Eavesdropping in the East

In the museum, the woman sitting next to me is sobbing, shoulders hunched, hands fumbling. Confusion clogs her voice when she tells her companion of children vanishing from school. When the wall came down, she says, we found devices in our phones and fittings. We never knew, we never knew. They, on the other hand, could tell you where you went, what you said when you arrived. I’ll not request my file now, she says, for fear of finding out.

Eating Chinese, I share a bench with a man who chats, chats, chats to his grandson across the table. He has glasses and white hair, a velvet coat. The waitress knows his order off by heart. You did well choosing English at school, he says, and what do they teach you in computer science. What level have you reached in that game by now, and did you have to pay for it. Hands over his phone and says, I don’t use this app, can you delete it for me.

And then, I guess, there must have been a time when I sat on a bench next to you. In your kitchen, it would have been, where you wrote your letters home. Did my last parcel arrive, did the coat and shoes fit, how high is the grain now in the fields. I wasn’t your grandchild at all, but didn’t know. Didn’t know of the distance you had travelled, of the country you couldn’t return to. Didn’t yet know of the unyield unforgive unforget of borders.

For a long time didn’t know either how you died. Knew only that you spoke funny, that your name was foreign, that my father loved you.