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Igms issue 3, p.4

IGMS Issue 3, page 4


IGMS Issue 3

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The tallest of the woman's children said something in their language, then they conversed for several seconds before the little girl, no more than ten years old, turned to Shannon and said, "We don't have a dome."

  No dome? Everyone had a dome. The little girl had to be lying.

  The line edged forward three steps. The girl helped her mother to chase the two younger children back into the line before they moved.

  The girl had a look on her face. It was the look of a person numbed by trauma, as if Shannon could disembowel someone and the girl wouldn't blink. It was the look of acceptance that death was inevitable, and soon in coming, and the look that the good times were gone forever, if they ever existed at all for this little girl.

  Shannon felt pity for the girl and her family, even though her own situation was not much better. "Where are you staying until you get a dome?"

  The girl conversed again with her mother, but this time, the woman grabbed her shoulder and turned her away from Shannon. A few moments passed and the line shuffled forward another few steps. As the girl moved, she turned her head and mouthed, "Nowhere." The mother placed a gloved hand on the girl's head and turned her around.

  The girl remained silent until they reached the entrance, just a wooden door propped open to allow the snaking line to slither inside. Upon entering the building, the African family was confronted by a guard, a big, leather-skinned troglodyte of a Proc. He sat behind a folding table, and a worn deck of cards rested near his left elbow.

  He looked grumpy. Most Procs were grumpy, or worse. Rumor said that their planet in the Procyon system was largely tropical jungles and swamps, and they hated the cold. As a result, only the dregs of their society ended up at ARIP as guards.

  The African woman began to cry as the Proc gestured with wild incomprehensibility. Shannon was terrified despite being able to understand the guard with her meager vocabulary of the Proc language. At first, he was waving around the deck of cards, then he was just trying to get the woman to sign in with her thumbprint.

  A gap formed in the line ahead of the African family. Shannon tried to approach the little girl to explain the situation, but retreated when the troglodyte growled at her. The woman finally seemed to understand, pressed her thumb against the reader, then filled the gap in the line.

  The Proc waved the cards at Shannon, but she just pressed her thumb against the reader and continued on her way, ignoring the Proc.

  The line flowed quickly once past the gatekeeper. Shannon exchanged her food coupon for a box of rations, dropped it into her bag, then made her way to the door. She passed the African family on the way out. The little girl was talking to Larry, a black preacher from Oakland. Her mother stood nearby, wrestling to keep the girl's two younger siblings from running off. Shannon waved when the girl glanced in her direction, but the girl quickly turned her attention back to Larry.

  Back in her dome that evening, Shannon had just put her little one to bed when she heard a knock on the door. Who would come to call at this hour? Sure, there was still daylight at this hour, but protocol . . . She opened the door until it was stopped by the chain, then looked out the crack to see Larry and the African family. The children were shivering from the cold.

  Shannon unlatched the chain then opened the door wide. "Come in, get out of the cold."

  Larry let the family file past. The mother was still carrying her box of rations. Larry entered last. "Thank you for letting us in." Shannon closed the door as Larry continued. "I have a favor to ask of you."

  Interesting. This woman who would have nothing to do with Shannon earlier was now sitting in her dome. And Larry, he was usually on the granting end of favors. "What kind of favor?"

  The two now joined the African family in the living chamber. Larry took a seat on the sofa next to the woman, and Shannon sat on a packing crate she used as an extra chair. Larry waited until everyone was seated before answering Shannon's question.

  "This is the Olympio family." He waved his hand in their direction. "They are in need of shelter, and my dome is far too small."

  So, the little girl was telling the truth. They really didn't have a dome -- but why? "What happened to the dome they were issued by the Procs?"

  Larry and the oldest girl, the girl who understood some English, exchanged glances before he answered. "They lost it."

  "Would you mind explaining how one loses something the size of a dome?" Shannon asked, hoping that the tone of voice didn't sound overly condescending.

  The little girl answered. "The dome is still there."

  Shannon's face must have telegraphed her confusion, because Larry spoke as she looked toward the little girl. "They lost title to the dome to a Proc. They love to gamble, you know."

  After six years at ARIP, of course Shannon knew of the Proc penchant for gambling. She'd just never heard of anyone stupid enough to bet their dome -- or desperate enough.

  "I know what you're thinking," Larry said, "but they were duped." He shook his head. "So many of our people are being duped, but never anything like this. They've been forcing people to bet their ration coupons for quite some time. I fear this family might be the first of many to lose their dome.

  "I didn't realize it was that bad a problem," Shannon said.

  "People talk to me, it's part of the job of being a preacher."

  "How long do they need to stay?" She asked, but she already knew what the answer would be.

  "I don't know, Shannon."

  Her instinct was right, the answer was indefinitely.

  Larry continued. "The town council plans to discuss a course of action this evening." He glanced at his wristwatch. "In fact, I must be going if I'm to be there on time."

  Shannon let Larry out, then turned her attention to her unexpected guests. The African woman, tired and haggard-looking, sat at the end of the sofa, picking absently at the thread on the arm that was pulled loose when it snagged on the door latch the day Shannon moved it into the dome.

  The oldest child, the one who could speak some English, sat still, staring at the door. The other two children had already fallen asleep. An odor wafted through the room. One of the children must have farted.

  Shannon closed her eyes so the family wouldn't see her roll them, then she sat back on the packing crate and addressed the oldest girl. "Did you eat?"

  The girl shook her head almost imperceptibly. Something had definitely changed the little girl. She seemed eager to talk in line, now she was so closed up. The mother had stopped playing with the thread and was now using her fingernail to trace the scratches on the end table left when Shannon's son pushed a brick across the surface.

  She glanced back and forth between the two Africans as she realized that she still didn't even know their names. She left them there to fetch extra blankets and pillows from the linen closet. When she returned with arms full of bedding, they hadn't moved.

  "You can sleep in this room," Shannon said as she set the pile of blankets on the floor in front of the sofa. Nobody moved, so she walked away. A glance at the clock accompanied by a yawn told her that she needed sleep, too.

  Shannon awoke with the feeling she was being watched. She opened her eyes to see the oldest African girl standing arm's length away from the bed, then struggled to revive enough mental capacity to talk.

  "What is it, honey?"

  The little girl didn't move at first. Shannon was about to say something when the little girl spoke in a quiet voice. "We didn't mumble mumble."

  "What did you say, sweetie?" She propped herself on one elbow as the little girl repeated what she said.

  "We didn't need to lose our dome."

  "I don't understand."

  The little girl fidgeted before she replied. Her voice remained quiet. "The Procs aren't good players. I know how to beat them, but my mother wouldn't listen to me because I'm just a kid."

  Shannon's mind was still groggy with sleep, so what the girl said wasn't really sinking in. She though about it for a moment, fighting the urge to go back to slee
p. Finally, she asked the girl, "What do you mean they aren't good players?"

  She put her head down and kicked at the carpet with her right foot as she replied. "They are sloppy. They try to scare you to make you sloppier than them, but I know they're sloppy so I can beat them. I'm not sloppy."

  Confused, Shannon pushed herself to a seated position. "I don't understand why you're telling me this."

  The little girl stopped fidgeting now. She looked Shannon square in the eye and said, "Because I need your help."

  What did this little girl really want? It couldn't be just a place to sleep. Shannon had a feeling there was something more. Something dangerous. "You need my help? With what?"

  There was great determination in those dark little eyes. Whatever the girl wanted, Shannon was sure she would get it.

  "I'm going to get my dome back." Not her family's dome now, her dome. "I need you to bet with the Proc. I'll tell you exactly what to do. Trust me."

  Trust her? Shannon didn't even know the girl's name! And then, bet with a Proc? Bet what? The only thing of any value was her own dome. Why repeat somebody else's mistake? No, betting with a Proc was out of the question.

  Shannon had to give the girl some kind of answer so they both could get back to sleep. But, what to say?

  "Why don't you have your mother help you?"

  The little girl's face contorted in anger. "She didn't listen to me the last time, what makes you think she'll listen this time?" She made an exaggerated sigh. "Besides, she doesn't have anything left to bet."

  The girl had a point, but that wasn't good enough for Shannon to risk her own dome. "What's in it for me?" Shannon stared down the girl as she would an adult. "Why should I risk my dome to try winning back the dome of complete strangers?"

  The girl looked hurt. "But we're staying at your house. We aren't strangers."

  "I don't even know your names!"

  "Really?" The girl's face softened. "Now that I think about it, I don't know your name either."

  Shannon extended her arm. "I'm Shannon. My son Alvin is asleep in his room. You'll meet him in the morning."

  The girl took Shannon's hand and as they shook, the girl said, "My name is Adjoa Olympio. My mother's name is Amima. My sister is Ama, my brother is Kossi."

  Shannon couldn't help but pry. "Where is your father?"

  "His name was Koffi. He was killed in the resistance." She gazed down at her feet. "A lot of the dads died in the resistance in Togo."

  Shannon pulled young Adjoa closer. "A lot of dads died in the resistance in every country. And so, the Procs send the women and children here along with the few remaining men, like the preacher, Larry." With Adjoa opening up, Shannon wanted to get as much information out of her as possible. "Your mother, she doesn't speak any English?"

  "She can only speak in Ewe."

  Shannon tried to pronounce it. "Elway?"

  "That's close," she said, "but without the L. It's named after my tribe." There was an uncomfortable pause, and then Adjoa continued. "Will you help me?"

  Shannon sighed. "Let me sleep on it."

  Shannon had already made her decision not to do it, but wanted to save the inevitable fight for morning. Morning came, and she still didn't know how to tell Adjoa that there would be no betting. Reluctantly, she threw off the covers and was about to make her way to the kitchen for breakfast when her son, Alvin, burst into the room in tears, boogers flowing out his nose.

  "Mommy! There's strangers in our house!"

  She brought the boy close to comfort him, then pulled a tissue from the box on the nightstand to wipe his nose. He knew the routine, and waited patiently while Shannon wiped it away.

  "The people in our house arrived after you went to sleep." She stood to put on a robe. "They don't have a dome, baby." She tied the robe then picked up the boy.

  "Everybody has a dome," Alvin said.

  Shannon smiled at the innocence of the three-year-old. "They don't. That's why they're staying here."

  "Why don't they have a dome?" Sometimes Shannon wondered what it was like to know nothing other than ARIP -- to never have seen Arizona, highways, cacti, a lake, or even dirt free of ice and snow.

  "I don't know." How would the kids get along? As far as she knew, Adjoa was the only English-speaker in the group. How would Alvin react to children his age that spoke only, what was that language? Elway? She asked her son, "Do you want to meet them?"

  The boy nodded, barely perceptible, but it was a nod nonetheless. Shannon carried the boy out to the living chamber, where Amima, the mother, was folding her blanket, and her three children were still asleep.

  Adjoa looked surprisingly childlike in her slumber; nothing like the girl Shannon spoke with in the night. Deceptively peaceful. She set Alvin on the small kitchen counter. Amima had finished folding the blanket and was now placing it on the floor next to the sofa, then she walked toward the kitchen.

  "Good morning, Amima."

  If the woman was surprised that Shannon knew her name, she certainly didn't show it. Instead, she nodded at Shannon with a curt smile.

  "There's no coffee," Shannon said. "Hasn't been any coffee for three years. I have some tea." She reached into the cupboard and handed the box to Amima. The African woman studied the box, turning it end-over-end. Finally, she opened the box and put it to her nose. She smiled, a real smile this time, then removed one of the tea bags and handed the box back to Shannon, who took one herself before putting it back in the cupboard. When it was put away, she walked to the small electric burner to heat some water. As the water boiled, Adjoa stirred from her sleep and stumbled into the kitchen.

  Alvin, still sitting on the counter watching the activity, was the first to notice her. "Joa," he said.

  "You must be Alvin," she said. "Good morning, Alvin. Good morning, Shannon." She turned to her mother next, and they exchanged a few words in what had to be Ewe.

  "I have oatmeal," Shannon said. "It's not much, but my rations are only for two people."

  "Please," Adjoa said. Shannon poured the boiling water into two cups then filled the pan with water, setting it on the stove before she went digging for the oatmeal

  Adjoa stood in the middle of the kitchen doorway watching. Finally, as the water started to boil, the girl said, "Have you decided?"

  It was time. "Yeah," Shannon said as she turned off the burner. She poured the hot water into two bowls then dumped in the instant oatmeal. She spoke again only after she started to stir the oatmeal. "I'm not going to be able to help you." A hurt look imprinted itself onto Adjoa's face. "I'm sorry, but there it doesn't make sense for me to bet my dome to win yours back." She lifted Alvin from the counter and handed him one bowl of oatmeal. "If I win," she continued, "I gain nothing, if I lose, I lose everything. It's a bad risk."

  That argument didn't seem to persuade Adjoa. "You won't lose. I know how to beat them," she said.

  Poor girl. She's been through so much that she believes her story. "I'm sorry, Adjoa. I've made my decision." Shannon tried to hand the other bowl of oatmeal to her, but she refused to take it. Instead, she turned and walked away. Not letting them in would have been so much easier.

  Amima looked at Shannon with eyes that said she didn't know what was wrong with her daughter. She followed Adjoa into the other room and a heated discussion in Ewe followed. Shame to waste the oatmeal. Shannon ate the second bowl herself.

  The water was running low, and Shannon wanted to leave Alvin with Amima in order to fetch some ice from the quarry. Adjoa was still too angry to act as an interpreter for the two adults, so Shannon gesticulated as best she could. Amima clearly didn't understand.

  She sighed as she pulled Alvin's coat from the closet. Amima started barking orders to the children. Shannon really didn't want the woman along. She didn't want Alvin along either, but at least he would sit still. A gentle touch on the shoulder and a shake of the head was enough to communicate to Amima that she was to stay here.

  Shannon pulled Alvin's coat from the clos
et, but Amima shook her head this time, then took Alvin by the arm to gently pull him toward the other children. Maybe progress was being made. Shannon put Alvin's coat back on the plastic hanger and into the closet it went. Instead, she pulled out her own parka, complete with the zipper torn away from the fabric for the bottom three inches. She took one last look at Alvin, but he was already busy playing with Ama and Kossi. She left him playing and went to get the ice.

  She grabbed the pull sled at the side of the dome then began walking toward the ice quarry. The quarry was still on the outskirts of town, even with the steady population increase. If the Procs kept finding people to relocate, the quarry would be in town within the next two years. If.

  The wind was still, so the arctic air was almost bearable. She walked quickly after she was out of town. A small mountain separated the quarry from the town. As she walked around the mountain she was stopped by a Proc guard. Tall and ugly as a troll, the Proc fondled her parka, perhaps appraising its worth.

  The Proc ran its hand up and down the seams and along the zipper. When he discovered the small tear where the zipper had separated from the fabric, he inspected it carefully. Then, suddenly, he stood and said in horribly mangled English, "I want to bet for your garment."

  Shannon rolled her eyes. Same troll, once a week at least. "I'm not interested in placing any bets."

  The gargoyle took a step closer to Shannon, spreading his arms to make himself look as large as possible. "I think you should reconsider."

  "And I think you should invest in a toothbrush," Shannon said. "Your breath stinks." She took a few more steps, still pulling the sled behind.

  The Proc shuffled after her. "I could have your dome destroyed," he said.

  Shannon smiled because she knew all the Proc tricks. "Get real," she said.

  "You bet me the garment."

  Shannon stopped and turned around. "What's in it for me?"

  "Ah, you interested. Good." The Proc smiled as if it was pleased at itself. "I bet you extra meal to-day."

  "What is the game?" Shannon asked.

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