Fifteen Lakota Visitors by Taqralik Partridge
2018 CBC Short Story Prize shortlist
Taqralik Partridge made the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize shortlist for Fifteen Lakota Visitors.
You can read Fifteen Lakota Visitors below.
Warning: This story contains difficult subject matter.
I can't do anaq anymore. Which I guess isn't so bad. It's been a while anyway that I can't eat. I'm not really hungry, even though the vomiting is over. If I wake and my anaana gets that look on her face, then the nurse comes in and pushes something and it must be that I go back to sleep. It's hard to tell.
I do know thirst though. Why can't they understand that I want something to drink. Doesn't have to be pop. Just water will do.
I don't blame my anaana. She just looks tired all the time.
My anaana always used to talk about her sister in Mobridge. Standing Rock Lakota lady. I only got to understand this meant she was an Indian when I got to grade five and there was a part in a book about "Les autochtones de l'Amerique du nord". Far as I know, my anaana is only an Inuk. Far as I know, my auntie in Mobridge that I never met is only an Indian. But my mom said they were real sisters. And this explains why they still love each other, even though they never seen each other in so many years. Me too. I love my auntie, even though I never met her.
I guess now I won't ever meet her.
My auntie in Mobridge knows how to pray. That's what my anaana says. She called that auntie up when I got sick, said for her to pray really hard. But even that didn't help.
Not 'til now anyways.
First we were at the Children's. This was at the end of Grade 5. I was really tired all the time. Then I broke my arm, and then the doctor sent me for X-rays, and needles, and waiting all day in the waiting room with nothing but chips to eat.
I got my own room in the Children's.
My anaana stayed up all night even though she shoulda gone home to be with Maiku.
My anaana on the floor, crying, saying please, let it be me.
Thank God it's not her. Maiku needs her. Nobody can love a baby like my anaana.
I know I'm gonna die. I'm not a baby. I'm not scared about it at all.
Well, only a little bit scared when I see my anaana do stuff like that.
This is where we came after the Children's. Even my anaana gets a bed here. Even Maiku gets to sleep here some nights. I think it's night when he sleeps here. But you know what, I don't really know about the night and the day anymore. Just hurting and not hurting. And thirst.
My Lakota auntie's prayers musta just kicked in when we got to this new place. Musta been her that asked all those people to come here, just for me.
On the first morning, I woke up and they were here: 15 Lakotas, all in my room — men and women — all with thick black braids over their shoulders or down their backs — all wearing T-shirts and jeans and wide leather boots.
Good thing it's a big room and the people here are nice. But those Lakotas aren't too loud anyway, even when they're laughing. They're always laughing.
I dunno, maybe they're kinda loud, but it's a good kind of loud.
They didn't even wake my anaana though. Just Maiku was playing with one of them in the corner; they were making a Lego tower. Maiku is almost two and he can make anyone tired. But that Lakota man, I think he must be a father. He just plays and plays whatever Maiku wants.
Next time I woke, it was just one of them in here — the old lady. She's short. The rest of them are just tall. If my anaana wasn't so sad and tired, I think she woulda said some of those men are iniqunaq. The old lady though, she's short and covered in scars. I guess that makes her ugly. She has scars everywhere, even on her ears and her fingers. It's pretty even all over her body, which makes it look kinda not so bad. Her, too, she's always laughing.
My anaana was out of the room so I asked the old lady if I could have some water.
Guess what? She speaks Inuktitut! Even though I know she's a Lakota.
She told me in Inuktitut that I could call her granny.
After she gave me water I felt so much better — almost like I could sit up.
I asked her where's everyone else.
"Outside, around." I think I understood this meant they were standing in a circle around this place, but I couldn't even see one of them out the window. It sounded like singing coming from somewhere.
How come you Lakotas are always laughing in here, is what I asked her next. Mostly everybody is sad here.
"Oh, that's because we've seen everything."
I dunno what she means by everything.
I asked her am I still dying.
"Dying?" she said this in such a funny way, with a smile on her face, but I was getting too sleepy to really be embarrassed that I had asked.
Last night I woke up a few times, even though no one noticed. Musta been all the Lakotas were standing outside in the circle, even the old lady. I hardly hurt at all. First time, my anaana and Maiku were in bed with me. My anaana's hair smells so good. How could someone smell that good?
Second time, Maiku musta been brought home because my anaana was alone on the armchair trying not to cry too loud. It was like she was having a hard time breathing, and even though I been feeling so much better, I couldn't get up to help her.
Lucky one of those Lakotas came in. I think it was the same one that played Legos with my little brother. He went over to my mom and just leaned over and hugged her without saying anything. He's so tall it's like he was a tree curved over her little Inuk body. He just kept standing there like that even after she calmed down.
Now it's gonna be morning soon. I can tell even though it's still dark out, because the grass is wet. I am walking on the grass. I want to look at the river. My anaana says it's good to be by the water, even if it's dirty. But you know what, this morning the river looks so clear, I feel like I can see the fish swimming right down to the bottom.
I think I will take a drink.
Now I am walking back up. I don't want my anaana to worry.
When the girl gets to the top of the bank, where the palliative care centre is situated with a view over the Kaniatarowanenneh river, she will find that the 15 Lakota visitors — men and women — all with black braids, all in jeans and T-shirts and wide leather boots — are waiting for her. The old granny will come forward, covered in scars, and the girl will realise that the scars are the everything that the old woman was talking about. And she will also begin to see that the scars are not, in fact, scars, but little windows — through which something is shining.
The girl will walk up to the old granny, and she will hear the old granny say that it is time to go. And for an immeasurable moment between when the granny speaks and when the girl asks where are we going, she will travel a million miles between grief (for her mother) and fear (for brother) and anger (for herself) and regret (for everything),
Then, in response to the girl's question, the granny will hold up her hand with the fingers and thumb curled into a circle and she will put this hand up to the girl's eye.
And next, the girl will look through the small hole between the old woman's fingers. And whatever it is that she sees — whatever you or I cannot imagine — it pulls her so strongly and so sweetly that her toes and her knees are fighting with her hair and her elbows and the rest of her to move through the space between the old woman's fingers.
And finally, the 15 Lakota visitors will pack up their things, if they brought any things with them, and they will go.
Read the other finalists:
- Scale of Comfort by J. Livingston
- Lipstick Day by Leah Mol
- Strawberries by Terri Monture
- Green by Ayelet Tsabari
About Taqralik Partridge:
Taqralik Partridge is a writer and performance poet originally from Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, and currently living in Kautokeino, northern Norway.