A giggle during the Devine Liturgy would have been more appropriate than Haroon's croaky laughter. Lopija was also laughing but it was unclear whether it was because of the comedy that was lost on us, or because she had gotten the worst of the splatter on her. The side of her head glistened with greasy droplets, stuck to her short hair. The spoon—the culprit—lay upside down on the table between Anja (who was wiping away bits of Haroon's serving from her cheek) and Haroon.
If this had been my family, if this scene had played out in our dining room at Ljerumlup, the whole ordeal would have been ignored, swept under a sudden change of conversation in an attempt to save face. The Karamovs, on the other hand, acted. Katka rose to fetch her sisters some napkins and a cloth to wipe the table. Breja insisted that Lopija get up and wash the stew from her hair, all the while, glancing worriedly over at Haroon.
It was Millin who reached over to pick up the spoon, and who repositioned his brother's limp hand on the table so that he had a chance to clutch the utensil once more. And it was only fitting that he did it because everyone else was frozen in suspense, trying to figure out what was wrong with the elder Ibranov.
It was as if his laughter had sucked the last bit of energy out of him. Haroon was slouched and tipped forward, his solar plexus dug into the tabletop. His neck fought to keep his head upright. It was painful to watch Millin's hand tighten around his brother's as he helped him lift the spoon to his plate. When they sat so close—shaved head to shaved head—there was no denying their blood relation. They had the same proud nose, square jawline, and narrow lips. Millin wore a black tracksuit jacket, and his brother—the yang to his yin—an oversized, off-white button-up shirt.
It might have been the unorthodox order, seeing the younger Ibranov taking care of the elder, or something in Millin's calm demeanour—indicative of how often he performed such tasks—either way, it was uncomfortable being a silent observer. Of knowing something was wrong, and yet, not being able to figure out what.
Secret murmurs. Everyone being in on a skit. That's what it felt like when Yuri leaned into Krié and whispered something—a clue—into his ear. Krié's expression filled with concern and pity. The murmurs in Brommin spread around the table. They rose to a crescendo; became cohesive words, and then full sentences. And I knew, because I had seen it so often in my own household, that the topic would shift and that the chance to get answers would be whisked away like a kite by the wind.
- What's wrong with him? I asked, desperately grappling with the context that was slipping between each cryptic look that was being exchanged around the table.
Haroon's eyes flicked up. For the first time, I understood the meaning behind: the eyes are the windows to the soul. His were pits of murky water, dirt-brown, and shallow. Droopy with drug-induced euphoria. His expression was a lingering echo inside a vacant house.
He laughed again, a gurgled laugher that sounded as if he was choking on mucus. And I was simultaneously staring at him—aware that the kitchen had fallen ghost-quiet—and watching the two s'kier from behind a window in my mind's eye. My aunt's voice, a whisper, emanated from underneath a rubble of discarded memories like a distant chant. S'ka is s'ka born. S'kaiss'kaborn. Sskaissskaborn.
My eyes panned to Millin's scowl, and then over to Yuri's guarded expression. The divide was there; clearer than ever.
- D-Did something happen? I asked.
Millin's free hand clenched the tabletop.
- What is it to you, Konstan—
- He's worried, Haroon interrupted, levelling his brother with a look that shut him up. He yanked himself loose from Millin's grip, which only served to deepen his brother's scowl. The force of his movement, coupled with poor coordination, resulted in the spoon slipping out of his grasp. He picked it up with slow fingers, exerting an effort that was hard to watch.
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If We ExistGeneral Fiction
🏆A 2018 Wattys Winner🏆 Two boys, one ethnically segregated town. Two sides, one war. Yuri Karamov's existence is like Schrödinger's cat, simultaneously both dead and alive. In Ru Konstantin's mind, Yuri is still the same vibrant young man he was w...