Normalize This

By Ananya

It is a hot day. Days are hot. This is normal. Kareem’s shorts stick to his skinny legs as he stumbles out of bed, tiptoes around his 3 sleeping siblings, and runs out of the door. His father is already at work and he knows his mother needs the sleep. His friends are waiting under the fig tree with bright backpacks and tattered sandals.  The figs are green and soft and gentle. The insides are cool and help tame Kareem’s anger. Childhood is anger. This is normal. There is a funeral on the next block. The mother is wailing, but the brother smiles at the boys. Tears sputter to an abrupt stop and smiles are never seen enough around here. Death is as frequent as the sunset. This is normal. Kareem remembers the piece of chocolate in his backpack. He eats it with a grin without the others noticing. You save what you can. This is normal. The school is in sight after 45 minutes. The teacher didn’t show today. The boys are now bursting with youthful excitement. Soccer instead of class. This is normal. Kareem scores a goal even though he’s wearing his younger brother’s sandals. Today he is happy. Today he is capable. He sees a soldier closeby right after the game ends. The soldier’s gun makes his goal insignificant. Kareem eats a fig.

On the way back home, spirits are full and stomachs are empty. One of the boys starts imitating the American popstar he saw on television. He stands up straight, sticks his skinny hip out to one side, and pouts. The others join in. Their bodies generate heat and noise and laughter, as bodies should. The boys are children until they realize this isn’t the place. They are all now coughing. The air is a chemical breeze. For them, tear gas is always in air particles. This is normal. Just continue walking.

Kareem’s mother is waiting on the small porch. She has picked more figs for Kareem. She doesn’t know what he’s seen today, but she knows he’ll eat the figs. She hugs him until he laughs and tells her to stop. She never wants to.. The bullet holes on their main door remind Kareem of the bubbles he was able to blow when his uncle brought the toy back from his trips. His uncle doesn’t do that anymore. The six holes are perfectly rounded black holes. Kareem runs his fingers over them out of habit. This is normal.

Kareem’s siblings are back again and the day is no longer hot. Kareem winks at them and they know what this means. They head to the back of the house, turn on the rusty tap and splash each other with water. Their father’s face is red and his mouth is a thin line. There will be no water tomorrow, he screams. They just want it today. Their mother smiles and leads their father back into the house. Let them have it today. Temporary is a way of life. This is normal.

On television, a mother is wailing again. Someone is gone again. The family eats around the television with the cries as background noise. This is normal. Kareem sees nothing except the dessert waiting to be served. The phone rings and Kareem’s mother answers. She is wailing. Her sister just had a baby boy. The family is ready to celebrate. This is also normal.

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