20 February 2009

"What You Should Know About Water Rites"

By Curtis C. Chen

A familiar prickling under Chiwetel's chin woke him. He always wondered why Ekon liked to curl up there. Chiwetel slid a hand under the hedgehog and gently rolled him away.

Chiwetel sat up, shivering. He pulled two sweatshirts on over his damp t-shirt. He hadn't been prepared for this city. One minute the sun was shining, and the next there was rain. Chiwetel had never lived in such a place.

He scooped up Ekon with both hands and walked out of the grove to a public fountain. Chiwetel pulled a crumpled paper cup from his jeans, filled it, and held the cup while Ekon drank. After breakfast--dry bread for Chiwetel, berries for Ekon--Chiwetel slung his backpack over his shoulder and tucked Ekon inside his sweatshirt pocket.

The exterior of the Conservatory of Flowers glittered, its Victorian architecture unlike anything Chiwetel had ever seen in person. It was like a dollhouse, ornamented and precious.

The woman in the foyer took Chiwetel's wrinkled five-dollar bill with mild disgust on her face. He could feel her watching as he went inside. He didn't care what she thought of him.

He walked through the doors into a different world, humid and green.

"Good morning!" said a man wearing coveralls and a name tag.

"Hello," Chiwetel said. His heart was pounding. Why should this old gardener make Chiwetel more nervous than a truckload of rebels with automatic weapons?

Chiwetel hurried into the next room. He walked without stopping, past the exotic orchids and ferns, and through the door marked Aquatic Plants.

A pool of dark water filled the room. Plants that looked like large, green, upturned jar lids floated at one end. They were circular, as wide across as a man was tall, with flat edges folded up to reveal sharp red spines beneath.

Chiwetel slipped Ekon onto the nearest giant lily pad--Victoria amazonica, the sign said--and held both hands over the little one when he squeaked. Chiwetel knelt down and unpacked the supplies. A lock of hair. A tiny tooth. A bag of dirt.

He piled everything on a leaf ripped from the nearest vine, grabbed a rock from a bonsai display, and smashed his ingredients while chanting in a dead language.

The old gardener came in and shouted as Chiwetel was dumping powder around Ekon. Chiwetel finished drawing the circle, dropped the leaf, and pulled the gun out of his waistband. The man wouldn't know it wasn't loaded.

"Stay back," Chiwetel said.

The man stopped and held up his hands. Ekon looked up and squeaked.

"What the hell?"

Chiwetel wasn't sure if he was sweating, or if it was just the humidity. "Do not interfere," he said.

"I don't even know what--"

A flash of light blinded them both, and the man rushed forward. Chiwetel let him take the gun and leaned over the pool to look down at the lily pad.

Lying there, naked and dark-skinned and human, was an infant boy. He gurgled and smiled. Chiwetel felt his face dripping wetness into the pond, causing ripples.


1 comment:

lahosken said...

This kid is in for a rough time. I bet all the other kids at Child Protective Services laugh at you if you tell them that you were taken away from your dad because a city employee caught him putting you on a lily pad. They laugh and point and call you "frogboy" and it's no use telling them about hedgehogs.