Fahad placed the flag between his science and maths text books and sat on it. If it remained folded it would tear soon, and they had just a few of these left. He smiled at the thought of how annoyed his science teacher would be to see his book being used as a butt-rest.
Fadi, his 6-year-old brother, sat down beside him. “Will you let me play tomorrow at least,” he whined.
“Yes, yes. You are on guard now. That’s how you train to be a goalie.”
Fadi was not convinced, but repeated the colours aloud. He can’t afford to make a mistake. He almost did this morning. “Black and Red. Green and Black. Black and Red. Green and Black.”
They heard a distant thud, and ducked under the bed.
“Switch off the lights and go to sleep,” mami called from the kitchen.
Next morning, the brothers hurried through a breakfast of dry bread and red tea, and ran out of home. They kept close to the compound walls, as they walked to the open ground near the school, where they were to meet their friends.
Twelve boys and one girl–Yousuf’s little sister, Amna.
The older boys huddle around Fadi and Amna. Fahad and two other boys remove pieces of paper tucked into their belts, under theirs shirts.
The oldest of the group, 12-year-old Ahmed whispers. “You remember? Don’t mix it up. And smile.”
Everyone deferred to Ahmed, he was the owner of the ball.
“If I guard well, tomorrow I will play with them,” Fadi boasted to Amna. She couldn’t care less. She just wanted to get out of home, and escape her grandmother’s wailing.
The two are lost in a game of stones and sticks they’ve deviced. They hear a rumble and a shadow falls over them. Amna, quicker of the two, pulls out the black and red flag and waves it at the men. She is not afraid of them. She is not afraid of much, except boredom.
The boys pause play, and wait for the men to move out of the ground.
As soon as the men were out of sight, they start kicking again. Today was a fairly peaceful day. Yesterday, there were so many interruptions, and Fadi almost messed up.
After nearly an hour, a different set of men patrol the area.
“I know which one, let me do it please,” Fadi begged.
With a sigh, Amna stepped aside. Fadi carefully took out the green and black one and waved it. He got it right, and tomorrow he will be with the boys, and Amna can play with her silly sticks, he thought to himself.
The distant thuds were drawing closer… it was time to run back home. As they secreted the flags and ran in different directions, to different hoods. Ahmed shouted out after the scattered group, “Same time tomorrow.”
Fadi ran behind Fahad and grabbed his hand. “Can I play with you then?”
PS: Story seed courtesy, RGM (the mudhir).