I want to remember. No. I don’t want to keep remembering. But shouldn’t I? His face keeps popping up here and there, in my dreams, in my wakefulness, smiling his familiar assured smile, inciting me to come and play, as if he was here. He doesn’t say anything, only the smile. The last smile.
We played. Sneaking away from home, hiding and seeking, jumping and scampering under the sun, basking our passions in its scorching light, in the embrace of twilight, in the wetness of the rain, naked, half-naked, without shame, dancing our dances in the night’s moon, kicking an improvised round object on our dirty narrow streets, painting them funny.
And I want to ask him if he is fine where he is. He doesn’t say anything. Just the smile. Maybe he wants me to know that he is fine where he is, and he wants me to be fine, to wear a smile, always, and be happy. We were always happy in the innocence of our boyhood.
We were happy because time didn’t matter. Time didn’t count numbers but unfolded as wrappers of moments, moments buttered by events. The cockcrow cooked us a dawn of voices – the melodic utterance of the muezzin was spiced by the rendering of the preacher that smelt of rebuke from a distant wilderness. Our shadows grew shorter like dots under our feet to announce the movement of the bright lone eye of the cloudless northern sky to the centre, inviting our stomachs to cry for food. When the lone eye went to sleep, its mild colleague crept in to usher our game-tired bodies home.
Weekends fed our eyes with Indian films. We crowded a tiny parlour of the only owner of a twelve-inch black and white screen. Or we huddled and struggled for space to look through a glint in the window. Or we passed broomsticks through the window net to part the curtains for our yearning eyes to see.
We fought wars to reenact the Indian films we watched. Our regalia were green leaves from mango trees. Our swords – maize stalks – were sharp with playfulness. Our guns shot out bullets of sound – the torrents of our shrieks. We killed. We died. We resurrected with laughter.
When alarmed voices shrieked and yelled, death noises boomed, and clouds of smokes, black and adamant, swallowed houses, climbed into the sky, covered the horizon, we scampered in horror for safety.
Young boys and fathers – armed with machetes, bows and arrows, sticks, and spears – shared out in groups to defend the town. Their faces, darkened with soot. He was one of those who went off to defend at the border. I didn’t join. Mama wouldn’t allow. But would I have mustered courage?