Monday, April 12, 2010

Challenge 17: The midnight visitors

The soldier’s hands look like loud banging on the door, his boots the shaking of the ground when you’re lying on your mat on the floor and can smell blood on the inside of your nose, and footsteps on the outside staircase. He stands in the doorway, glaring at you as you clutch the baby and whisper aside to let him in, handing over your ID card and then your sister’s. Your voice is gravelly and bitter; his is sometimes soft like ochre, and sometimes disgusting, like faeces, sometimes it’s hard like a big block of wood, and sometimes it’s darker and far, far, scarier, like the rifle he swings forward, almost delicately, in a low glissando.

You switch on the lights for him and he opens the pantry cupboards first. Then the fridge. The fan’s going in the living room, where you were sleeping, but the kitchen has the uncomfortable heat of a rotten melon. It’s almost nice to let your sweat cool, but he doesn’t look at the fridge for more than a few seconds before moving on – the bathroom, the wardrobes. You’ve given up being embarrassed about underwear when he checks the drawers, although it’d be nice if your husband were home, because you don’t speak the language of the soldier, which is just as curly as yours but in a different way, and your English is as boxy and gap-toothed as his. Your sister is still standing in a corner of the living room in her quiet cotton nightdress – she’s not brave enough to follow him around but you know you’re lucky they haven’t kicked you out, that you can make sure he doesn’t steal anything. You’re lucky that the other three are standing outside the front door and not herding you into a corner with their screaming guns and army fatigues.

Looking more closely, you can tell the soldier is sweating too – little wonder, in that outfit. He didn’t take his boots off, and he doesn’t when he gets to the room where your fragrant statues of Gods and sticks of incense live next to the computer, though that would have been a bit much to hope for.

Looking more closely, you can tell he’s old enough to be out of school, which makes an improvement on the last time. His cap’s falling off a bit, and his hair is greasy like a priest’s.

You wonder if he’ll blare into next door with his little troupe and wake up the grandma with two legs and the grandpa with one leg. (He has a walking frame, though, and that makes up for a missing leg as far as all the kids in the apartment block are concerned).

Your sister wonders if he saw her underwear, and is terrified at the thought. She takes her ID card back without meeting his eyes, and she’s cocooned in her shawl, wrapped twice around her torso and her arms crossed over her breasts just in case. You never bothered telling her that her nightdress is see-through in the light, and edge in front of her before she (or the soldier) notices.

You see him out with an acrid look, one foot holding the door open, baby in your left arm and right palm open for your ID card. He studies it again, very, very closely, and then studies your face. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick.

The soldier flings your ID card into your hand and takes his groundshaking, door-banging crocodiles next door.
Word count: 582

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure whether got the synesthesia right (it's definitely not very subtle). I'd like to see what others make of this challenge. (Others? Where are you? Please come back!)