Jess was only ten when the first pods washed up on the shore. She’d been standing with her toes dug into the sand, letting the cold Atlantic Ocean swirl around her ankles, daring herself to venture... [+]
Near Paulo’s home, in the rich deep earth, dark eggs lay. They waited for decades, to be brought to hatch. When they hatched, they hatched death, or dismemberment, bursting forth with all the energy that lurked within.
These eggs were born in lands far away, and were placed by angry hands. Once, their placements were carefully plotted. Now those maps are long gone, that knowledge forgotten or unspoken in silent grudging vengeance. The eggs would wait a century to hatch if they must, as they slowly turned to rust.
In other lands, these eggs were known to elephants, who taught and rumbled warnings to keep away. Near Paulo’s home, all the elephants, matriarch keepers of memory, had long been killed or driven away.
The work of the eggs was seen in the town, in the bodies of those who had stumbled upon them, in the way that what had once been field now grew long, returning to bush. In this bush, cattle sometimes grazed and sometimes met an agonizing, slow, fate. So too did the antelope and the hyena, who did not have the memories of the expatriated elephant.
The poison of the eggs lurked behind the eyes of those who sat at the bar near Paulo’s home. They were men who would have grown sweet fruit from good earth but were now rendered purposeless and justified in their fear of their corrupted inheritance.
The eggs waited and lured. Early mornings their blood promises called out to Kasinda, spoke to the death which lay within her, as she waited for the last drunken man to leave the bar. She washed and combed the stink of the night out of her hair, when the music stopped, and the quiet dawn hugged the village. She sometimes asked her sisters to lock the door of their home, to lock her in, while they were away at school. The eggs pulled on her despair, but not yet, Kasinda told them, not yet.
Paulo came to dance once a week. To see him dance was a wonder, and to dance with him was the closest to rapture Kasinda believed she would ever know.
He was different than the others who danced with her; he came to dance and nothing more. When he danced there was nothing more.
Each weekday morning, Paulo traveled to the old fields where the eggs lay, and donned armor. His workmates helped him cinch it tight so that it constricted his breath all the day long but perhaps would keep him safe, should he make a mistake.
Progress came square meter by square meter, small white markers declaring safety, advancing across fields and years. He had the patience for it, the carefulness that others did not.
He walked among the eggs, swung the detector and marked where the eggs could be.
There were other ways of finding them - trained dogs, and rats, or special plants, to mark where the eggs waited. But always it came back to a person, probing and trenching the ground, setting explosives to unleash and kill the egg. Day after day, week on week, year on year. As long as the money to pay for it came, as long as one’s luck held.
Paulo did not know if he would live to see all the land around his town clear, and the farms growing again. Children would be able to run free through the fields, a thing he had never done, if war did not return and the same mistakes not made again.
He walked carefully, slowly, up and down, in the quiet of steady concentration, to the tick of the machine and the rustle of the grasses. Each foot he placed with slight trepidation. All day. Muscles humming in protest at their precision. Work, then sleep, then work again. All days but Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday nights, Paulo went to the bar and let his body expand, engulfed in the dance and the beat. His armor was protection, but it was no guarantee. What were the numbers? For every five thousand mines removed...one deminer killed? Paulo tried not to keep count and not to worry about getting closer. Anyways numbers and averages didn’t work that way, he was told.
Saturday nights he tore off his armor, and he danced. He danced until there was nothing in his bones but the music and the thrum, every sinew popping with a glorious melody. He drew the songs into his lungs until he felt them crackle.
And when Saturday slid to Sunday, when all that was tight in Paulo unwound, the woman Kasinda would seek him out and say to him, “Dance with me once more.”
On Sunday mornings they both rested, in exhaustion and repletion, unassailable, untroubled, for a moment immortal, while the eggs in darkness still slept.