Some American city or other

My mother was telling me the story of how her father nearly moved their family to America back in the 1960s. They were poor peasants living in the backwoods of then-Yugoslavia, but he managed to scrape together all the papers they needed to move to the USA.

No small feat.

“His sister already lived there,” my mother told me. It was the sister who had helped organise it all. 

But it never happened. 

My grandfather changed his mind.

Suddenly, he didn’t want to leave his home, didn’t want to move his famly across the planet, didn’t want to start a new life in a new country, a new continent, with a new language, get a job in a city, live in a cramped apartment with no heating – all the opportunity in the world wasn’t worth that.

Why leave what he had? A small farm, a tiny cottage, scraping out an existence as a farmer and railway worker. It wasn’t much, but it was sure. And he knew for sure in America there would be a lot of change.

So he chucked the papers and they never moved. The family stayed in Kamanje, poor, with no opportunities. Eventually, all the children grew up and moved to other countries on their own.

“Probably lucky,” my mum said. “If we’d gone to America, I would’ve done drugs or something.”

“Well,” I said. “You didn’t do drugs when you moved to Australia. I don’t know if you would’ve been any more likely to find them in America. Which city were you going to move to?”

My mum thought a minute. “One of the big ones. A famous one. Name some cities; I’ll know it when you say it.”

“Ma! There are thousands of cities in America! I can’t just start naming them!” I said. And then I realised that I could barely name any cities in America; maybe ten in total, if I were lucky. My American geography has always been poor; partly because I don’t think it actually exists, but that’s a story for another time.

“Just name some,” she said again.

So I did. My list was ludicrous. “Washington. Seattle. Denver. Mexico City. Austin. Kansas.”

“Are they the big ones? One of the big ones,” my mum said.

I wasn’t even sure if what I was naming were cities or states. “Los Angeles. New York. San Fransisco?”

In the end, we couldn’t think of the city, and we both went to bed. That’s where I was, in bed, writing and drinking a beer, when an hour later my mum knocked on my door.

“Chicago!” she said.



“Oh!” I said. “Oh, thank goodness! Now we know. Okay, good night!”

“Good night,” she said, and went back to her room.

Well. Now we know. It was Chicago.

It could have been Chicago.

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Nat Newman

Nat Newman is an award-winning writer of short stories, podcasts, feature articles, ghostwritten books, drunk text messages and a novella. She is also an actor, voice artist, tour host and creative writing tutor.


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