See what happens, said Mama, rushing forwards.
Father dropped to his knees, and I jumped off, and stood back as Ezikiel slumped over. He was already coughing and hitting the front of his chest. His breaths were coming quickly, and out of time. Mama dropped down, sitting behind Ezikiel, holding his back with her arm. The redness had disappeared from her eyes and jumped into Ezikiels.
Quick, she shouted at Father, who was getting to his feet. Mama stroked Ezikiels hair, whispering into his ear, rocking his body back and forth, back and forth.
In one movement, Father opened the sideboard drawer and pulled out a blue inhaler, flipped the cap off, and passed it to Mama who stuck it into Ezikiels mouth, and pressed the top twice.
The inside of Ezikiels bottom lip was blue.
Get the paper bag on the kitchen top, quickly. Mama pressed the inhaler again. She continued to rock.
I ran to the kitchen. The brown bag on the kitchen top was full of peppers. I looked around for another. My eyes could not work fast enough. They zoomed around the kitchen but everything had become blurry. I could hear the rasping of Ezikiels breaths, and I could feel Mamas panic in my neck.
There was no other bag. What should I do? I had twelve years; I was old enough to know that peppers should be treated carefully. I looked at them. They were unbroken. I took a long breath, and a chance that their pepperyness had not seeped out, emptied the bag, and ran back.
Ezikiel was slumped over his inhaler, Mama was behind him holding him up, and Father was behind her holding her up. Father had his arms wrapped around both of them. When I ran towards him he pulled me into his arms, too.
Mama grabbed the brown paper bag from my hand and placed it over Ezikiels nose and mouth. It took a few seconds before the red trees in his eyes grew branches, and his tears fell like tiny leaves onto the bag. He pushed the bag away.
Mama leant forward and smelled the bag.
Mama gave me a look that said, Stupid girl.
I said nothing.
Father leaned towards Mama, and stroked her face where her frown line cut into her forehead. Hell be fine, he said, in his loud voice that sounded so sure. Mamas frown line became less deep. His arm tightened around my back.
Father was right. He was always right. Ezikiels breathing slowly improved. The trees disappeared and the wheeze quietened. Mama sniffed the bag, then put it back over his nose and only took it away to puff some more of his inhaler in. Ezikiels breathing became more regular and equal, his skin no longer being tugged into his throat. I watched his nostrils until they were flat once more, against his face, and his skin change colour slowly from daylight, to dusk, to night.
Father was a loud man. I could hear him shouting from the neighbours apartment where he argued about football with Dr Adeshina, and drank so much Remy Martin that he could not stand up properly. I could hear him singing when he returned from the Everlasting Open Arms House of Salvation Church, on a bus that had the words, Up Jesus Down Satan written on the side. The singing would reach my ears right up on the fourth floor. From my window I watched the bus driver and Pastor King Junior carry Father towards the apartment because he could not stand up at all.
If Father did stand up, it was worse. He seemed to have no idea how to move around quietly, and when he did try, after Mama said her head was splitting in two, the crashing became louder.
We were so used to Fathers loud voice that it became quieter. Our ears changed and put on a barrier like sunglasses whenever he was at home. So when we left for market early on Saturday morning and we knew Father was out working all day on some important account at the office, our ears did not need their sunglasses on. And when Mama realised she had forgotten her purse, and we had to turn back, our ears were working fine. I heard the chatter of the women at market, the traffic and street traders along Allen Avenue, and the humming of the electric gate to let us back into the apartment building. I heard our footsteps on the hallway carpets, and Mamas key in the front lock. I heard the cupboard door open when Ezikiel and I went straight for the biscuits.
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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