Traveling to the City of Angels by Monique Lloyd

The Beginning and the End When I was a small child I lived on the reserve in northern Ontario with my mishomis and nokomis. Our lives were quiet, interrupted only by monthly visits from my mother, who read us fragments of the letters sent by my father who lived far away, and my little brothers, who laughed and played. In the time of the crow moon we would go sugar-bushing, collecting sap from maple trees and making syrup and sugar cakes. When the sun danced in the sky we swam in the lake and picked berries to eat and to dry, and planted corn, beans, and squash in a sunny spot among the birches. Then came the time of the silver rain when mishomis would hunt game, nokomis would harvest the wild rice, and the loons cried in the cool evenings. It was the time of the wolf moon that I loved best. We-- all the people, all the plants, all the animals, all the world-- would sleep and rest. The snows would come and cover the earth, the winds were fierce and bitter, the cold was deep, and everything was dark and silent. It was the time of dreams. Nokomis would wake me from my sleep in the night, bundle me up tightly, and carry me outside. She would show me the curtains of light covering the sky, glowing colors going up to the top of the world, where the spirits of our ancestors danced. On clear nights she would show me the stars, always pointing out Ojiig'anung, the Great Bear, with the bright star that leads us home.

Lloyd/Traveling/2 It was early November, 1955. I was five years old. My mother and two little brothers had come to visit. I sat on the floor near the wood stove with my brothers, tickling them to make them laugh, and listening as my mother and nokomis spoke quietly. They sat close together at the kitchen table, their eyes serious and their voices soft and low so I could not make out their words. The conversation ended suddenly. Nokomis looked sad and nodded at my mother as they both stood and then they both turned to look at me. Nokomis and my mother worked together to make supper, not speaking. They prepared turtle soup, a special dish. My little brother squealed with delight when he saw this treat. The baby gurgled and drooled and waved his round, fat arms, happy that his older brother was happy. I set the table and said nothing. Mishomis came in with his dogs, smiling at seeing us. He took off his coat and hat while the dogs settled themselves next to the wood-stove to get warm and dry, steam rising from their fur. Soon the room smelled of smoke and turtle and wet wool and wet dog. Nokomis took mishomis to a corner for a moment and spoke a few words to him. When they returned, he was no longer smiling. There wasn’t much talking while we ate. Someone would say something about the snow or the look of the sky or ask after the health of a distant cousin but nothing was said of the serious talk. After the dishes were cleared away, my mother visited a bit longer. When the sky was dark, she and my brothers left. Mishomis sat in his chair near the stove and dozed, snoring a song with his dogs. Nokomis looked at me and then looked away. She knelt down and began poking at the fire and I watched the

Lloyd/Traveling/3 gray in her braid glint in the firelight. “A letter came from your father. He has work and a place for you to live. He sent money so all of you can take a train and go where he is.” I thought about these words. I had seen and heard the train. It was big and made loud, frightening noises as it rushed along its metal road. I looked at nokomis and said nothing. “The place is called Los Angeles. It means City of Angels.” Silence. Nokomis sighed. Mishomis and the dogs snored. The fire crackled. “Angels are sacred spirits. It must be a good place.” Still I said nothing. She went on, slowly. “It’s a strange land. There is never snow.” “Never?” I asked, confused. “Never” she replied. Then she added, “The bark on some of the trees have scales like fish. Giant ferns grow at the top.” I was skeptical of these things. I thought again about it never snowing. “If it doesn’t snow then when do the flowers and animals sleep?” Nokomis said nothing; only shrugged and shook her head. There was a thought in the back of my head, a question I needed to ask but I was afraid of the answer. I waited, uncertain if I wanted to ask. But I had to know. “Will I ever come back to you and mishomis?” Nokomois looked away and poked at the fire again, even though it did not need poking. Then she told me a story about a quail family. The quail family lived all together

Lloyd/Traveling/4 but the chicks grew up and had chicks of their own and moved away to build their own nests. Her voice was gentle and sad. I understood the meaning of the story. The Journey It was only a short time, a few weeks, before my mother came to visit again to tell me we would be leaving early the next morning. Mishomis and nokomois went to the train station with us. My grandparents hugged us good-by. I put my hands on nokomois’ cheeks and looked in her deep and sad dark eyes. Gi zah gin, I whispered to her as I kissed her and she repeated it to me. Gi zah gin, I whispered in mishomis’ good ear and he repeated the same words to me. Then we were climbing up the steps into the train, my mother carrying several small bags and holding my baby brother. I carried the baby’s diaper bag in one hand and held my little brother’s hand with the other. We sat down and I looked out the window for one last glance of my grandparents but it was too dark and it had begun to snow. The train made a terrible sound and we left the world I had lived in all my life. The rocking of the train lulled me to sleep and I awoke when the train stopped moving. We gathered everything and left the train and entered a large building. “Is this the City of Angels?” I asked my mother, sleepily. “No, no.” She replied. “This place is called Chicago. This is where we go on another train.” She handed me the baby’s diaper bag and reminded me to hold on tightly to my little brother’s hand and to watch her carefully and follow. “There are many people here and noise.”

Lloyd/Traveling/5 I nodded but there were more people than I had ever seen at once before and more sounds I’d ever heard at one time. The building had a high, high ceiling. I wanted to look up to see all the pretty things on the ceiling but I was afraid of losing my mother and baby brother so I only glanced at it once or twice when my mother’s walking slowed.. “I’m hungry,” my little brother said quietly. “Yes,” was all my mother said. We could see a place where people sat at tables, eating. We went there and sat down too. Some people sitting at the tables starred at us. When I smiled at them, they turned away. One man glared at me and I glared back at him until he too, turned away. My mother put my baby brother, who somehow slept through all the noise, on the bench of the seat and looked around. I looked around some more too. The people looked different. Their skin was dark, darker than mine had ever been, and they all had very curly hair. I looked at my mother. She was looking across to the other side of the building, where I could barely make out another place where other people sat at tables eating. It was a long way. I could see worry cross her face. She looked tired. Then she suddenly began speaking to me and my brother in a loud voice. Why was she speaking so loudly? She always spoke in a soft voice. She’d taught us that to speak loudly was rude. After a few moments, a woman came up to the table and said something to my mother. Her skin was black and she was dressed all in white. Even her apron was white. Angels wore white. Was she an angel? I looked at her face and saw her eyes, deep and dark, and wondered. My mother gave me a quick warning glance and then told the

Lloyd/Traveling/6 lady dressed all in white that we were hungry and wanted something to eat, but the angel lady didn’t understand my mother. I was confused because my mother wasn’t speaking English, a language I knew she knew. The angel lady looked at the people sitting at the other tables eating but no one looked at her or at us. Perhaps we had somehow become invisible. She sighed and handed my mother a large paper which had writing and pictures. My mother pointed to some pictures and made three fingers. The angel lady took a pad of paper and a tiny pencil from her apron pocket and wrote something down and left. A little later she came back with sandwiches and glasses of milk. I watched her with little sideway glances while I ate as she went from table to table but once she caught me watching her. I smiled. She looked at me for a moment and then, very slowly, she smiled back at me. The End and the Beginning We boarded another train and I sat by the window and looked out to see where we had been and where we were going. There were places with many large buildings and cars, then fields, flat and white, filled only with snow. I saw many things that went by so quickly I wasn’t certain I’d seen them. The snow began to disappear until we came to place where there was a great deal of sand, like the edge of a lake, but there was no lake. There were many large rocks, and strangely shaped plants. I could see mountains far in the distance. Lightening streaked across the blue and purple sky as the sun set and I thought of the lights in the sky where my ancestors’ spirits danced. “What is the name of this place?” I asked my mother. “New Mexico” she answered. “We’ll be in the City of Angels soon.” she added,

Lloyd/Traveling/7 her eyes shining. I fell asleep, my head pressed against the cool window, and awoke to my mother’s hand on my shoulder gently shaking me awake. “We’re here,” she whispered. I blinked my eyes but the lights were so bright it was hard to see. I walked down the steps, off the train, and heard my mother’s happy cry at seeing my father. He hugged us all, my parents smiling and talking, my little brother still half-asleep, my baby brother wailing. My mother gathered me and my brothers around her, like a mother bird with her chicks. We sat quietly on a bench while my father went to collect my mother’s trunk and put it in the car and then came back for us. We began the last part of our journey. The breeze was warm and the sky was clear. I could smell roses. I looked out the open car window and saw the trees with bark like fish scales and tops like ferns that nokomis had told me about out and was delighted they were real. There were places where there was less light and I could make out the stars. I found Ojiig'anung in the sky and the bright star that always leads us home and thought about all the wondrous things I’d seen. I thought about the angel lady I had met and wondered if I would meet any more angels. I drifted off to sleep, waking only briefly as my father’s arms lifted me up and carried me to into the house, and then I slept until morning.

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