His opponent laughs, and a roar of approval comes from the crowd. No partisans, these. Mollel feels his head jerked from side to side, up and down. There is nothing he can do.
I have you now, Maasai. The thief laughs.
He has put his thumbs through Mollel's earlobes.
* * *
The bane of his life, those earlobes. Long and looped, the flesh stretched since childhood to fall below his jawline, the i-maroro are a mark of pride and warriorhood within Maasai circles, but an object of ridicule and prejudice elsewhere. He knows many Maasai who have had the loops removed, but somehow the stumps sing of regret to him, and their ears seem just as conspicuous as his own.
One advantage, though: no one is going to grab them by the ears. The bystanders are convulsed in near-hysterical laughter; he can expect no help from that quarter. They have never seen a policeman led by his ears, like a bull with a ring through his nose. Even the thief, his face now leering at arm's length, seems hardly able to believe his luck.
All right, so this is what we're going to do, Maasai, he says. We're going to walk together, slowly, out onto K Street. I'm not going to rip your pretty ears off. And you're not going to come after me. If you've got it, nod your head. Oh, I'm sorry, you can't, can you? Would you like me to nod it for you? Yeah, that's right!
Quite a comedian, this one, thinks Mollel as his head is tugged up and down. The thief enjoys the audience. He even swaggers somewhat as he holds the policeman captiveglancing at the crowd, relishing his moment of fame. Let him, thinks Mollel. Means he won't be ready for what I'm about to do.
What he doesbrutally, swiftlyevinces a sympathetic groan from all the men in the watching crowd. They have no illusions about what a size-ten police-issue steel-capped boot can achieve when brought into such intimate contact with its target.
Almost tenderly, the thief lets go of Mollel's ears. His eyes look into the policeman's with a look of heartbreak and agony. This time, Mollel knows he'll have no problems bringing him in.
Excerpted from Hour of the Red God by Richard Crompton. Copyright © 2013 by Richard Crompton. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 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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