On the ship Angelo struggles with images of death. Convulsing with emotion, the only thing keeping him from simply lying down and dying is the why, a pocket-sized word maintaining heart beating and blood flowing. Curled up as hard as he could, skinny limbs held tight by equally thin arms, he hears a parade of why’s heading towards him. The drums rumble why, the trumpets blare why and marchers shout why, why, why! As the parade fades in the distance the only thing left behind is the why’s floating around him as he drifts off to sleep.
After the murder of his parents, Angelo’s childhood disintegrated. One moment he was playing with friends and the next, an orphan running for his life with an equally terrified uncle pulling on his arm. With no time for tears, the why’s started then but sullen faced Uncle Carlo had no answers, he was too busy creating distance between him and a faceless predator he never saw. Huddled next to Carlo those around him aren’t aware of the ten year old boy’s agony but if they did it wouldn’t make any difference. The frightened immigrants inside a ship plowing through heaving seas in the middle of the night have their own terror to deal with. The grimy stench filled quarters of the rolling vessel doesn’t offer much confidence it would even make it to America.
With heart and soul lingering in Montevago, his first week at sea is spent in self imposed isolation. Refusing to speak, the after shocks of the tragedy torment him to the point of madness. Desperate, he stares at a variety of faces searching for a familiar expression. The practice causes many to believe he’s retarded.
Mario, a boy two years older than Angelo notices something adults don’t see. Befriending him, the bonding distracts Angelo from the horror left behind. The result’s an emotionally sedated Angelo scurrying around confined steerage quarters with the why’s tucked away somewhere in his head.
The ship enters New York harbor on a cool rainy morning. The sight of tall buildings stacked together on the tip of an island creates agitated murmuring among immigrants. Sensing nothing but the pungent smell of the bay, Angelo scans the dreary panorama with emotionless eyes. Turning his attention to the expanse of water, a mammoth figure rising from a small island fascinates him. Gazing at the sculpted form standing on an equally large pedestal he’s certain this is the lady with the torch he’s heard so much about. Nothing matters now. The maternal symbol produces fond memories of his mother. As preparations for disembarking begin, a strange soothing feeling shrouds his body. Oblivious to the commotion, Angelo cuddles in a warm secure place of mind. An abrupt pull on a sleeve fails to interrupt his trancelike state. Concerned, Uncle Carlo pulls on his jacket several times. “Come on kid snap out of it you must remain alert.”
After docking, steerage passengers are ferried by barge to Ellis Island. Shocked by the mass of humanity Angelo regains calm when uniformed men move about creating order and soon learns the numbered tags pinned on everyone’s clothing indicate manifest page and line number where immigrant’s names appear. As the ethnic mix lines up from the dock to a baggage room inside a building, strange languages assault his ears.
“That’s Jewish, that’s Irish and that’s Polish, but the first thing you need to learn is English.” Uncle Carlo points out each time conversations erupt between immigrants.
Unaware of Carlo’s shady past and smuggling career Angelo knows little about his handsome charismatic dark haired uncle. The most vivid recollection and only contact is when he returned after months at sea. Carlo’s arrival always created a festive mood. It seemed as if everyone in town gathered to greet him with music and dancing. Considered a window to the world, townspeople gathered around him to hear exciting stories from different parts of the globe. And a great storyteller he was, it was rumored that with his tall well proportioned figure, and persistent smile he managed to deflower many virgins and escape retaliation from angry fathers by simply talking his way out any situation, at least until able to board another outbound ship.
Although Carlo often brought presents for the family, Angelo preferred the tales of places with strange sounding names often creating dreams and fantasies.
Angelo’s experiencing one such vision. America seemed alien then, a place so distant he often discarded it as an illusion never to occur and finds it difficult to accept he’s standing on the very ground of dreams.
A flight of stairs leads to a registry room on the second floor where doctors and inspector’s wait. Angelo gawks at people being marked with chalk before being detained. Fear of exclusion hangs heavy over all. Carlo makes him nervous telling him to listen carefully when questioned. Afterwards the only thing asked was his name, learning it was to see if he was deaf or dumb. After being scrutinized and processed they descend from the registry room. During the short trip to the mainland his uncle points to their destination. The dreary panoramic view of Red Hook offers a deceiving tranquil portrait of warehouses nestled near the water’s edge. Housing tons of cargo the structures also shelters a multitude of men notorious for their ability to rule with threats of violence. Distracted by the stench from an inland canal, Angelo fails to notice his future drifting by.
Excerpt from book soon to be on sale in AD BOOKSTORE.