Sejour

By K. Eltinaé

At the Khartoum International Airport, I dashed through the five gates. Handing over a different card at each gate only to watch it get snapped and tossed by a guard before granting me access to the next gate.

 

When I reached the final gate, I hugged my sister and the tears began to pour, my mother refused to cry. Instead she repeated advice and reminders, like she was reading a list to herself at the supermarket. I secretly hoped my father would have a last-minute change of heart, and see me off but he hadn’t. I watched his brooding face for weeks, sensed the fear in his eyes as he watched me pack my suitcase, emptying my wardrobe and shelves of the traces of my life, which somehow also anchored his.

*

On the TGV bound to Strasbourg, I listened as children whined and fidgeted, their mothers smiled at each other, as they held their children’s hands on their way back and forth to the bathrooms. These children parachuted ahead of them with a freedom I had searched for my entire life, but never found.

 

I watched the fast-moving scenery, moved my numb feet, rubbing one against the other reminding them of their company. Each foot embraced the other like they had survived through a crisis, they bonded over memories of steps taken together, realizing how unbalanced they’d become in separation.

*

Every afternoon when I returned from classes or the cafés, I would pause before my mailbox, awaiting some great letter or package that would change the way I felt about the world. It was usually stuffed with advertisements, student offers, discounted prices on items I didn’t care for. Inside I found a card addressed to me in neat block letters, with a scheduled rendezvous at the student’s health office.

 

In the reception, the nurse chit-chatted checking things off of a list she kept out my periphery. I counted tiles in the ceilings, listened to the noisy reception telephone as it rang, watching other international students being ushered like dinner guests into the differing nurse stations. A door swung open; a young doctor appeared mispronouncing my name.

 

I smiled and followed him into his office.

 

—I’d like to listen to your heart, can you lie back on this table—

He unbuttoned my shirt, slid a cold stethoscope to my chest.

Waiting and listening, the way I did at the metro station to know whether the digital signs were precise or half a second off.

—Can you please undress, I’d like to examine you, —

—When was this done? — he stuttered, flipping through the paperwork as if he had missed something.

He picked up a telephone, called another doctor into the room; surrounded me like children around a volcano, pressing down on my scars awaiting some kind of chemical reaction.

—How did this happen? — They ask interrupting one another.

I close my eyes, hear the sound of my child body being dragged against the carpet of my bedroom floor.

 

I am photographed; they are not flattering. I wonder about those photos sometimes, hidden away in the medical records of international students. Think of the smudges they will collect from the secretary who sneaks them out of the office during her lunch hour, to share with a girlfriend or lover, who will shake their head at the flat body and the scars that melt. When I am dressed, they wish me a pleasant sejour in France, imagining life will be much better than anywhere I’ve come from.

K. Eltinaé is a Sudanese poet of Nubian descent. His work has appeared in Baphash Literary & Arts Quarterly, New Contrast, The African American Review, Algebra of Owls, NILVX, Illya's Honey, Ink in Thirds, Elsewhere Literary Journal, Peeking Cat Magazine, The Ofi Press, The Elephants, Poetic Diversity, Chanterelle’s Notebook, and Poetry Pages: A Collection of Voices from Around the World Volume IV. He is the editor of "21", a Poetry Magazine. He currently resides in Granada, Spain. You can read more of his work at k-eltinae.com.

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