Sunshine stood shin-high in muddy water outside the gates of the Canadian Consulate of Dhakka. Without passport, wallet, keys, money, shoes, shirt, only his shorts and hope hid his shame. The muggers had been waiting and watching. They knew his name and door. They knew his routine and shoe size. They knew Sunshine would see the knives, tire irons, claw hammers, and hand over what was his. The broken nose and punt to the groin were just to say don’t follow us.

 

Beneath the ভিসাআবেদনকারীদেরএখানে sign, Sunshine scanned the men, women, children, standing, scratching, spitting, shifting, gazing patient as livestock, before the herd curved out of sight into the soaked horizon. Perhaps this rising sun will burn us all away, he thought as a mosquito landed on his eyelash. Mud warmed the skin between his toes. He circumnavigated the compound’s red brick walls, and found, on the exact opposite side, an open gate, with words he could understand: CANADIANS ONLY.

 

Flanking the entrance, stood two soldiers in camouflaged, one wore a green beret, the other a green helmet, both about Sunshine’s age and complexion. Their hungry eyes narrowed when Sunshine flashed his smile which could quite reach his eyes. The beret’s baby finger unlatched the safety on his US M4 Carbine. The helmet stepped forward.

“Morning, Officers,” Sunshine said, bottling every worry in the world.

“Āpani ki cāna?” the helmet said.

“Sorry eh, do you speak English by chance?”

“An’ya lā’inē yāna.” With a single gun barrel wave, the beret made go away clear enough for any animal to understand. Sunshine put his hands in the air, palms open beside his ears. The helmet eyed him up and down, uttered a lewd crack, the beret laughed. They’d been on duty all night, their replacements were late. The helmet unleashed an impatient string of syllables at Sunshine.

“Sorry officer, would it be possible to speak to someone who speaks English? I’m a Canadian citizen,” he said nodding at the sign above their heads.

 

The men understood the last two words and laughed again. The helmet stepped forward, grabbed Sunshine’s jaw bone with his thumb and forefinger, looked deep into his eyes, almost admiringly, and oozed venom, “Tu-mi… ēk-aṭā… mith-yā-bā-dī.”

 

With a lunge, he shoved Sunshine’s jaw into his spine while professionally sweeping his legs. Sunshine toppled into the mud. By the time he found his feet, the beret was pelting him joyfully with stones as a schoolboy would a local mutt. Sunshine retreated around the corner, sat on the hood of a rusted Hindustan Contessa, as the call to prayer flooded Dhakka again.

11 Comments

  1. Nancy Bauer-King

    Riveting. I read it twice – slowly – to take in the well-written action. Good use of a second language. Especially liked “only his shorts and hope hid his shame” and “gazing patient as livestock.” I was taken out a bit with “he shoved Sunshine’s jaw into his spine.” I couldn’t picture it. Whose spine?

    Intriguing. Tension is palpable. I’m left wanting more…

  2. Randal Houle

    David,

    Too bad for our friend that he has had such an unfortunate day. That description really doesn’t do this story justice. Strong evocative writing describing the heat, the building, the situation so dire and then the solid wall of the state. Great fish-out-of-water narrative.

  3. sara lippmann

    Hi David, This is evocative and tense and propulsive storytelling. You demonstrate a knack for dropping us into scene and unfolding with choice detail and dialogue and action. The writing throughout is assured and transporting, and I love how seamlessly you integrate Bengali. I’m intrigued by your choice of character name — Sunshine — is that nickname or last name or first name? It definitely underlines the character’s cluelessness and naivete, the assumed privilege of a white traveler who has been taken for the tourist they are, and is now in deep shit, and I do wonder if there is more to the story, if perhaps, this is only the beginning for our shoeless Sunshine, with mud in the toes. Thanks!

    • David O'Connor

      Sara, thank you for your comment, super insightful. I was just wondering about the assumed whiteness of Sunshine (he’s definitely clueless, naive, and privileged) I’m asking because I’d hoped the whole point of the piece relies on the fact that the guards who look like him won’t let him in his own embassy, do you think that needs to be made that clearer? Would love to hear your thoughts, thanks…

  4. Meg Tuite

    David,
    This is outstanding! I did laugh at the name, ‘Sunshine’. (It’s the name of one of Harold’s girlfriends in ‘Harold & Maude’)
    “only his shorts and hope hid his shame.” “bottling every worry in the world.”
    This scene and the terror is palpable! I LOVE IT! Is it part of your novel? I definitely look forward to reading more, but this stands on its own. LOVE!

  5. Jenn Rossmann

    Great momentum here, I’m worried and unsettled for Sunshine, and hope there will be more of his story to come. I like “beret” and “helmet” as the distinguishing features of the guards, too.

  6. Jonathan Cardew

    David,

    I was taken away with this! Loved the opening with all the detail: “…They knew Sunshine would see the knives, tire irons, claw hammers…” Scene is so good with this piece. Are you going to build this into a short story? It has all the right ingredients for a short story especially with the wonderfully named Sunshine.

    Great piece!

    –Jonathan

  7. April Bradley

    I love the alliteration here and the tone, David, especially the narration. This piece is such a fun rush! Like Jonathan, I wonder if we get to have more of Sunshine?

  8. Kristen Ploetz

    The name Sunshine is just perfect in this. I honestly do not think another name could make it work as well. And you are really good at bringing us so close into the moment, feeling very small things in a big way in our own bodies as we read (the shin-high muddy water, the mosquito on the eyelash, the mud between the toes, the beret’s baby finger), all details that are normally glossed over but which slow the moment down but not BOG it down (a big difference). I really would like to know where the rest of this story goes.

  9. Trent

    David –
    Very stylish!
    Love the pictographic script.
    Don’t know how you did it/method used, but it’s very pro.
    I love conlang, so this is cool times infinite.

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