A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to take part in a reading at the Barnes & Noble in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The reading was hosted by the Imani House, a wonderful organization I've volunteered with for a while now.
I read a piece I've been struggling with lately, a short story titled- AIM. POINT. SPRAY.
The beauty of a live audience is the ability to receive instant feedback. I had the rare opportunity to take in the collective reactions of a room full of strangers. The subtle oohs gasps and chuckles were priceless. This piece is due for another round of edits, but here's what I've been able to do so far.
AIM. POINT. SPRAY.
Twilight descends upon the sky creating an incomprehensible cloak of darkness. Moving from shadow to shadow through the dense brush. I wonder if I’m almost home?
There are no street lamps here. The moon is gone. I float through a philharmonic black hole. A chorus of crickets and yellow locusts harmonize with the melancholy carol of the Bell frog.
Red grass tickling bare knees. Flip flops click against the give of the earth.
The sounds of neighbors, flickering lights in the distance, the aroma of roasting firewood- almost home.
My feet find the familiar winding path to my front porch. I step out of my shoes.
What is the time? I drop my schoolbag and head to the refrigerator, its soft glow lights the room. I sip mango juice from the carton. Four classes in a row, it has been a long day.
I close the refrigerator and make my way across the room to find the oddly placed light. Coming home after dark is an obstacle course.
I head down the hallway and into my room. My fingertips graze the wall for the bedroom light. Click. The elephant print wall hanging, the package to send home. Stepping out of my skirt and into shorts, something is askew. A bristly blur clings where the cracked indigo wall meets the dull concrete.
The shape, slowly registers, paralysis strikes. Eight muscular legs curl. My breath pizzicato, marks my descent into ether.
You do not belong here!
Dashing to the hall cabinet, ready for battle, feeling for Baygonne bug spray, I return. The spider, a huntsman, larger than my hand, clings defiantly, unmoved.
I hear him his.
You do not belong here.
Shaky hands. Gummy teeth, I aim, point, spray. The hiss, tiny particles twirl and dance catching the light. The huntsman inflating, rises, massive. A spastic sprint of angry circles.
Aim, point, spray. Trembling arms, breath seized. The huntsman up the wall, launches towards me. The can crashes to the concrete.
On jelly legs, I run down the hallway, through the kitchen, out the door, into darkness. Black sky, close, crushing. Trembling, alone.
Uncertain steps backwards. The downward slope of wet grass. I’m running, searching for anyone, someone to help me. Finally a television glare and an open door. Two boys are seated atop a fraying tan mat. Startled eyes. A football match, a begging stranger.
The eldest rises. An uneasy glance is shot towards his brother. A raised hand to say-stay. Beneath the black sky he joins me. Four brisk feet, uncertain. Shoes off before the door. Through the kitchen, past the hallway, into the room. Pointing, gesturing, the man-hunt begins. The boy shakes curtains, lifts the rug, opens drawers, checks the mosquito net. Silence.
Pacing the kitchen, arms crossed, biting my lower lip, I can’t bear to watch. The clock ticks, a moth flits towards the light. The smell of tea. Nails piercing arms.
The boys startled scream, a brown finger pointing, shaking towards an overturned pink suitcase. With a look of defeat, the boy quietly shakes his head, ready to go home.
The front door closes.
I hear it again- You don’t belong here.
Standing in the kitchen, exhausted and alone. No plan. A wobbly kitchen table, tonight’s bed.
Lying on pineapple print tablecloth, knees to chest, ear on shoulder, I’m unable to sleep. Blinking madly into darkness, feeling inconsolably small and defenseless. The American teacher in Tanzania, unsettled, alone.