published in Firewords Quarterly, Spring 2014
”This is my papa. His name is Abdyl Kreyziu. He was born in Yugoslavia many years ago. This place does not exist anymore. He grew up in a town called Kosovo. This town was not a safe place for my papa. There was much hate for him. Now he lives in my room, watching over me to make sure I am safe. I see you smile, laugh, think, ‘That is a doll, an ugly homemade doll. Why does she show us this? Where is Peter’s snapping turtle again, or Emma’s colorful hermit crabs?’ This is no doll. This is my papa. See how he wears my papa’s shirt, the cuffs trimmed just the way Papa would wear them? See the bright sash of his favorite football club? The woolen socks Grandmamma knit for him? See the wink he wore so often, a trickster who loved to laugh? See his hair, his poor hair that would not stay upon his head? ‘If I cannot have a head of hair,’ he’d say, ‘I’ll make the hair that stays memorable.’ Like a cartoon, he wore his hair, sticking up. My papa.
“Mama says that our soul lives on. In the places we live, in the people we meet, in the clothes we wear, in the objects we touch our soul lives. We live. You may see a girl with garbage, a frightening doll made from a dead man’s clothes. But to me, this is Papa. Not a memory or a doll. My papa. Alive. He was trying to make for us a better place, a safer life. I am here because of my papa. This is my show and tell.”
Blerta walked back to her seat and stowed her papa in her bag. As she watched Carlie discuss the Gucci purse her mother purchased for her in New York, Blerta did not notice the thieving hands of the boy who sat behind her. From her bag to his pocket, her papa made a quick, clandestine journey.
The boy’s boring bus ride home was made more exciting when he wound a kite string around Papa’s neck and flung him out the window. Papa bounced along behind the bus, a tiny acrobat flipping and leaping off the uneven pavement. Whenever the bus stopped, he rested, only to be jerked forward seconds later. The boy’s laughter died after his prisoner was caught under the tire of a car driving too close to the bus. As the bus drove on, Papa tumbled to the curb where he lay amongst cigarette butts and discarded lottery tickets. One of his wool socks had come off, and stuffing escaped from a torn seam.
A curious pigeon picked him up and plopped him on the sidewalk. The bird went about prodding him with its beak and collecting loose threads for its nest. His embroidered eyes proved quite an attraction, but the bird was no match for Blerta’s craftsmanship.
A lycrad woman jogging home saw Blerta’s papa lying prone on the sidewalk, his tiny red sash reflecting glints of sunlight. “Weird,” she remarked as she picked him up. He was damp and caked with grit, and a string hung from his neck. She did not drop him or pitch him in a bin, but brushed him off, wrapped the string around his body, and stowed him in her jacket pocket. Maybe it was the way his eye seemed to wink or the way the sparse, bristly hairs on his linen head stuck straight up; maybe she appreciated the intricately-trimmed cuffs of his dingy sleeves. Perhaps she thought her boyfriend would get a laugh out of it.
The idol of the Albanian patriarch was with the jogger as she and her boyfriend joined the throng at the 4th Street Swap Meet, where people turned their junk into “junque” by sticking price tags to it. Rows of tables over-brimming with baby clothes, toys, books, old tools, and bric a brac. Hagglers glowered over the prices of vintage goods. Vendors displayed signs reading, “Best Deal in Town,” and “Like New.”
The jogger did not realize she was traveling with Blerta’s papa. Once home from her run, she had tossed her jacket in the wash. The distractions of everyday life had seen to it that Papa remained in his synthetic cocoon through spin cycle, tumble dry, and fold.
The boyfriend pointed out the small bulge in her jacket. She held him in her open hand. Only a few hairs remained, and stiches seemed to sprout off of him. His sash had come undone on one side and was dangling like a tag.
“What is that thing?” the boyfriend asked.
“I don’t know. A voodoo doll,” she said, dancing Papa in front of the boyfriend’s face. “It’s cute.”
“It’s creepy,” he replied.
She held on to Papa as they wound their way through displays of old petrol signs, novelty coffee mugs, and wedding dresses that were once white.
“Watch,” she said as she removed a He-Man action figure from a table of toys, pulled off the $5 price tag, and replaced it with the priceless protector of a 10-year-old girl whose father had been killed fleeing his home. “Think they’ll notice?”
In the room she shared with her two brothers, bent over a desk, Blerta Kreyziu pieced together a replacement father—gabardine and polyester, wool and cotton, tiny stiches and delicate embroidery. She lifted him to her nose and imagined she smelled the sweat and smoke that had clung to her with each embrace. “Papa,” she cooed. “My Papa.”
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