The Flying Connection

August 11, 2012
Looking towards the horizon, I can make out a flock of birds soaring through the orange sky. They are the ordinary kind, the kind you always see but the ones you’ve never actually bothered to learn the names of.

I used to love to fly.

Every few weeks or months –sometimes days –we’d go somewhere new. Anywhere, Mom, said –first flight on the list, anywhere you want.
I always got to pick.

Sometimes Mom would say ‘Not that one, that’s no fun. Pick a different one’, and I’d pick a new place.

When I was little, as strange as it may seem, I didn’t even know that other kids went to school. Mom taught me how to do numbers first when we were in the Dominican Republic one winter. ‘You’re my little helper,’ she said, ‘I’m gonna count on you to count.’

I was great at numbers. We would play a game. Mom would give be things to count and I would sort and organize and count them. There were coins, and old silver things, old wooden things, old brownish metal things and my favorites –the pretty clothes and the sparkling jewelry. I was sad that we never kept the pretty things –we didn’t keep any of the things for long. Mom would always go out for a few hours, putting the things in a bag, and she would return with a different bags. Those bags had uglier things. Useless things, I thought: little plastic bags of powder, bags of leaves, bottles of stinky water, smaller bottles of pills.

It was always after these trades that Mom would say it was time to go back home. Home was the United States, she said.

‘How are they united?’ I used to ask, ‘You said that Hawaii was a state. It’s in the middle of the ocean.’
‘That’s the way it is,’ Mom would shrug.
‘That’s stupid.’ I’d roll my eyes.

We’d fly back home.
It was scarier there. We always lived in the empty corners of the big cities. The corners everyone else avoids. The ones that maybe they’ve forgotten about.

Mom decided it was time for me to learn to read when I was seven. Up until then, I’d always pester her with ‘Mom, what does this say?’, ‘Mom, what does that say?’.

I was so excited. ‘Finally’, I thought to myself, ‘I’ll know what everything says on my own!’

Mom gave me a book with the symbols I was used to seeing but didn’t understand. Then she gave me a list of words. I recognized them. I’d seen them around before. Mom said it would be most useful to learn what the words on the list were first.

I learned my alphabet.

After I learned the list, Mom gave me a pamphlet from an airplane to read. I couldn’t.
‘I hate reading,’ I said, ‘Teach me how to spell,’

We flew to Russia.
Mom taught me how to spell and write my current name and hers.

Every time we changed names, she taught me those, too.

I was ten when I finally asked Mom if I had a papa. It took me weeks and weeks of building up the courage. Papa was just not an open subject. It was never mentioned.

‘The kids on the television always got a papa.’ I said.

‘Always have a papa,’ Mom corrected. ‘No, hon. You don’t have a one. It’s okay, I had one. I can tell you –papas aren’t that great.’

By that time, I knew fully well what was going on around me. Mom and I traveled because Mom stole things for a living and then sold the stolen things for drugs to take home and sell. Mom didn’t ever do the little sniffy thing I always saw people at home doing. She didn’t ever put a smoking stick in her mouth and she never drank. She hated needles and pointy things.

We stopped traveling when I was eleven.
We were in Mexico City, living in a tiny little room with one bed that crawled with tiny black bugs, when someone kicked down the door. They wore black armor and helmets and I couldn’t see their faces.

I didn’t like them.
They liked to yell.
They were mean to Mom.

They took us and put us on an angry truck. It must’ve been furious, the way it rumbled and clanged.

Mom had to sit away from me. I couldn’t even see her.
I don’t remember much of the ride, only that the man sitting next to me held my wrist so tight it hurt, but I didn’t say anything. I remembered staring at the opposite wall and wishing I could see out a window. I couldn’t.

There were no windows.

The woman in the suit wanted to know my name.

‘Dorothea,’ I said.
‘No. Dorothea. D-O-R-O-T-H-E-A. I like it better than my last one. I was Susan. Susan’s so plain. Where’s my mom?’

She frowned. ‘What do you mean your last one?’
‘Where’s my mom?’ I asked again, looking around. We sat in a room with a big black empty window.
‘What does your mother call you?’
‘Hon,’ I said, ‘Where is she?’

‘She’s somewhere else.’
‘We’re caught, aren’t we? Mom always worried we’d get caught.’
‘Do you know who your mother is? Do you know what she does?’

I wasn’t supposed to say. I’d already said too much. Mom said not to ever tell the suits a thing. These were the suits. They had to be.

‘Your mother’s name is Nathalie Isles. She’s one of the most wanted drug dealers in the world.’
‘Okay. So?’ I shrugged. Wait, did Mom’s rules apply to suits who already knew?

The woman stared at me, mouth open. Her lips were painted dark red. Mom’s shade was bright. Cherry red, she called it.

She finally closed her mouth. ‘Your name isn’t Dorothea. Your birth certificate says Mariam Isles.’

I blinked, ‘What’s a birth certificate? A certificate of birth? Seriously? I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me I was born.’ I rolled my eyes and laughed.

The suit left after that and said she’d be back.
‘Wait!’ I yelled as she closed the door of the room, ‘Where’s my mom?’

When the door slammed shut, it echoed.

I didn’t see Mom, other than glimpses, for three weeks. When I did, we were in court.

I wasn’t allowed to sit next to her.
Cameras flashed when I was led into the room. It was large and stuffed full to the brim with spectators.

‘The Court calls Mariam Isles to the stand.’

I hated being called Mariam. All of the suits always called me Mariam. ‘That’s your real name,’ they told me over and over.

I sat in a wooden chair next to the high seat the judge sat in. They had me put my hand on a Bible and repeat everything they said. They asked me questions, things they’d already asked before a dozen times.

‘And did your mother ever take you along with her when she went to pick up the drugs?’
‘Was she ever intoxicated around you?’
‘Did she ever have anyone over?’
‘Did you ever meet any of the people she met with?’
‘The landlords, the neighbors sometimes.’
‘Anyone else?’
‘Lots of regular people.’
‘What sort of regular people?’
‘Regular people! People you ask directions from!’ I burst out, ‘People you don’t know who live in the area and say hi to you because they can! People who take your orders at drive-ins!’
‘Alright, alright, calm down Mariam.’

They continued:
‘Were you ever underfed, or abused in any other way?’

‘Are you aware of what was done with the profit from the drugs sold?’
‘We used some of it to fly. That’s what I know.’

‘Aren’t you concerned that you know so little about your mother? She’s really just a stranger to you, isn’t she?’
‘No.’ I snapped, digging my nails into my palms, ‘She’s my mom.’
‘And what does that mean to you?’
‘Your Honor,’ Mom’s lawyer said, interrupting the questioning and looking up to the judge, ‘I think we’re getting a little off point here.’

The judge held up a hand, ‘Please answer the question, Ms. Isles.’ He said to me.
‘No.’ I retorted, ‘’Cos y’know what? This is stupid. I know you’re just trying to throw my Mom in jail for life because she was trying to make a living, and why should I even help you do that? You’re just gonna shove me off into a house full of screaming brats and the ‘parents’ who aren’t capable of handling them in the first place!’

‘Ms. Isles,’ came several different voices at once.

I met Mom’s eyes and found her looking at me with tired but stern eyes. She shook her head and then jutted her chin out, nodding for me to answer the question.

‘My mom means everything to me.’ I said quietly, slouching in my seat. ‘She’s my only family,’ I glanced up, shooting a glare to everyone in the room, especially the crowd of on-lookers, there simply for entertainment. ‘What else am I supposed to say?’

‘That’s sufficient.’
The questions came for a couple more minutes. I answered dully, staring at a spot of wood on the stand in front of me.

The trial extended for two years. I lived in a foster home as the only foster child during that time. I was homeschooled, since the suits didn’t want me in public school at first and later, I refused to go.

I was best at math, worst at reading.

The end decision was forty years in prison without possibility of parole for fifteen years.
Mom never finished her forty years.

The will made me truly realize how much had been made. I knew we had money –we must’ve, if we traveled first class so often –but I’d never know how much.

The birds disappear behind a building. I turn away and return to my bed to finish packing.

William runs into the bedroom, bouncing excitedly, ‘Momma,’ he says, reaching up. I bend down to scoop him up. ‘Where’re we goin’, Momma?’
‘Anywhere,’ I tell him, ‘Anywhere you want.’

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