Kezia woke up on Tuesday morning, angry. Angry because she was hungry. Hungry because she had spent the little energy she had the night before crying, jerking, wailing; fighting with the cold breeze that seeped in from the invisible spaces between the walls and windows. Her seven year old belly woke her up because it was empty.
She couldn’t remember how she had fallen asleep on Monday night. The last things she could remember were her eyes, wide open and swimming in tears. She could remember that her mouth was dry, that her mother told her to stop crying so loud because there was nothing she could do. She was hungry too. She could remember that she ignored her mother and continued wailing. She had wished for the dirt on the ground to turn into rice or bread. It was only easy to remember because it was so hard to forget. She had forgotten what it felt like to wake up with a full belly.
Kezia was too hungry to cry on Tuesday morning. She feared that if she did she might fall asleep again and never wake up. The thought made her smile, to be lured into an eternal sleep; her mother had told her that there was no hunger in heaven.
She yawned. She felt a thick crust pull against her cheeks where the Monday night tears had dried. The thick black hair that she inherited from her mother had matted together and sculpted in her sleep. Kezia knew that her mother had soothed her with empty promises. Stop crying Kezy, there will be food in the morning. Don't worry my baby, I know, I know. Kezia was not stupid and she was not naive. She did not know the ways of the world but she knew the ways of her mother. She knew that crying meant noise, and noise meant that somebody might hear. Somebody might hear meant that somebody might find a seven year old child sleeping on the tiled floor of a cubicle in a Ladies’ bathroom. Her mother did not want that. She could hear the empty echoes of her mother’s promises bounce off the cold tiles of that Ladies’ bathroom. Stop crying Kezy, there will be food in the morning. She closed her eyes hoping that in the morning, when they opened again, the banquet that she imagined behind her eyelids would appear in front of her. Don't worry my baby, I know, I know.
It was morning. One yawn turned into two, and one arm followed the other in stretching up to the toilet paper decorated ceiling that was her sky for the night. She finally remembered how she had fallen asleep. After her mother had closed the door behind her, she shone the light of her Nintendo DS up to the ceiling and counted the toilet paper splodges like they were sheep. One, two, three, four, all the way up to sixteen.
She used one of her fingernails to pick the crust away from the corners of her eyes and counted the splodges again, this time trying to multiply the ones on the width by the ones on the length. The numbers became too big for her head so she picked up her fingers and used them. They equalled eighteen; she must have fallen asleep before she could count the last two.
Her Nintendo told her that the time was nine past seven. Kezia got up. She hated brushing her teeth in the sinks of the ladies bathroom. It was the bathroom itself, she thought, everything else was fine. Her toothbrush was moulded in the in shape of a pink flower but she would have liked it better if it matched with the room; it would be more homely that way. She stood the flat end of the toothbrush on the rim of the sink and couldn’t help but feel sad at how alien it looked. The sinks were a boring green with ugly mould growing in the creases, and the taps were grey instead of silver. She sighed. At least her mother had cleaned them last night. The bathroom at home was no better. Kezia brushed with the petals of the flower poking out from one side of her fist, and listened to the sound of her mother’s hoovering and singing getting closer to the door. Her mother poked a smile and two tired eyes through the door, the hoover still howling on the other side. “Kezy,” she said, her voice fighting against the hoover’s growl, “good girl, show me.” For her mother, Kezia turned her mouth into a shining sun, white and dripping with toothpaste, milk teeth standing at attention. “Don't forget to rinse okay?” her mother said. Kezia nodded. “I’ll be finished in ten minutes, I just have to do downstairs. You want McDonald’s?” She definitely wanted McDonalds. Her mother took the howling of the hoover with her as she left and Kezia kept brushing; she had finally woken up for real.
She wiped her mouth with the bottom half of her t-shirt; it was already watering at the thought of a double cheese burger. There would be chips, and chicken nuggets and——
The door of the Ladies’ bathroom swung open again, this time loudly bashing the wall adjacent to it. The brutal force of a high pitched voice came from directly behind it. It didn’t sound like her mother. Kezia looked up and found her eyes caught in front of the barrel of a green gun. The high pitched voice spoke from behind it. “Go! Go! Go! You better hide before they get you! They’re coming, quick! Hide, get in the cubicle!” Kezia felt bullets of spit bounce from his lips and onto her face.
She stared at him blankly. “This is the girls’ bathroom,” she said, still wiping her mouth with the bottom half of her t-shirt. She knew there was no one coming to get anyone.
The owner of the high pitched voice looked about seven or eight, just like her. He was different though. His skin was brown, but a different kind, not like hers. His hair was straight and spiky and shot up in different directions, all pointing at the toilet paper ceiling.
“Move!” he said “Move! Move! Move! Go!” his small hands pushed at her back, rushing her into a cubicle and sliding the silver lock behind them. When they were planted firmly behind the door, she angled her head towards him and read the red and white sticker that was plastered onto his Spiderman shirt; it had curled up on one side. Hello my name is Abdul. He sighed heavily. His mouth was whispering but his voice was still audible, “we’re safe now,” he said.
“This is the girls’ bathroom,” Kezia said again, this time more firmly. She wondered if he had heard her words the first time or if he had just ignored them because he thought they were unimportant. Abdul was polishing his gun against his blue jeans, licking his fingers in preparation for attack on any unsightly smudge that he might find.
“Shhh,” he shushed her “I know. But the aliens don't care if you’re a boy or a girl, they just eat you. That’s why I’ve got this.” He waved the gun in her face, “it’s for protection.” Kezia stared blankly at his brown face and spiky hair, he almost had a moustache. She wondered who he was and what planet he was defending; the earth she knew wasn’t in need of much help. “What’s your name, mine’s Abdul,” he was smiling wildly at her.
She didn’t smile back, “Kezia,” she said, sharply. “There are no aliens in this building. My mum would have told me.”
She lifted her back from behind the cubicle door and opened it, stepping out into the bright bathroom lights. Abdul followed her. “Kezia,” he repeated after her, the breath escaping softly from his mouth, “where’s that from?”
She shrugged. She wanted to tell him to leave but he had a way of forcing his high pitched words to fill the room; she couldn’t fight with that.
“Mine’s Arabic. It means servant. That’s why I’m a servant of the universe, protecting the earth.” he posed, pointing his gun at the mirror, closing one eye and then the other. Kezia would’ve believed him if he wasn't seven or eight like her, or if his gun didn't match the luminous colour of his voice.
“Why’ve you got that?” she asked, pointing her nose at the red and white sticker on his chest. That was unusual. Normally she thought a lot about her words before allowing them to come out of her mouth, a lot of them never even made the complete trip, but there was something about the way Abdul took up all her space that made her anxious to reclaim it. She wondered if the sticker meant he was any more important than he had already made himself out to be.
“Kids don't get necklace badges like the adults so I got this” he said. He pointed at Kezia’s chest “where’s yours?”
She shrugged.
“Does your mum or dad work here?”
She nodded.
“Why don't you have one then?”
She shrugged.
“Do you want one?”
“I don’t know.” Kezia said, turning away from him and stuffing her things in her backpack. She wanted to do it before he could notice. Before he could notice that there was a toothbrush and a blanket and a change of clothes; all things that shouldn’t be in the possession of a seven year old girl in a Ladies’ bathroom at seven twenty on a Tuesday morning. She thought he might notice, but she also thought that he might be too busy scouting for invisible aliens.
Kezia turned around to find Abdul arched over the rim of a sink. His elbows were leaning on it for support and a notebook was under his hand. He was writing something. When it looked like he had finished, she watched him fold the page over and rip it carefully, his face so close to the paper that it looked like he might be breathing it in. He handed the slip to her. She read it. HELO MY NAME IS KEZIYA. A waterfall of laughter escaped from her mouth. That was also unusual, usually she thought before she laughed. He had spelled her name wrong but she liked it.
“I don’t have a pin though,” said Abdul, worried that his efforts might have been in vain. She thought maybe he was regretting it; his notebook looked scrawny enough, like he ripped out bits of paper to make name labels for everyone.
“That’s okay,” Kezia finally smiled. It seemed like thoughtless expression was becoming a habit that she could get used to. She folded the slip into her chest pocket so that the writing stuck up over the edge. She didn’t care that her name didn’t have a ‘y’ in it.
Kezia’s stomach growled wildly like it was harbouring one of Abdul’s aliens. She grabbed it, her eyes planted firmly on Abdul, refusing to sink with the gravity of shame. She had almost forgotten about her hunger until her stomach kindly reminded her that it was empty.
Abdul looked at her belly, then at her face. “I’ve got two pounds and there’s a huge vending machine,” he said, his eyes growing wider at the opportunity to reel in her friendship, “I can share with you.”
Kezia followed an inch behind Abdul as they walked to the vending machine. This must be what adults feel like, she thought, her feet treading firmly on the industrial carpet of the office building. Maybe Abdul could be her boss and she could be his worker. She smiled as she imagined herself with a clipboard and a white sheet full of boxes to tick.
“Are you from Zimbabwe?” he said, tilting his chin towards her as they walked.
“My girlfriend’s from Zimbabwe. Her name’s Fadzi.”
“I’m from Nigeria.” Kezia said, watching Abdul’s blue trainers bounce as he took steps on the carpet.
“Oh. I’m from Pakistan. But I’ve got a best friend from Nigeria, his name is Adetola and he’s really really tall,” he jumped with his hands stretched high to the panelled ceiling, “he could probably touch that if he wanted.”
Kezia laughed. She knew that no seven or eight year old could touch the ceiling, even if they wanted. Abdul ran and jumped and spun around and cart wheeled like he owned the place. She found that she liked watching him, and when she felt like it she ran to catch him up.
“Does your mum or dad work here?” Kezia asked, when she didn't have enough breath to run or jump or cartwheel anymore.
“Yeah,” Abdul nodded, “he’s the boss.”
He nodded again, this time more vigorously. “Yeah, he’s the ultimate controller. He can even control who comes in here. That’s why I can come in, because I’m his son.”
“Oh.” Kezia said.
“He wears a tie every single day.” Abdul spoke as if the wearing of a tie every single day was more unbelievable than his aliens. “What about your mum or dad?” he asked.
“My mum works here.”
“Does she wear a tie?”
“No, she’s just a cleaner.”
That was unusual. Kezia had never told anyone that her mum was a cleaner before. She had never told anyone that she was her mum’s night shift partner in the summer holidays, staying up with her from eleven one night until six thirty the next morning, only sleeping when she was really really tired. Whenever her homework was to write about what job her mum or dad did, she would say that she didn't have a dad (which she didn’t) and that her mum was a farmer or a florist or a zoo keeper. She told Abdul because she felt like he might be her friend, even though they had only known each other for thirty five minutes. Even though he said was the boss’ son and she was only the cleaner’s daughter.
“Oh!” Abdul said, eyes glowing as if he was on the receiving end of a heavenly revelation, “I saw her downstairs! Her hoover was sucking up all the evil alien eggs. If she’s your mum that means you must be an alien avenger as well!”
“I don't think I am,” Kezia said, unsure. The tone of her voice flicked upwards like there was a question mark inside it.
Kezia and Abdul arrived at a towering superstructure made out of metal and glass and glowing buttons. Abdul said it was the vending machine. They perused for a while, their chins pointing upwards and their necks arched backwards into question marks. There were salty crisps and cheesy crisps and fizzy drinks and milkshakes, the alien in Kezia’s stomach growled at her again.
“Do you like quavers?” Abdul asked.
“Me too.”
“I like ready salted as well.”
“Me too. We can get both and share,” Abdul said, already putting his coin into the mouth of the metal and glass machine.
Kezia liked that idea. She watched as the machine growled back at her belly before spitting out a packet of quavers and a packet of ready salted. Abdul slid his back down the machine and sat on the floor, Kezia followed suit. She dipped her hand in his packet of quavers and he dipped his hand in her packet of ready salted.
“Fadzi only likes prawn cocktail,” he said, fitting five quaver curls into his mouth at once. Until then Kezia had forgotten that he already had a girlfriend.
The chewing sound that their full mouths made was interrupted by the savoury smell of fresh fast food that had somehow managed to meander around the cornered corridor of the office floor. Kezia heard her mother’s voice, deep in laughter filled conversation, another laughing voice following closely behind.
“That sounds like my mum,” she said as she folded the empty red packet into four squares, “she said she would buy me McDonald’s. We can share if you want?”
Abdul nodded, he held his almost empty packet of quavers upside down at a forty five degree angle to the ceiling and shook the crumbs into his mouth. He took her empty packet from her and rushed around the corner to find a bin.
Kezia listened to her mother’s voice get closer and closer, until it arrived at the end of the corridor. There was a man beside her; he probably owned the other laughing voice. She watched both adults walk towards her, two pairs of hands, each clutching a paper McDonald’s bag and a fruit shoot bottle.
“This must be Kezia!” the man said with a beaming smile as the pair got close enough for Kezia to hear. His voice was wrapped into an accent like her mother’s, one that the kids in her class would call funny. It wasn’t the same as her mother’s though; it was a different kind, from a different fold of the planet, from across a different sea. He bent down to shake her hand.
Abdul ran back from around the corner, his hands still freckled with crumbs. He flung his small body onto the man’s back.
“Dad!” he shouted. The man laughed. Abdul grabbed the McDonald’s bag from his father’s side and poked his spiky head inside. “Is this for me?” he asked, even though he already knew it was his.
“Leave some for me,” Abdul’s father said, his smile growing bigger underneath his moustache.
Kezia looked for a while at both of them. She stared at Abdul’s father’s black tie, his stiff white shirt, his polished black shoes, his straight black trousers, his shiny belt and then at the polished panel on his chest that read ‘security’ in bold white letters.
“I thought you said your dad was the boss?” she asked Abdul. His father laughed. Abdul had climbed on top of his shoulders and was holding a chicken nugget in between his teeth.
Abdul said it with a full mouth, “He is!” He pointed the other half of his nugget at Kezia, “And your mum is an alien avenger.”
Kezia laughed. Maybe she would write that in her homework next time.

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