Dinaw Mengestu

The beautiful things that heaven bears

He hangs up abruptly then. This is what he believes men in power can do. They can dismiss with a wave of the hand and never think twice about it. There are those who wake each morning ready to conquer the day, and there are those of us who wake only because we have to. We live in the shadows of every neighborhood. We own corner stores, live in run-down apartments that get too little light, and walk the same streets day after day. We spend our afternoons gazing lazily out of windows. Somnambulists, all of us. Someone else said it better: we wake to sleep and sleep to wake. (35)

Here we were, an older man and a girl young enough to be the man's daughter, sitting in a store on a winter morning, reading a novel together. I tried not to notice too much, to simply just life, but that was impossible. Every time I looked at her I became aware of just how seemingly perfect this time was. I thought about how years from now I would remember this with a crushing, heartbreaking nostalgia, because of course I knew even then that I would eventually find myself standing here alone. And just as that knowledge would threaten to destroy the scene, Naomi would do something small, like turn the page too early or shift in her chair, and I would be happy once again. (103)

Either I left to create a new life of my own, one free from the restraints and limits of culture, or I turned my back on everything I was and that had made me. (117)

It wasn't enough to be comfortable with silence. In order to truly understand it, you had to welcome it and invite it into your life. (217)

I was dressed entirely in white. I had on white pants, worn with a white shirt that had a crucifix embroidered down the middle, over which I wore a finely woven shroud of white cotton. It was an outfit that meant nothing here, stripped as it was of all context. (18)

Left alone behind the counter, I was hit was the sudden terrible and frightening realization that everything I had cared for and loved was either lost or living without me seven thousand miles away, and that what I had here was not a life, but a poorly constructed substitution made up of one uncle, two friends, a grim store, and a cheap apartment. (40)

We forget who we are and where we came from, and in doing so, believe we are entitled to much more than we deserve. (44)

I don't think he ever actually intended for them to become heirlooms. They were just cheap cuff links from an old, decaying regime, but you hold on to what you can and hope the meaning comes later. (50)

Suddenly I saw myself twenty years in the future saying the same thing over and over to students who stayed the same age, and I couldn't believe that this was what I had planned on. It's hard sometimes to remember why we do anything in the first place. It's nice to think there's a purpose, or even a real decision that turns everything in one direction, but that's not always true, is it? We just fall into our lives. (55)

I'm not sure who else my uncle could have spoken to about such things when he first came here. There was no one who could bear to hear his story about what he had lost and suffered. He was surrounded by other war-torn refugees, none of whom had achieved any measure of peace with their own past. (123)