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They offered me psychiatric help, but once I’d breathed my own fire, I felt saner than I had in thirty years. So of course they had to let me go. After a couple of weeks, my heart slowed its fluttering and my mind didn’t race as fast, so I called Ted to beg him to make Dawn the case manager. I was too late. Cornelia had already moved into my office.
But it turned out there were still a few months between the homeless shelter and me, so I took my time, figuring out where I was going. I didn’t need to save Winston anymore. To everyone’s surprise, the Okapu’s asylum came through. Ted said somebody pretty high up in the State Department sent such a strong letter the judge didn’t have a choice. Now Dr. Okapu actually had a green card, though he didn’t have a job to go with it. He still sold leather jackets at a flea market on the outskirts of town, one of those places where green cards are as irrelevant as the provenance of the jackets. Dawn told me how to get there.
Under the low winter sky, with shopping bags floating through the slushy parking lot, the place looked as depressed as the rest of Greenglass. A plastic yellow sign on wheels announced the latest load fallen off the truck. I recognized a Kosovar woman getting into her car: the mother of that kid who lost it in the middle school. People endured unspeakable sorrow and came all this way looking for a little peace, and instead they got more struggle.
I entered the long, low shed and spied Dr. Okapu straightaway. He was wearing an old-fashioned fedora—a gray professor’s hat—but he was playing the huckster, roaming the aisle in front of his stall, gesturing and putting his arm around a customer’s shoulder. He looked taller in the hat. I still had no idea whether he was the good guy or the bad guy, but when I got close, I saw that he had framed a picture of Ken Saro-wiwa for the back of his stall. In this dreary bazaar in this dreary town, Saro-wiwa beamed down on me. I froze, but I made myself meet his smiling gaze, so full of life that you could imagine people all over the world remembering him and rolling up their sleeves, pulling up their socks, marching out to stop the oil companies and the gas companies and the military dictators. Beneath the picture, Dr. Okapu had set up a narrow table with two candles on it: a kind of an altar. He’d made a saint of Ken Saro-wiwa and already I was doing the same, when the truth was, I didn’t know any more about him than I knew about Dr. Okapu, or about Cornelia for that matter.
I waited till Dr. Okapu finished with his customer. When he spotted me, he nodded in that remote, formal way of his, but then he relented and flashed a large gap-toothed smile. “You should read about this man,” he said. “A great man. I can give you a book.”
Did I take a step backward? No, his arm was around my shoulder, and I was trying not to flinch. “Thanks.”
“I’m the one who owes you thanks,” he said, in that unexpected high pitch. He thought I had something to do with the asylum.
“That was Cornelia who helped.” It wasn’t an easy sentence to choke out.
“Now, now, you mustn’t be modest.” He was a different man on his own territory, no longer at the mercy of lawyers and judges and case managers on the verge of nervous breakdowns.
“No, really. I’m not responsible. I just came to ask if everything is OK with you and Winston. I…he’s a lovely boy.”
“He is a good son,” his father said, and when he squeezed my shoulder, his eyes filled. He was a big mush—who would have guessed?
“Isn’t there anything I can do for him? Anything I can do for you?”
Dr. Okapu let out a deep belly laugh, the first laugh I had ever heard from him. “Oh, no, my dear lady, I think we must agree that it’s my turn now.” He pressed me tight against his rib, and his laughter trailed off. “Isn’t there anything I can do for you?”