Lavender and Roses
"If Maniba doesn't come soon, we are leaving. It's cool day and I want to play soccer." Anup drew a picture of a soccer ball in the dirt with his bare foot.
"How is your left foot?" asked Roknir. He pet the head of a friendly dog. Its long, curved tail wagged a moment before it trot off and relieved itself just a few feet from them.
"It's sore. I kicked it the wrong way. You're supposed to kick with the side of your foot but I used my big toe. It'll be ok. I'll walk it off." Anup bobbed his head. "Look who's coming."
Roknir looked up to see the man coming towards them from the center of the market street. He had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and he was talking on his cell phone. He looked angry but then he always looked angry. When he saw Rocknir, he lifted his head in a greeting and pulled something out of his shirt pocket. He kicked at the dog and swore about the mess it had made.
"Here, Khrīṣṭāna, you're one of the People of the Book, I saw this and I thought you would like it." Maniba laughed as he handed him the little book. "Yeah, I gave it to him. I know." Maniba looked at him with a mixture of amusement and contempt.
"It is an English book. What is it called? I cannot read."
"It's called The Story of Peter um, kharagōsa, the hare. I got it for free from one of my vendors. They found it when they were throwing things away at the library." Maniba thew his head back and laughed. "It's a baby book. But it's university level for someone like you."
Roknir did not take the man's words to heart. Not this time. The cover was green and sculpted. Maniba told them where he wanted the boys to go and what time they were expected. Roknir only half listened. He saw that Anup was chewing something, maybe gum, maybe tobacco. He did not care today. He had his own book. He looked through the pages slowly. Each picture was more beautiful than the next.
Maniba grabbed it out of his hand and showed Anup. "Look at the baby book, little hotshot. Look at the baby pictures." The man thumped through the pages himself. "I want you boys to get this wood to Cook right away. And listen to me, both of you."
Maniba dropped Roknir's book on the ground before he grabbed both boys by the tops of their shirts. Roknir strained to reach for his prize.
"You listen to me. You stay on the main road. It may take you a little longer but it's safer. Do you hear me? I know you, little hotshot. Stay off the tracks. It's too dangerous and I have a big job for you in a couple of days. I'll pay you well. You are saving up for your families. Well, you better keep yourselves safe. What will they do without you?" He practically threw them to the ground.
Roknir scrambled to get his book before it got any dirtier. Relief washed over him when he saw that only the cover was dirty. He thanked something nameless, maybe God. He hid it in his side pocket. He crouched down and put the strap around his head. He threaded his arms through the other straps and stood. The load was no heavier or lighter than the days before.
Maniba and Anup argued about time and money like they ever did so Roknir started ahead.
"Roknir. Stay off the tracks, do you hear me? In two days, you have a big job." Maniba sounded angry as usual. They would save hours on the tracks. They were older now. They would be careful.
Rocknir was so lost in thought that he did not notice Anup had gone ahead of him. Rocknir was older and this seemed to be disrespectful. Today, though, it did not matter. He had book and English. His own book with beautiful pictures. The forest was peaceful to him. There were no people or crowds. No smelly market or dogs relieving themselves. He could hear the birds and in the distance the sound of a migration. He liked to go see them at a small swamp near his village. The frogs sang and more than that, it was quiet, other than their steps on the gravel between the railroad ties.
"We need to go straight to the village, Roknir. No stopping for anything." Anup's voice sounded far away when Roknir saw the flower.He had seen flowers just like it in books his grandfather had at his house. They were from their area. They were from far away.
One flower turned into many and then to a pathway. And golden sunlight past the canopy of banyans. The path was swept clean and neat with no weeds in between. The flowers bloomed pink and bluish to a cheery house, unlike any in his village or even the larger town. The door was framed in a pretty blue shutter which welcomed him home.
Without thinking, he crouched down and set the basket on the ground. Time seemed to slow as he ran his fingers through his hair. He caught his breath as the door opened. A lovely woman with long, yellow hair smiled kindly as she stepped into view. She waved at Roknir and held out her hand.
"One more mile, Roknir. It will be a short day but we will get paid for a full day." Anup's voice sounded distant, as if underwater.
The woman walked towards him, her lovely, clean white gown flowing behind her.
"What are you doing? Let's go." Anup's voice was closer, it seemed but muffled. "Roknir."
He could not speak. He could barely breath. The beauty was almost too much.
"I'm coming. So beautiful." But the words were softer than a whisper.
"Roknir. Roknir, wake up."
Rocknir felt his companion shake his arm but it did not matter. He turned to Anup but he seemed hazy, as if surrounded in a fog.
"The house. Do you not see it? So beautiful. Out of a story book. Like in the old library. English books. The house has a thatched roof. There is a path lined with pink and blue--no, it is lavender. The English use lavender. I think the flowers near the window are roses. Anup, do you not see it?" Roknir looked back and struggled with the words to tell him.. "It's so beautiful."
"Roknir, we must leave. I want to play soccer. With the extra money we can treat ourselves to an RC Lemon at the market. They have them cold. Maybe you are thirsty. There is no house. I see no house, Roknir. Please, let us go."
"She is coming out the front door. She's so beautiful, Anup. Long, yellow hair--" Roknir watched as the woman picked a purple flower. She smelled it, smiled and offered it out to him.
"Roknir, we are leaving now." Anup sounded so frightened.
"She calls me, Anup. I want to go. It's so beautiful. She is so kind." Roknir smiled and held out his arm as far as he could. The white sleeve on his sweater pulled up his thin arm. "She wants me to take the lavender. It smells so good. Anup."
Roknir's eyes filled with tears. He wanted to go to her more than anything. More than thirst and pain and sorrow and love. He leaned in to step when he saw her face clearly. Her blue eyes were rimmed in yellow filth.The mouth turned black and dripped in oily death, even as it smiled and beckoned him to come.
"Her mouth. She is smiling. No. We must run. But the flowers, so beautiful, like a fairy tale." Roknir reached farther and leaned to take another step. Anup grabbed him and pulled him back. The woman dropped the flower in front of them. Oily death dripped from her mouth. Her hand reached to grab him and dissolved into mist. Just beyond them, on the edge of a rail tie, a purple flower lay on the ground neatly cut. A moment later, a black oily drop fell on its thin, green stem.
Anup slapped him in the face. Roknir touched his face where he had been hit, as if he were wakened from a dream.
"Let us go, Anup. I am thirsty." A tear dropped from Roknir's eye and splashed on his cheek as he walked up the track. He stumbled a little but soon found the rhythm of walking a rail.
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