The Boy Who Can Fly

I tell her I can fly, but she never believes me. She nods her head slowly, her perfectly arched eyebrows raised just a little, and a sympathetic curl in the corners of her mouth. She doesn’t believe me.

Every morning I sit on the edge of her bed and tell her of my latest adventure, and every day she smiles slightly and nods. My aunt doesn’t have to say anything. She doesn’t have to pat my head and tell me that I have an active imagination. She doesn’t have to tell me she thinks it’s great and I should just run along and find something to do. She doesn’t even have to tell me that it’s impossible for me to fly. I just know from her eyes, from her nod, and from the pity that lingers on her lips that she’s happy that I’ve stopped crying.

***

It was 11 months ago when it landed. No, it didn’t land – the wind’s fingers scooped it from the air and threw it into the middle of the marketplace. I don’t remember the sound as it came down, but below there were screams. Loud screams. Screams that dragged on for years that surpassed me in age. I was 14. I’d never heard a choir of screams before, as though the entire population of Nigeria had gathered to tighten their throats in a unified wide-mouthed screech. Some were higher pitched than others; some stretched as though they were thin pieces of rubber being dragged from the depths of their lungs; and others stabbed my eardrums in short, sharp bursts. I doubled over, my chin dug into my chest, and my hands clasped my ears. It didn’t help. The screams got louder and longer.

And then there was the smell. I don’t know if it was the bubbling of skin or the leaking fuel from the carrier. The vapours seeped into my stomach and churned my insides, bringing them to the top of my throat. I wanted to throw up, but I couldn’t. I wanted to run, but my legs were drilled firmly into the dusty, hard earth. I would have preferred for everything inside me to have been ripped out than to see what I saw. My chest heaved, my hands shook and fear locked my lips tight. The nose of the plane had replaced where Mama had been standing, holding bags of meat to be cooked for dinner that evening. People were running, smoke was rising, and bodies were burning, but I closed my eyes to the picture of her yelling for me to hurry up only a few moments before.

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