fist, and do not ripen “Why did you do that?” Sbho looks
begging people to kill and cook her. to yellow like the regular guavas; they at the now-dirty durawall of her house,
The woman points at me, nods, and stay green on the outside, pink and and then at Bastard. Bastard giggles,
tells me to say “cheeeeeese” and I say it fluffy on the inside. They taste so good throws another guava. It misses the
because she is smiling like she knows I cannot even explain it. wall but hits the gate. The gate does
me really well. I say it slowly at first,
and then I say, “cheese” and “cheese,”
and I’m saying “cheese cheeeeese” The Four QuesTions
and everyone is saying “cheese cheese Seth Landman
cheese” and we are all singing the word
and the camera is clicking and clicking
In a great abundance of weaponry, I dreamt my great aunt Lillian
and clicking. Then Stina, who never re-
smoothed my spine and erased my affliction. I became lost and did not
ally speaks, just starts and walks away.
The woman stops taking pictures and want a direction. Her quilt was straight on my bed and seemed to be
says, “Are you ok?” but Stina does not an ellipsis in which I could not rest. She spoke to me in Yiddish. There
stop. Then Chipo walks away after was a dim light in the room and my eyes felt swollen. I knew my life
Stina, rubbing her stomach, then the would continue. All of my concerns were needless. I carried the quilt
rest of us all walk away after them. outside. An airplane blinked across the sky and I thought about all of
We leave the woman standing
the commandments. How could I dream of them? How could I have
there, taking pictures. Bastard stops at
invented this? I closed my eyes and began to know the stitches were
the corner of SADC and starts shout-
ing insults at her, and I remember the a sign. A trapezoid would mean trouble ahead. Any shape. There is a
thing, and that she threw it away with- legacy of nothing to understand, said the quilt in letters. You will build
out even asking us if we wanted it, and an aqueduct, and you will not be destroyed.
I begin shouting too, and everyone
BostonReview.net nov / dec 2010 BR 45
not make noise like a real gate is sup- house in this very Budapest or Los An- and Stina because I know where the
posed to. geles, even Paris,” Bastard says. talk will end if Chipo and Bastard gang
“Because I can. Because I can do what “When we were going to school, my up on me.
I want. Besides, what does it matter?” teacher Mr. Gono said you need an ed- “Well, go, go to that America and
“Because you just heard me say I ucation to make money, that’s what he work in nursing homes and clean
like the house, so you are not supposed said, my own teacher.” Chipo rubs her poop. You think we have never heard
to do anything to it. Why don’t you stomach, and says Mr. Gono’s name so the stories!” Bastard screams to my
pick another house that I don’t care proudly like he is her own father, like back but I just keep walking.
about?” he is something special, like maybe it’s I think about turning right around
“Well, that doesn’t make it your him inside her stomach. and beating Bastard up for saying
house does it?” Bastard wears a black “And how will you do that when we that about my America. I would slap
tracksuit bottom that he never takes are not going to school?” Chipo adds. him, butt him on his big forehead,
off, and a faded orange T-shirt that “I don’t need school to make money. and then slam my fist into his mouth
says “Cornell.” He takes off the Cor- What Bible did you read that from huh?” and make him spit his teeth. I would
nell T-shirt, ties it over his head, and I Bastard screams at Chipo, bringing pound his stomach until he vomited
don’t know if it makes him look ugly his face close to hers like he will bite all the guavas he has eaten, pin him
or pretty, if he really looks like a man her nose off. Chipo caresses her stom- to the ground. I would jab my knee
or woman. He turns and starts walk- ach and eats the rest of her guava qui- into his back, fold his hands behind
ing backwards so he can walk facing etly. She walks faster, away from us. him and then pull his head back till he
Sbho. He always likes that whomever “I’m going to America to live with begged for his life. But I shut up and
he is quarreling with look right at him. my Aunt Fostalina; it won’t be long, walk away. I know he is just jealous.
He has beaten us all, except Stina. you’ll see,” I say, raising my voice so Because he has nobody in America.
“And besides, Budapest is not a toi- they can all hear. I start on a brand Because Aunt Fostalina is not his aunt.
let where anyone can just walk in. You new guava; it is so sweet I finish it in Because he is Bastard and I am Darling.
can never live here.” just three bites. I don’t even bother
“I’m going to marry a man from chewing the seeds. by the time we get back to Paradise
Budapest. He’ll take me away from “America is too far,” Bastard says, the guavas are finished and our stom-
Paradise, away from the shacks and bored. “I don’t want to go anywhere achs are so full we are almost crawl-
Heavenway and Fambeki and every- where I have to go by air. What if you ing. We will just drink water for the
thing else,” Sbho says. get stuck there and you can’t come night, listen to Mother of Bones tell
“Ha ha. You think a man will back? Me I’m going to South Africa or us a story, and go to sleep. We stop to
marry you with your missing teeth? I Botswana, that way, when things get defecate in the bush. It is best to do
wouldn’t even marry you myself,” says bad, I can just get on the road without so before it gets too dark otherwise no
Godknows, shouting over his shoulder. talking to anybody; you have to be able one will accompany you; you have to
He and Chipo and Stina walk ahead of to easily return from wherever you go.” pass the cemetery to get to the bush
us. I look at Godknows’s shorts, torn I look at Bastard and think what and you might meet a ghost.
at the back, at his pitch-black buttocks to say to him. A guava seed is stuck We all find places, and me, I squat
peeping like strange eyes through the between my gum and my last side behind a rock. This is the worst part
dirty white fabric. teeth and I try to reach for it with my about guavas; all those seeds get you
“I’m not talking to you big-head!” tongue. I finally use my finger. It tastes constipated when you eat too much.
Sbho shouts at Godknows. “Besides, like earwax. When it comes to defecating, we get in
my teeth will grow back. Mother says I “America is far,” Chipo says, agree- so much pain, like trying to give birth
will even be more beautiful too!” ing with Bastard. She stops briefly, her to a country. Minutes and minutes and
Godknows flings his hand and hand under her stomach, so we can minutes pass and nobody shouts, “I’m
makes a “whatever” sign because he catch up with her. “What if something done, hurry up.”
has nothing to say to that. Everybody happens to your plane when you are We are all squatting like that, in
knows that Sbho is pretty, prettier in it? What about the terrorists?” our different places, and I’m beating
than all of us here, prettier than all the I think flat-face, soccer-ball-stomach my thighs with fists to make a cramp
children in Paradise. Sometimes we re- Chipo is only saying it to please ugly- go away when somebody screams. Not
fuse to play with her if she won’t stop face Bastard since he just screamed at the kind of scream that comes from
talking like we don’t already know it. her. I give her a talking eye, but my when you push too hard and a guava
“Well, I don’t care, I’m going out of mouth just keeps chewing. seed cuts your anus; it says “come and
the country myself. I will make a lot “I don’t care, I’m going,” I say, and see,” so I stop pushing, pull up my un-
of money and come back and buy a walk fast to catch up with Godknows derwear and abandon my rock. And
46 BR nov / dec 2010
there, squatting and screaming, is “Coward, can’t you see she’s hanged Godknows and I follow him. Bastard
Godknows. He is also pointing ahead herself and now she’s dead?” Bastard stays behind for a little while, but
in the thick trees, and we see it, a tall picks a stone and throws; it hits the when I look over my shoulder, I see
thing dangling in a tree. woman on the thigh. I expect some- him right there behind us. I know he
“What’s that?” somebody, I don’t thing will happen but then nothing can’t stay in the bush by himself, with
know who, whispers. Nobody answers does, the woman just does not move. a dead woman, even though he wants
because now we can all see what it is. A “See, I told you she is dead.” Bastard to make like he is the president of Par-
woman dangles from a green rope. The says, in that voice he uses when he is adise. We start walking together again,
sun squeezes through the leaves, and reminding us who is the boss. but then Bastard jumps in front of us.
gives everything a strange color that “God will punish you for that,” God- “Wait, who wants bread?” he says,
makes the woman’s light skin glow knows says. tightening the Cornell T-Shirt on his
like there are red-hot coals inside her. Bastard throws another stone. It head. I look at the wound on Bastard’s
The woman’s thin arms hang limp at hits the woman on the leg with a khu chest, just below his left breast. It’s al-
the sides, and her hands and feet point sound. The woman still does not move. most pink like the inside of a guava.
to the ground, like somebody drew her I am terrified; it is like she is looking “Where is it?” I say.
there, a straight line hanging in the air. at me from the corner of her white, “Listen, did you notice how that
Her eyes are the scariest part, they look popped eye. Looking and waiting for woman’s shoes look almost new? If
too white, and her mouth is open wide. me to do something I don’t know what. we can get them then we can sell them
The woman is wearing a yellow dress, “God does not live here, idiot,” Bas- and buy a loaf, or maybe even one-and-
and the grass licks the tip of her shoes. tard says. He throws another stone a-half. What do you say?”
“Let’s run,” Stina says. They are that only grazes the woman’s yellow We all turn around and follow Bas-
the first words Stina has spoken since dress, and I am glad he missed. tard back into the bush, and we are
country-game. When Stina speaks you “I will go and tell my mother,” Sbho rushing, then we are running, then we
know it’s something important, and I says, sounding like she wants to cry. are running and laughing and laugh-
get ready to run. Stina starts to leave, and Sbho and ing and laughing. BR
Our program, one of the oldest, most prestigious, and selective Norton awards; in poetry, the Whiting Award, the Norma Farber First
in the country, was recently placed among the top ten by The Atlantic Book Award, along with three winners of the Discovery/The Nation
Monthly, which went on to rank our faculty and our alumni among Award and two winners of the National Poetry Series; in fiction our
the top five. The magazine might have been impressed by our two graduates have won the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN/Faulkner, the PEN/
most celebrated workshops—one, in poetry, was led by Robert Hemingway, and the National Book Award. Every month one of
Lowell, who had scattered around him Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and our graduates brings out a book of poetry or fiction with a major
George Starbuck; the other, much more recent, was led by Leslie publisher; and some, like Sue Miller and Arthur Golden, have spent
Epstein, whose students included Ha Jin, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Peter a good deal of time on bestseller lists. Over the last decade we have
Ho Davies. Our classes still meet in the same small room, which placed more than a score of our graduates in tenure-track positions
allows through its dusty windows a glimpse of the Charles. These at important universities (Peter Ho Davies and Carl Phillips direct the
days, the poetry workshops are led by our regular faculty, Robert creative writing programs at Michigan and Washington University in
Pinsky, Louise Glück, and Rosanna Warren; those in fiction are led St. Louis).
by Leslie Epstein, Ha Jin himself, and Allegra Goodman. Our famed We make, of course, no such assurances. Our only promise
playwriting classes are taught by Kate Snodgrass, Ronan Noone, to those who join us is of a fair amount of time in that river-view
and Melinda Lopez. We are also pleased to add that, thanks to a room, time shared with other writers in a common, most difficult
generous donor, we are launching a new fellowships program that pursuit: the perfection of one’s craft. For more information about
aims to send a good number of our students abroad for a typical stay the program, our visiting writers, financial aid, or our new Robert
of three months, after completing their intensive workshops here. Pinsky Global Fellowships, please write to Director, Creative Writing
It is difficult to know how best to measure a student’s success Program, Boston University, 236 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02215
or the worth of a program to a writer. Our graduates have won every or visit our website at www.bu.edu/writing.
major award in each of their genres, including, in playwriting, the
Application deadline is March 1, 2011.
Charles MacArthur Award, the Heideman Award, and four Elliot
Boston University is an equal opportunity, affirmative action institution.
CAS_CWP_BostonReview_043092.indd 1 10/13/10 3:20 PM
BostonReview.net nov / dec 2010 BR 47