LET US PRAY

He is a thief, my father. That’s what they say to me, wagging their straight fingers so I know it is a bad thing that he did; shaking their heads to make me feel that somehow it is my fault and I should feel ashamed; saying it over and over in case I should forget.

But there is no forgetting: they cut off his hands, my father’s two arms stopping at the wrists, the skin puckered and shiny now that the wounds have healed. And all the diamonds in the world are safe now from his unstuck sticky fingers. And he does not forget, and I cannot.

He is a thief, my father; but no more than every one of them. For the land that they rip up and leave spoiled, they stole that. They stole it from people like my grandfather, stole it from under his very feet, though he lived there for so long that his hut was a part of the landscape in old photographs showing my grandfather as a boy with a bright-toothed smile. And now my grandfather buried in another place, because his land was stole from him.

And from the land that is not theirs they sluice out gold and dig up rough diamonds, and they take them away. Behind, they leave a river too poisoned to drink from, and clean water a long journey from here; something else stolen. And my brother stolen too, drinking from the river until he was too sick to walk and my father stealing one of their diamonds so he could take my brother to a doctor. Only he was caught and his hands taken from him, and my brother will lie in a small hole next to my grandfather today.

And my hands stole too, having to do everyday what my father cannot. I button his clean white shirt this morning. I knot his black tie and fasten the buttons on his trousers. I brush his hair and wipe the tears from his eyes. And I put my hands together so that he can pray: my father, the thief.