You carry the kid on your back, his arms tied around your shoulders, his bulky head dead on your neck, as you stoop to collect the mines Brother deactivates. He’s a cripple; you’ve got to be his hands. At nights in dark rooms, sometimes while sleeping, he utters things which come true and kill a newborn, heal the sick and devastate a whole village. You look at him when he’s asleep, waiting, hoping to hear about good things. The kid puts an arm around your waist but you turn around. The rope around his ankle is undone. He’ll go walk down the roads while you sleep. You turn around. How old are you really? They don’t know. You support your two brothers, they think. Your parents were killed by the army in your village which was once green. Where is that village now? The muddy paths are lost forever.
During the days, you work with the children. Orphans, they are all. For a while, you sit to rest and gaze vacantly toward the skies, the dust caked on your arms and legs. The kid walks away and doesn’t look back. He looks a bit deranged with his eyes crossed and tongue always clucking but such is the manner of all kids, one cannot suppose. Somewhere far, he breaks down and calls for his father who doesn’t come. Brother does and whispers something in your ear. It’s going to be a truck this time; they should leave. The orphans are told; it could be anytime now. The place is evacuated; Brother finds the kid and looks at you with eyes, distant and burning. You turn your face and walk away. How old are you really? Too young, too ignorant.
He sleeps in the room, fed enough from your tired hands, when you slink away and far with the kid and the rope. In a field with mines, you leave him, tying his rope to the bark of a tree you know he cannot untie. You leave him in the field full of mines and you leave the rope slackened. He calls out to you several times, trying to see through the darkness with his eyes closed. Who is blind now? ‘Mother,’ he cries, he knows. ‘Mother,’ you hear and turn around, your young face disguised, your heart bloated. Still, you walk away. How old are you really? You cannot be.
The dawn fades out. In the afternoon, on waking up, you see the kid back, sitting beside Brother, who stares hard at you leaning against a wall, his eyes swelling, lips sealed. You sit up, your delicate fingers pulling at your hair and ask, ‘When do we leave?’ One orphan, their leader, lost a leg to the explosion, but the kid was miraculously saved. ‘When do we leave?’ you ask blankly and say, ‘The kid can’t come along.’
You thrash him that night, with your weak, delicate arms until the kid begins to bleed profusely. It must have taken hours. Your arms lose all their strength mid-way but you continue until Brother turns up. ‘Why do you always save him? When do we leave?’ He takes him away, crying, spitting out ‘Why can’t you accept him!’
A still silence dissolves the shout as soon as it surfaces and billows. It comes from some place deep embedded in time, on your command, every piece of furniture, clothing, paint, food and earthen water pots, resounding it at the same moment. You lay dead. It’s not you. Your eyes burn in those strong vivid memories that slide and bulge and shrink in rapid succession, the images that still possess everything you had until they came, until they desecrated every possession of yours, every single part of you, one by one and together, everything: your adolescence, your childhood, your breath; impregnating a beast within you which must come out and remind and stifle you every single moment with its crossed eyes and a clucking tongue. It’s not you. You lay there, almost silent.
‘He’s a bastard!’
The sound of it still echoes and like wisps of smoke permeates the air and shall lie thus for years to come – like dust on bricks, blood stains on grass, the smell of all the travellers’ feet on stones, long dead – forever eminent in their obscurity.
How old are you really? You were young, truly young.
Leap, child, leap. I see your feet upon the brown, rough surface of the edge. You look at the skies and your toes twitch. Sleep, child. You’ve seen enough. Close your eyes. You drowned the kid tying his leg to a boulder and he’s gone and now, you must leap, high and clear. Leap toward the blue of the skies. Leap high and let them open up and embrace you and soothe your skin down with their tenderness, swallow and cradle your being in its arms to your grave.