Grabbing a paper towel, he wiped wet hands and grimaced in the mirror. Thick black hair slicked back, full mustache – yup, Greek. No mistaking that face.
“’Scuse me pal,” Jarring from behind almost knocked him down. “Didn’t mean to bump you.”
“Tsokay; I no see you,” he mumbled, turning around, catching the speaker’s smirk. No accident that bump. Big guy; he knew the type from the old country. Mean, troublemaker.
“Whaaat? Whaaat you say?”
The jeering voice set his teeth on edge. Jerking the door open, ignoring him, he left. “Joyce, we go – now.”
Initially one hand on her hip, the other cupping her chin; both dropped to her sides and Joyce’s eyes widened with surprise. “Johnny, I haven’t paid for the gas yet.”
“I pay. You in car, now.” He didn’t dally. If the guy came out, if he saw him again, he’d deck him. He knew himself – Johnny did not want a fight. Not with naturalization paperwork on the dash.
Inside as Johnny slapped money down onto the counter, the cashier backed up, his eyebrows raised. Once outside, Johnny tugged at the door handle, yanked it open, then slid under the steering wheel.
“Johnny, what happened?”
Jamming the key into the ignition, he cranked it to the right; the engine responded. Looking in his rear-view mirror he backed the vehicle up.
“John, what’s wrong?”
Eyes locked for a split second with his antagonist, Johnny sighed. Jerking the wheel sharply, tires squealing, he barreled out.
“Oh, ” his wife exclaimed. “Why are you angry? You’ve established yourself as a businessman. Johnny, they said, you – my husband – were just a dumb Greek and never would amount to anything. You – we – did it. We’re making money hand-over-fist!”
“I know,” he grumbled. “But, still I’m dumb Greek.”
He’d never been mocked in the Old Country, but respected. Here, in the States, he was fair game. Nothing had come easy. Free country? Everyone equal? Hardly.
Did he even want to be a citizen?
Out of the blue, one memory – the click of a gun, then another – the hard cold stares of uniformed soldiers; marching, cursing. Narrow cobblestone streets no longer safe to play in. His short rotund mother on her knees, prayer candle lit. Her tears as she clung to him, saying over and over, “Yianni, God will be with you. You do good in the States.” Devastation. Walls crumbled; whitewashed buildings collapsed. Death.
Oh yes, he wanted to be a citizen.
Teeth clenched, chin squared, he glanced sideways. His wife? She’d never understand the hard times, the hunger, running barefoot – no money for shoes, foreign occupation of his beloved Greece.
Screams, fires, and explosions; blood everywhere and half the island dead. The ensuing pall had been more than he could take. Working his way as ship’s cook to the States, escape.
How to tell anyone? Broken English accent didn’t help.
Could he explain to himself or anyone else a God who allowed these things? No. He’d much rather work than pray. What he, Johnny, did understand was only what he could accomplish with his own two hands. Those strong calloused hands never had, and never would, let him down.
His mother – her faith – he’d backburner for now. Her kind of beliefs ran deep, too deep for him – with faith in her God, she’d survived three consecutive foreign occupations.
He’d had trouble handling one.
His sister? She’d barely recovered. The rape had almost killed her. The haunted eyes, the dark rings under them he’d never forget. She’d never be the same.
In that split second, Johnny decided.
Mother’s faith he’d test out – maybe someday – but not now. No time for religion. Just work. There were children to bring into the world, and to bring up. They would go to church; he’d see to that.
His mother would be proud.
“Johnny, you almost went off the road!”
Electricity shot through him; fingers tingling he pulled the vehicle to the shoulder. “Sorry,” he mumbled.
Joyce softly wept, shoulders quaking, dark eyes luminescent with tears. He patted her shoulder, and reached to pick up paperwork strewn on the floor. It felt weighty, leaden.
Had he missed his citizenship appointment? “Have to go,” Johnny muttered. ‘Just half an hour to get there,’ he thought. First a U-turn, and then pressing the pedal, he sped off. Whether from anticipation of gaining citizenship or from sheer nervousness, his heart raced.
He could do this. He would.
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