Book One in the CUSA series
(C) 2017 Adam Cole
Published by Nuncici Press, an imprint of Adam Cole Works LLC
They all got off the bus and moved a little ways into the woods. Someone took Chassis’ gun and gave it to the one-eyed woman to carry. They left the dead bodies on the bus where the animals wouldn’t get to them. Mamma Kwang didn’t want to leave Samoae, but she finally came off, sniffing, holding tight to the little maimed doll instead. “I’ll tell, I’ll tell,” the doll protested from under the fleshy part of her arm.
It was much colder out in the woods than on the bus, but at least the bugs weren’t too bad. Everyone hunkered down in a big circle and just sat still, not knowing what else to do. The moonlight was blocked by the branches of the trees, so they couldn’t make out anything more than the shapes of each others’ bodies.
Rosa’s Mamma and Mr. Kwang carried her Daddy to a flat spot and laid him down. They had wrapped him up in a blanket, but he was still moaning a little, complaining of the cold. When Rosa tried to talk to him, Mamma said to leave him alone. Suddenly angry, Rosa moved as far away from her Mamma as she could.
That put her next to Firoz. She had forgotten all about him. Through all the shooting, he had just been in the back of the bus, not moving. Rosa didn’t even think he had gotten down when the guns went off. He had just sat there like it was part of the ride. The only reason he got off the bus with everyone else was because Old Lady Kwang had spent the time to try and explain to him what was going on. Rosa didn’t know if the addict had even understood. But he had gotten up and followed.
They sat in the dark. At first no one said anything. Then, after a while people began speaking quietly. Mrs. Kwang asked if anyone was coming for them, and the Chinese lady said that CUSA had to honor the vouchers. Some people believed that and some people didn’t. They shared a little food and the Chinese woman asked if anyone wanted to pray. They broke out the prayer arches, which were hard to see in the dark, and different people began quoting from the latest Prospectus, about how CUSA was just now recovering from a dip in the index and the outlook for next quarter was very positive. And everyone answered “Like, like.” Rosa knew this was the kind of thing people did in emergencies, or at least she thought it was. But after a while she started getting impatient. Was sitting out here waiting to die really the only thing they could do?
She was next to Firoz, and he was the only one Rosa didn’t hate right now. Because he was quiet, probably because of the stuff he had taken earlier, keeping him calm. Even though this whole situation they were in was kind of his fault, because he had tried to take drugs on the bus and her Daddy had yelled at him.
“Why do drug-worshippers take drugs anyway?” Rosa whispered to him. She thought back to the time with Basil, just a day ago and it seemed like a year. She hadn’t understood then, but suddenly she wanted to understand now. Maybe it was because her parents had always kept the truth from her and here she was neck deep in reality and she didn’t like that she wasn’t ready.
Rosa waited a long time, but he wouldn’t respond. She felt tears stinging her eyes. She wanted to talk to somebody, but even Firoz kept quiet.
Then he spoke, “The drugs require it.” Rosa looked at him. At first she couldn’t even believe he had answered.
“What do you mean?” Rosa asked him.
“We do what the drugs tell us,” he mumbled.
“Why?” Rosa asked.
“They’re trying to teach us a lesson.”
“Not to use drugs,” he said.
Rosa stared at him. He didn’t look down at her. “I don’t get it,” she said.
“It’s hard,” he answered, nodding. Like that was an answer.
“Rosa!” her Mamma was calling. She was looking for her. Rosa was glad it was dark. She didn’t want to be close to her Mamma.
Rosa was scared to death. She had never been that near to wild animals before except for squirrels and rats, never even seen any other kind except in commercials. Now everywhere she heard scratching and sniffing. She heard chattering next to her ear, and way off in the distance she heard a dog howling. At least, she assumed it was a dog. Rosa wanted to scream. Then she thought about Chassis and what she said about being scared, and she got calm again.
Her father was groaning louder now, and her Mamma bent over him. Rosa wanted to be there, too, but she didn’t want to be near her Mamma. She wanted to be with her Daddy alone. Where she could take care of him.
It got even quieter after that, Rosa guessed, because the animals had heard the noise and stopped moving. Her Daddy kept moaning, though. Then one of the Kwang children started to whimper. She wondered if they were finally getting scared.
“We have to keep him quiet,” said Mr. Kwang.
“What do you expect me to do?” demanded Rosa’s Mamma.
“I don’t know,” said Mr. Kwang. “But if they come back—”
People were starting to argue again. Rosa noticed that praying hadn’t made them feel that much better. The panic spread. Now the Chinese girl was crying, and her mother was holding her and telling her to shush.
“You aren’t being very quiet,” said Old Lady Kwang to Mr. Kwang.
“Who asked you?” said Mr. Kwang, turning to point at her with a meaty finger.
“Don’t point that…” the old woman began.
Mr. Kwang didn’t let her finish. “If it was me I’d have left you on the bus. Or maybe I should chase you into the woods.”
She rasped at him,“Your real mother was a hooker!” her body lurching with each word.
“Quiet!” Rosa’s Mamma told them, before Mr. Kwang could push his father out of the way. “Rosa, where are you?”
“I want to pray,” said Firoz, standing up. “Will anyone pray with me?”
Nobody was listening to him. That made Rosa indignant. They didn’t listen to her either. Firoz didn’t seem to care. He was fiddling around in his pouch.
“We’re going to die here,” the old woman said, “and I don’t want to be quiet any longer. You all haven’t done anything to help anyone.”
“That’s all you ever do!” Mr. Kwang shouted. “You complain…bitch and complain.”
Mrs. Kwang said to her husband, “Stop it. This isn’t—”
“Rosa!” her Mamma shouted. “Where are you?”
They were making more and more noise. But Rosa was sitting still. She was watching Firoz. He had taken out a little cigarette and was lighting it. He breathed in. The smoke curled around him and drifted away. She caught the sweet, strange scent, the one she caught at the Church, the one that was always on Basil’s clothes that she knew her father would kill her for if he ever smelled it on her.
Firoz moved through all the fighting straight towards Rosa’s Daddy. Nobody was paying her Daddy much attention at the moment, but now she could see that he was shivering really hard.
Rosa followed Firoz to her Daddy’s side. Daddy’s eyes were closed, but his head was bouncing around from side to side.
“Hold him steady,” Firoz said to her. So Rosa took her Daddy’s head in her hands and stroked his hair and he stopped moving enough for Firoz to stick the cigarette in Daddy’s mouth. Daddy took a puff.
More about Motherless Child
When Rosa’s mother loses her job with the Corporate United States, her family must flee or be killed in an employee purge. Taking the dangerous bus trip across the Unincorporated States, they are ambushed by bandits. Hopelessly separated from her family, Rosa is rescued by the people of Ascension, a small backwoods Virgilna town with a terrible secret.
Seventeen years in the making, Cole’s book about a girl trapped between two Americas serves as a reminder of what the United States has become, and what it still could be.
Adam Cole is an author and music educator in Atlanta, GA. He has written numerous books and stories for children, as well as a number of adult and non-fiction titles including The Girl With the Bow and Seven Ways the World Can End.
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