And the Name of My Country is Nowhere

Boniface hasn’t been able to pay for anything since crossing the border almost a month ago. It’s an edgy feeling, like stepping on a stair that doesn’t exist; he’s continually jarred by conversations that end a beat too soon, by transactions that reveal themselves as generosity. He doesn’t like it. A city is too large a web of obligation to traverse. He finds himself giving away what little he has to anyone who will take it, desperate to pay off some of the impossible debt he can’t help but accrue.

He’s a clever man, Boniface, but here there’s no use for his cleverness; even if there were, no one seems in a hurry to make use of it. He can get a job if he asks for one — if he asks — but if he does nothing, absolutely nothing, if he stands on a street corner for hours on hours staring emptily into space, well, that’s fine too. He hasn’t been this time-free since serving in an experimental Canadian prison back in ’94, and there they’d had the minimum structure of a curfew. Here, stay or go, work or stand idle, speak or fall silent, it’s all the same, all a matter of taste, pleasure, comity.

He takes what he needs, and they give it freely; takes what he wants, and it is freely given. He runs wild in a crowded train station, slashing and stabbing with a kitchen knife, the closest thing to a weapon he’s been able to find here, and they take him to a hospital, make him confront the people he hurt, their families, their friends. He breaks down at last, weeps helplessly.

“What do you want from me?” Boniface pleads. “What can I do?

His doctor smiles, her face crinkled up with pleasure. “Such growth pains are not unusual. Now your real life may begin.”