Pieces Of You
9:24 a.m.., Monday, Oct. 03, 2005
The room echoes as he walks. Each step calling out his presence. The walls and floor are pure black African marble, mined by his father's company. He walks to the center of the room. From there he will be surrounded on all sides by the great glass covered enclosures. A museum in the round. Behind the glass is a terrarium, divided into sections. Some sections are warm and dry. Others moist, the humidity collecting on the glass. Others have no roof, allowing the sun to shine in. Still others yet, are dark, for sleeping.
He is only nine years old. Still young by most standards, but surely old enough to understand the implications of his father's collection.
His father calls them Enna Kobaka, evil monkeys. There are just two of them in the whole museum. One male. One female. The terrarium has been their home since they were found on the sidewalk outside of the consulate after a suicide bomber had made an orphan of them. That was in the capital city.
He knows where they are. At the breakfast café. That's what he calls the small sunny enclosure at nine-o'clock. It's where Henri always feeds them breakfast. The sun is still low. There are many shadows. It's still cool out. Cool enough to sit in the sun eating dates, antelope heart and drinking goat milk. Or fresh water. The preference of the male.
He catches his own reflection in the glass. His hair is cut short, for summer. Almost to the scalp. He can see the outlines of his skull. The young, chocolate black skin stretched taut over the top of his head, as if a summer mask. He can see his eyes. Bright white, almost smiling. He knows he will be warmly greeted.
The male is holding the box. Henri's clever invention. It is made of teak, and large enough to hold a meal for two in it's central cavity. Covering the outside however, are multiple pieces of hand-cared mahogany. Each restrained at its edges. They are almost as if polished tiles, but rectangular in shape instead of square. The tiles are arranged as a puzzle, covering the exterior of the box.. The tiles can not be lifted, but instead must be slid in one direction or another. In order to get the box to open, the tiles must be arranged properly. And every morning, it is a new arrangement.
The whole purpose of the exercise is to give the residents of the museum something to stimulate their minds. To ward of boredom.
It is always the male that works the puzzle.
He has not been allowed to name them. But he has regardless, if only in his head. Dakar for the male, Ghena for the female. He is also never to address them as him or her. They are "its" as far as his father is concerned. Sinful creatures, far more dangerous than any animal of the jungle or the disease for that matter, that threatens the kingdom. One need only look beyond the borders of Africa to see what damage they'd wrought.
He stands only inches from the glass, looking at the two of them.. Dakar is several feet away, sitting on a bench, working intently on his box, oblivious to all else. Ghena, is much closer. She walks over to the glass. She stands and looks down at him, directly in the face. Only inches away.
He knows they are people too. Just like he himself. Human beings locked up behind glass to be studied, like animals in a zoo. White people. He's seen them in the streets sometimes. And heard them speak on television. He's heard about their atrocities. And knows they are evil. But it's hard for him to see that, when he looks in Ghena's eyes.
Her eyes are brown, like his own. Only not so deep and rich. Her hair is long. His father won't allow for grooming. He wants them in their natural state. She is naked. A sad testament to his father's anger. Having lived her life behind the glass, she has no language. No thoughts. Only emotion, which she shows freely with her face. This morning, she is inquisitive.
He studies her skin. The pale offensive symbol of colonialism. Of slavery and disenfranchisement. He studies her nose. Beakish, and seemingly of little use but for pecking at granules in the dirt. Compared to the eager eyes of his classmates, she seems dull and likely stupid.
But she watches him too. Perusing his face. His own nose. His hair. The clothes covering his body.
He's been told she is thirteen years old. Daker, fifteen. They are brother and sister.
Neither seems capable of the horrible deeds he's heard quoted directly from his father's lips.
They are quite docile for such fiendish creatures. Spending most of their days simply sitting or standing around, or swimming. Or working the various puzzles Henri pushes at them through one of several trap doors. Because even Henri is not allowed to enter their quarters. The air inside their home is specially treated so as to keep them from catching things. To the best of his knowledge, neither of them has ever been sick with so much as a cold.
He wonders how long they will live. Or what will happen to them if something ever happened to him and his father. Or Henri.
She is still watching him. Moving her eyes over his face. Stopping now and then to peer into his eyes. As if he had answers to her unformed questions.
He doesn't. He doesn't know what his father hopes to learn from his captives either, nor if he's learned anything already. His father is quite silent on the topic.
He peers back at her, unable to resist her simple smile. He wonders what she might be like if she'd been raised in a proper home. If she'd be the type to hurl harsh invectives at him on the playground. Girls were usually like that.
He smiles back at her. As he would were she a newborn, or a simpleton from the special needs room at his school. A polite smile so as to not offend.
Eventually, Dakar solves his puzzle and the box is opened. He grunts for Ghena. She turns to note his success, then turns back for one more look. Or a goodbye perhaps. Then turns once again and begins walking to the bench to join her brother.
He doesn't stick around to watch them eat. He needs to get to school. His driver will be waiting.
He walks the length of the room, his hard soled shoes echoing on the cold floor below. His thoughts on the day ahead.
He doesn't notice the door clanging shut behind him.
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