Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Tiny Tales of Love (Pt. 4)




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The roofs of the city were flat and hot. The bare rock was burning under her feet, showing naked chalk-white soles as she ran. »Kya!« He called out her name, as always as if he were picking up something fragile. Kayah. The diamond in the sky. The one he followed wherever she went, and her steps led him above the city, where the horizon unfolded over the brown roofs of Arusha like a pale piece of paper, the mountain in their backs. Mount Meru. And yet behind it, invisible behind haze and cloud layers, its big brother, the Kilimanjaro.
Down in the laneway it smelled of home, of dried cod and sun-laden fruits and of the dust on the roads, but up here it smelled of freedom.

Kya stopped and turned around. »We'll be late if you don't pick up your pace«, she said. »The wind is just right.«
Etienne held the kite firmly with both hands, his heart, his pride, that he wore like a badge to his chest. A dark V showed on his shirt where the sweat had gathered. Kya smiled. She quickly turned away and climbed over a small wall, which a television antenna was attached to. Back when Etienne still possessed his slingshot, he would shoot melon seeds at the windows of the houses, using the satellite dish as a springboard for his missiles. That was before Djamil had crushed the slingshot with a stomp of his sneakers.
»We gonna fly him now?« Etienne had caught up with her, shielding his eyes from the sunlight the walls were reflecting.
»One second«, Kya said. She squinted into the sun, trying to tell which current the clouds were following. »The sky«, her
baba once told her, »is like a vast sea with its currents and tides, samaki. Controlling your kite is like navigating a ship across the ocean.«
And he called her
samaki, like the fish floating nimbly through the rapids.
»There's a cloud vortex«, she said to Etienne. »If we get to the scaffold over there and wait for the right moment, he will fly higher than the marabous.« She laughed and ran off to climb up the metal staves with a few hand grips. Yellow blazed her dress, and red blazed the kite in Etienne’s arms.
»Look out«, Etienne hollered.
Oh, Etienne. Kya clasped the railing and leaned into the wind.
The house was still under construction, a huge yellow building crane raised its neck above them like a metal giraffe, and wherever windows and balconies were supposed to be attached, empty holes were yawning. Kya couldn't remember a day on which the house had not been standing in the alley to the market like a brittle back tooth, and the "Under Construction" signs secured to the railing with wire rope had long faded.
Beneath her the roof dropped away steeply into an urban canyon. The sight made her heart jump every time. Stalls selling fruits and cloth goods, a pick-up with a pile of green banana bunches loaded on its back. And somewhere in the streets was
baba's stall with dried sardines, mackerels and chevron barracudas. She would sometimes eviscerate the fish for him until the silver of their scales clung to her fingertips.
Laundry was billowing out in the wind between the houses. The past few weeks had been rain-swept, too wet to fly a kite, and the weeks that followed were dry and hot, and the heat rested in the streets so quietly that even the Jacaranda trees, growing at the roadside in luminous purple, did not move.
The wind toyed with her dress, and she stretched out her arms and held her face into the wind.
Kya loved her, Arusha, the city that smelled of wet dog when the rain had flushed through the streets. Where the heat stuck to the skin like a damp cloth, and where you could inhale the cool night air after dusk, still bearing the smell of the sun. But even more than Arusha Kya loved the sight from Arusha's rooftops. The horizon. The distant, broken line, behind which lay something she knew only from television and from
baba's stories.
»You coming, Etienne?« Reluctantly Kya turned away from the wind and saw that the boy was crouching in front of an old rusty tin toolbox standing at the foot of the scaffolding. »Did you find something?« she asked.
In response, he drew himself up and held out an object. Kya leapt down to him and took it. It was a pistol. If felt hot and heavy in her hand as she grasped it.
»Do you think it's real?« said Etienne. He was still clutching the kite.
»Are you scared?« Kya said.
She held the gunwith both hands, lifted it up and swayed it slowly across the sky until she had found a target. A cloud resembling a jaguar taking a flying leap. She placed her index finger on the trigger, pulled it, and -
Click. No shot.
»Empty«, Kya said. She opened hereye she had been squeezing shut instinctively. The jaguar no longer looked like a jaguar any more. »Come on, let's fly the kite.« She handed the pistol back and grabbed the staves to climb back up the scaffold.
»Well, look what the cat dragged in.« The voice rasped across the roof.
Kya froze. She didn't need to turn around to know who it was. »Djamil.« The name passed her lips like something bitter.
He was still wearing his school uniform and over it his high school jacket and the old Nikes he held dearly so much. Djamil. Never before had she hated someone as much as she loved Etienne. Etienne had retreated behind her. He was not handsome like Djamil, not tall nor delicate, and the two boys flanking Djamil were twice as big as Etienne. Three against two.
»Are you still hanging out with this little reeker?« Djamil shouted over to them. Kya could almost see Etienne shrinking and hiding his hands that smelled of mackerels. »Isn't it enough that your father smells like fish when he comes home at night?« Djamil said.
Kya clenched. Small, hard fists. She wanted to punch his smirking face. »At least I have a father who comes home at night«, she said.
Djamil's ​​eyes, unlike Etienne's, were tinged. »Watch your mouth«, he growled. The whites of his eyes weren't white but yellow as the cigarette that
baba rolled carefully between his fingers every evening, before he slid it past the tip of his tongue and smoked alone in the dark garden.
»Hey, reeker!« Djamil came closer, kicking a pebble in Etienne's direction. »Is that your new kite? Didn't you like your old one any more?«
Kya clenched in anger. Etienne's last kite had gotten its back broken by Djamil who dignified it with a spurt of his piss.
»Hey, reeker. I'm talking to you.«
Kya grabbed Etienne's hand and squeezed it. Etienne broke his eyes from Djamil, staring at the girl. At her neatly braided hair and the colorful hair ties, braided closely to her scalp. And at the crescent-shaped scar that graced her cheek underneath her left eye, and that puckered every time she laughed until the scar itself seemed to form a smile.
»That's our roof«, the girl now said.
Djamil gave his dogs a hint to throw themselves onto Etienne.
»Kya. Let's go«, whispered Etienne and pulled her by the arm. Kya, however, shook him off, and before he realized what she was doing, she had taken the pistol from his hand and targeted at Djamil. With a click she cocked the gun.
»Hey! Wait a minute.« Startled, Djamil raised his hands. The smirk had disappeared from his face.
»One step closer...
«, she said.
»I was just kidding, man. Take it easy, kid.« He slowly reached out a hand, as to make her lower the weapon.
»Don't touch me.« Kya aimed the pistol at his crotch, and for a moment she enjoyed the twitching in his face. How often had he called Etienne a reeker and pressed his face into the dirt, how often had he grabbed Kya by her braids and whispered sweet insults in her ear. And how many times had she wished to punch him.
Now she smiled. Djamil grew pale under his oily skin. His dogs had retreated and were waiting for the next command.
Kya put her finger on the trigger, from the corner of her eye she saw a flash in the sky, a plane perhaps, she pulled the trigger, and -
The air exploded around them.
A penetrating ringing numbed her thoughts. She shook her head and felt herself faltering. Kya stared at the gun in her hands. No bullet had broken loose from the barrel, but Djamil was tumbling backwards, panic flickering in his eyes at the force of the explosion which had shaken the city.
A hissing pierced the air, and Kya pressed her hands to her ears as a second blow quaked the building. And a third one. Only now she realized that she had dropped the gun. Etienne had dragged her with him and pressed her to the ground, under the cover of the wall with the TV antenna. She was so close to him now that she could see the thin film of sweat on his upper lip. And his eyelashes, seaming his eyes like dark feathered crowns. And his eyes. Like ponds, dark and deep.
People were screaming in the streets below. A siren wailed loudly and surreal. A name flashed through her head. Baba! Had his fish stall been hit? Were all the fish scattered on the dusty ground in silvery heaps? And baba... She squinched her eyes shut as the next shock hit the house. Plaster fluttered down from the ceiling and sprinkled her hair.
As Kya opened her eyes again, dust being caught in her eyelashes, Etienne was no longer by her side. She called his name.
»The kite!«, the boy yelled back and ran towards the scaffolding where the kite lay beside the toolbox. He must have dropped it when the bombs fell. Oh, Etienne. His white heels flashed as he ran across the roof.
»Etienne!«
It was like a huge stroke of fist at the house. Red dust blew up, and Kya yanked her arms up to her head to shield herself from the flying debris and chips of stone. Then, suddenly, it was quiet again. The roar in the sky ebbed away, and the dust settled down on the city. Kya scrambled to her feet and stumbled a few steps across the roof. Where was he? Over there. A hole at the edge of the roof, the same spot on the scaffold she had been standing only a few minutes ago, her arms reached out into the wind. Gone, as if a giant had ripped the piece of rock from the walls. Surrounding the hole lay scattered boulders and metal struts like twisted, torn off limbs. And there. There lay a body, dark and small.
Kya wanted to dart forwards, but an arm grabbed her around the waist and threw her back between the sheltering boulders. The sirens in the streets grew louder.
»Etienne!« Her voice broke into a sob. But Djamil held her tight, and silent tears ran down her face and drew dark streaks on her cheeks.
And so died Etienne, the boy with eyes like ponds, and his arms still clutched the red kite to his chest.