Chords sung out of the tiny music box to an audience of one. Notes stretched on, the single soul savoring each like it would be the last. Eyes closed, he waited as the last note faded. There was no hurry, at least not yet. With great care he reached for the music box, his small hand gently closing the lid. He ran his fingers over the engraving etched into the side, reading as he went along.
“We will always love you Ranti, our little…”
Each word came out as a whisper; barely audible even to Ranti’s ears. He could read no longer, tears blurring his vision. Turning, he faced the wall beside him. Reaching into his pocket he brought out his knife and began to carve a line. It joined twelve others, his thirteenth week since he’d found this hole. The coincidence of this week being his thirteenth year was lost on Ranti as he blew out the candle flame plunging the little room into darkness.
With a keen eye, Ranti surveyed his work. The brick wall looked seamless with a casual glance. No one would guess a small hole lay behind it. His treasure would remain safe. Thoughts of what he would do if he lost it were quickly shoved down with practiced will. Rumblings in the distance reached his ear. Ranti set off down the tunnel taking care not to touch the track to his right. Looking behind, he saw lights in the distance. They were early. Legs pumping hard, Ranti ran down the tunnel, the train steaming towards him.
Panting, his hand reached out for the knob he knew would be hanging below the softly glowing exit sign. Reaching in his pocket Ranti pulled out a bobby pin and inserted it into the lock. Twenty seconds he thought as he began to jimmy. The train horn startled him, his hand letting go of the pin. It fell and with it Ranti’s heart. With a cry he dropped to his knees, fingers frantically searching the dimly lit floor. Closer the train came, filling the tunnel, its light setting the tunnel ablaze revealing the pin. Ranti grabbed it, working on the lock like his life depended on it. He could feel the heat from the train’s engine as it closed in on him. With a click drowned out by the train the lock opened. Ranti threw himself against the door. It swung open to his little force, momentum carrying him into the safety of the small room. Behind him the train sped past, whipping dust and trash into the air around him.
Finally catching his breath Ranti picked himself up and closed the door, the lock automatically setting. A sign saying “Danger Do Not Enter” stared back at him. Dusting himself of, he turned to the opposite door in the short hallway. Turning the handle he pulled.
Dawn greeted him in all its majestic colors. Reds and oranges met his eyes, a living flame dancing to an audience of one. It engulfed Ranti’s senses, warmth washing over him, bathing his dark skin. Completely enraptured in the moment he drew in a deep breath, gagging immediately as the smells of the morning market flooded into his nostrils. Clawing at his nose did nothing to purge the odor of trash, kerosene and an open sewer system. It had been weeks and he still could not get used to it. A purr drew Ranti’s attention, scents forgotten for a time. Bending down he gently rubbed behind the ears of a black little kitten working its way around his legs. Night he had named it on their first encounter. The rubs had become their morning ritual. Back arching the kitten shook itself, pawing playfully at Ranti’s fingers before sauntering away. A simple signal, it was time to get to work.
Two steps for every one was what it took for Ranti to keep up with the well-dressed man.
“Oga money for food please…”
With fingers held together Ranti mimed shoveling a morsel of food into his mouth. He liked to imagine it was eba. Hot eba with vegetable soup that had been made with meat broth. It was the closest he got to the taste of meat. Sweat glistened on his brow, the late afternoon sun very different from the gentleness of dawn. Tattered sleeves reached to wipe the sweat replacing it with dust and grime. His stomach growled loud enough for those around to hear. Looking up he met the eyes of the well-dressed man with his hopeful ones. Ranti only saw disgust and the glimmer of a note falling to the ground. He reached out to snatch it but the wind was quicker.
With abandon Ranti tore after the note, tiny puffs of dust kicking up from where his feet touched the dirt path. Market stalls blurred past, the aroma of chicken going unnoticed. Now gasping for breath, Ranti’s heart filled with elation as the wind ended its game, depositing the note underneath the rubber boot of a man. Hands stretched out before him, Ranti reached for the note. Pain came before comprehension, boot hitting him squarely in the stomach. Doubling over he cried, agony sweeping over him. There his note lay, out of reach. Ranti could only watch through the tears as the man with the boot bent down to pick it up. It disappeared into his apron, the words Moses’s roasted chickens written boldly on it.
“Oga Moses please.” Ranti tried to say, the sounds more cough than words.
His gaze could not leave where the note had disappeared into. He could only think of the week it would keep the hunger at bay. Water hit him. As it ran down his face Ranti realized it was saliva. Slowly he struggled to his feet. Despair closing around his heart, pain dulling his mind. Around him hung whole roasted chickens on thin ropes. Ranti reached up and began to run, fingers coming away with a whole chicken. In his wake a shout followed him, carrying from stall to stall.
Dusk painted the skies in dying embers. Blood covered Ranti, blows raining down. Curled in a fetal position, he could not see those around him, only feel the savagery. A hit to his head left him in a daze, shouts fading away, an incessant ringing taking over as he faded into black. Whipped into a frenzy the mob surged, a sea of living flesh feeding of itself. Individually, voices of humans but together an inhuman sound rising to the heavens. Tires found its way around Ranti’s body, kerosene coating and pooling beneath him. Night had come early, the sky black, sun refusing to witness. From a distance a torch came meeting the edge of the mob. Moses held it high and they parted, creating a path to the center, a single word emanating from each.
The chant grew, reaching its peak as Moses reached the center. On a pole Ranti hung, unconscious. Night perched on the very top, only its eyes visible in the inky darkness. Moses looked around him seeking anyone else who took note of the glowing eyes in the darkness. He was only greeted by the frenzy as they urged him on. Moses took a step back, a shiver running down his spine. Hands whipping forward he threw the flame onto the tires clinging to Ranti’s body. Reds and orange came alive, the flames feeding hungrily as it blazed into life. The chant quickened, the mob reaching its peak, people struggling to get closer as the smell of burning rubber reached them. A single scream pierced the night air, the smell of burning flesh joining that of rubber. Silence fell over the mob as the scream rose into the night sky, only to be joined by another and another. To a man the mob froze. From a dream the scream woke them, hearts seeing the fire and the child who burned within.
Writer’s twitter handle: @just2days
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