academic standards (none, they said). From her golf game to her tan, from her yellow hair to her Latin verbs, Tay was above and beyond any other girl at school, and way out of Jared's league. Jared got an extra chair, pulled it next to his desk, gestured Mattu into it and opened his history book, confident that it was not going to matter whether he'd read the chapter. “English is my native tongue,” Mattu explained to Tay. He sat down, running his hands along the desk and excitedly stroking the textbook. He did not seem bothered at being the only black kid; rather, he behaved as if he were the norm and the white kids were a diorama at the natural history museum. “You must have an African tongue,” insisted Tay. “We speak a tribal language at home,” agreed Mattu politely. It occurred to Jared that he had not heard any Amabo speak to any other Amabo. “But mostly we speak English,” said Mattu, “because Sierra Leone was once an English colony.” You're from Liberia, thought Jared. Kirk Crick said so. Liberia was never an English colony. It was founded by freed American slaves who went back to Africa. “I got it wrong, then,” said Mrs. Dowling. “I thought when she telephoned this morning that Jared's mother said you were from Liberia.” Mattu paused. To think? wondered Jared. Or to think up lies? “Because of civil wars, we had to flee from Sierra Leone to Liberia, where we lived until the war shifted and we crossed the border again. Then war broke out in the very place we hoped to be safe, and after many sorrows and much danger, we arrived in Nigeria. There was much confusion. If I may, I prefer not to discuss it.” Tay discussed whatever she felt like discussing. “I thought a person from a refugee camp would be half starved. You look pretty good to me, Mattu.” She was flirting, but Mattu didn't realize it. Very seriously he explained, “Food, mainly rice, is distributed. At times there is more food in the refugee camp than people in the host country have. There are riots if the refugees can eat and the native people cannot.” “I'd just love you to give us a talk about Sierra Leone culture and the Mende tribe,” said Mrs. Dowling. Mattu's face was blank. He doesn't know anything about Sierra Leone or its culture, thought Jared. Maybe he's not from either of those countries! Maybe he and Celestine and Andre and Alake don't even come from the same country. They can't talk about their background because they don't share one. They can't talk in their tribal tongue because it isn't the same one. They can't talk about their escape because they didn't do it together. This is just a set of people. They needed to get out and they used each other. And now they're using my family. Next time that refugee officer showed up, Jared was telling.These people shouldn't get away with what they'd done, any more than Brady Wall should get away with what he'd done. Jared wondered how Mopsy was faring with Alake. God help Mopsy.
Alake almost knew where she was. She almost knew that she was attending school. The memory that plagued her life—if this was living—was a school memory. Alake had been wearing her school uniform. She loved how clean and special it was, with its two deep front pockets. Alake loved pockets, and the way you could slip your treasures into them. Everybody in Alake's compound had moved outside into the blazing hot sun. She did not know why this had happened. Had they been going somewhere? Had they thought there was time to run? Or were they just waving good-bye as the girls left for school? It turned out not to matter. Victor's people mowed every one of them down with machine guns. Only Alake and her sister were left standing. Alake didn't know why, and probably Victor didn't know either. He didn't have a purpose for anything. He did things because he could. Alake had her hands tucked in her pockets. Maybe that was why Victor grabbed Alake's sister instead—her hand