Everyone was silent, and most of the older people stared at their shoes. The younger among them were bolder and looked around, as if to reassure themselves that there were no spies among them, noting their discussion of the government or even the word itself.
Athena kept reading the diary, or at least skimming it. "OK, Mario knew the guy in the picture. They did both work for the government. They were senators."
Yamileth mumbled "were is the key word." Then she looked up at Athena. "How long ago was this? Had it already started?"
Athena looked at the dates in the diary. "It was begun about a year before I was born. No. It was begun when I was a few months old, but he goes back to before that time. So anyway, he would have gotten the letter ... in the middle of writing the diary at least. Maybe toward the end. Although it doesn't make sense that he'd have a letter from his friend addressed to some lady."
The men and women who were closer to her mother's age looked like they were trying to do math in their heads. Finally Athena's mother, Kyria, spoke. "It started when I was pregnant with Athena, remember? In Arizona."
The name of the state brought another hush, at least to the older ones. "Arizona?" David and Carlo both looked like they'd never heard of the place, let alone what the point was.
"Arizona. The state. They started arresting everyone who worked for the government who was Hispanic. Made them prove they were citizens. At least, that's what they said."
"Wait." David looked a little baffled. "Seriously? How do you go from that to an all-white government?"
"All-white, all-male government," Athena added.
"Easy," Kyria pointed out. "If no one speaks up, then eventually there's no one left to speak up. There were lots of posters about that in the aftermath of what happened in Germany."
"What happened in Germany?" Valeria asked.
"You're kidding! What did they teach you in school? What did you learn?"
"We learned how to read and write and do math."
"Plants, too," David added. "We had that vegetable garden. And we made things out of wood. And the girls learned cooking and sewing. Home economics." He resented the implication that his education was somehow lacking something.
Yamileth looked at her son. "Who was Hitler? Or Martin Luther King, Jr.? Or Malcolm X? Gandhi? Jomo Kenyatta? Nelson Mandela? Napoleon? John F. Kennedy? Jimmy Carter? Obama? Eleanor Roosevelt? Geraldine Ferraro?" She went on with a list of names, people her son had never heard of.
"It's a code," Athena interjected.
"What?" Everyone looked at her, as she looked at the photo and letter again.
"It's a code. The number over the door is 722, right? If you look at the letter, the seventh word is I'm. Two words after that is in and two words after that is danger. He's saying I'm in danger."
"But what about the rest of the nonsense in the letter? Are you saying that's a code, too?"