Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Barack Obama - Dreams from My Father 17

birds of paradise, a white cockatoo, and finally two baby crocodiles, half submerged in a fenced-off pond
toward the edge of the compound. Lolo stared down at the reptiles. “There were three,” he said, “but the
biggest one crawled out through a hole in the fence. Slipped into somebody’s rice field and ate one of the
man’s ducks. We had to hunt it by torchlight.”
There wasn’t much light left, but we took a short walk down the mud path into the village. Groups of
giggling neighborhood children waved from their compounds, and a few barefoot old men came up to shake
our hands. We stopped at the common, where one of Lolo’s men was grazing a few goats, and a small boy
came up beside me holding a dragonfly that hovered at the end of a string. When we returned to the house,
the man who had carried our luggage was standing in the backyard with a rust-colored hen tucked under his
arm and a long knife in his right hand. He said something to Lolo, who nodded and called over to my mother
and me. My mother told me to wait where I was and sent Lolo a questioning glance.
“Don’t you think he’s a little young?”
Lolo shrugged and looked down at me. “The boy should know where his dinner is coming from. What
do you think, Barry?” I looked at my mother, then turned back to face the man holding the chicken. Lolo
nodded again, and I watched the man set the bird down, pinning it gently under one knee and pulling its
neck out across a narrow gutter. For a moment the bird struggled, beating its wings hard against the
ground, a few feathers dancing up with the wind. Then it grew completely still. The man pulled the blade
across the bird’s neck in a single smooth motion. Blood shot out in a long, crimson ribbon. The man stood
up, holding the bird far away from his body, and suddenly tossed it high into the air. It landed with a thud,
then struggled to its feet, its head lolling grotesquely against its side, its legs pumping wildly in a wide,
wobbly circle. I watched as the circle grew smaller, the blood trickling down to a gurgle, until finally the bird
collapsed, lifeless on the grass.
Lolo rubbed his hand across my head and told me and my mother to go wash up before dinner. The
three of us ate quietly under a dim yellow bulb-chicken stew and rice, and then a dessert of red, hairy-
skinned fruit so sweet at the center that only a stomachache could make me stop. Later, lying alone
beneath a mosquito net canopy, I listened to the crickets chirp under the moonlight and remembered the
last twitch of life that I’d witnessed a few hours before. I could barely believe my good fortune.

“The first thing to remember is how to protect yourself.”
Lolo and I faced off in the backyard. A day earlier, I had shown up at the house with an egg-sized lump
on the side of my head. Lolo had looked up from washing his motorcycle and asked me what had
happened, and I told him about my tussle with an older boy who lived down the road. The boy had run off
with my friend’s soccer ball, I said, in the middle of our game. When I chased after him, the boy picked up a
rock. It wasn’t fair, I said, my voice choking with aggrievement. He had cheated.
Lolo had parted my hair with his fingers and silently examined the wound. “It’s not bleeding,” he said
finally, before returning to his chrome.
I thought that had ended the matter. But when he came home from work the next day, he had with him
two pairs of boxing gloves. They smelled of new leather, the larger pair black, the smaller pair red, the laces
tied together and thrown over his shoulder.
He now finished tying the laces on my gloves and stepped back to examine his handiwork. My hands
dangled at my sides like bulbs at the ends of thin stalks. He shook his head and raised the gloves to cover
my face.
“There. Keep your hands up.” He adjusted my elbows, then crouched into a stance and started to bob.
“You want to keep moving, but always stay low-don’t give them a target. How does that feel?” I nodded,
copying his movements as best I could. After a few minutes, he stopped and held his palm up in front of my
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s see your swing.”
This I could do. I took a step back, wound up, and delivered my best shot. His hand barely wobbled.
“Not bad,” Lolo said. He nodded to himself, his expression unchanged. “Not bad at all. Agh, but look
where your hands are now. What did I tell you? Get them up….”
I raised my arms, throwing soft jabs at Lolo’s palm, glancing up at him every so often and realizing how
familiar his face had become after our two years together, as familiar as the earth on which we stood. It had
taken me less than six months to learn Indonesia’s language, its customs, and its legends. I had survived
chicken pox, measles, and the sting of my teachers’ bamboo switches. The children of farmers, servants,
and low-level bureaucrats had become my best friends, and together we ran the streets morning and night,

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