We all had breakfast together. Father ate Hot Food Only, but lukewarm, which made his Hot Food Only rule seem silly. Ezikiel and I ate cereal, or rolls with jam that Mama had stolen from her job at the Royal Imperial Hotel. After dressing in her work uniform of navy blue skirt and white blouse, and painting her lips with a tiny paintbrush, Mama would make Fathers coffee, extra sweet with warmed condensed milk. Then she would kiss Father on the mouth. Sometimes twice. After kissing Mama, Father would have the same red colour on his lips and make us laugh by pretending to have the voice of a woman. Father laughed the loudest. He always laughed at breakfast time, until he had a mouthful of food, or until our neighbour, who did not begin work until nine a.m., banged on the wall with his knuckles.
After Father and Mama had left for work, Ezikiel and I walked to the International School for Future Leaders, which had floors so shiny I could see my reflection in them. My best friend Habibat and I liked to sit by the fountain at lunchtime and take off our shoes and socks, dipping our feet into the cool water. Ezikiel liked the clubs and societies: Chess society, Latin club, Science club. But we both liked school. We liked the marble floors, cool air-conditioning, and wide running field that seemed to stretch forever.
It was nearly night outside when Father arrived home. My window was shut; the air-conditioning was on full, but still, I could hear his footsteps on the path, his key in the lock, and his slamming the door. Ezikiel jumped up from where he had been reading on my bed, knocking his textbook onto the floor where it opened at a page that had a picture of a man with no skin showing his insides, and arrows pointing to the different bits inside him: descending colon, duodenum, liver.
Fathers footsteps thudded across the hallway before the door burst open. Kids, where are you? Where are you, trouble kids?
Mama hated Father calling us kids.
Father loosened his necktie as Ezikiel and I rushed over and followed him to the parlour.
I came top in the spelling test, and the teacher said I am the best at Latin. The best hes ever taught. Ezikiel was breathless from talking too fast. His nostrils were flaring.
I moved closer to Ezikiels back. Even though Ezikiel was only two years older than me he was already a whole head higher. My eyes were level with the bony part at the bottom of his neck. I could not see Father drop to his knees, but I knew that he had. He knelt every day so that we could climb onto his shoulders, a shoulder each, and he would lift us to the ceiling, and throw us into the air. He was always in a good mood when he first returned home.
Father stood slowly, pretending to wobble and almost drop us, but I knew how strong he was. Ezikiel had told me that hed seen Father lift the car with only one hand, so that Zafi, our driver, could change the wheel.
We laughed and laughed on Fathers shoulders, tickling behind his ears. The laughter flew around the room like a hungry mosquito. My own laughter was loud in my ears. I could barely hear Mama.
Get them down, for goodness sake; they are not babies any more. Youll damage your back! Mama came out of her bedroom wearing a dressing gown and red eyes. Its dangerous!
Mama had never liked us to sit on Fathers shoulders, even when we were younger. She said that she did not like the idea of us falling, of having to catch us, but I was sure that she did not want us to know about the top of her head where her weave had been pulled tight and left a patch of bald, or the high up shelf where she kept a tin of liquorice, and a photograph album that we were not meant to see.
Suddenly, Ezikiels wheeze appeared. It was louder than the television showing a Nollywood film. It was louder than the hum of the generators. It was louder than Fathers laughter. Ezikiels body straightened and he banged his head on the ceiling. I grabbed onto his arm.
Excerpted from Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson. Copyright © 2011 by Christie Watson. Excerpted by permission of Other Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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