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LAce Posted Monday, April 7th, 2008
Noon Berries
Anan Ali

The raspberries were as red as they could become. From behind the white metal fence, the water tank hummed mysteriously. She was subduing laughter because she thought hiding was funny. One time her mother told her that she had hid for three hours in the kitchen cupboard in her earlier childhood. It was another form of entertainment to her, but to her mother she had been distraught. She was on the verge of calling the police after going out and knocking upon neighbours' doors, hurrying down strange streets and hoping that her child was not lying dead somewhere beyond her hope and control.

The noon sun was hot and her stomach was tying knots. She could hear his footsteps nearing and she almost shrieked. He was not bigger than her nor was he more adept at playing hide-and-seek. If anyone had any experience it was her. She played with whomever would play; her body was bony and lean and full of energy. Her knees and elbows were dark, her hair frazzled even when her mother had brushed it carefully that morning, tying it into a proper braid.

She tiptoed expertly around the corner and felt him follow like a shadow. He was in fifth grade and knew how to win against the second boss in the horror computer game. He was so lucky to have a father that bought him games. Her own father forbade her from watching animated stories about footballers. Just today she had seen football magazines strewn all over their living room. He and his brothers looked upon one carefully, spelling out the different exotic-looking players. People did not interest her but the games always did, the more animated the better in her mind.

She looked upon the water tap that stuck out from the whitewashed wall about five feet away and started running towards it. She heard his laughter behind her and she broke out a sweat as she concentrated upon reaching that water tap. The hose was coiled at the bottom of the wall like a beige sleeping snake and it seemed sinister and exciting to reach that place. It had been chosen as the den for this noon's game and she regretted choosing it because it seemed so far away, so out of reach. She was in a game with no referee but it seemed as though if she did not reach that wall it was the definite end. But his dark hand grabbed a hold of her collar before she could touch the wall and her breathing only got louder and heavier. Her open palms crashed into the rough white wall anyway and she yelled, hissing and then shaking her hands quickly.

The boy looked at her in a curious blend of triumph and guilt. He eventually grinned, his brown razor-sharp strands shining beneath the hot beaming sun.

'I got you,' he smirked.

'I almost won,' she started to say and then someone at the top of a flight of steps called for lunch. The boy began to turn his back and she held him by the collar, wanting to argue. He slapped her hand away and she flinched, angry. He looked wide-eyed back at her before he trotted up the stairs. The girl followed suit and into the little room that led to a wide modern kitchen. There was a marble-counter sitting area in the middle complete with stools such as those one saw in magazine shoots or on TV. She was reminded of the buzzing lamps in the front yard as though their house was a public park - but she remembered the ashy moths, crushed upon the black plastic surfaces and wondered why they were dead.

'This is delicious,' the boy mumbled, filling his mouth with morsels of meat and yellow rice. He looked slightly plumper when he ate, as if he had fattened up in seconds.

Two more boys surrounded the food, eating from the same wide plate that was laid upon a square plastic sheet.

The girl collapsed next to them, extending her hand. A hissing voice from behind startled her and the others.

'Mariam! Come here. You can eat later,' she gestured with her hand.

'I'm hungry, Ummah' Mariam said, unwilling to move. Her torso was facing the food, and the boy who had held her back was looking at her with his wide-eyed stare.

Her mother marched towards her and grabbed her elbow. She heaved her up and Mariam's temper flared, shaking the woman's grasp off.

She ignored her shout of her name - so loud in her ears - and dove down the steps and into the yard that the housing complex shared. She went to the white fence and cried, feeling hungry and confused. She had been here half an hour ago but now the feeling was different, it had been exciting to be here and now it was revolting. She thought of the food - the meat and the yellow rice and the shiny grease that had been painted upon the boys' fingers.

The sun was mellow in the sky and the redness of the raspberries' seemed subdued as well. Mariam walked to the wall, to the harmless beige hose and looked up at the berries. She grabbed the water tap and steadied her bare foot upon it. It dug painfully into her skin but she was used to such sensations. In one swift motion Mariam toppled it and the water tap swayed dangerously beneath her weight and she extended her fingers as high as she could to the little berries. Just as she grabbed a handful of the raspberries the water tap came off underneath her, and some skin on her arms curled off as she skid down the rough white wall.

Mariam gritted her teeth, feeling the wind knocked out of her as she hit the concrete. The corners of her eyes were wet with what she assumed were misplaced tears. The boy's younger brother was pointing at her, and shouting, attracted by the sound of the crash. They came out and saw her, one laughing and the other smiling. She turned her eyes and started to make her way down the wall and into the shadows. When she opened her bleeding fingers, though, she found that the raspberries were squashed. She looked at them sadly and when she sat down in the shade eating them she wondered why they had to be crushed and why they were not as delicious as she had imagined when they were hanging delicately from the black tree's branches.

Comments [post a comment]

Posted by Donia Carey on Wednesday, April 9th, 2008 at 2:12 PM
Dear Anan, this is a wonderful story, and I was fully engaged. You have a rare talent for imagery and for getting under the skin of your characters. Thank you.



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