First like this, then like this


By Rafael Mendez


The flag was from Nigeria, two towers of green with white between them. Henry folded it into a triangle, the same way his father had taught him. Primero asi, luego asi, and you’re done. He could still hear the vague instructions, could see the brown hands directing an invisible orchestra. He mimicked the movements and placed it between Andorra and Costa Rica. Papa always kept them in alphabetical order, said the world only worked when countries stayed in their place. Henry mixed them and matched them. His wall chameleoned every day. He pinched the front of his university button-down and flapped it outward twice, drying the sweat on his chest. The phone screamed down the hallway. It was Ricky but it wasn’t his voice. It was the voice of a man who’d swallowed Ricky whole so that he echoed from inside a different body. The Americans won’t put it up, they won’t put our flag up. We march today. Hours later, standing across from the white mob, his friends screamed Panamá, Panamá, Panamá. The whites screamed USA, USA, USA. And before the bullets, Henry thought, Primero así, luego así, and you’re done. Primero así, luego así, and you’re done.


Rafael Enrique Mendez was born in Panama City, Panama in 1993. He is a graduate of Emerson College. He currently works at Fundacion Calicanto, an NGO that focuses on the at-risk citizens of his home country. His major influences are diverse and include Junot Diaz, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jorge Luis Borges, Sandra Cisneros, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In his fiction, he mixes both Spanish and English, a style that reflects his bilingual and bicultural upbringing. His writing focuses on the fusion of Latino and American culture and their combined influences upon his heritage as well as his personal views.

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