In the Aftermath

by A Grandfather
The Desert, USA

The mother watches, expressionless, instinctively she reaches for them, her children who will never again be children. How far they’ve come in just weeks — not just in miles, but in years, ages, pain and horror. The children’s cheeks and eyes are less haunted now, the youngest even leaving his father’s arms.

In the AftermathHis sister who had ceased to speak now breaks silence somewhat, but still won’t talk about *IT*. Counseling, suggests a friend. We’ll see, says her mother, braiding her child’s hair. A French braid is also counseling.

They aren’t receiving aid from organizations. Every so often they call the Hurricane Katrina survivor aid number, but have never reached a human being, or been called back.

Yet they’re lucky. Funds were raised to purchase a year’s rent in a low-end, cookie-cutter townhouse. Cramped, the kids sharing a bedroom, but better than four in one room in a stranger’s house.

They have no possessions, but furniture arrives. Used — but usable. Here, says a plump matron, these dishes for four, a gift, never used. The little boy’s jaw drops, “WOW!” at the colorful rooster decorations. His mother hugs the lady. She doesn’t cry; she hasn’t shed one tear.

At the paint counter, mother gently shows a satin rosette. All that remains of their previous life. “From our wedding.” Father says, “Just match it.” By sunset, the little dwelling has a facade of palest apricot.

The children (those around decide) need more attention than public school provides, but — no money. Inquiries are made. The “progressive” school has no transportation. The Catholic School says no. The Mosque School says yes, has a bus.

An old turbaned man arrives. “We’re Catholics,” says mother. “Yes,” he replies, then says to the boy, “Soon you’ll be a Catholic who can read.” He smiles at the girl’s look, reading her mind. “Not required, just modest dress.”

An elegant white-haired lady whisks mother and daughter off to shop. Outside an old brown man plants pansies, masses of them. Those hanging curtains and art from every continent have also stocked the kitchen with a global selection of edibles. The gracious lady returns. “Tea,” she orders her driver, her great-grandson.

A fearsome street gang of young men from Mexico and Central America arrive in a burst of shouts, tattoos and alarming automotive sounds. They demand beer and rides home, leaving an automobile they made for father to drive to his new printing company job. Proudly, they concede it hideous and noisy — but promise it goes forward and backward. “De puras partes, lo hicimos!”

The mother looks around at her new neighbors, her new family, in soft white cotton robes of Ethiopia, in saris, salwar kameez, jeans and T-shirts, low baggy pants revealing underwear waistbands. The teenaged street gang, the antique couple, all ages between. She goes quickly to the kitchen. “I don’t think we have beer,” she begins, then opens the refrigerator, to find beer from Lebanon, Belgium, India, Mexico and Palestine.

And she leans against the open door, unable to stop the tears.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Original, longer story here:

Originally published as HeroicStories #672 on Aug 26, 2006

5 thoughts on “In the Aftermath”

  1. What a great reminder we need in our lives today – the frightened family, the fragile emotions, the desperate need of basic items, the lack of understanding a foreign language, the fear for a child’s well being in strange surroundings. And yet, the International neighborhood in which this family now lives pulls together to welcome them and take care of their needs. A great lesson to all of us that we are indeed our “brother’s keeper” and have an obligation to share whatever we have with those who have nothing.

  2. As Janis states, this is a beautiful reminder of what being a community means. I love how the writer describes these people in terms of street gang or covert operative or terrorist – gang, operative, terrorist of love and caring and generosity, I think.

    Thanks, Leo, for re-printing this one. Maybe re-print it every so often, just as a reminder and as an aspiration.

  3. What a beautifully told story. Like the Mother, at the end, I cried. On this Earth, we are but only one family, if we would only stop and notice that fact.

  4. I think I relished this account more than any others I have read in the past. The writer is sparse with words, but paints the picture so eloquently that the reader sees the whole drama with all of the nuances. Yes, I agree. This story needs to be repeated again and again until the lesson really sinks in that we are truly are our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper! Bless the writer for touching my heart so deeply!


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