6 October 2008

Burik arrives in America

It is axiomatic for American neo-cons that the US is God’s own country; and that if only they could exculpate liberalism, social welfare and atheism, as well as remoulding the rest of the world in their own image, they could create heaven on earth. On the web it was always possible to run into these New World zealots, and in reply on one such website I wrote the story below in response to their vacuous moralising and historical distortions.

The ten-year-old Burik is a refugee arriving with Ma and Pa on US soil for the first time. In a world, blending hope with despair, the family are about to alight from some anonymous ship on a drizzly nineteenth century morning. Imagine Burik as a child version of the ‘good soldier Svejk’ with the peaked cap, trench coat and the face of the fool attempting to understand what is beyond him. He feels painfully strongly about everything, but can express nothing. The ship is now approaching New York. Burik with his mother and father had occupied a place under the stairs leading to the third class cabins on the transatlantic steamer. It is dawn and the first rays of sunlight are falling on the boat.

“Now, Ma,” said his father, “Lets take young Burik here up on deck, so his young eyes will fall on the land of the free.”

“Yes, dear” she replied obediently. For to tell the truth she had little idea of what America was or why indeed they were going there.

Stepping over many still sleeping bodies they made their way to the deck. Brilliant sunlight now reflected from the towering statue of liberty. Young Burik’s eyes widened in awe. Suddenly his father lifted him aloft.

“Son, my dearest son, breathe the air of freedom, like you have never taken air before.”

Burik started to cough in the morning cold.

As the boat approached the dock the passengers rushed to deck, Burik and his family among them.

“In a few minutes, son, you’ll be stepping onto the soil of freedom itself” said his father gazing over the New York skyline.

The mass of impatient passengers were huddled together in a group but were prevented from disembarking by uniformed crew while the first class passengers were escorted to the gangplank. Burik’s eyes widened as he watched four Negroes carry an elderly corpulent Jewess down the gangplank on a sedan chair.

Burik grew restless in the crowd, so he pulled an onion from his pocket and bit into it as he looked around. His eyes rested on the many ponies on the dock pulling wares just offloaded from ships. He tried not to breathe as waves of vile stench floated through the air. Peering over the deck rails Burik could see any number of dead animals floating in the water between the dock and the ship. The rotting carcass of a dead horse had become the focus of the attention of rats which balanced precariously on the rotting flesh.

“Now son,” said his father grasping his hand, “hold your head up high as you step onto American soil.” Father and son moved off first and mother came behind carrying their one sack of worldly belongings.

“Just look where you’re putting your feet, darling” she begged her son as they negotiated the clumps of manure on the quay. Twenty metres from the boat they stopped to take their bearings.

The family stood for a few minutes taking in the new environment around them. A fine drizzle had set in and Burik began to shiver. At the edge of the quay was a small soap shop. “Mr Oscar’s Soap”

“Let us just relish for a few minutes being in the land of the free,” said Burik’s father patting his son’s head.

“I don’t know about that,’ said his mother, “I think Burik needs the bathroom quite urgently.”

Burik pushed to hold it back. The working ponies on the quay had left piles everywhere and a few metres away a group of chained prisoners were relieving themselves in the open. On the other side an elderly man held a coat while his wife defecated behind it.

The door of “Mr Oscar’s Soap” opened and the proprietor emerged. He was small fat man in a black suit with an untidy red beard. He chewed on an unlit cigar, “What do you want, you dirty scum?’ Burik moved closer to his mother.

“We’ve come to be part of the American dream,” his father replied, “ any chance of a job to get us started?”

Mr Oscar spat. “I’ll give you a penny to clear the shit from in front of the shop.” He tossed a cent onto the ground in front of Burik’s father. His father picked up the penny, went down onto his hands and knees and started to pick up the droppings.

Burik looked at his father in wonder. He felt more excited than he had ever done in life and blood raced through his veins. For what he was looking at was the most beautiful thing he had seen in his life: the contract of employment, free labour. America was beautiful.

His father worked hard, so after a couple of hours the whole area around Mr Oscar’s shop was clear. “Well, that’s a job well done,” said his father with satisfaction, wiping his hands under his armpits. “This, son, is the American dream. Let me tell you my dream, Burik. One day you will go to school wearing silk stockings and nobody can take that dream away from us. Isn’t that right, Ma?”

Ma looked worried. “I don’t know about silk stockings, but Burik urgently needs the men’s room.”

Burik looked uncomfortable. “It’s too late, Ma. I had the runs. I just couldn’t hold it back. It’s down my legs and everywhere.”

Pa looked severe. “Couldn’t you hold it back, son? I hope it really was an accident and you weren’t giving yourself an auto-erotic experience.”

Burik stared at the ground. Ma looked around for the family sack which contained a spare pair of pants for Burik. She let out a cry; their sack which she had put down behind her had been stolen. They were in America and had nothing save one cent.


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