The last time you talked to me, you had seen the ugly truth of your father.
There had always been more than a bit of resentment in your relationship. He was bitter: not saddled with a woman, having all his life made the right choice there, yet somehow now saddled with a child. For a long time, you did not have a name. It was only when your father couldn’t any longer keep track of your comings and goings from the house, when he had to call you home in the evenings, that he found one: Liyo.
Which means, dear, in your father’s people's vernacular: “stranger.”
When you came back perhaps a hundredth time from keeping company at the widow’s, and you finally asked him of the many things she had that you did not—why her house kept warm in the winter and cool in the summer; why she had machines to wash her dishes and open her cans; why she always had so much bread, white and impossibly soft, bags of it; why when the night came, she had the light and sound from the television to keep her company. How the people on the TV got there and what language it was they were speaking and who was laughing at them. How much more to the world might there be, and how come you had never known anything of it but this house, auntie’s house, and the field tended by the cornhusker boys.
I do not know if I have ever seen you so angry. You may not have known, but angry is what you were when you asked these things of your father. Nothing trips your father’s temper faster than the anger of someone he feels ought to owe him.
So he told you of the world. He told you of the disaster, of how the water had come onto the land too much and too fast and how it had stayed too long, swampish, moldering; how the fish had died and the bugs had bred and the crops had gone, how the place where he grew up had been starved and winnowed. How a generation watched their livelihoods wither, or withered themselves. He told you of the people who watched and maybe cried but did not suffer, and did not come to help: the people in the cities, the people who spoke the language on the TV. He told you of the lives of the poor and very poor in these cities; he told you of homelessness and of the shelters and of the sickness that ran through them always. He told you of the lot of the orphaned and alone. He spoke of girls your age kept cramped together, underfed, in the dark, girls dragged up by their wilted arms as many times as a man will pay for them, girls fed drugs to make them forget, girls who come to crave the numb over the knowing. He wouldn’t even have to send you to these places, he said; he could simply let you go, and you would be found, taken to the places of no return. And with bite in his expression, he said, So. Is this the other world you want so badly to know?
You knew nothing of the things he related to you. Now, you knew everything. The implications multiplied, stenciled in the waterways of your interior map. Yet the knowledge did nothing but root in you a fruitless dread and despair, and you were still angry, angrier even than before, because it seemed that there was a third option, the one you had asked about, the one you had seen at auntie’s, where people are happy and their lives interesting, where knowledge and contentment live in the same house.
And because he saw you were still angry, he took you by the shoulders, shoved you out the front door, and locked it behind him, and in his heart he hoped for you the unfortunate end he had promised, so that he would be right, and you would know he had been right.
It was night, and you were barefoot and running away from him, running to auntie’s. In the dark, you quickly lost your way. You came to collapse in the empty cornfield and you spoke a name for a being you’d never met. Mama. Forehead pressed to the dirt, you wept. You wished for a changed life. But you were young, and you did not know how different change could be.
When you wept, I felt deep responsibility to you. I felt how I, no different than your father or the disaster, controlled the size of your world, and its plenty or lack, and the paths you could take in it. I had thought it better to stay removed and restrained from the people of the world, to conserve my strength. I thought it best to make myself small, as you were.
But how enchanted you were, when I reached out for you, and the corn grew.
The way you flee me now, I think you have forgotten how you marveled at me then.