Abdulaziz sat on the floor and listened to the screams and the music through his window. Outside, everything was wild. He wasn’t old enough to remember the last election, but he couldn’t imagine it being as loud as this one.
He was scared.
All that noise, those colors… It was too much.
When his bedroom door creaked open, he jumped. It was only his bibi, though. It was only the old woman who took care of him. He loved his bibi. She was the only person who treated him like a normal child.
“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “You’re safe in here. You’re always safe in here. That’s why your father keeps you inside.”
“I thought it was because of what happened to Mama,” he said. He looked down at his hands, at the little, dark wrinkles that crisscrossed his palms.
“That too. Dear, you know you’re special,” she said. “It’s just a precaution.”
Abdulaziz didn’t quite remember his mama, but he did remember the fire.
His bibi hugged him.
There were more screams.
Abdulaziz looked out the window and saw a flash of green and yellow race down the street. There and gone. So very fast. Those were CCM supporters waving flags and blasting the political party’s songs from giant speakers. The election was this weekend. Abdulaziz didn’t quite know what that meant, but he knew that people were partying in the streets.
Partying and fighting.
And Papa was extra angry about it.
“Little one,” his bibi said. “Finish the work, please. You know it’s a good thing to be helpful. I love it when you help clean the house.”
Papa came home later than usual. Everything he wore was red and blue. CUF colors. He even had face paint. “I was marching,” he said. “It’s terrible out there.”
Abdulaziz didn’t talk. When Papa wore those colors and got in this mood, it was best to stay quiet.
“The government is corrupt,” Papa said. He gestured toward the stained walls of their tiny house, and then toward his son’s shoeless feet. “They take and take and we have nothing.”
Abdulaziz nodded. He looked at his bare feet.
The old man played with the gold watch around his wrist. He didn’t look at his son, and Abdulaziz knew that he was nervous around him. He seldom looked his son in the eye.
“Son,” Papa said, “you’re special. That’s why I keep you here. But soon, I’ll take you outside.”
“I don’t know…”
“There’s violence out there, son. CCM is doing some terrible things. And you–you can do terrible things, too–so I think I’ll take you outside. I think you can be helpful.”
Abdulaziz nodded solemnly. He didn’t quite understand, but Papa sure sounded serious.
In the distance, the call to prayer filled the air, as it does five times every day. It started with low chanting in Arabic, then it rose in volume and excitement, and then… nothing. Just the crackle of speakers.
Abdulaziz made ugali in the kitchen. His bibi told him stories about life outside the house.
Papa walked in and slammed the door shut. He was a big, dark silhouette against the light. As he walked closer, Abdulaziz could see that there was something wrong with his face.
It was twisted.
His jaw was clenched, his chin was bleeding, and his left eye was swollen shut.
What was wrong with him? Abdulaziz didn’t want to ask, because that could only create more problems.
“Look at me,” Papa said. “Look what those damn CCM thugs did to me.” He poked at the dark swelling around the eye, then winced at his own action.
Silence fell over the room, and to Abdulaziz, it was the thickest, heaviest silence he’d experienced. He wanted to walk over to his father and hug him, but he didn’t. The man wasn’t in the mood for that; instead, he stormed off, leaving the silence behind him.
Abdulaziz’s bibi touched him on the shoulder. “Your father brought that upon himself,” she whispered.
“I don’t understand.”
“Bibi, what do you think about the election?”
The old woman looked him right in the eyes. “I think it’s nothing,” she said. “Nothing will change, at least not for us. Both parties are the same. And afterwards, you’ll still be trapped in this house. With no shoes.”
Night fell, and Abdulaziz’s father took his son outside the house.
“Where are we going?”
“You’ll see,” Papa said, and then picked him up and placed him on the branches of an upside-down tree. They were in the middle of a park on the outskirts of Stone Town. There was a stage, and a speaker system, and banners everywhere. People in green and yellow danced on the left. People in red and blue danced on the right. And Abdulaziz was on a tree.
“You’ll see the savagry, son. You’ll see what they are capable of, and you’ll know what to do.”
A dark look crossed Papa’s face. “Don’t cry.” With that, he joined the right side of the crowd.
Abdulaziz watched as people shouted, as one man struck another man with the wooden post of a banner. He watched as fights broke out and anger took over. Is this really how the world is? Maybe his father was right about locking him away.
An injured woman screamed.
Abdulaziz thought about what his bibi had said. This violence wouldn’t stop. Neither party would fix anything.
So he allowed his anger to take over, to fill him and warm him until… Until that warmth spilled out from his fingertips. The people nearest to him caught fire first. Then the flame spread, until every piece of green and yellow fabric was burning. People screamed, but this time Abdulaziz could only hear one word: “Help.”
In a second, every member of CCM, every person in green and yellow, had burnt up.
There was silence. Shock. A pause in time. And in that moment when the survivors looked over the dead and looked around in horror, in those few seconds of grief, Abdulaziz smiled. It took a terrible thing, but it taught them that colors didn’t matter. Parties didn’t matter. Death was death, and death was horrible.
Perhaps now, people would learn to—
The celebrations started. One man in red and blue shouted, “Praise God!” An older woman screamed, “Thank you! Thank you!” And then the survivors, the waves of red and blue danced around in the midst of the charred corpses. They didn’t care that people died. They only cared that God had struck down their enemies.
And Papa was among them. He screamed with pure joy. His son had delivered.
Abdulaziz realized that he was not finished. He closed his eyes and embraced the warmth again. In an instant, he’d burnt all the CUF members to ash.
His father burnt with them. And like he promised, Abdulaziz didn’t cry
When everything was motionless, he jumped down from his place high on the upside-down tree. The ground was hot and charred under his bare feet. Carefully, he walked through the dead.
Evan Purcell is an English teacher living in Stone Town, Zanzibar. An avid traveler, Evan has lived in America, Russia, and China. His new romance novel Rev Your Engines will come out in February. You can read more about his writing and travels at EvanPurcell.Blogspot.com