Thursday, April 27, 2006

A song isn’t just a song when it’s attached to a story.

People didn’t think of that when the first exiles arrived. They didn’t have much with them – didn’t have time to get anything together. We’d heard stories of how rich they were. How much money they spent on things they didn’t even need. “They’re fat and lazy,” my brother-in-law said once, “and they don’t even work for it.”

They definitely worked hard when they got to the city. Within the first two days, one family had a fruit stand up and running. I found out later that my aunt helped them find an old farmer to work with, a guy who needed help getting to the city and back. For the wage they got, they were doing him a favor.

I stopped by the fruit stand that first morning on the way to work. Bought an orange. Two things I’ll always remember about that first time I talked to them: one, the look on the mother’s face. I looked her in the eye as she handed me my change, and I could tell that she had been crying. But she smiled at me all the same, and wished me a good day.

Second, they were playing the radio.

Seemed like every time I went by a group of exiles, the radio was going. Our stations played their music a lot. It was more popular then than it is now. So they listened constantly. It’s like they drank it in, like they needed it. Once I saw an exile kid wearing these little headphones, and trying to hide something in his pocket, but he kept fiddling with it. It was one of those little pocket radios, an MP3. One of the guys from my work saw him and asked him what he had, and he took off.

I was walking back from work two weeks after the first exiles arrived, and the younger sister was running the fruit stand. Little brother was unloading crates of berries from the old farmer’s truck. She looked at me when I walked up, and tried to smile, but then, out of nowhere, she just broke down and started weeping. Mom rushed out and tried to calm her down, and then she was crying too. And then I realize, the song was playing on the radio.

I’d seen it happen before. That stupid song comes on, the one with the whiny girl singing about how bad she wants some guy back, the one with the thumpy bass and the annoying synth noises, and the exiles just break down. They can’t handle it. We made fun of them for it.

I had to know. “What is it,” I asked, “about that song?”

They both looked at me, for a moment, like they were going to come across the counter and strangle me. Then they realized that I just didn’t know. Mom put her arm around her daughter and looked me in the eye. Her voice was steady enough that I could understand her through her accent.

She said, “That song was playing when the city fell.”

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