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Excerpt from White on Black by Rubén Gallego


San Francisco. The city of my dreams, a place of human habitation in the capitalist hell. A city of oddballs and outcasts.

I am out on the sidewalk. It is my last day in America. Tomorrow they are taking me to the airport and putting me back on the plane. The plane will get me to Russia before my visa runs out. There, in faraway Russia, they will put me nicely on the couch and sentence me to life imprisonment within four walls. Good Russian people will give me food and drink vodka with me. I will have plenty to eat and I will probably be warm. I will have everything there but freedom. They will bar me from seeing the sun, roaming through the city, sitting in a café. They will explain condescendingly that all these extras are for normal, full-fledged citizens. They will give me a little more food and vodka and remind me again of my black ingratitude. They will say I want to much, that I need to put up with this a little longer, just a little longer, fifty years or so. I will agree to everything they say and nod, detached. I will obediently do as I am told and silently endure the disgrace and humiliation. I will accept my inferiority as an inevitable evil and start wasting away slowly. And when I get sick of this swinish life and ask for a little poison, they'll refuse me, naturally. No speedy deaths in that far-off and humane country. All they'll let me do is poison myself slowly with vodka in hopes of a stomach ulcer or a heart attack.

I am out on the sidewalk. If I push the throttle as far as it will go, the electric wheelchair's powerful motor will carry me off into the unknown. The plane will fly without me. In a couple of days the wheelchair battery will run out of charge. I won't survive in this harsh and magnificent country without money or papers. The maximum I can count on is another day of freedom, and then – death.

This is America. Here everything is bought and sold. A terrible, cruel country. You can't count on compassion. But I had my fill of compassion back in Russia. I am fine with ordinary business.

This is America.

"What's for sale?"

It's my day of freedom. Real freedom. Sun and air. A couple kissing on the park bench. A hippie strumming the guitar. The right to see a little girl feeding a squirrel from her hand one more time. The one and only time in my life I will see a city at night and the blaze of thousands of headlights. Admire for the last time the neon signs, dream of the impossible luck* of being born in this marvelous country. The real deal, the very best quality. Made in America.

"How much does it cost?"

"A little less than life."

"I'll buy it. Keep the change."

After this, in Russia, I drank vodka from dawn to dusk for an entire month, crying through the nights, and in my drunken delirium trying to feel the joystick of my non-existent mythical wheelchair. And every day I regretted making the wrong choice at the decisive moment.