A Nice Boy
By Raffi Boyadjian
“Oops! So sorry.” The tall, thin man wearing a brown hat crashed into me in the crowded airport; spilling me, my comic books and my colored pencils across the floor. My chin throbbed from smashing it on the hard floor. “Are you ok, son?”
I didn’t understand a word he said as he lifted me off the floor by my arm and then picked up my books and pencils. His voice had a lilt to it, like a glissando. I liked the way it sounded, but I just stared up at him with a blank expression, noticing his moist blue eyes under his arched eyebrows. He reminded me of Opa. I already missed him.
“Are you ok?”
He stood there looking at me. I started to worry that he was angry, even though his expression belied that. I dared not rub my aching chin, lest it set him off. He looked at my comic books and noticed that they weren’t in English.
“Ah. German?” He pointed at me. “Dootch?”
I nodded as my mother returned from the luggage carousel with our suitcases. I ran up to her and grabbed her hand. He handed my things to my mother and apologized.
“I’m afraid I knocked your son over. I’m very sorry.”
My mother answered in halting English.
“No problem. He iz ok.”
The man pulled a dollar out of his pocket and crouched down to my height to hand it to me. I looked at the strange bill in my hand.
“Zay sank you.”
I looked up at my mother, not understanding the instruction. “Sag danke,” she said.
“Danke,” I said.
“You’re welcome, son.” He patted my head, stood up and then rushed off, waving over his shoulder. “Welcome to New York.”
I rubbed my chin as I examined the bill. It was green, white, and warm. I held it against my cheek. It smelled musty. My mother grabbed the suitcases and headed down the corridor to join my father, brother, and sister in the customs office.
“Komm schon, kindchen,” she said.
I caught up with her, trying to avoid the swinging suitcases while I hopped and ran to keep pace.
We entered a square office that still had Christmas decorations up. There was a small silver aluminum tree with large blinking lights on top of a tall grey file cabinet. Two red paper bells in opposite corners and a long gold garland connecting them framed the otherwise bare far wall. The man talking to my father reminded me of the Great Leslie’s bald sidekick in “The Great Race.” I watched the movie with my uncles and aunts at my grandmother’s house in Höchst, the week before we left. I laughed until tears rolled down my face. Especially during the pie throwing scene. Unlike Hezekiah, though, this man had thinning blonde hair on top of his giant head with thick blond and grey sideburns connecting to his bushy mustache.
My father motioned to my mother. “Heer ees.”
My mother took over answering questions and signing paperwork, while my father dealt with my fidgeting infant sister who’d just awoken and started crying. My brother stood next to his chair, with his arms wrapped around my father’s legs.
“What is the nature of your visit?” The blond man asked.
“Ve arr nut visiteeng. Ve arr leeveeng heer.”
“No. Ve arr komming heer.”
“You’re returning from a trip?”
“Nein, ach… no. Ve hov movet heer.”
“Oh. You’re moving here?”
“Hmm. Customs gave me the wrong information.”
He then ripped up the forms my mother had been signing and pulled new ones out of his desk.
My father frowned at her. “Was ist loss?”
My mother shushed him.
“Here we are… Do you have your visas?”
“Ja.” She handed over our visas.
He held up my mother’s and father’s while checking their faces against the pictures.
“This man is your husband?”
“How long have you been married?”
He bent his head forward to fill in the information on the forms. The blonde fuzz on top of his head looked like the fuzz on top of my sister’s head.
“These are your children?”
He held up our visas and checked our faces against the pictures.
“How old are they?”
“Von yea oold, feif yeaz oold und zex yeaz oold.”
He winked at me as he handed the visas back to my mother. I clutched my comics closer to my chest. My mother stroked my hair and whispered that I should tell the man what she taught me in Germany. I shook my head. “Bitte,” she said.
“I EM eh NAYSE BOYee.” My cheeks burned red hot. I must have sounded like Bela Lugosi; emphasizing over every syllable as if the inflection carried the meaning. My mother beamed at me, her bilingual son.
“I’m sure you are, kid.” He handed me a candy from a drawer in his desk. I put it in my mouth, but then spat it out. Butterscotch. What a cruel trick. My father smacked the back of my head as my mother distracted the man by asking a question.
My head hurt. Not merely from the smack, nor the fall to the floor. The unfamiliarity of everything overwhelmed me, and I was terrified. The bright lights made my temples throb and my eyes burn. The cacophony of beeping trams and rolling luggage and shouting travelers and stern announcements over intercoms – I wanted to go home. I missed my uncles and aunts and Oma and Opa. I missed my friends. How was I going to make friends here when I couldn’t understand anyone? Everybody talked like they were chewing gum. Ngow, ngow, ngow. I bit my lip to keep from crying. I failed, which set my sister off again. Which angered my father. My mother snatched my sister from him and balanced her on her knee as she sealed our fate with a flourish of her right hand. She slid the forms over to my father so he could do the same. It was right then, with those signatures, that I realized that my parents wouldn’t look out for me. The packing, the goodbyes, even the flight over – it all seemed reversible, but this action was as indelible as the ink. The epiphany made me sob; and now, my brother joined in, making it a trio.
“Verdammt noch mal!”
My father picked up my crying brother and yanked me hard, towards the door. My mother apologized to the man as he handed back our visas.
“Dey arr verry teyered.”
He nodded. The door closed. My father, brother and I stood in the bright hallway. I could still hear my sister cry over my wailing. It sounded like she was being rocked: “Aa-yaa-yaa.” My father jerked my arm. He glowered down at me. I stopped crying immediately; though my shoulders still convulsed as I sniffled.
My brother stopped crying as well; knowing that it was the prudent thing to do. My father sighed angrily and lit a cigarette. He ran his hands through his hair as it dangled between his lips. It burned down to the filter before the door opened again and my mother came out with my sister. She’d stopped crying and was sucking her thumb.
“Welcome to the United States.”
“Sank you verry match.”
My mother ignored my father’s question. Instead, she handed him the paperwork along with my sister. She picked up my brother. I took her hand as we headed down the long hallway towards our connecting flight to our new life. I looked up at her. She was crying.
-Ciel Qi was born in Xining, China. She studied at Soochow University and U.C. Berkeley, and currently lives in the greater Shanghai area.
Raffi Boyadjian was born in Frankfurt, Germany and lives in Los Angeles. He’s a graphic designer by trade and a short story writer and musician by heart.
Art by C. O’Connor.