The Starlings

Keya Punja is a final year Liberal Arts student with an interest in photography, writing, and dancing ’til the early hours of the morning.

[Featured Image: A blue and yellow starling bird perched upon a small, bare branch.]

The president was making an appearance at Nairobi University, and it seemed as though everyone and their goat was eager to catch a glimpse of him. This excitement led all work to a halt. Matatus sped past creating their own roads, Batman overtook God’s Favour and skidded to a halt in the dust. The deluge had arrived. Just like the water, the bodies spread out and filled every space that was available. Soon the streets were full. Kiosk owners were desperately trying to serve chai and mandazis as quickly as they could, it was a good day for business, but it was an even better day for patriotism. They all knew what he looked like, that oh so familiar face that gazed down upon them every day, but nobody had ever been lucky enough to see him in the flesh. This was to be the day, the day when finally, the people could meet their god, the man in charge of their lives, for better, for worse. 

Mercy weaved her way through the crowds, tiptoe, duck, tiptoe, spin, she danced around the statues making sure to not step on their firmly planted feet, or to be hit by the hand that Michelangelo painted; reaching out in hopes of finding Adam. At last she was free. She took a deep breath; the cool air relieved her lungs that had overheated in the crowd. Without any real direction she found herself in the park.

Uhuru park was quiet. Mercy had the whole place to herself, a personal abyss of peace in the centre of the city. She smiled as she glided through the greenery. She looked up through the acacia trees, their delicately thorned branches created silhouetted art on her soft oval face. She sat by the edge of the dam and reached into her pocket. In her hand she held a photograph, and although she had looked upon it every day for the last year, she still got this feeling in the pit of her stomach every time she touched it. It was a feeling of excitement tangled with fear. 

She played with the paper in her fingers, its soft material caressed her skin, comforting her before she finally brought it into the light. She unfolded the paper, and looking back at her was the face of a man. The folds had created a grid upon his face exposing his perfectly symmetrical composition. This face, this face was that of the man she was to marry. Her father had given her the photograph whilst telling her the news. He was a friend of her father’s from when they were both working at the University. And although Mercy knew that the man would had aged since this photo was taken, she knew that he was her future. 

She faced upwards and gazed at the marabou stork that was perched atop the acacia tree. Its balding head, and loose skin made her think if this was what her man would look like now, would his colours have also faded with time? She looked back at the photograph and thought that he was too vibrant, too beautiful to have possibly have withered that much. The photograph hadn’t only captured his visage, it had recorded his spirit too. 

Just as Mercy rose to make her way back to the university, there came a burst of crazed screams and shouts. Mercy looked toward the road, the gates had burst, and thousands of students flooded into the park towards her. She froze. She had heard of fight or flight, but her instinct was to do neither, it was to simply stand where she was. She held her ground as they rushed past her. 

They moved so fast that it was hard to distinguish each person. She could not make out what it was that they were all shouting, or what it was they were running from. Until. Until she saw them, the ones that hadn’t been so lucky. They raged towards her, their bodies twisted and gnarled, clutching their sides, their heads, their legs, but still nothing could stop the scarlet rivers that poured out. 

Then came what they were all running from. Perfect and upright they advanced, marching in their impeccable green uniforms, their AK-47s held out straight. Yet they did not stop to consider the place they were entering, they continued, faster, shouting and shooting. Bullets rained down on the park. Bodies fell. Some simply crumbled, others fell and still tried to lunge forwards to safety. But looking around her, Mercy could not see where safety was to be found.

Still she stayed. The groans from the dying grew louder and came together with the shouting and the song of the bullets. All the people and all the noise blurred together into one great symphony. And it was as though this opera had had such a great influence over Mercy that she fell to her knees.

She fell. Yet her gaze was still locked onto the green giants, their faces invisible, their bodies growing bigger by the second. 

She reached into her pocket. From it she recovered the photograph. It was now coated in a thick cherry red glaze, but the subject had never looked more beautiful. Mercy lay herself gently on her side.

Looking at the photo, Mercy found herself transported back to her childhood. She thought about the Starlings that used to wake her up every morning, how their striking colours never dulled with time. No matter the weather they were always the same beautiful creatures. Mercy thought about how this was the same for people. A person may change their appearance, but if they have a beautiful soul then that will radiate out of them always. This made her smile. It made her sure that she would have a good future, after all, he was from America. And isn’t America where everyone’s dreams come true?

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