Thursday, July 28, 2005

FINGERED: the amazing deafblog serial #9

by Joseph Santini
Copyright 2005

Amil sat at a cold metal table surrounded by FBI officers, a smoking Deaf woman, the Deaf boy from the church, Mark – and finally Natalie, the girl he’d watched, who was talking to the FBI officers and getting some nods.

“Wonderful. My son, taken by FBI!” Mary was politely asked not to smoke. She knew they were talking and had a pretty good guess as to what they were saying, but she knew her Deaf People’s Rights and took advantage of them.

Deaf People’s Rights was a concept created by her friend’s daughter, Jenny. The first right was this: Deaf people have the right to ignore hearing people who can see really obviously that you’re Deaf but still waste time trying to talk to you. The second right was: It must be okay if I’m doing it. With the Deaf People’s Rights squarely behind her, even a Man in Black was powerless to prevent the oncoming rush of Staten Island Deaf Mother. And boy, what a mother.

“Mom, please, one minute – “

“You do-do what? Steal truck? Steal money?” He put up his hand in her face as she continued, peeking over it occasionally to see if she’d finished with Drama Queenliness. Natalie, sitting to his right, asked “This normal?” with a grin of sympathy. He grinned back. This unfortunately made the situation worse, as his mother stomped and went “Smile, you smile? You take me serious, not! Terrible world, children respect mother nothing…”

It was about this time that an interpreter arrived. Mary immediately took advantage of Deaf Person Right Number 3, which was the right to immediately enlist any local signing person in the war against ungrateful children and embarrass them in front of the community.

Unfortunately, the terp sucked, but his Skilled Nodding Level 4 abilities allowed him to look as if he knew what was going on. He also had Skilled Ahhh! Level 5 abilities which allowed him to extend pinky and thumb into a why shape, making a knowing and serious expression, and express a calming and sympathetic Ah-ha! He could also Twitch Nose (Level 6) which allowed him to say Yes in a culturally acceptable way. He explained about the smoking. Mary put out the cigarette. Note: Am in no way making fun of the occasionally completely arbitrary-seeming levels of interpreting ability....

“Anyway,” interjected Natalie, her hand waving desperately for attention like a flagbearer at an airport trying to make the plane SLOWDOWNPLEASESLOWDOWN before he was flatter than Birkenstocks, “here’s the deal. They recognize me and agree that you can home go. But, first, questions.”

Amil nodded. He was terrified of this place. The walls were so white as to be blinding.

“Mark, Mary-“ But Staten Island Deaf Mother was at it again.

“-girl you upset about? Pretty! Signs nice! Works here? Good job, teach you something maybe-“

Flag. The plane paused. “You two talk outside, we two finish ten minutes, okay?” They nodded and walked out, leaving Natalie alone with only one of the five officers that had been there. She shook her head, then sighed and sat at the table across from Amil.

“So, spill,” she said, and Amil was surprised that although she was tired her voice came out clear and strong.

He told her about leaving the school, and becoming a gardener. He told her about watching a golden couple flirt, daintily almost in their manners, in the moonlight, hands describing slow arcs in deep-spread, golden light so bright it was blue. He told her about being asked by the man, one night, to always watch the lady, in letters written carefully in sand, then scuffed away with one boot.
You know the rest, said Amil. He had proudly signed some of the words – not enough to make sense by themselves yet but more than enough to help Natalie lipread him easily. Deaf people were good at puzzles. You left, and the prince asked me to follow. And he died, and I was here… He paused. I’d like to stay. I have a long-term passport from the government. I wasn’t spying on you. I was just… making sure you were okay. He said if you ever found out you’d understand.

Almost crying, Natalie realized she did. But she had things to do before she could cry.

She turned to Frank Anding, one of the officers behind her. “But what about this man you say he killed?”

“We just wanted him for enquiries. The man died at the dormitory of a school for Deaf children. Amil was the only adult person around. We needed to know if he knew…” the man hesitated, disgust in his voice.

“Knew what?” said Natalie, but she could guess.

“If he had ever seen the man touch the children. We have nobody to ask them in sign language. There are rumors of an old man, but we cannot find him. We used to have some gay guy who could interpret, but they kicked him out-” Frank paused, obviously angry. “Anyway - it’s bigger than it sounds. One of the children was the brother of the Crown Prince, and a Prince in his own right.”

Natalie shared a glance with Amil, then felt a hand on her shoulder. “Listen, I think this guy is innocent too. But it would be a lot easier to release him, you know, if someone would be willing to be a guarantor? A family he could stay with or check in with, maybe…” Frank shrugged. But Natalie’d already had an idea. She went to get Mark. He was bemused, but accepted. Amil looked resigned, but happy; better a guarantor and no fuss than, well, lots of fuss.


The three stood outside of the building on Worth St., near Natalie’s mother’s car; the Pink Elephant had come once the CIA had, politely, realized it was not an emergency and, equally politely, asked for their car back. The mothers were off to one side, smoking carefully.

Three pairs of eyes stared at each other, not sure what to do next.

“Tomorrow, can we go to the beach?” said Natalie. She almost always made the first move.

“Tomorrow, why not, newspaper said 85 should,” shrugged Mark, being carefully easygoing.

“We could bring a barbecue thing,” Amil planned, fingerspelling barbecue in the most painfully slow way, but with precision.

“OK, but no turkey. BBQ turkey, I hate. Tastes woody.” Natalie again, being direct.

“Me cook fantastic turkey [insert description of really tasty Turkey here that I’m too tired to write.] You enjoy enjoy, slurp, swallow, lick lips, more!” Mark salivated in the fine old tradition of hungry Deaf men. Natalie and Amil stared at him.

"We could tape his hands,” Amil suggested. The three of them laughed.

Mark shook his head and walked off to his mother, signing to her softly in the streetlight. Natalie looked at them, and then at her own mother. Could they be so close, ever? Her mother saw her eyes, and indicated the car. Time to go.

But hey. She had the beach to look forward to.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

FINGERED: deafblog serial #8

by Joseph Santini
copyright 2005

She trusts me. She really trusts me.

The situation sucked. They were in a car she’d managed to get, goddess knew how. They were driving someplace he didn’t know, to identify two people he’d seen once, to get one person he’d met twice out of jail, because the woman next to him – the beautiful dark-featured woman who seemed to be two people at once, sometimes – seemed to think the fact that the guy was in trouble, was her fault.

And all he could do was smile, because, well, she trusted him.

Deeply, eagerly, he wanted to be the person deserving of her trust.

“So. Peace corps, never, truebiz since CIA undercover middle east?”

She nodded.

“Six years total.”

Nod #2.

“Now work finish, come New York, new life start.”

Nodella le Nod the IIIrd.

“Important, me keep confidential. Blab blab blab, you die. Right?”

Nodda nodda nodda. Was she paying attention? He decided to throw a little bomb in.

“Why’d you tell me?”

She looked at him sidelong, startled, then returned to the road. She was a careful, if not overly concerned about speeding limits, driver. Ten minutes of driving with her and he knew already he could sign all he wanted – she would see and pay attention to everything, but she’d wait patiently for a red light to reply. He took the time to watch her.

Make the plan, execute the plan. When he’d told her about Amil, she’d frozen for a moment – a long, gear-turning moment. Then she’d asked him to wait, gone upstairs, and come down five minutes later in a pantsuit telling him to turn around. And a car, a big old black Lincoln, had been there waiting for them, keys still in the ignition. Once in the front seat she’d told him a precise version of her history (he hadn’t thought, at the time, that precise meant two things – not only complete, but particular.)

She’d done a special job for the CIA. In the middle East. Amil might have gotten mixed up in it.

He saw two of her now, overlapping, like two waves each rising and setting in front of the other: the girl desperate to please her family, her friends, and this other, harder girl who… made the plan. Executed the plan.

“We go where? You know?”

“FBI office, Manhattan, downtown, near Chambers.” She signed Chambers St. eye street, for the eyes that guarded the subway, forever open, like the entrance to Mordor. “If fail, FBI office in Brooklyn-“ She paused for another short drive and at the next light, holding the wheel with one hand, deftly described the possible arc of a search of offices in New York.

“But really – only need inform one person, they call call others? Your CIA situation, middle east, happened what?” He saw her lips tighten. “Come on!”
Another red light. She turned to him. “Fine. You answer me. I ask ask ask many people. All say same! You, Mark, quiet, nice, never ever chase girl, possibly gay, who knows? Now me, we-two meet, suddenly chase chase chase. What for? You want what?”

She’d been asking people about him? Cool! But, no. Act pissed off. “You ask my friends about me? Why not ask me?” She merely glared at him. “Only, I want to know you. That’s all.” Her face softened a little, but not enough. “Look,” he waved at her for attention, careful not to touch her – touching might be the last thing she needed right now. “I’m here with you, right?”

“Fine. You want truth?” She turned to him. “I went to Middle East, why? Because the President, the Sultan, he had a son who was Deaf. I play tourist, I meet him. So natural! He falls in love for an American beauty! And Deaf, same him!” A mocking expression of surprise and excitement suffused her face. “All the time I continue, collect information secrets knowledge, pass on to contact. Military secrets, serve my country…” she shook her head. “One day they asked me to move faster. Stuff was happening. More information need. Fine. I seduce him…” she shrugged. “I become whore. Fakey whore, for for? My government. Fine. More information, they get. Me, I’m inside. Then…” They had arrived. She nodded a little further down, where the ruins of the World Trade Center rested. “They pulled me out. Told me, travel for a year, year and a half. Cover up. Finally I came home. New life, same you said.” She shrugged. “So. That’s it. Any questions?”

Mark could only shake his head. But then: “Did you love him?”

It was this question which cracked the hard persona. She burst into tears.

He put his hand on her shoulder. She pulled into him. She leaned up. He tasted salt.

There were a few quiet minutes, punctuated by the rumbles of the trains below Chambers Street. He kept his eyes shut till he felt her withdraw, wanting only to feel the land beneath the salt, the soft mountains...

She smiled. “Thank you. It’s the most I've got, since…” she shrugged. "Not plan, intend you me... now, this way..." He nodded, smiled. It was okay. Inside his head he was bouncing off walls. Better change subject. Important things happening anyway.

“So... think you Amil involved somehow?”

She blinked. “What else?” The arc of her arm and hand as she flipped it backward formed a question mark.

notes on fingered

so. fingered 8 is finished and soon to be posted, bar editing. i needed to write 10 first, so i could go back and make sure all the guys are okay (seriously, characters obtain weird life in your head when you write; Amil is busy being aloof, but he would be hurt if i left out one word from his careful head; Mark is clowning around, and Natalie is ignoring him while smirking. The mothers are wearing Mary Kay pantsuits, you know the type, and smoking together on the side, exhaling carefully.)

have survived a bad throat problem now making the rounds in my office, a friend having serious problems, and er, obtaining a boyfriend. yep. i said it. oy. yep. boyfriend.

gack. am paralyzed now. will just finish editing.

boyfriend. jesus.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

scientology hates deaf people?

yeah, that was the point behind my post. a lot of conservative pundits claim that scientologists consider disabled people not worthy of survival and that they should not mix with the rest of society (they have a formula to figure out where u fit on this scale, so I guess someone who got their leg shot might be okay?)

so i was wondering if any deaf people had been scientologists. i can't find anyone who is NOT a right-wing maniac that claims scientologists hate deaf people, but the point of their "faith" is that they can control their health and life with the power of their mind and you could probably interpret that as meaning deaf people are responsible for their own condition i guess.

that being said, once i was approached by a scientologist in their little mission in the times square subway (you see all those signs for stress tests between the 1/9 entrance and the N/R? yeah, that.) i said they were deaf and they stopped talking to me. typical HEARIE ASSHOLE BEHAVIOR or some scientologist prejudice? who knows? WHO KNOWS?

Monday, July 11, 2005

call to action

does anyone know any Deafies who are scientologists? Should we go rescue them before they turn into tom cruise? if i become a scientologist will i turn into tom cruise? if so, should i become a scientologist?

ahhh, problems, problems...

FINGERED: deafblog serial

by Joseph Santini
copyright 2005

It was finally true morning.

Mark floated with his head slightly under the water, watching the pattern of leaves mar the surface. He loved the early morning moments when stillness seemed to eliminate the need for thinking, breathing. His mind and perceptions contracted to a single point. There was no past, present, future; no ego, no superego, no id: only his soul, the water, and the world. No body, no spirit; only the knowledge that there was a separate existence, and one which knew no separation.

Until, that is, a branch splashed into the water and murked all beyond recognition.
As Mark paddled, gasping, to the shore, he reflected that there were some hearing people who couldn’t bear being around Deaf people. There were also some Deaf people who couldn’t stand being around Deaf people. They spent their lives in horror of seeing sign language in the subway. They carefully took off their hearing aids in an unnoticeable way to avoid being spotted on the street. They crossed the road. They crossed themselves. They lived their lives in fear and isolation, and he would love to be one of them at this moment.

Instead he pulled himself up the side of the pool, sat panting on the side, and stared across the water at his mother who stood at the edge of the water, smoking at him furiously, her curly hair in pre-coffee disarray. “Oh God! Thank you, thank you! Son alive still! Must pay pay for burial, not! Thank you! Fabulouso!” She signed all this one-handed and totally deadpan. Mark sighed. Sometimes he wondered what life would be like if his parents were hearing and he could just ignore them…

But then he thought of Natalie’s family. They’d seemed like nice enough people, but who knew what the hell was going on inside? Hearing family? Maybe not.

His mother continued haranguing, but he hardly noticed, picking up the net and plucking branches out of the pool. She was perpetual-motion Deaf, he sometimes thought. A couple nods was all she needed to power hours of signing. Beautifully, though; she’d been an actress in her day. Even some bit work on television.
“Past one week, you’re strange. Why? Poet’s night sucked?” She sat down, legs kicking branches his way. For all her incoherence she would occasionally click and then everything she did made sense. It was like one of those dance performances which seem totally random until you blink and there it is, a pattern, staring at you.
“Poet’s night, okay. Night itself sucked,” he dropped the net and signed back, frowning. He told her about Natalie and Amil and the wedding. Her eyes widened and giggled. “Finally Mark likes a girl! Since, I thought you really gay!” He grinned. His one hearing brother was gay and performed weeknights in Vegas these days as Vynita Somebody; there were always jokes about his following in her footsteps. “Well, my advice? Direct. Just be direct. Ask her what she wants, who she wants to date…” his head was shaking, but she held up a hand. “Listen! Idiot! Me, successful marriage, thirty years, house, son! You, twenty-six, know everything, single, lives with mother! SHOW ME RESPECT!” He gave her a puppy-dog look. She nodded, satisfied. (So they had an interesting relationship. –Ed,) “Now, finish pool. Shower. Ferry, City. Door. Knock. Answer. Talk.” She threw her cigarette in the water. “First, clean finish!” She marched into the house, head held high.


He followed orders.


It was noon. Wind, like people, is always in a hurry to get somewhere in New York, and today was no exception. It ruffled the trees on 7th Avenue as if they were large, green, leafy guitar strings which fell off every autumn... uh... (Some metaphors are doomed before they even begin.-Ed.)

He was going to tell her. He was going to get business out of the way, so he could focus on… whatever was going on with him. He was going to take a class in American Sign Language. He appreciated that her card said “American;” many of the classes he’d seen were quite arrogant, stating baldly SIGN LANGUAGE! as if theirs were the only, or the only good one, in the world. He remembered the glimmer of heat around the children, with the sounds of the city in the distance, as their hands danced thoughts around each other.

He’d not expected this cheap Brooklyn one-bedroom walkup to be Natalie’s home, not after seeing the wealth of her family and their friends (which he’d carefully cultivated.) It was unassuming. Hidden. It was a mask. He knew that without thinking. He’d used similar masks today, and when you’d had one on you could see the edges where things didn’t fit.

Park Slope didn’t fit her. The relaxed, Bohemian neighborhood didn’t suit her intensity. The Lower East Side, maybe, or the Meatpacking district. Harlem. She’d be more suited to the edges, not across the street above the little used-bookshop.
Still, Park Slope was gorgeous. He sat across from her home looking out of the window of a warm coffee-shop, walls stained brown, punk-lite art mapping the stains like highways. People here knew each other and smiled in friendly Birkenstock greetings. The coffee smelled equisite, although he stuck with Darjeeling.

His class was at 2. He’d been here an hour since Noon. Should he go up early? Would it be a bad idea? Would she even be home? He’d wanted to get a sense of where she lived and how, for his next report.

And then? After that, there might be no more reports. After that, there might only be hiding, and revenge. Amil shrugged. Only for so long could you stay the tool of another. Anyways, perhaps she’d be interested in communicating back. He thought the Prince might like that.

He decided. Early was better. And they did have a lot to talk about.


Natalie got off the VP with Mark. So. He was coming over. She really had no idea what to talk to him about. She wasn’t ready to talk about the thoughts seeing his poetry had given her. And she really wasn’t sure of anything about him. He was from Staten Island so her friends in Manhattan didn’t know much about him.

But one thing was in her favor: he was totally new. If he had no connection to her past or present, he had no weight to harm her future.

And the truth was, she wanted to learn about him. There was something oddly jarring about the person she’d seen in the church, the outgoing friendly smart guy, and the kind of introspection she usually thought of as poetic. And – not like other Deaf men I’ve finised met….

So she decided to call Amil and put off their class. She was interested in him, yes, but something basic inside her screamed, WANNA TRY WITH DEAF MAN! WHINE! SCREAM! Inner voices, she thought, sucked. Big. Time.

After the fifth time the terp tried calling him on the videophone, she had a sense something was wrong, but it wasn’t until Mark came booming up the stairs to get her that the feeling of weirdness threatened to take over her stomach and make it all go flarm into the toilet.


Amil was just stepping up on the entrance block when he heard the voices behind him. He turned, and there were…

Mulder and Scully.

Well, they looked mulderlike and scullylike anyway. They were here after him, and all he was was… well…

A semi-legal alien.

When he breathed in next he smelt burnt popcorn which someone had once told him was the smell of fear and every time he’d been afraid thereafter he’d smelt burnt popcorn but been afraid to ask if it was really his psychology or really a psychological trick because, he thought, doing so would be a flaw in his psychology.

“Mr. Mubarak? My name is Agent Sculder. I’m from the FBI. This is my partner Agent Mully. No cracks, please.” They folded their hands, all businesslike. He sensed part of them was enjoying this. “We’d like to ask you a few questions about the death of a young doctor in Saudi Arabia, an American citizen…” They droned on. He sat, frozen. The fuqara….

But stories of sand and snakes would not save him. And what would running do? Even in New York.

He agreed to go with them. What choice did he have? The world around him crumbled in dizzy purple fire. The last thing he saw before entering their little black car was Mark’s shocked face staring at him from across the street. Would he tell Natalie? She might be able to help him. But this was not the way he'd wanted her to learn his secret.


He’s a criminal! thought Mark, then again: or maybe not. Amil had been arrested outside Natalie’s apartment, though, and the first thought that came to his mind was: She’s okay, please, be okay….

He took the steps three at a time till he got to the door, looked around wildly, saw a doorbell that was less grungy than the others and figured it was Natalie’s (a leap of logic only Deaf people used to installing their own doorbells can make.) He pressed it repeatedly. Natalie finally showed, a slightly concerned look on her face. “Hi! What’s up? Hey, seen Amil? I tried calling finish, but response nothing – “
He put his hand out to stall her, then described what he’d seen. Her face went blank. “I thought, maybe Natalie’s hurt, but I see you’re fine. You think happen what?”

She seemed to freeze – then unfreeze into something else, eyes gazing off into the distance. Mark was startled. Before she’d seemed quiet, even bewildered. Now she was… tight. There was no other word to express it. Tight like twisted iron. “You recognize man and woman, can? Because maybe necessary.”

“Think so, yeah,” he replied, studying her face. She seemed to be… planning. “But… why?”

She afforded him only a brief glance, then went back to… whatever space she was in. “Because, maybe, my fault.” She looked at him. “Secret, keep, can?”

Friday, July 08, 2005


friends all okay, british invasion gone home, i sort of fixed my laptop plug with a paper clip and some tissue paper and theoretically i can resume blogging the next couple episodes of FINGERED tonight....

by the way, does anyone think the result of this is pretty much stupid? If I were the German government I'd be all over this kid. He's a good enough hacker to create stuff to mess up computers worldwide? Hire him to create functional government systems. I mean, making him do community work in a nursing home? Nice, but force him to use his powers for good!

vegetables ok in uk

yep, tomato, paula and the little potato (which they seem to have named Molly, but who will always be named potato to me - thanks Dad!) got in touch - they're doing fine, bless 'em.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

news from london

i know a lot of people met ahmed and melly and a bunch of others when they were visiting. seems no deaf hurt or killed in the attack in london. hearing reports from many people and all are okay so far, just a little scared (understandably.) lady bless and guide their feet.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

last chance for comments

Sorry, guys. I know some people are reading this, but nobody has left a single comment. Without any feedback, I have no reason to continue this story to its end. I have two further issues which I will post over the coming week, but Pacts is right - with no commentary of any kind, positive or negative, there's no reason to finish this, and I need to think about focusing my energy on work that's appreciated.

some say the world will end in water

o discordia

Rising sea levels

Created from half of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands when the British colonial authorities handed over power in 1978, Tuvalu is disappearing. Global sea levels have risen by 10 to 20cm in the past 100 years, and on low-lying coral atolls such as Tuvalu the effects are already being felt. "Now is the time to start preparing, so that when people move they move with their traditions, customs and culture," said Toaripi Lauti, Tuvalu's first Prime Minister.

Early each year, during the "high tide" season, springs erupt in people's gardens, and torrents flow along the edges of roads and Tuvalu's airstrip. Lakes appear and people have to wade to their front doors. There's nowhere to run if the tide is combined with strong winds or a cyclone - no part of the atoll is more than a metre above sea level.

Plans for an evacuation of Tuvaluans to New Zealand have been tied up in red tape for years. A brief attempt to launch legal action against Australia and the US for not ratifying Kyoto never got off the ground. The idea of compensation has raised a host of problems. "How do you put a price on a whole nation being relocated?" asks Paani Laupepa, head of the environment ministry. "How do you value a culture that is being wiped out?"

The Mayans say that the world has endured five cleansings in which the human race was pushed to extinction by the global system until they changed their ways. Atlantis was reputably one. The original Mayan culture was another. The correlations to today? Advanced, scientific cultures which have started to become unsustainable. You can't keep putting it on your credit card forever, you know? Eventually what you take has to be paid back. Unfortunately the earth doesn't have an address database. It pushes back in other ways, and unfortunately it is those without power who suffer first. As Lauti said above, and I imagine him saying this with pain in his voice, as he looks out over the land his people have worked for generations, those are the people who have to move now, now while what they have is still intact.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

FINGERED: deafblog serial #6

by Joseph Santini
copyright 2005

She knew, thought Amil. She knew something, anyway. At the moment Amil did not care. His job, his books, his family, even the reason he'd gone to the Bowery last night. All paled in the heat he'd felt from the stage last night. All his plans had been erased by the vision of light-bathed hands which moved like a dream holding a dream.

Amil sat on a grey couch in a grey New York room, made slightly clean by half-hearted efforts. On his television a tape played. Some very ugly woman was repeatedly signing "Abortion. Abortion,"with a rather irritated look on her face. He'd learned far more from watching the young man on stage last night who had turned, however briefly, into a god.

The others had not affected me half as much, he sighed to himself. These beautiful Deaf people, with their wide and open faces, the power of the gyroscope powering the communicative drives fixed in their bodies. He remembered the first one he had met, the path he'd been tumbled onto, like an egg carefully but deftly passed from hand to hand.


He remembered the first Deaf man he had met. They had met because of warts, in Riyadh, in the white school not far from the gardens he tended to support his medical school habit. As he often said, he hoped to kick it one day.

"Herpes simplex," his teacher intoned. "The unfortunate personal habits of these young, uncontrollable children mean that when it arrives, it spreads rapidly. Fourteen cases are here, all presenting elevated, rounded vesicles and even a couple of ulcers doin' the jiggy wit' it." The man smiled unpleasantly. "A little proof, I think, that this sign language is dangerous in the wrong hands."

Amil knew his teacher had some association with the Oralingua people, who believed Deaf children must spend their early years learning to speak a language they cannot hear. This meant the particular school in which they were working today was anathema to him, and he took every opportunity to criticise it. Instead of saying, "These children use their hands more often, have their teachers thought to tell them to wash their hands more often?" he blamed the children for their quite natural behavior. Amil knew nothing of the theory behind the battling systems of education; the children here seemed happy, and he thought the man and children would benefit if he would pay more attention to his job. "Your job, Amil, is to check them for any secondary infections, treat them if necessary, and instruct them in the rules of cleanliness."

So Amil saw his first Deaf people – children. Saw, but not met, for though he smiled at them and welcomed them in his heart, he could not ask their names. They communicated through gesturing. In the old days people believed that sign languages were "slower" than spoken languages. This had more to do with gesture; sometimes stories are so visual that they beg to be gestured rather than signed, in the same way that sometimes people will be talking about the sound of a bird and pause to imitate it – to show the clarity of the bell. They communicated through precise gestures, but this did take hours. On his eighth child he ran out of gloves so he took a break while the teaching assistant went to get more and pick up the next. Outside the grey little room he'd been left in by his grey teacher was a fuqara, sitting on a bench smoking a cigarette in the dry wind.

As a fuqara he wore a mask, so the young student-gardener Amil could not see his face. fuqara were powerful people, still. The shamans of the desert. They could be right in front of you on the sands and you would only see them if they wished you to. It would pay to pay his respects. He did so, closing his eyes and bowing.

When he rose the fuqara considered him. Not sure what next to do, Amil said, "Sir, how can I help you?"He felt as if he were a five-year-old boy again.

The man's hand cupped an invisible ball and he moved it back and forth, then created a sphere with it and his right hand in the air above his head. Embarrassed, Amil folded his hands behind his back respectfully, waiting for the mystic to complete his rituals. He started when he heard giggling, croaking laughter and the thonk! of a thunking foot.

"No, do not worry," the man said. "I did that, show you what I am. I can speak. But I sign Arabic. These children are my tribe." He pointed. The most recently-seen child, Abbas Khossein, was walking around to the front of the school, singing quietly to himself. The man signed something, then shook his head and smiled. "You have done good work today. I have had to do nothing. I heard there was a new student come to work at the school. I wished to see that these jureibe'e were cared for by one with the mark of Allah as healer."The man stretched, so skinny his robes seemed to cover only air and pulled a small bag from his robes. "Here, then. A welcoming gift. If you need me and my help to keep these little ones together and alive, set this on fire and bury the ashes in the ground." He held the wifq out to Amil, whose conscious, Western-educated mind was reasserting itself. A crazy old Deaf man who could speak, giving him this bag which was probably full of old dry bones?

The old man laughed. "Don't believe me, do you? Well, I shall tell you a secret. In my people the Deaf man is highly prized as a fuqara. We can see things others cannot, and our skill with sign language means our spells are tightly made. We can steal hearts. We can heal. What is more important, we also see the relationships between these things. It is the children I care for. I ask for nothing for myself. Will you not trust me?" He said the words of insult with a grain of affection; with that, the twig of a man shoved the wifq at Amil and left, hands… chanting? Yes. They were repeating. The old Deaf fool was signing. And… and… he'd just repeated, word for word, the little not-quite insult his teacher had given earlier.

Over the next two years as a student Amil would meet the old man again and again. Though he had no talent for the work of a shaman, he could see and appreciate the wonders his friend could work. His friend was not supposed to be there, a child of the old regime and neither recognized or supported by the current one. They both had the welfare of the children first; for Amil, such things made rules flexible.

He had cause to use the wifq only once. He had saved it for dire need. One day in the morning he came to the school to find the children clustered around a body on the ground. It was Abbas Khossein. He lay naked and bleeding and strangely twisted. Amil felt his mind shift as the children sparked and signed around him. A part of him watched his body examine the body. Another part of him – saw the wifq.

He blamed himself always for letting the first part overcome the second. He called his teacher, the doctor (who he knew now was trained in America, and had more than a little pride in himself because of this.) The doctor examined the boy and found him a victim of rape and assault to the head – and very near death. Hearing this – joined with the look of pain in the eyes of the boy (eyes the doctor himself chose never to meet) – Amil said, half to himself: " I will call Colu Colu." This was the fuqara's name.

The doctor heard him. "That fool! That charlatan! You'd trust in his services? Where has he studied? What has he learned?"

"He can talk to the children," was all Amil could say. The doctor refused him again. Amil recognized the pride growing, cobra-like, hissing to strike. So he simply nodded, and left, and went to the wifq in his dormitory, and burned it, and buried the ashes in the sand. But when he went back to the tent, the doctor stood in front, smoking a cigarette. Apparently he had decided to stand guard all night. Amil went back to his dormitory, and watched from a window on the roof. He could just see the lights in the windows.

That night strange things happened. First, a low windy hum rose from the desert, and sand seemed to coalsce around the tent. When it faded the doctor was still there. A warning, thought Amil. He was surprised to see no lights in the windows, other than that of the sickroom; the children were so abnormally curious…

Secondly, cobras seemed to descend outside of the sickroom. Amil counted a round dozen of them, hissing. A warning? A reminder? thought Amil, for the cobra was also the symbol of medicine. This time the Deaf children did come to their windows, laughing and pointing at the snakes. In the light of the candles they seemed utterly unafraid.

An hour later, just before dawn, a cry echoed through the night. Sure that Abbas was dead, Amil ran to the sickroom. He found the boy sitting up in bed, perfectly well; the doctor lay on the ground, holding inside. "One of the snakes," he gasped. "It came in, it bit me, it came out from under the boy's pillow." Then he died, and there was a thonk! like that of a walking stick. And though he did not see Colu Colu again for two weeks, he knew the man had been there on that night, taking care of the children of his people. He made arrangements for Abbas to go away for a short time, to hide the miracle of his recovery, and that night he wept with fear and relief.

Amil did not himself have the talent to be a shaman. Eventually the man who called himself Colu Colu taught him two things – one, two speak in a special way Deaf people could understand more easily. And the second thing – to see the glow of those who did have the talent to be a fuqara, and serve their community. "For," the old man had said, "I will live not much longer. You will be a hunter instead of a shaman. Perhaps you will bring one to me. Perhaps you will simply let them know what they are, and their own path…" he coughed.

Amil nodded. He would be going to America, to complete the training he'd begun. He would start there. But still, he hesitated. Colu Colu, I have to know. Was it you who sent the snakes that night? To kill the doctor and save the boy?

The old man laughed. "Was it snakes that made you go to the school of medicine? Was it the wind that drove you?" He coughed again. "I will tell you what you already know. Sign languages are dangerous in the wrong hands." He paused a moment. "And something you might not: that the Deaf Nation has many tribes. This world, this school, is only one of them." Quiet again, he stared at the setting sun.

A month later, he'd been in New York, hunting for Natalie.


Last night the glow surrounding Mark had been the glow of a shaman. This troubled Amil; his promise, long ago, was to help the old man find a replacement to serve the tribe of the Deaf. It was a promise with strength to compel him equal to the directive from his former employer which had brought him to the States, the directive to find and watch Natalie Fallon.

Yet – more disturbingly – it was not the only thing that had kept his eyes on Mark last night. There had been beauty there. Attraction. "We steal hearts," the fuqara had said, as if Deaf people were refugees from Fairyland. And now he'd had his stolen twice in two weeks.