My American Cousin by Alain Mabanckou, translated by Helen Stevenson

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It’s summer in New Orleans as we wander through the city streets in Helen Stevenson’s translation of a story from Alain Mabanckou

There’s a heatwave in New Orleans. It’s the last day of my holiday, after a week in France – tomorrow morning I fly home to Los Angeles. I’ve been walking all morning, now I’m heading back to my hotel.

I go along Canal Street, a winding road swarming with tourists. Young black guys are sitting propped up against Colonial-style buildings, arguing, laughing loudly, listening to music, pointing at passing cars, commenting on the model.

No, they’re not smoking weed – that’s what everyone assumes around here.

No, they’re not drinking alcohol either – they’re not thirsty these days, not since 2005, when the sea almost swamped the entire city during Hurricane Katrina, one of the most powerful in the country’s history. They’re suspicious of fluids, even the strongest liquor. They’re not shooting at each other. They’re waiting in the street. They don’t know what they’re waiting for, they’re just waiting. Something might happen. Or not. They’re keeping watch over the city.

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