Coming Home

Coming Home
by Priya Sridhar

Three cops tried to stop me as I made my way down the street. No, three cops is a wrong way to say it. It was more like three cops, each with their personal arsenal of grenades strapped to their belts, attack dogs, and large cars. In fact, I had only seen cars like these in my army days, when I had been a commander.

“I have to get home,” I tried explaining to one guy. He was wearing riot gear and riding an armored truck. I had been shuffling down the street, moving slowly because I couldn’t see out of one eye.

“Road’s closed!” He shouted at me through a bullhorn. “Go back!”

“I can’t,” I said, calmly. It never helped to get angry with the police, no matter how stupid they were. The last time I had lost my temper …

“Move or I’ll make you move!” he screeched. His fingers went to his grenades, preparing to toss them.

“Then make me,” I said, unbuttoning my shirt and rolling my eyes. I had been wearing an aqua-blue polo that night; I was still wearing it. There hadn’t been time to change, probably because my mind had been in a strange place full of blackness and murky images. Too much chatter, too many blurred memories congealing into an ugly mess that I didn’t want to remember.

All I remembered was a colored streamer tugging me away from there, like the streamers that Lupe used for her Spanish class piñatas. Lupe was born in the United States, but she believed that her Hispanic heritage was a part of her.

The cop choked when he saw the hole in my chest. One of his friends had shot me in the back a couple of weeks before, and the bullet had exited the other way. The gunshot had collapsed my ribcage, so that the hole was purple and red. I had stopped bleeding two blocks back, since I didn’t need to breathe.

“You, you …” He sputtered. “That’s …”

“It’s not a costume,” I said. “I’m dead. DEAD. It’s Día de los Muertos and all.”

The subsequent gunfire forced me to the ground. Bullets couldn’t hurt me anymore, but they had a heck of a backlash. I groaned and waited for the cop to stop screaming. When he was finished, I stood up and dusted asphalt crud off my front.

“There’s a place in Hell reserved for people like you,” I said, with a hint of irritation. “Shooting a dead man? Seriously? Put that gun down before you hurt someone.”

He listened, watching me with an open mouth. At least he hadn’t emptied all his bullets into the pavement like the last two guys had.

“Now if you please, I have a grave to visit. My daughter is waiting for me.”


It wasn’t hard to find the procession; colored streamers and white auras led the way. One streamer snaked around my wrist. Someone had tied a candy skull to it, and someone else had painstakingly carved letters into the candy skull’s forehead with a butter knife. I knew my daughter’s seven-year-old carving well.

“Barry,” I read, wishing that I were able to eat the candy. “Thank you, Delia.”

The closer I got, the more traffic piled up. People in Halloween costumes hoisted signs in the air, painted with green glow-in-the-dark paint. Some of the signs had my photo on them, the nice one from when Delia was born. Some even had pound signs on them; I don’t know why.

JUSTICE FOR BARRY DEL REY.

SHOT IN THE BACK! THE WICKED SHALL BE PUNISHED, WHITE OR BLACK.

WHEN WILL IT END?

WILL MY SON COME HOME ALIVE?

DON’T SHOOT. BLACK MEN BLEED TOO!

Lupe had been busy, I had to admit. Knowing Lupe, she’d have sent Delia to live with my cousin Vida to keep her away from the chaos and to focus on the campaign. Lupe was never one to give up on the ones she loved. Boy, was she in for a surprise.

Unlike the cops who had stopped me, all the people in costumes let me through. They didn’t take photos of the stains on my shirt. Someone tossed marigolds in the air, and the marigolds mixed with the streamers. I saw more candy skulls with my name and chased after them.

By the time I reached my graveyard, the smell of marigolds was stronger. They were strewn all over the ground like yellow carpet. My once-white sneakers were stained black, gold and yellow, so that I was a king instead of a mere man. I could ignore the signs and the two gaping holes in my body.

“Daddy!”

Something small with springy curls crashed into me. I grunted and caught the most beautiful girl in the world, bringing her into the air. She squealed with delight in her Frida Kahlo costume.

“My angel,” I said, murmuring into her hair. “My sweet lily-bud angel, I missed you so much—”

“Daddy, you’re bleeding!” Delia said from where I held her in the air. “You need a Band-Aid!”

I grinned. Delia hated Band-Aids; she often bit her nails and needed at least four a day. She was perfectly happy to offer them to someone else, though.

“We made an altar for you,” Delia went on. “Mom helped me make it! We put photos of you and a poster of the Lakers and some Buddhist beads—”

She dragged me by the wrist when I put her down, and she chattered a mile a minute. Oh how I had missed my baby girl, how her voice hadn’t been in that dark, murky place where I had existed after the bullets—

“Barry.”

I looked up. My wife Lupe was standing by a newly polished gravestone with a pained smile. Her eyes were on the wounds on my chest, and I saw the gravestone marker next to her pumps.

“Lupita,” I said, her pet name rolling off my tongue. “You called me. You had me come for today.”

“Of course I did,” she said. “I missed you.”

I didn’t sweep her up into a dramatic kiss; those would happen later, when Delia was asleep. Part of El Día is that the spirits visit their families, and I wanted to see how things were. The cops had taken a tender goodbye from me when they shot me in the back.

“They said that you had a gun,” she said quietly as Delia ran around the graveyard announcing I was here. “And that you threatened them.”

“I don’t like guns. I’m a Buddhist.”

“That’s what I told them. They told me they’d look into the matter, so here we are.”

We watched as more spirits entered the graveyard, though not as many men as I had feared. They clung to the streamers and candy skulls. Many of the spirits were old and gentle, though a few felt anger as hot and sharp as a knife whetted over hot coals.

“It wasn’t enough, finding justice. I wanted to see you,” Lupe said. “I wanted you to come and take care of me, tell me things would be okay. Delia wouldn’t sleep for weeks.”

“No monkey’s paw for you?” I joked.

“I’m not stupid, Barry. I read that story. Asking to have you back for good, would have too high a price. The forces out there don’t allow us to push things that far.”

That was true. I vowed never to tell Delia of the images that nibbled at my mind, of those strange forces I may have seen.

“But having you once a year, even just for a day …” her voice choked. “Maybe I can’t move on. But damn it, Delia needs a father! She worked hard on the altar!”

“She did a good job, otherwise I never would’ve found you. Cops kept pulling me over.”

“It’s been a war zone.” She bit her lip. “If I’d just kept my mouth shut, this wouldn’t have happened. But I’m not the only one who was angry.”

“You had to do it. Because you are a hero. And you’re doing more good than I can.”

“Barry—”

“Hey, I’d love to come back too, but even having you for several days a year is good.” I put on a brave smile, tried not to think of missing Delia’s first bike ride, or her senior prom. “I only wish I could help out more.”

She kissed me on the forehead, lightly, and I looked forward to steamier kisses.

“At least you’re here today.”

Someone turned on music, and people started to dance around the graveyard. I took a moment to tie a streamer around my wrist, take a breath I didn’t need, and join in the dance.


Copyright © 2015 Priya Sridhar