The Ugandan cab driver asked where I was born, but hadn’t heard of Las Vegas. I told him the desert, the Mojave, and he asked, “Are people civilized there?”
I knew what he meant - he talked about the nomadic tribes in Uganda – for him, civilization is a simple thing, wearing suits, driving cars, hospitals and schools and toothpaste and macaroni and cheese in a box, but I thought about his question while I watched the mother and daughter in the airport.
Mom’s sunglasses cost more than a month’s rent on a two-bedroom flat in the city, engorged jewels (w)ring her neck, weighing down fingers and wrists, belly and breasts smashed and mangled into a white suit, mouth gaping and chomping, yogurt doesn’t require mastication but her glittering lips worked and twisted like she was tearing raw flesh from bone, mouth wide open tongue sliding out. Daughter beside her with the flat belly of the young, jeans around her hips, an inch of skin showing, you might believe in redemption for her, seeing that tender belly exposed to the world, if you don’t raise your eyes further you could believe in heat and life and guts in the girl, but let your eyes drag up to her face, more gaudy, vicious jewelry along the way, and there the mother’s face twenty-five years younger, there the same open-mouthed barbaric chewing, same eyes floating dead and jaded, her mother didn’t teach her child civilization, what she learned is money can excuse anything.
My Ugandan cab driver in his neat black suit and quiet voice asked me if the people in the Mojave were civilized.
Not really, I said.