Leaving the Old . . . Into the New

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It was the best of times; the cold winter of December. 31st night.

My friend and I rode the subway train to the city. We were going to watch the ball drop. Of course, we weren’t alone. Half the city was awake. They too wanted to watch the ball drop into the New Year.

It was a cold night. Huddled in my jacket, my fingers numb inside my leather gloves. Vapour escaped my lips whenever I spoke. My friend led the way. At night time, I hardly recognize familiar streets. Plus there was a crowd pushing along with us as we marched toward Times Square. Revelry filled the air. People poised for photos here and there . . .

Who would have thought for the first time in my life, I’d be seeing the end of a year and the beginning of another in a foreign country. I was still a stranger. My eyes soaked up the sight of everything I passed and yet it wasn’t enough. I wanted to sing, to join the crowd in revelry. I wanted to write something about the moment. Stupid of me yo have forgotten to bring a pen.

I wanted to fall in love. Right there as my friend and I transverse 7th Avenue. If only I had a female beside me, I probably would. But the cold . . . The cold was biting. Me, a son from the Sahara of Africa. I missed the heat. And yet I was happy. I felt great being here in a foreign country. In a bustling city, surrounded by people I hardly knew yet wish I did.

It felt so good leaving the old year behind.

Do They Know it’s Christmas?

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Do they know it’s Christmas?
Do they forget the war is over
The bells have rung
Old folks have come and gone,
There’s burning wood in the fireplace
But no one to stroke the ashes.
The dead left with Yeats to Innisfree,
Soldiers are back home to play mom & dad with glee;
Mistletoes in place of grenade throws,
Child soldiers awaiting presents from Santa.
Here’s a filled stocking for Aunt Martha . . .
Whereas others, obstinate as rocks, hide in the fields, clutching their guns
Waiting for a war that’s no longer to come.
I ask again, do they know it’s Christmas?

Living, New York City

2013-01-08 22.05.14Why can’t there be summer in January?

Why don’t flowers bloom in Autumn?

A bird flew through my window, said you’re looking for me;

Lovers stroll in the park

The moon hangs in your eyes.

There goes Woody Allen winning the top prize

In the Woody Allen look-alike contest,

I heard a cab driver mutter that he’s God’s lonely man

Angels weep beyond the clouds:

Look, honey, see their tears fall:

It’s raining over on 51st Avenue.

September comes, and they’re waving flags

Abe, George, and Bob Marley sit on Rushmore

Arguing about the Yankees

They said a law was passed,

But how come you and I still aren’t free?

Rest now, my child

Don’t be afraid of the night,

This isn’t Watts, ’69.

No, this isn’t Watts, ’69.

 

Headstones Under a Grey Sky

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I was in a small town called Cherryfield in Maine when this story came to my head. There’s a small cemetry not far from the place I stayed with a mother and her son. It was the month of April. I was cold, and I was lost as to what direction I was taking, or where to go. I was two months away from leaving the U.S., and waiting on several literary agents whom I’d sent query letters regarding my novel, ‘The Rabbit’s Man’, and I was in such hurry to hear from them. Of course, they all turned me down (figures), but this simple story got me bleeding inside.

* * * * *

The old man got up from bed at the crack of dawn. He glanced out his window, at the grey overcast sky that hung over the valley and knew that in time it was going to rain. He lit a lamp as he then made his way towards the kitchen to fix himself some hot water on the stove. A couple of minutes later, when it felt ready, he carried the steaming kettle into the bathroom and poured a good measure of it into a bucket of half-filled water so as to bath with, while the rest he poured into a bailer, with which he then used to shave himself.

Finished with having his bath and cleaning up himself, he was in his room dressing up when again he glanced out his window and his eyes stopped at the elm tree which stood on a grassless knoll, a hundred and something meters from where the pig pen was situated. But it wasn’t the tree that caught his attention, but the two headstones situated beside each other under one of its thick branches. It had been a while since last time he went up there to pay his respect. Yesterday, he’d finally gotten a reason to do just that today. He went to his table and picked up the brown envelope upon which he’d dropped his hat last night.

Best get this over and done with, he thought to himself as he wore on his boots and jacket, donned his hat, and then made his way towards the doorway and from there stepped out of his home, stopping first to inhale his first breath of outside air for the day, before making his way up the knoll towards the tree.

A cold roving wind sprung up unannounced and he pressed a hand down on his hat to stop the wind from taking it off his head till he came to a halt before the headstones. The inscribed name on the first headstone by his left bore that of his wife Marilyn, who’d departed some months ago. She’d had a long running battle with cancer and had inevitably lost out in the end. The other was of their son Daniel, twenty-three years old. He’d gone to fight the Iraqis during the second Gulf incident, and had lost his life when he and his buddies drove over a land mine somewhere outside the neighbourhood of Tikrit. It had been for a good cause, the marine General had informed him at his son’s funeral. Cynically he’d asked himself, wasn’t that the same thing they had told them thirty years back in Vietnam?

He came and knelt before their headstones and muttered sombrely, “I miss you.”

In a way, he could have been speaking to both.

“I’ll start with you, Marilyn,” he went on. “I got a call from you sister the other day. She told me that the bank’s about to foreclosure on their home. She said that Herb hasn’t been around the house much ” the guy’s still living in his cups ever since he got kicked off his last job. She asked how I was holding up, you know, taking care of the farm and everything. Told her I was doing alright. Though it’s been hard ever since you left me down here. Really, really hard. I can’t seem able to think straight sometimes. Every morning I come awake, your face is the first thing that pops into my head. I miss you dearly, Marilyn. You just don’t know how much.”

His eyes were watering up. He raised a hand to his face and wiped  tears off before they could fall, and then turned his attention to the headstone of his son.

“Hey there, Danny. How you doing, my boy? Hope you’re up there with one of those angels. I’ll bet they’ve got lady angels up there, too. Make sure you catch yourself a fine one, you hear.” He stopped and then took out the brown envelope from his jacket pocket. His hands fumbled out the letter that was inside while he went on talking. “By the way, I got this letter at the post office in town the day before. It’s from Angie. You remember her, don’t you ” that fine gal of yours whom you used to sneak up into your room. Yeah, I’ll bet you think I didn’t know about that, don’t you. Anyway, she wrote, saying that she recently got married. Of course, she apologised for not telling me about it earlier. She says she still misses you and still thinks about you. Here, I’ll leave the letter here for you to read whenever you want.”

He laid the pages of the letter before his son’s headstone and placed a little rock over it to stop the wind from blowing them away. The man stepped back and sniffed once, and then twice again.

“Anyway . . . it was nice talking to you both. I know it’s been a while since last time I came by to see you two. Hope you’ll forgive me for it. Alright . . . I better head on back and take care of the farm. I’ll . . . I come by some other time and talk to you both later. You two take care of each other and say a little prayer for me.”

The old man turned around and quickly shuffled back down to the farm, not wanting his wife and son’s spirit to see his crying eyes. That just would be bad luck.

High above his head, thunder began to roar across the grey sky unchallenged.

 

A Walk with my Father

IMG_0136Once I took a walk

With my father holding my hand in tow

Up the evergreen hill we went

Beyond where the land fell low

The sun grew fiery and the winds grew strong and cold

Clouds, wispy, they roamed before her yellow eyes

“All of this,” my father said to me, “I give to you:

“The land, the plants that grow beneath your feet and above your head,

The animals to feed on them and the ones that hunt others,

All these, my son, I bequeath to you.

Treat with love and kindness, and never you squander

That which your hands will nourish.”

That was a long time ago

Soon my boy, too, will come of youth

And the same words my father passed to my age

Also will I bless him with soon,

And so goes this circle of life we have

With the sun to watch over our sight.

Child No More

child slaveWhen does a child learn to become an adult? When a monster seduces a child into becoming a monster like him, and that child thus assumes the life and mode of living as the monster, do we ever get to recall past moments when the child was nothing but a child? How do we feel when that happens?

Child No More

Blindfolded, his gaolers led him along a narrow corridor through a part of the building he’d never been in before. He moved with hesitant bare feet while hands continuously pushed him forward.

“Move, move I say,” someone yelled into his ear. “The master don’t like being kept waiting. War is on, you know, so move!”

His gaolers pushed him into a large room and made him to stop in the centre. The silence around him was deafening. He stood there frightened; he felt like running but with the blindfold around his eyes knew he wouldn’t get anywhere far.

Then came the sound of boots walking towards him – the master’s boots, no doubt. The fear in him was now overwhelming; his lips, every part of him trembled with what was going to happen. The boots came to a halt before him; from behind his fold his eyes took in the dark shadow of the Devil standing before him.

“Hey there child,” the Devil said to him, “you want to be one of my angels, yes? Nod your head if yes or die.”

His head rose and fell down in a sharp nod.

“All right. I want to give you something. Raise your right hand up.”

The boy obeyed, spreading his fingers wide as the Devil dropped something a little heavy into his palm. This thing was metal and cold – dead cold.

“Here’s what I want you to do,” the Devil came round to his side and whispered seductively into his ear. “I want you to wrap your fingers round that thing, put your finger and feel the trigger. Yes, that’s it. Bring your other hand to hold it … yes, just like that. Now raise it forward in front of you.”

The boy did as he was told, holding the gun with both hands stretched in front of him, his shaking finger touching the trigger.

“The safety’s off, child. There’s a target standing five feet away from you. Now what I want you to do is squeeze back on that trigger. Do that for me, and then you’ll become one of my angels.”

The boy shook his head. “N-n-no … I c-can’t … can’t”

“Do it, child,” the Devil yelled into his ear, making him jump a little. “DO IT NOW!”

He shook his head again, feeling tears slip from under his blindfold. “No … no … I can’t …”

Then he felt something cold press against the side of his head as the Devil cocked his gun. “You either pull that trigger now, or I’m gonna blow your tiny head away. That what you want? I ask again, is that what you want?”

“No, no … no,” the boy cried out while tears watered his eyes. “Please master, don’t kill me.”

“You don’t want me to kill you, then go ahead and pull that trigger. PULL THAT TRIGGER, CHILD – PULL IT NOW! DO IT, I SAY!”

And right then he did.

KA-BLAM!

The gun bucked in his hand and again he screamed out from the sound of the gunshot, the way it bounced in his ear. He then heard the sound of something falling to the ground in front of him. He felt the Devil clap a hand on his shoulder, screeching harsh laughter above the boy’s head as he then untied the blindfold from behind his eyes, giving the boy back his sight.

There was a wide stain of splattered blood on the wall in front of him; lying haphazardly on the floor under the stained wall was the body of a dead man who as well had a blindfold over both his eyes and lips, and also his hands were tied behind his back. The boy hesitatingly approached the dead body, coming to kneel before it as he then took off both blindfolds off the dead man’s face. The gun momentarily fell from his hand and his eyes came wide open with heart-racing shock at the realisation of who the dead person was.

“Papa!” the child cried out.