Thursday, June 18, 2009


Last night I went to the sixth-grade graduation of a friend's son and got to see a bunch of kids with great American names like Nguyen, Eguez, Mahmoodi, Wu, Singh and Yoon parade across a makeshift stage and sing Time of My Life.

I've known the boy since he was four years old. Yesterday, he was the shortest in his class, a straight-A student and a ferocious pee-wee football player. He wasn't thrilled with the ceremonies, threatened not to sing until his father put him right. He scooted across the stage twice and got a medal on a tricolor ribbon, a certificate, a paperback dictionary and vocabulary builder, and a DVD of the school year's highlights. He wore a brand new shirt he didn't like and gym socks with his dress black shoes. He was embarrassed that his father whooped and hollered, really couldn't understand what the hoopla was about. After all, everybody graduates from elementary school.

His parents are no longer together but finally talking to each other in an adult manner, which was good to see, and the gym was filled with their peers--men and women in their 30s and 40s wielding video cameras, putting aside differences for one evening devoted to their kids.

Because, it turned out, a lot of them were divorced or living apart. There were single parents, women who came with their best girlfriends, guys who took off their baseball caps during the Pledge of Allegiance and quickly put them back on after. The foreign-born fathers wore suits and ties. The Americans didn't. After the diplomas were handed out, they all milled about self-consciously in the school's hallways eating popcorn while the kids in their Sunday best tried and failed to look bored. They'd be going to junior high next year and the concept was scary.

I've never had children (it's a long story) and after my first wife had a life threatening miscarriage, I got a vasectomy.

Most of the time I don't regret it. I've always been afraid my genes would yield another generation of cancer-ridden alcoholics and dope addicts, and we do not need more people like that in the world. But yesterday, for an hour or two, I regretted that long-ago decision. All the women I've been seriously involved with had children from earlier relationships, and I took joy from the kids, drove them to and from school, attended PTA meetings, taught them some rudimentary French. I've been to more graduations than I can remember, and if I make no claim to being anyone's biological father, I can say I learned a lot from my dealings with small and not so small children. There's a love there not to be found anywhere else, and it is, in a word, wonderful.

I have a friend whose children I used to see briefly once or twice a week, they'd come over to my house and pass muster on an old guys' toys. That was fun and I miss it...

Here's installment 100 of Wasted Miracles.

Chapter 24

“I am not quite sure that I’m satisfied with your answers, Mr. Okwuike. May I call you Comfort? Of course I can. At this point, I can do virtually anything I want!” The man smiled as if he found the statement amusing.

Comfort breathed through his mouth. He thought his nose might be broken but wasn’t certain.

“Good. Let’s begin again.”

The Nigerian State Police officer was a bulky man with café-au-lait skin. He had removed his Armani jacket, unbuttoned the top of his white Caleche shirt and rolled up his sleeves. He had big hands and two pinkie rings, one set with a diamond, the other with a ruby, and a heavy silver and gold watch on his left wrist.

There was one chair, one table, one lightbulb, no windows, a bucket of water on the floor. The NSP officer occupied the chair. His elbows rested on the table. Between his elbows was a child’s ruled school notebook and a Lacrosse pen. The room was blindingly hot. Comfort was naked and tied ankles and wrists to four iron rings set in the wall. Two wire leads ran from his limp penis and testicles to an old-fashioned crank generator the man held in his lap.

Both of Comfort’s thumbs were broken and his hands had swollen so they looked like winter mittens. One of his eyes was closed, the lid bruised and bleeding.

“We shall begin again.” The policeman seemed to ponder a moment, then gave the generator’s crank a vicious turn. Comfort jumped, moaned.

“My god, that looks painful.” the officer said. “Personally, I don’t think I could take it.” He turned the crank two more times. The shocks made Comfort whimper.

“Now that I have your attention, let me say that you may be Comfort, but my middle name could be Patience. I have all day, Mr. Okwuike. As a matter of fact, I have all week. I’m on leave, you see. The government gives me twenty days a year. I have spent two of those days finding you, which was longer than I anticipated. I would prefer not to spend any additional vacation time in such a hostile environment, but if is to be, Insh’ Allah.

He sighed, turned the crank. “You know,” he said, “your case is positively unusual. People pay me vast amounts of cash so I might help them leave Nigeria, and you come into the country with an extraordinary sum of money—American dollars, no less—strapped to your body. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anything quite like it.”

Comfort’s speech was blurred by his thickened tongue. He said, “I’ve told you everything.”

“And I do not believe you, which puts us in a quandary. So we begin again. You’re name is?

Comfort’s breath rattled in his throat. “You know my name.”

A turn of the crank made his back arch.

“Your name is...”

“Comfort Okwuike.”

“And you came from...”

“The United States. Washington.”


Comfort hesitated. The man’s hand pressed lightly on the crank.

“With $136,000.”

“Good,” said the man. He stood, took a cupful of water from the bucket and threw it in Comfort’s face. Comfort tried to catch some with his tongue, got a few drops.

“The $136,000—which, incidentally, is contraband. We have strict laws in Nigeria about that—came from the sale of...”

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