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  • The Age of Migration
  • Kai Maristed (bio)

Charley sponges off the dinner dishes—hers and Karim's, the girl's, the Goat's—then slots them one by one into the rack to drip. All the while staring straight ahead through her reflection into the night. Despite the heat, unusual for Paris in late October, she keeps the windows latched against police sirens and Maghrebi rap and air pollution: level orange again. But there's no defense against the soccer match blaring from the next room where Karim and his pal are smoking Turkish tobacco and drinking mint tea.

"Are you trying to wake up the kids?" she says, passing through the murky salon toward the bedroom. "If not, could you turn it down some?"

Karim flashes her his 100-watt smile, white teeth set off by the glossy frame of a new black beard, eyes crinkling with sympathy. Otherwise, he doesn't budge. Probably he didn't hear her.

In the bedroom, Charley navigates by city glow, the soft aura of traffic lights and illumination from high-rises surrounding this one.

Bracing her arms on either side of the crib, she leans down to inhale the warm bread-and-oil scent of Sami's head. Her mouth ajar to savor more deeply, as cats do. Nothing in the world smells as wonderful as her ten-month-old boy. "Here's how you'll grow up in this ghetto of Seine-Saint-Denis, little one." It's an exhaled thought, an inverted benediction, less than a whisper. "You'll dump the useless school and learn to deal drugs. You'll prey on girls. You'll get hauled up in court and released the same day. You'll look at me with the same blank eyes as the dropouts who watch us down in the streets. You'll be out of my reach."

On a floor mattress to the left of the parents' bed lies Rachida, Karim's six-year-old niece, curled into a question mark. From their first meeting, Charley has tried to fill the empty place in Rachida's motherless heart.

She holds her breath to hear theirs. Rachida, dreaming, emits snorts and starts, while the baby's sighs arrive almost imperceptibly, like lapping waves. [End Page 91]


Maiwenn lifted Charley's hand in hers, to peel open the clenched fingers. Maiwenn's nails were manicured, Charley's jagged. She has never comprehended manicures.

"You're not an egotist, chérie. You are the opposite. You'll be rescuing them. It will take courage for a little time. OK. But afterward comes the rest of your life. And theirs!"

"But Rachida's not even my own—"

"No. But Dennis promised to arrange for her too. Didn't he?"

"Um." Charley looked away, past her baby carriage to the tree-studded cliffs of the Buttes Chaumont park. A miniature Alpine wilderness on the outskirts of the city, only a twenty-minute bus ride from her gritty, concrete neighborhood. Hard to believe it had become the HQ of fundamentalist terrorists, but that's what one heard, and not only on the internet.

Maiwenn clasped Charley's hand. "Dennis is an American. And an attorney. He has an air like Clooney, no? OK, laugh! Little idiot, he would die for you! Doesn't the man realize he could have any chick in Paris? Maybe he's an idiot too. But if you don't believe Dennis—"


Charley lifts the scarf from the bureau and drapes it around her head as best she can, as the Goat himself insisted on teaching her, right after Karim brought it home. She fumbles with the pins and the slithery cloth, afraid of waking one of the children.

Pulling the bedroom door shut, she announces, "I have to go down. We're almost out of diapers. I'll be quick." Go down: fourteen stories to the Proxi market. If the elevator is working.

The Goat says, "Come here so I can fix that hijab. You actually look ridiculous."

The Goat is in his forties, green-eyed with a wispy grizzled beard. He is only a self-proclaimed theologian, not a real imam. His visits...


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pp. 91-104
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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