Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Barack Obama - Dreams from My Father 24

embassy library, I went into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror with all my senses and limbs
seemingly intact, looking as I had always looked, and wondered if something was wrong with me. The
alternative seemed no less frightening-that the adults around me lived in the midst of madness.
The initial flush of anxiety would pass, and I would spend my remaining year in Indonesia much as I
had before. I retained a confidence that was not always justified and an irrepressible talent for mischief. But
my vision had been permanently altered. On the imported television shows that had started running in the
evenings, I began to notice that Cosby never got the girl on I Spy, that the black man on Mission Impossible
spent all his time underground. I noticed that there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas
catalog that Toot and Gramps sent us, and that Santa was a white man.
I kept these observations to myself, deciding that either my mother didn’t see them or she was trying to
protect me and that I shouldn’t expose her efforts as having failed. I still trusted my mother’s love-but I now
faced the prospect that her account of the world, and my father’s place in it, was somehow incomplete.


I T TOOK ME A while to recognize them in the crowd. When the sliding doors first parted, all I could
make out was the blur of smiling, anxious faces tilted over the guardrail. Eventually I spotted a tall, silver-
haired man toward the rear of the crowd, with a short, owlish woman barely visible beside him. The pair
began to wave in my direction, but before I could wave back they disappeared behind frosted glass.
I looked to the front of the line, where a Chinese family seemed to be having some problems with the
customs officials. They had been a lively bunch during the flight from Hong Kong, the father taking off his
shoes and padding up and down the aisles, the children clambering over seats, the mother and
grandmother hoarding pillows and blankets and chattering endlessly to one another. Now the family was
standing absolutely still, trying to will themselves invisible, their eyes silently following the hands that riffled
through their passports and luggage with a menacing calm. The father reminded me of Lolo somehow, and I
looked down at the wooden mask I was carrying in my hand. It was a gift from the Indonesian copilot, a
friend of my mother’s who had led me away as she and Lolo and my new sister, Maya, stood by at the gate.
I closed my eyes and pressed the mask to my face. The wood had a nutty, cinnamon smell, and I felt myself
drifting back across oceans and over the clouds, into the violet horizon, back to the place where I had once
Someone shouted out my name. The mask dropped to my side, and with it my daydream, and I saw
my grandparents again standing there, waving almost frantically now. This time I waved back; and then,
without thinking, I brought the mask again up to my face, swaying my head in an odd little dance. My
grandparents laughed and pointed at me and waved some more until the customs official finally tapped me
on the shoulder and asked me if I was an American. I nodded and handed him my passport.
“Go ahead,” he said, and told the Chinese family to step to one side.
The sliding doors closed behind me. Toot gathered me into a hug and tossed candy-and-chewing-gum
leis around my neck. Gramps threw an arm over my shoulder and said that the mask was a definite
improvement. They took me to the new car they had bought, and Gramps showed me how to operate the
air-conditioning. We drove along the highway, past fast-food restaurants and economy motels and used-car
lots strung with festoons. I told them about the trip and everyone back in Djakarta. Gramps told me what
they’d planned for my welcome-back dinner. Toot suggested that I’d need new clothes for school.
Then, suddenly, the conversation stopped. I realized that I was to live with strangers.
The new arrangement hadn’t sounded so bad when my mother first explained it to me. It was time for
me to attend an American school, she had said; I’d run through all the lessons of my correspondence
course. She said that she and Maya would be joining me in Hawaii very soon-a year, tops-and that she’d try
to make it there for Christmas. She reminded me of what a great time I’d had living with Gramps and Toot
just the previous summer-the ice cream, the cartoons, the days at the beach. “And you won’t have to wake
up at four in the morning,” she said, a point that I found most compelling.
It was only now, as I began to adjust to an indefinite stay and watched my grandparents in the rhythm
of their schedules, that I realized how much the two of them had changed. After my mother and I left, they
had sold the big, rambling house near the university and now rented a small, two-bedroom apartment in a
high-rise on Beretania Street. Gramps had left the furniture business to become a life insurance agent, but
as he was unable to convince himself that people needed what he was selling and was sensitive to

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