“On your marks…Get set… GO!”
Kojo kicked as hard as his little legs could. At first, he didn’t see or feel anyone next to him. Just wind gushing past his ear. But after a couple of yards, his sister was by his side. Then ahead of him. Her breaths lost in the wind.
He kicked harder. Letting out little puffs to urge his body forward. But all he did was in vain. His elder sister was already at the finish line, where Joseph, his close friend, stood with a branch lifted above his head. Waving for the victor.
Vivian, Kojo’s elder sister, was jubilant. Punching the air and skipping around a disconsolate Kojo.
Kojo could see in Joseph’s narrow eyes that he empathised with him. But a sudden turn in his look told Kojo that his friend would be joining his older sister. Throwing salt in his open wounds.
“See you! You will never get across the road. A car will come and …” she skipped a couple steps then clapped her hands loudly in front of Kojo. “Crash you!”
Kojo’s tiny fists were balled and his smallish body went rigid. Deep inside, wells of tears were threatening to erupt from his eyes. Fearing this eruption, he ran away from Vivian and Joseph. Jeers and laughter following in his wake.
Kojo found his special corner tucked between the walkways of a heavily trafficked intersection. The congestion on the node was his cover. People walking, cycling, peddling, carrying, calling, begging. It was a jumble of activity. So anyone standing still would go unnoticed.
Kojo didn’t mind that his sister beat him or his best friend had laughed at him. But what was disturbing him most was the prospect of crossing the road.
The whole community had been talking about it.
Sleek. Vast. Deadly.
Before the road, there was another road and that was easily traversed. Kojo, Vivian and Joseph would cross it together to go to school every day. But a better and newer road was demanded by the mob, and, ‘mighty be the powers,’ the road came.
It had already handicapped five pedestrians, and several motorcyclists had met their end on it. But it was also heralded by motorists as a gateway to economic recovery and growth. Kojo didn’t know so much about death, or economic recovery, for that matter. But he knew what he saw when his father came home one day without a leg. All of sudden he was half the person he used to be. It wasn’t from the road, but from a road. Soon the remaining half of his father was lost too, and Kojo was left with none.
What if Kojo wasn’t fast enough to cross it? What if he too lost his legs? What if he too become none? Then he wouldn’t be able to chase Jospeh about the compound. Or even run with his sister and finally beat her when he grew taller and stronger. These fears tangled with his anger of being teased, and he dragged them back with him to his house later that day. Then with him into the morning of the first day of school.
Zoooooooom. Honk. Vroooom. Zoom-zoom-zoom. Skrrrrrr. Honk! Honkkkkkkk! Zoooooooom. Gyimi! Vrrrroooooooooom- ZZZzooooom.
The pattern of sounds was the only way the children could determine when to cross. Standing on the far end of the road. Looking over the railings. Timing the moment in which they would need to dash. The blur of colours. A trick of light.
Vivian mouthed for Kojo to hold her and Joseph’s hand. Her little brother was much smaller than the both of them. They gripped his hand as fiercely as they might squeeze a sachet of pure water.
Vivian had heard from others in the community that to cross the road, you needed to use your ears more than your eyes. The ice kenke vendor had said it. The koko woman had proclaimed it. The Waakye woman, sweat sticking to her neck, had bemoaned it. And by some coincidence, Vivian realised at that very moment, all their food had lost some taste since the road was commissioned.
The road. The road. The road. It rolled on and on in her head and tongue as she remembered the disappointment of the Waakye the other day.
Vivian was counting the seconds between the zooms and the honks. In there somewhere was their path to the middle partition of the road. During the morning, the death trap moved from left to right. By evening, it flipped. If they got to the middle, the worst would be behind them.
Vivian remembered her mother’s parting words. ‘Protect your younger brother.’ Vivian’s mother had so much trust in her that she didn’t fear for Vivian’s life.
Zoooooooooom. Honk. Honkkkkk!
“Onyourmarks!” Joseph yelled, raising his hand “… Getset!” His wide eyes met Vivian’s. “…. Go!”
Honk! Honk!! ZZZZoooooooom! HOOOOONKKKKK!
The children shot straight through. Vivian and Joseph pulling Kojo as they sprinted across. Kojo squeezing their fingers. Vivian wincing from the pain. Jospeh yanking his friend. Kojo’s eyes shut.
They were at the partition. They just made it ahead of the car that had yelled at them. A distant insult and screeching of tyres now many miles away.
Vivian turned to make sure her brother and Joseph were okay. They both gave brave faces and a shaky nod. Vivian did the same. The next part would be easier, she assured herself and hoped to pass the confidence onto the others.
She pulled so that Joseph and Kojo could follow. They were walking this time. In a line. Then a sound. Vivian knew not to look. Only to run. So she pulled. Pulled hard so that her urgency would catalyse in the other children. But fingers slipped. Cries were screamed. Hearts in mouth. Hands on chest. Joseph by her side. Eyes wide. Kojo no where to be seen. A red blur flashed. And a blue. A black. A silver.
Then a figure. Still. Rigid. Shaking. With tiny balled fists. Tears in his eyes. Vivian didn’t hear a sound. She only heard ‘protect your younger brother,’ echoing from within her. So she did as she had been told. Protected her brother.
Ekow Manuar is an African Futurist writer who hails from Accra, Ghana. He was educated as a sustainability scientist in Europe, and currently works as a renewable energy and environment project developer. His works include “Beans Without Korkor?”– the winner of the 2021 Economic Commission of Africa short story climate fiction award, “Kubulor Country,” published in the African Writers’ Anthology Resilience, “Tell Me What You See,” published in the Dark Mountain’s Literary Climate anthology, Issue 18, and many more. He can be found at https://www.instagram.com/abdallahsmith06/ and https://abdallahsmith06.medium.com/.