At first it sounds like a freakish insect, just more threatening, bigger, this high-pitched hum that people in this corner of the earth have come to dread like nothing else. When the girl, Abida, at last dares to look up into the sky she sees the familiar, horrific silhouette of a drone, bringing suffering from a country over the seas. She gauges its flight path against the risen moon and sees immediately where it is headed but by this time, she knows all too well, it is already too late, except if…. Abida drops her gourd and begins to run, madly.
Before she hears it she sees it, an appropriate reversal, rising as a bright orange and black mushroom in the distance against a similarly colored horizon. Around the top there is dark, angry smoke like a tattered cloak, first spreading then falling away to the ground. A calamity that wishes to remain incognito. Almost as an afterthought the sonorous boooom of the detonation comes bounding off the mountain range from several angles to reach Abida, hurrying back, up a river bed crouching in twilight, her little black and white dog racing at her side. Not gamboling, running, knowing too. Her sandals make slapping and crunching sounds once Abida is out of water and her breath is a ragged beast in the quickly deepening dusk. Across the rocky, parched landscape comes the faint tingle of goat bells, crickets, calls to higher powers and all the other, otherwise soothing sounds of imminent nighttime. This evening they are drowned out by the thunderous beat of Abida’s heart, her wheezing respiration and the cacophony of her cascading thoughts. Her mother is an extremely vigilant woman so Abida is sure she must have heard the low-altitude whirr and ushered the family to a safe spot. Must have. And the brothers were likely not yet back from herding, couldn’t have been.
The rhythmic slap and crunch of her sandals, the wagging tail of Yalda up ahead, the shadow-swathed mountain flanks and the tail end of her purple scarf fluttering in the wind of her quick flight back home. All those things of life and death between day and night, which she will never forget.
The train is bursting with drunken revelers in costumes of all variations: there’s a photorealistic cheetah person walking around with an antelope dummy under each arm, a manticore in stark red, green and black sporadically issuing horrific, non-human noises, then the compulsory group of buccaneers [minus the mukem] and other swashbucklers, one of them who has actually gone to the pain of carrying around a live parrot looking severely unhappy upon her shoulder, croaking “shiver me shins, shiver me shins”, while another pirate is wielding a scimitar of either plastic or steel or silver. They are each of this group having swigs from the Coruba bottle as though it were workaday fizzy water. And three other folks who have not moved in about an hour, are dressed up in such perfect hard-plastic replicas of extraterrestrial robots that it is impossible to tell if they are indeed here to check out the local civilization before finalizing attack plans on planet earth or whether they are dying to get out of their singularly uncomfortable looking outfits, which encase them from head to toe in a shiny PVC hardshell. All in the name of driving out the hibernal spirits, the alleged purpose of this timeless ritual. Abida cannot help thinking this people are mad, signalling the according gesture to her friend.
More salient even than all the elaborately disguised train travelers are the scents that come wafting straight down the cars in sequential waves of attack: first and foremost the miasma of booze induced burps that also gives away the most recent meal of the burpee, then the indescribable funk of clothing that has been rotting in the attic for at least a year and now is being sweated through by an over-layered carouser, thirdly, little noxious clouds [these being by far the most insidious] arisen from hidden patches of vomit/defecation and, crowning the entire, insufferable stink, the cloying perfumes of those guys and gals who naively attempt to cover up all the fetid fumes they so damn well know they will be exuding coming to carnival in their costumes, blotto, on a diet of sausages and cider.
They have been warned about this scenario by their spiritual leader Kareem and have been trying to mentally prepare for it through visualization exercises: the excess, the drunkenness, the exhibitionist behavior. But now that they are confronted with it in the flesh it is a shock, which is hard to accomodate in any known category. Unlike the jolt of espying a NATO platoon on a hilltop from afar and having an approximate idea of how much shit you and yours are in for. This carnival crowd…. Do they truly not know what this entails, the emptiness? Thus thinking, Abida and her friend sit in their compartment very stilly, glancing now and then at each other for mutual support and such. There is also somewhere there the un-fully-thought question of the total belief in their own purpose or not.
As countermeasure to the encompassing craziness, Abida tries to recall the scents that floated about the river as she filled her family’s gourds with water, at times interrupted by Yalda overeager to play but can’t, can’t recall amid this brouhaha of noise and bodies groping at each other. However, she can close her eyes and see the stinging light, blue above the white-capped mountaintops, hear the call of her mother hauling everybody in for dinner, backed by the solitary cry of the Milan. And that is enough for one must not dwell too long amid things lost.
A new, stern yet friendly voice enters the fracas, exclaiming: “Nächster halt, Luceria”
Abida likes the sound of that, especially that last word, Luceria, like a city out of a dream half-forgotten. For a single, brief instant she feels that perhaps she should not be doing this, the freedom attack, because the people all around her, for all their infantile intemperance, seem very happy. And what will it help to take the hole inside her and spread it out here among fellow human beings she has never shared a meal with?