by Christopher James
Christopher James lives, works, and writes in Jakarta, Indonesia. He has been published in many places online and edits Jellyfish Review.
This is a small tree, this is a shark, this is an octopus, this is a spaceman, this is a giant cat and a tiny tiger, this is a curse word ( fuck ) written in beautiful type, this is Chaplin unless it’s Hitler, this is a colorful heart, broken but pretty, this is a new addition to the wall—a giraffe with a ponytail—this is a bee, a real bee, sitting on a flower, a painted flower, and over here is the memorial to my brother. Soldiers hacked him to death with machetes on this spot when he was 16 years old. It’s two wings—you can stand in front of them and pretend you’re flying, put it on Instagram. Ack, says the army chief to my mother. Let us take down the memorial now. You’d better not, you sonsabitches, she tells them. That’s all I have left of my baby. Sometimes I set fire to things, to flowers to trees to bushes to grass—I don’t like the color green. One day I’ll set fire to the men who killed my brother—I was six when he died and I don’t remember him well, but it’s hard growing up being the brother of someone they killed. You’re invisible. But also, people burden you down—when the time comes, people say you need to get justice. My mother says stay away from soldiers, I lost one son, I can’t lose another. Older men in the block say you better fuck. them. up. Two men killed my brother, they’re in their fifties now, they both still work for the army, they both still walk around our block. One is tall and fat and disgusting and the other is short and thin and disgusting. A squash, a reed. They think they’re invincible. Sometimes they shout rude jokes at my mother, about her wobbling breasts, about her full bum, about her forbidden cunt, even with me there, her son. Her remaining son. Sometimes they go quiet when she’s around, like they’re plotting things. They look at me meaningfully. But I don’t think they even know who I am. I can follow them, I do follow them, I plan where I would do it—how I would do it—oh, if I could only do it in front of my brother’s memorial. Set fire to them and have them stand in front of his wings. Post it to Instagram. I punch walls—I want to make my hands strong. I don’t do well in school because I have no time to study, I need to be strong. Practice math, my mother says but HOW CAN I PRACTICE MATH WHEN THEY’RE STILL OUT THERE, MUM? She says you want revenge? You get revenge by being better than they are, get a good job, be rich, be powerful, take them down that way. You think you can hurt them with fists and fire? You’re just a bug to them. Less than a bug. We live on the fortieth floor but one day a giant grasshopper flew in our window and I didn’t see it—I stepped on it by mistake and crushed it in half. Threw its maimed body in a panic back out the window. The next day it was in the apartment again. How?! Why?! Ever since then, mum knows I hate bugs. One day I see them walking down the street off duty and drunk, I go after them, walking behind at a safe distance so they won’t see me. They don’t even look. I follow them for half an hour. They lean on each other, they make stupid jokes, they pass a bottle of something back and forth and swig from it—I’m getting closer and closer, I can smell their bodies, sweaty and rotten. One of them goes down an alleyway to piss. I make my finger into a gun and shoot the pissing soldier, turn, shoot his friend. Hey! says the friend. What are you doing? My heart—but he’s not talking to me, he’s shouting for his friend to hurry up, to stop pissing. I could do it now, punch them, knock them out, douse them in petrol, light them up, but a family comes out of the house in front of us, five of them, laughing and playing and enjoying the sunshine, and the moment’s gone. I lose my nerve. One day the soldiers are just gone. Nobody knows what happened to them. Maybe they got transferred. There are other soldiers in their place. I have strong fists. I can make fire. I don’t know what to do with them both, and what my teacher says is you don’t understand how beautiful bugs are. When we’re all gone and dead, it’ll only be bugs who survive. I think she’s making a metaphor. An allegory. I lean my face on the wall with the shark, the octopus, the little tiger, the big cat, and it’s true. Bugs are all over this thing. Some going this way, some going that. Every time they meet another bug, they stop a moment, share information. Bugs talk. A girl from my school comes up, I don’t know her that well, and she says you’re a good-looking one. She says do you want to kiss me? She says I’ll let you kiss me, but not now. You have to wait until you’re a little bit older, and you have to do it nicely. On the wall, all of the bugs stop – they want to see what happens next. And I think yes, I do want to kiss you. How much older do I have to be, how much more do I need to grow?