Links to works by Christopher Cornell:
by Derek Lubangakene
When I was eleven, my best friend could kill you with a handshake.
He almost killed me the first time we met. On that fateful day, I was out of class having been caught passing a chit in Mr. Mboyo’s maths test. Given the choice between touching my toes and receiving canes, or getting reported to my mum, the schoolmistress, I chose being reported. I knew my mum would be too busy to punish me if I kept out of sight. I might still get suspended, or have to dig an anthill, or sweep all the classrooms in our block, but all that was nothing compared to Mr. Mboyo caning you.
Mr. Mboyo, afraid of the endless drizzle outside, scribbled a chit and sent me to the admin block. On the way to mum’s office I branched off into the library a.k.a. the computer lab. The 6E kids, busy thumbing keyboards and squinting at computer screens, didn’t pay me any attention as I sneaked behind the wobbly chairs on my way to the stairs at the end of the narrow church-like room. It was a miracle I escaped Mrs. Nadya’s all-seeing gaze. I locked the creaky door behind me, and climbed to the roof.
No teachers ever came to the roof. It overlooked the school farm, and if the wind was strong, it smelled like manure. It was the last place my mum would send a prefect to search for me. You could spend the whole day there and no one would ever bother you. Problem was I was so restless, I always got bored.
I waited for the drizzle to thin before squatting near the edge of the flat roof and shredding Mr. Mboyo’s chit into the rain-swollen gutter.
“What are you doing there?”
Startled, I turned thinking it was a prefect, but it was only the new kid in 6E, Asaf. Everyone called him Safi, like the juice. Yes, he was that brown. Not me, though. I figured if I never called anyone by their nickname they’d have no reason to call me by mine. Dunk, short for Duncan. That’s what everyone called me except for Malik, my arch-nemesis. He called me Dung.
I stood up to sneer at Asaf, but I didn’t realise how much taller he was.
“Mind your business,” I said.
“You’re littering, aren’t you?”
“Well done, Inspector Gadget.” I poked at his Casio DB-55 databank watch, “Are you going to report me? If so, I’ll report you too.”
“What for? I’ve done nothing.”
“For smoking,” I said.
“But I’ve not been smoking,” he said, his voice breaking. Some prefects had keys to the library and often smoked on the roof after class. Prefects were usually older kids, kids who couldn’t come to school unless they’d shaved. Though Asaf wasn’t much older than me, he was tall enough that if I grassed him the teachers would believe me.
“Yes you have.”
“No, I haven’t.” He turned his pockets upside down, and as though synchronised, a paper boat fell from each pocket. He dashed down to pick them, but I got to them first, on account of being shorter. I backed away from him and admired the boats. Well, catamarans. I’d seen many boats, but never a catamaran. The stern was solid while the legs were lighter and made of a brownish paper.
“Did you make these?” I asked. Origami had only recently become fly. Every kid could make a paper frog or paper plane, but I couldn’t even fold a cone. I made my hate of paper-folding public, yet secretly longed to master the skill.
Asaf lunged to grab the catamarans from me. I spun to dodge him, but he hit my shoulder and I dropped both boats into the drain. Asaf chased after them, but the rushing rain chucked them over the roof before he could snatch them. Instead of helping, I stood frozen.
He rose; his eyes twinkling with unshed tears. I leaned over the edge of the roof and saw the boats in the drain below. They looked like butterflies crumpled by a clumsy, sweaty bully.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t—”
“Don’t tell me your sorrys. Just leave me alone.” Asaf headed for the stairs.
“Hey Asaf!” I called after him, but he didn’t stop.
I ran after him and grabbed his hand. The way he sent me flying over his shoulders and down the stairs was the baddest jujitsu I’d ever seen; he must have had a black belt in kung-fu. But this was more than kung-fu. An electric current tore through my body like that time I was shocked by the flat-iron. This felt like six flat-irons at the same time.
He ran down and knelt beside me on the landing, murmuring, “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry. I never meant—”
He gripped my right hand in his, making me shake even more, then my left hand and… I can’t explain it… it was like he absorbed whatever it was he’d zapped me with. I stopped shaking. I remembered to breathe seconds later.
“Please don’t report me. I’m sorry.” He got up and ran away.
The stagnant water on the stairwell soaked through my khakis, though I think I might have wet myself also. I lay there for a while, telling myself what had happened was only a weird, weird dream. I promised myself to steer clear of the new kid… but then I saw Asaf’s watch lying where he’d knelt.
I didn’t see him at the weekly P.E. class in the pitch behind the mess hall, or at Friday’s general assembly. I considered keeping the watch, but my curiosity wouldn’t let me. I had to find out how he’d zapped me.
A week later I saw him bobbing across the quadrangle. The bell for end of break had rang, everyone was rushing to class like scattered ants. Asaf stood out in the middle of all those people, like that scene with the lady in red in the Matrix movie. Asaf walked the same way she did, his head down, his movements measured as if he was trying not to be noticed.
I followed him and cornered him around the canteen.
“What’re you doing?” Asaf asked.
“Nothing,” I replied. He looked at me like he was considering zapping me with his eyes… I shifted my body sideways. Narrowed his target.
“Leave me alone then,” he sidestepped me.
I reached for his hand then thought the better of it. “I have your Casio. I picked it. I didn’t… here, take it.”
Asaf stared at me a moment, then held out his hand, palms flat and open. I placed the watch carefully, making sure I did not touch his hand. He pocketed the watch and turned to leave.
“I’ll be at the roof later. If you want to race paper boats,” I said.
“How? There’s no rain today.”
“I know. But I can fetch a bucket of water and—”
“I have extra classes.”
Later that day, right after the bell for the end of extra classes rang, he showed up. He hovered by the roof door as though considering a clean retreat if anything went wrong.
“You came,” I couldn’t hide my excitement.
He shrugged. He walked over and crouched beside me to look at the crumpled comic I was reading.
“You can read if you want,” I said.
“Hmmn, superheroes? Only babies read superheroes.”
He unzipped his bag, pulled out a comic with a dark blue cover. On the front of it was a man who looked like the explorer Sir Samuel Baker holding a long rifle, an Indian man dressed in gold and green silk holding a sharp silver sword, an ape-man, a ghost wearing a suit, and a lady fanning herself.
“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.”
“Sounds like superheroes,” I said.
“No. They’re anti-heroes.”
“What are ant-heroes?” Apart from Asterix and TinTin, I never knew non-superhero comics existed.
“You have to read them to understand.”
In the following weeks he would introduce me to Sandman, Akira, Moonshadow and the Watchmen. Asaf hated superheroes. He didn’t believe in miracles or superheroes, despite being an unlikely example of both.
I lived in the teachers’ quarters, a tiny yellow flat barely enough for me, my parents and my twin sisters, Apio and Achen. Asaf and I would spend evenings at my house, reading comics and playing my Nintendo 64 until my dad returned and demanded to watch the news.
Asaf’s house was farther away from school, in the shadowy valley below the Blood Bank. We called it the Valley of Death because every year some hopeless kid would wander into the thick forest there and meet Mzee Polycarp, the ageless farmer who carried a sickle to chop off the head of any lost kid. Or so we were told. It was a stupid myth, but we loved vague things like that. Asaf’s house wasn’t much bigger than mine, but it was just him and his father so there was more space. It was neat, with an underlying Dettol-like scent filling the living room. Asaf assured it wasn’t iodine or antiseptic. It was fabric softener.
“Ha-ha. Do you have a lot of khakis and corduroys?” I asked the first time I visited.
“No. The humidity is low here.” Asaf explained. “Fabric softener prevents static from clinging onto me.”
Marcus, his photographer dad was a lanky, narrow-eyed man in overalls. He and Asaf looked more like siblings. If he’d been shorter and hatted, he’d be Mario from the Super Mario game. I liked him. The shelves in their living room had more books than the school’s scanty library. They spent their evenings cooped up around desk lamps reading. Comics for Asaf and boring novels for Marcus. Silence was welcome here. Being an only child suited Asaf as much as being a single parent suited Marcus.
I envied Asaf. He didn’t have to deal with my mean, cry-baby sisters.
On their birthday that year they threw a party and invited all the kids from the teachers’ quarters, including Malik. Mum and dad had a late staff meeting and couldn’t be there. On top of that, the electricity went off mid-way, when we’d just cut the cake. Malik used the darkness to pinch half the cake and though he denied this when we lit some candles, he forgot the crumbs were still around his mouth. We sat in a large circle on the carpet, telling stories while waiting for the light to come back, but after thirty minutes Malik and the rest of the kids returned to their flats. It remained just me, Asaf, whom I’d invited against my sister’s wishes, and my disappointed sisters.
The lights returned as soon as the others left, but it kept flickering and we couldn’t put on the TV or radio. This further annoyed my sisters as they were missing their favourite show, Sunset Beach. When the lights stabilised, we’d have to let my sisters watch whatever they wanted, since it was their birthday. It was only eight o’clock, Asaf’s father wouldn’t pick him until nine, and we would rather have died than watch Sunset Beach. So I begged Asaf to perform for them instead.
I made them sit on the sofa then I rubbed one of their birthday balloons in my hair until the static was strong enough. Then I handed it to Asaf. Without touching it, he grabbed the balloon from my hand and raised it towards the ceiling. It danced above us for a long while then floated down into the space between my sisters.
Asaf bowed, rose, stooped to wipe his nose with the bottom of his t-shirt, leaving a dot of blood.
“That’s a stupid magic trick,” Achen said. “You used a string to pull up the balloon.”
I shoved the balloon in their faces. “Show me where the string is?”
They swiped their hands over it but found no thread.
“You cut the thread when you pulled it,” Apio said.
“I didn’t!” I flipped my palms over to show them my hands, “See—”
They shook their heads, refusing to believe me.
“You cheated!” Achen shouted.
“Yes. You got us. We cheated.” Asaf agreed, pulling me away as I tried to argue further. “Good trick though, yes?”
But they looked at him funnily. Like him agreeing with them was fishy.
“What’s that on your nose?” Apio asked.
“Ewww! He’s bleeding,” Achen added.
Asaf wiped his nose again, turned to me, “I think the electricity is stable enough now?”
I nodded, finally catching up. Stupid me. I had forgotten the unwritten superhero rule—keep your superpowers secret. Asaf’s disguise was like Superman’s. He wanted to remain harmless like Clark Kent. Less trouble for him that way.
But like Clark Kent, Asaf’s secret couldn’t be remain a secret forever. My sisters told the balloon story to Malik, one of the best science students of his class. At first, he dismissed it, saying it was only static electricity. I wasn’t there, but the way I heard it, my sisters were so firm on Asaf being some kind of Frankenstein, that Malik decided he should get investigate it himself.
It was all my fault, really. I never should’ve dissed Malik’s bussuu technique. Though he was reigning school champ, I had beaten him before, and felt confident challenging him. In bussuu, your goal is to slap your opponent’s hands until submission. Your opponent places their hands together, then you have to try and slap the back of their hands while they part their hands to make you miss. If you miss, it’s your turn to get slapped and vice versa. Malik’s technique involved pretending to sprinkle salt over your hands and slapping with both hands. Not illegal, but it gave him an advantage; he rarely missed.
And nothing would’ve gone wrong if I hadn’t got a knuckle-breaker from Mr. Mukisa for drawing on the edges of my science textbook.
At lunch, Asaf and I showed up behind the canteens for the duel. Malik’s friends had spread word about the whole thing and the back of the canteen looked like a scene from the movie Fight Club. Even my sisters were there.
My hands hurt so much even Malik’s ‘salt sprinkling’ hurt. The pain in my knuckles slowed me, Malik bussued me, once, twice, three times. On the fourth turn, I threw my hands up.
“You win, Malik. You win!” I said.
“Are you sure? I can go slower, give you a fighting chance,” Malik circled me. Drawing cheers from the mob.
“No. I’m sure.”
“Wait,” Asaf stepped into the circle. “I’ll take his place.”
I tried to push Asaf back into the crowd, but he refused.
“Aahhh, let him bussuu!” Chorused the mob. These kids had skipped lunch to watch this. They wanted to see some epic bussuu, not my weaselly surrender.
Malik bussued Asaf at least two dozen times but Asaf refused to surrender. When Malik finally missed, I begged Asaf to let his turn go, knowing what would happen should he bussuu Malik. But Malik was confident Asaf would miss on his first try, he insisted that Asaf go ahead.
“Take off the gloves, though,” Malik said.
Asaf hesitated, but finally slipped them off, handing them to me.
Then Asaf bussuued Malik, and Malik flew five feet into the mob.
Asaf stared at his hands with a fixed, blank look, then at Malik who was lying on the ground, shaking.
I rushed to his side and pushed him. “Go! Go away before someone reports,” I whispered loudly. He snatched his gloves and ran towards the dining hall, the mob parting easily for him.
After school, I went to Asaf’s house, but he wasn’t there. Neither was his dad. I returned home to find my dad waiting for me, ready to tell me I couldn’t be friends with that ‘dangerous fellow’ anymore. He made me go down to Malik’s flat just one floor below ours, to apologise.
Malik appeared to take my apology graciously, but when his mum wasn’t looking, he ran his thumb across his throat like the wrestler The Undertaker would right before he annihilated you with his Tombstone Piledriver.
The next day in Ms. Hadiya’s Home Economics class, Asaf faked nausea and left early. Mrs. Hadiya tried to pair me with Jemima and Nambi, but they’d heard about the Malik incident and didn’t want to be paired with a trouble-magnet like me. Baking alone was torture. My cake came out runny. Like thick porridge.
At break, I went up to the library roof, where I found Asaf making an origami something.
I sat beside him, “Hmmn, what’s that supposed to be?”
“At least it’s not as ugly as the cake I baked. Thank you very much bytheway.”
“I’m worried for Malik. I don’t know what I should do?” Asaf said.
“He’s okay. He’s a tough bastard that one.”
Asaf screwed up his face. “Maybe I should go apologise.”
“For what? They’ll probably think you’re crazy and call your dad, and suspend you for lying. Just forget it. In fact, we should be feeling sorry for ourselves. Malik is going to repay this. Trust me.”
And repay he did. He began calling Asaf El Zappa, and it spread like flu. He drew cartoons of Asaf— hair radiating from his head in fluffy spokes, eyes bulged out, with sparking hulking hands—and plant them all over the notice boards and toilet cubicles. Once he painted a pair of hands on the monkey bars and refused to let any kids play there, saying they were Asaf’s and anyone who played there would get some of his residual current.
I tried to get Malik to stop. I lent him my Nintendo, but he burned the shape of a hand around one of the pads.
“Don’t blame me, I found it like that,” he said when he returned it to me. “That’s what you get for letting El Zappa play with your things.”
I should’ve grassed him then, but the pad still worked, and also Asaf begged me to drop it. Though Asaf never spoke about I knew he was suffering. Something in him seemed to have evaporated.
One day, Asaf frustrated that this wasn’t ending, tried to pluck the latest drawings from the notice board but the paper clung to his hand. His rage had created an adamantine bond with the paper, despite his gloves. He swung and swung and swung, but the paper held on like gum. Malik and friends gathered around laughing.
“Don’t mind them,” I put my hand over Asaf’s shoulder. “They’re just jealous.”
Asaf shrugged my hand away. “Why do you care?”
“You’re my friend, that’s what friends do.”
“I didn’t ask you to be my friend.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why do you want so much to be my friend, Duncan?”
My mind went static, like the chewed part of a VHS tape.
“Just leave me alone.” Asaf walked away, still flapping his hand.
The next day there was another drawing, and the day after that. But they were all the same. Asaf zapping this, zapping that. Me in the background looking confused. It soon got old. In the meantime, Asaf wouldn’t talk to me though we still had Home Economics class. He’d do the work and leave. I’d go up to the roof and wait and wait, and Asaf would never show up.
A week later, at inter-house football semis, Malik kicked the football straight into Asaf’s face. Asaf had been standing on the side-lines, not even part of the game. Seeing him fold onto the pitch, his nose bleeding I rushed onto the pitch and punched Malik who had started walking away like nothing was wrong. Malik punched back. And we scrapped like ruthless tomcats— scratching, hissing, cussing. It took the ref, my dad, separating us before I let go of Malik’s collar.
Malik’s mum and my mum sat us down in my mum’s office and tried to resolve the situation, but neither of us would grass on the other. In the end, my mum confiscated my Nintendo, and made both Malik and I sweep all five sections of our class for two weeks.
We left our mums in the office and as soon as we were outside I turned towards the sick bay. Asaf had been taken there with a bleeding, possibly broken, nose.
The nurse had just discharged Asaf when I walked into the sick bay’s lemon-coloured waiting area. He walked with his head bent upwards, pressing a cloth to his nose.
“What do you want?” Asaf scowled upon seeing me.
“Are you alright?”
“My nose isn’t broken. My pride though, that’s another story.”
“Didn’t know you had any pride to break,” I said, smiling.
He smiled back, then winced as his nose still hurt.
“At least tell me that bastard got suspended.”
“You made it worse didn’t you?”
“Not worse. Just not better.”
“You shouldn’t have got involved then.”
“I was helping you.”
“Duncan, your help always brings trouble. Just don’t help me anymore. I have a plan.”
Malik and I didn’t fight, or talk as we swept the five classrooms that evening. I kept glancing at the doorway expecting Asaf to show up. But he didn’t. Nor did he come to school the next two days. At General Assembly that Friday, my mum announced Asaf was sick and wouldn’t be in school until Tuesday the next week. I grilled her about it at home but she knew only what she’d said, what Marcus had told her over the phone.
In Asaf’s absence, the drawings finally stopped.
Asaf showed up not Tuesday, but Wednesday. In Home Economics class we baked mermaid-shaped cookies. Ours had the best shape and Mrs. Hadiya made everyone clap for us.
“Keep it up and I’ll enter your names for the PTA gala competition,” she said.
“This is even better than my plan,” Asaf whispered.
“My– our plan to defeat our nemesis.”
Malik had registered for the competition weeks ago. He was so sure of himself he didn’t mind showing everyone the scooter he’d be competing with. He’d made it from scrap. He’d come second in the previous year’s gala and won a Sony Discman. I was third and won a certificate. I hadn’t bothered to register for the gala this year. I didn’t have the energy to compete with Malik, even though the prize would be bigger. A BMX bike. I had already given up.
But Asaf wasn’t going to give up. We took Mrs. Hadiya’s advice and registered a joint project for the gala.
“What happens if we win?” I asked. Wondering how we’d share the prize bike.
“Beating Malik is the only prize I want,” Asaf replied.
“How are going to beat him?”
“Origami. It’s the one thing he can’t do.”
And so started our quest to make the perfect origami.
We spent our afternoons seated on the roof, despite the scanty shade, fiddling with papers, only stopping when the sky turned from the colour of a fresh wound to a blackened scab.
Asaf and I spent forever sketching, mapping and fidgeting with foil-backed paper and tissue foil. We perfected valley folds, reverse folds, squash folds, crimp heads, fold flaps, pleats. Asaf was obsessed with the idea of perfection, we worked on each piece until it was as close to perfect as possible. Perfect catamarans, a perfect Titanic, perfect dragonflies. But nothing was quite good enough for Asaf.
Finally, while seated on the roof one late afternoon, a butterfly floated above us. It was unusual for a butterfly to soar that high. In that Asaf found the idea for his perfect origami. A floating angel. Making angels in origami was easy, but an angel that floated on its own – that was insane.
“How are you going to flap its wings? With strings?” I mocked.
He paused from his sketching, said, “You can either help me create something amazing or spend the rest of your life getting laughed at by Malik.”
I felt small with that statement, but he was right. Malik and I could trade blows every day of term but making this perfect origami would show the whole school what a talentless bully he really was; it would surely annihilate him. I agreed to help, but the way Asaf worked, I couldn’t keep up. He was like a mad scientist, like he had a deadline to beat, even though the PTA gala was six weeks away. Though his nose-bleeds and dizzy spells worsened, he wouldn’t stop. He worked harder after each failure.
“You don’t even believe in miracles, why are you trying to be God?”
It was one of those times I asked Asaf a question and immediately regretted it.
“My dad believes he will be God once he takes that perfect photograph. I am not trying to be God; I’m just trying to be better than my dad.
“Besides, you have to break an egg to make an omelette,” he said, quoting Ms. Hadiya.
“Not if you end up breaking the hen that lays the egg,” I said.
We spent a lot of time test-flying origami angels, and watching them crash. We modelled a mini-engine from the motor of a handy fan. But the angels couldn’t hold the weight of the motor or its batteries.
It was hopeless. As the days progressed the light in his eyes dimmed, he looked pale, like something ate at his stomach. Every time I asked if he was okay, he’d shrug and say he’s ‘okay enough.’
In the meantime, Malik spent every break showing off his scooter. Asaf and I would watch from the roof as he charged kids five hundred shillings to ride it from the monkey bars until the end of the parking lot. The line was so long some kids would always end up fighting. I liked this, wishing some kid would mistakenly break the scooter. That never happened though.
One afternoon, after spending hours folding and fiddling with paper by the edge of the roof, Asaf started feeling dizzy. As we rose to go sit under the shade, Asaf lost his balance and fell backwards into the overflowing rubbish bins below. I knelt over the edge and saw him in the rubbish, unmoving. I called out his name but he didn’t move. I rushed down and dragged him out of the rubbish then lay him on the veranda. Like in the movies, I slapped his face until he awoke.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“What happened? Where am I?” he asked, touching his cheek.
I explained what had happened.
“Stop lying,” he said. “I don’t even feel anything.”
His nose was bleeding though. And it wouldn’t stop. Usually it was just one or two drops which he’d wipe easily. This one kept on coming. Drop after drop after drop.
I braced him on my shoulders and we shuffled to the sick bay. The nurse made Asaf hang his head back and raise his feet, But the bleeding continued. After several minutes of this, she called my mum and they organised the school van to drive Asaf to St. Claire’s Hospital. Before we left, my mum called Asaf’s father and asked him to meet us there.
Marcus arrived like ten minutes after we got to St. Claire’s and a nurse took him in to see Asaf. My mum and I waited in the waiting area for another two hours before Marcus returned. He walked into the waiting area like a zombie. I’d never seen sadness like that. Not even in movies. He looked like his face was going to melt right off his skin. He didn’t even notice us.
I stood up and tapped Marcus’ arm, “Is he going to be alright?”
Marcus stared at me like didn’t know who I was. then he shook his head, “A candle that burns twice as bright…”
Marcus sat in between us and buried his face in his palms. He didn’t cry or say anything after that. My mum put a hand on his shoulder and kept it there a long while. I wanted to do the same, but it seemed such an adult thing to do. I waited until both my mum and Marcus fell asleep, then I sneaked around the corridor opening the doors to different rooms until I found Asaf’s.
Asaf lay propped up on his bed, staring at the machines beside him. When he saw me come in, he smiled a weak, tired smile.
I walked over and put my hand on his shoulder.
“You’re going to get better, yes?”
He nodded, but wasn’t convincing,
I squeezed his shoulder, “This is bad, isn’t it—”
“Not as bad as you think…” Again, that weak, tired smile.
I pulled the visitor’s chair closer and sat down.
Despite looking and feeling so weak, Asaf wouldn’t give up on his origami angel; he believed we’d finish it in time for the PTA gala. He talked about what was missing and what we needed to do to make it work. He went on and on, not once would he talk about his sickness.
Over the next days, we worked from his bed; he would prop a million pillows behind his back and use the floor as our scrapyard. Because he couldn’t work as hard as he had before, I had to be more involved. Problem was, he was the one with the master plan, and the coordinated fingers to make all that paper folding work. My crab hands were as useless as a pistol to Superman.
As Asaf’s health didn’t seem to be improving, mum volunteered to bring some kids from school to cheer him up. A bad idea. But once mum has got something into her head, good luck stopping her. The kids, including Malik and my sisters, came to the hospital with get-well-soon cards and balloons. Malik apologised and offered Asaf a go-around on his scooter. Asaf, in turn, made some balloons levitate and they all clapped and cheered. But after they had all gone he turned on me.
“Why did you invite that bastard here?” He shouted.
“Who? Malik? He’s okay. He came as a—”
“I don’t care what he is. He came here to spy on our project, can’t you see that?”
“Can you shut up about the stupid origami for once. It’s not everything, you know.”
“How can you say that? Of course it’s everything. It’s our chance to beat that bastard and shut him up forever.”
“That’s not important anymore. I just want to see you better. That’s all I want.”
“You don’t believe I can do this, do you?”
“What? Asaf, come on—”
“No, I don’t. Not if doing it will also mean killing you. Malik can win the bike; I don’t care—”
“Come on, Asaf.”
“Leave me alone! Go and never come back, traitor!”
For the PTA gala, I made a collection of origami Mortal Kombat characters, I even painted them… no one was impressed, least of all myself. Malik won first place. I didn’t even win a certificate.
Though I had stopped going to see Asaf, I thought of him often. So when father came home one afternoon and said he’d received a call from Asaf’s nurse in the hospital saying he’d requested to see me. I expected the worst.
I raced to St. Claire’s, panicking. I found him laying on his bed watching TV. Asaf had always been a skinny, half-starved looking boy, but with all the pillows propped around him, he suddenly looked fattish and bloated.
He saw me, smiled and waved me closer. “I think I’ve cracked the origami angel.”
“I don’t believe you.”
He whispered, “Take me to the roof and I’ll show you.”
The nurses were used to me staying over late, so they didn’t mind me sleeping over. When it got dark and the hospital slept, we placed some pillows under his sheets and snuck out using the service entrance. It was a long climb, but arm in arm we made it to the cold, dark roof. We sat on the edge and listened to the silence for a long while. When he was ready, Asaf got to his feet and stood, swaying in the dark, staring at the empty sky. He pulled out the origami angel from his pyjamas, and cupped it with both hands.
Asaf opened his palms and conducted its levitation using his left hand, like a puppeteer.
And it flew. It actually flew. It wobbled and kicked its little invisible legs, but up it went. It flew higher and higher, flapping its long majestic wings. Each inch it floated strained him like kryptonite, but he kept the bond with the angel strong.
It was beautiful and scary. I wished it wouldn’t end.
Finally, Asaf let it go. We sat down, and watched the pale stars as if our angel had drifted that far and was looking over us, though we knew it had fallen somewhere down in the parking below. We didn’t speak. Had we created the perfect origami? Had we tried to become God and passed? I don’t know. But what we’d done was unreal. Magical. Something beyond us.
We returned to his room. Though he was weak, Asaf was overjoyed. He wouldn’t stop smiling. He held my hand and didn’t let go. I slept in the visitor’s chair.
The morning after, I had walked out into the parking lot and spent the whole day searching for the angel, but couldn’t find it. I choose to believe it floated up to heaven and didn’t come back. The same way I believed that somewhere above in the skies Asaf was forever looking down on me. Forever reminding me I didn’t need superpowers to make the impossible happen. I just had to believe, like I had believed in him.
About the Author
Derek Lubangakene lives and works in Kampala, Uganda.
Despite growing up in a household full of books, he only started writing only after failing as an origami artist, a sketch-artist and poet. No regrets though. Between his day job and his moonlighting as a writer, he also works as a contributing editor at Deyu African Magazine, an online repository of contemporary African Writing.
He has been long-listed for the 2013 Golden Baobab Early-Chapter Book Prize, the 2017 Writivism Short Story Prize, and honorably mentioned in the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize.
His work has appeared in Apex Magazine, Omenana, Enkare Review, River River Literary Journal, Prairie Schooner, The Missing Slate, The Kalahari Review, Lawino Magazine, and the Imagine Africa 500 Anthology, among others.
He is currently working on his first novel.
About the Narrator
Peter Adrian Behravesh writes flintlock space fantasy stories inspired by Safavid-era Iran. He is an associate editor for Escape Pod and the audio producer for PodCastle. Peter is also the founder of Lit & Lore Editorial, which provides freelance editorial services to small presses, publishers, and writers of all genres and skill levels. Visit www.litandlore.com for more information.
When he isn’t writing or editing, you’ll most likely find Peter hurtling down a mountain, sipping English Breakfast, and brushing up on his Farsi (though usually not all at once). You can read his sporadic ramblings at www.peteradrianbehravesh.com and on Twitter @pabehravesh.