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The ecstacy of near misses

“Get off the road. Shenzi! Go kill yourself somewhere else, eh, some of us have to get to work.” The thick set man was wearing the shiniest suit Kaju had ever seen, reflecting the sunlight aggressively into people’s eyes with every quiver of his body. Hostility radiated from him in waves. Even those sitting next to him had unconsciously moved away slightly, as if to distance themselves from his vitriol. Yet their eyes agreed with him, betraying their impatience.

Kaju had barely moved when the rickety bus roared away from him. He inhaled its noxious fumes, savouring the ashy flavour. Suddenly, he was tackled from behind and pulled back from the edge of the asphalt. Held in a vice grip, he could not get enough breath to scream. In vain, he flailed, a mass of writhing stick arms and ashy legs.

His captor turned him around. Face to face with Mama, he at last felt a semblance of fear. Would she punish him now, or keep him guessing for days or even weeks? Sinking to his height, she enfolded him even tighter in her arms. Her embrace was as suffocating as it was tender; he could not tell whether the rapid beating of her heart, felt against his scrawny chest, was fear for his safety or anger at his recklessness. It was best not to risk it; he swore to himself that Mama’s heart would never again beat that erratically on his account. You have to keep in mind, dear reader, that with the solemnity of a six year old, he really did mean it.

Despite his resolve, some part of him felt resentful rather than remorseful. Stepping onto the road without looking had been a mere mistake, made out of boredom. Mama had been chatting with a friend a tad too long and he had been impatient to get going. Yet in between the squeal of tires, the shouting and screaming, he had experienced a moment of pure euphoria. In that instant, he felt real, powerful, in harmony with every living organism. The bewildering world made sense. The ecstasy peaked and dipped in about three seconds, but for a long time flitted on the edge of his memories: teasing, coaxing, taunting. Waiting to be rediscovered. He would spend his entire life chasing after it, finally catching up on a narrow cobbled street in Lamu, sighing with pleasure in the face of an irate donkey.

Was it the bus swerving just in time, almost toppling in its effort to avoid him? Was it all the drama, with him as the eye of the storm? Perhaps. Or mayhap it was the realisation that he was not afraid of this or any other behemoth; the certainty that it could not hurt him, forced to bend to his superior will. He took pains to hide this feeling from Mama. Instinctively he knew she would be enraged, not understanding. Thus, the dodgy dance began.

Story by: Whitney V Buluma (Pen name: Namwima) School: Greensteds International School. Age: 17

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