‘Out of Harm’s Way’

‘Out of Harm’s Way’
When my landlord’s son first learned how to walk,
He wobbled down the tiled staircase to the backyard,
Sunk the tip of his velcroed sneaker into the dirt,
And grinned a grin I’d never seen before.
Amma advised me, ‘Keep your gaze afar’
And I said to her, ‘But Amma, he is just a baby!’
And to that, she beamed an odd smirk and said
‘Your eyes, mama,..you must mind your eyes.’

The boy became an older boy soon enough,
And I grew tall— almost to Baba’s shoulder—
And I would go downstairs to the landlord’s front door,
And wait for Abdul to slip on his black boots.
We’d march up Church Street, past the old post office,
Exchanging small nothings until we reached Juva’s Hole.
Near Juva’s, the air was always thicker,
But we trudged through the passageway regardless.

Abdul, trailing behind 9 years or so, kept up quite fine
It was my neck, in fact, that carried a loud blow whistle.
The Gift kept us incredibly safe, but, alas, the fear itself was deafening!
One Wednesday morning, we set off on our daily adventure,
Abdul’s cheek reddish, I ask him ‘Was your baba home last night?’
He shakes his head at first, a forced smile creeping up,
‘You’re silly, apa— Baba’s been sleeping for 22 hours now’
We keep walking, and I feel the Gift pushing against my lens.

As we get closer to Juva’s, I think back to our first play date,
Abdul, 6, I’m teaching him how to fold a paper airplane,
Frustration lining his forehead, Abdul looks to me for help.
‘Fold the corners into the center line’, I tell him
He sighs, and for the first time, I feel the Gift get heavy on my wrist.
Once we make it to Juva’s Hole, Abdul hesitates before the passageway,
‘Apa,.. when will we find New City, his cheek growing wetter,
I close my eyes and will the Damned Gift to my fingertips.