Salvatore's The Kid is the seventh of the eight stories The New Yorker featured when it provided its best twenty authors under forty years dubbed '20 under 40'. Reviews of the other stories could be read here.
A boy of about five years has suddenly appeared at the Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel Airport, and weeping. Speaking Latvian, the boy is incomprehensible and talks intermittently. Travellers waiting to embark have gathered around him trying to coax him in different languages if he will respond but all prove to no avail. But by some means the boy knows that he is in Germany and that since his mother had warned him that
A German may appear to be a good fellow, but better to hang him
Janis, the boy, continued crying.
The next section of the story told of Elroy Heflin who had been posted to Latvia and was having an affair with a Latvian lady, Evija. Elroy wanted to marry Evija after she became pregnant but she said she wasn't ready and Elroy was deployed to Afghanistan. Thereafter Elroy began to send mother and son money. Then Elroy received an email to come for Janis as Evija was moving to Spain and she wouldn't go with Janis so Elroy must come for the boy within the month. The narrative then switched between Janis's present state and his father's confusion and frustrations.
Single and without any experience on how to bring his son up, Elroy's journey was filled with personal torture as he looks for a book on parenting to help him adjust; shouting at the boy in that kind of military tone and training. Whereas Elroy's frustration is easy to sympathise with, his final decision to leave a five-year old boy who speaks little English and no German and who seems a bit timid in a strange country is something that is difficult to understand and to forgive. Initially, he thought Janis might not be his child because Evija was dating other men in addition to him especially when he left her to Afghanistan. In fact, there was a Russian theatre fag whom she was dating. But Elroy accepted that the boy resembles him
"... He looks like me, though. A fucking miracle, right? You expect them to follow you in the face, but then you don't think they do, until they get to a certain age, and you see it."
But Heflin would go on to debate with himself, trying to psychologically adjust himself to include Janis, looking for a place to think, to see if things would work according to plan. However, finally he left Janis at the airport as he enplaned to Heathrow. Was it because of his military background? Or was it because he was also deserted by his mother and was raised by an ex-stepfather? Or was it simply because he couldn't raise the boy? But why leave him at an isolated place? I had to reread certain parts of the story because I thought I had missed some lines or had not understood certain passages properly. I really wanted to know why Heflin would do that.
And when Heflin, having now become a Major, was on his fourth deployment in Afghanistan he received a letter from Evija wishing to see her son and hoping they will be together gain, the three of them.
If you have read this story, kindly share your thoughts on this with me.