The Tire - Raul Bimenyimana

THE TIRE - Raul Bimenyimana

Felix went to each of the contestants, all three of them, and made them move their right extended feet so that they nearly touched the not-so-straight line that he had made on the ground with a stick. Having made sure, there was no room for foul play, Felix glanced one last time at their feet then took his place at the end of the line and raised his tire from the ground. “On your mark,” Felix said.
The four boys looked ahead, their eyes squinted, and drew in deep and quiet breaths, mimicking the professional runners they had seen on the TV. Now that she was angry with them, Rhoda saw how ridiculous they looked. With their hands touching their rubber tires gently, their backs arched, their chests rising and falling and their feet in front of the other. “Get set,” Felix said, raising his voice higher. Their chests rose and fell faster and their fingers grew more rigid against the rubber surface. Then Mutua’s voice broke out. “Wait!” he said. Felix sighed, turned and looked at him.
He arched his left brow – he was the only person in their group capable of this – waiting for an explanation for the untimely interruption. The other boys, Chege and Tom, relaxed their grips on their tires and turned to the other end of the line where Felix and Mutua stood. “How come you get to start the race while you’re racing too?” he said. Mutua had not been present when Rhoda, who was the starter of these races, had formally quit her position, swearing never to start any races until she had her turn with one of their tires since she didn’t have one of her own and keeping to her word, stood at a short distance from the boys, eyes glaring and arms folded. “Because a certain person we shall not name has decided she’s become too good for it,” Felix said, pointing with his head to where Rhoda stood. Chege and Tom snickered. “I just have to be the starter.” Mutua looked at Rhoda standing barefoot in her faded white dress, threads dangling from the sleeves like tendrils, opened his mouth as though to speak but closed it. Rhoda met their gaze and held it.
“We are wasting time, let’s just race,” Chege said. A sentiment that Tom readily echoed and the boys took to their positions again, bent over their tires. After Felix yelled, “go!”, the tires went rolling down the road, driven on by the palms of their hands and the tips of their fingers. Once or twice a tire took a course of its own leaving the racer running after it. Rhoda walked unhurriedly towards the line that marked the end of the races. The boys had finished racing, she found them quarrelling.
“It is just not fair!” Chege shouted. “It’s easier for you to win because you started the race.” Mutua beside him nodded while Tom still catching his breath remained silent. Felix, whose celebration was cut short by this accusation, grimaced as though having taken a bite of food with too much salt. “But we all started running at the same time,” he said. “No, no, it’s just not fair,” Chege said. Rhoda who understood what had happened stood with her arms crossed about her chest and a pleased smile on her face. Things would have turned out differently if she had been the starter of the race, and this disagreement would not have spoiled the victor’s win.
“Fine then let’s race again while you’re the starter,” Felix said to Chege. The boys were appeased by this resolution and passed by Rhoda as they ran towards the starting line. They had resolved not to give Rhoda a turn with one of their tires, even if it meant disagreeing the entire day.. The other boys went along with this as they did with most of his decisions and felt that there was an unwritten but acknowledged hierarchy that Rhoda had breached. Rhoda looked at their retreating figures and decided she had had enough and decided to go to her mother’s kiosk. She would show them that she didn’t care about their dirty tires anyway, she thought walking.
On reaching the kiosk, her mother was speaking to a lady while putting goods in a black polythene bag. Behind her mother was her younger brother Dennis chewing on a biscuit. Rhoda hang back and waited for her mother to be done with her client. “Greet your people for me!” her mother said and waved to the lady as she left. Rhoda then walked to her mother, she observed how her face had metamorphosed into a frown when she saw her bare feet.
“How many times have I told you not to walk around without shoes, Rhoda?” She asked. Rhoda lingered at the door and looked down at her brown dust covered feet. Her mother shook her head and went inside the kiosk, leaving Dennis staring up at Rhoda and calling “Oda” to her. Rhoda however, could not pay attention to her brother, who used to her doting, persistently called to her. In her mind, she saw the tire, black and rolling and decided she must have one. “But where can I get one?” She said aloud. She paced along the cement floored verandah, Dennis hot on her heels.
Trying to keep pace with her, Dennis tripped, tried to clutch onto Rhoda’s dress but missed and fell. Rhoda reached out; Dennis began to mumble a cry but quieted when he saw the indifference on Rhoda’s face. Rhoda brushed the dust off his knees. Small folds of scrapped skin were hanging on his left knee and blood seeped from the wound, Rhoda seeing this winced. Dennis who had kept scanning her face sniffling, searching for signs of sympathy, saw alarm and let out a sharp cry.
Rhoda picked him up and carried him to her chest, bobbing him up and down, cooing in his ear and promising him something good if he kept silent. Just as Dennis was calming down, their mother appeared and he began crying again. “What did you do to him, huh?” She said, taking Dennis who was flailing his arms towards her. She wiped his face with the end of her red blouse. “All I did was try to help! But everyone is ungrateful and no one sees what I do!” Rhoda said, heaving. Tears welled to brimming, she tried to blink them back but it was too late, they fell and splattered on the cement floor.
“Check your tongue! So now I am one of your playmates, eh?” The tone in her mother’s voice stifled some of the rage she felt. She brushed the tears from her face with the back of her hand. Rhoda’s mother looked at Rhoda and considered giving her a beating but decided two crying children were not prime attractions for customers.
“Go home,” she said to Rhoda. “When I come back, we will talk about this.” Rhoda waited and looked at Dennis who was back to chewing on his biscuit and heaving with crying spasms, then she began walking. Her mother looked at her. “And don’t go playing in the streets!” she said.
The late morning heat was so staggering that the neighbourhood dogs had found shelter underneath parked and broken down cars. Sparrows stood along saggy electric lines as though in formation. Only vendors in their stalls and kiosks, and a few buyers moving as though half asleep from the heat, were in the streets. As she walked, the wind insistently tugged at Rhoda’s dress, there was a small red smear on it from Dennis’s bleeding knee. The tire came to her mind, a consolation, rolling and bouncing on the road. It would not be too worn out because those had the pieces of wire that pricked hands, she thought. “Out of the way!” The sharp shout rooted her out of her thoughts. The first of the boys nearly hit her and the rest went past her and did not even look back, then she heard a thud. She turned back and the tire came rolling at her feet. Close to her, the last of the boys had fallen and still lay with his head down. Rhoda quickly hurled the tire underneath a car nearby, startling and dislodging a dog.
The boy woke up crying and dusted himself. His friends long gone, he jerked his head left then right, trying to locate his tire but only saw a barefooted scrawny girl looking back at him with big eyes and hair dark and thick as if it had been soaked in tar. Both children stood silent and watched. Had Rhoda been as young as or younger than the boy, he might have threatened her with a beating and even followed up on the threat, but as matters stood, as they did, Rhoda was taller and older than the boy.
Aware of this advantage, Rhoda pressed it home with a daring gaze, that soon the boy moved some steps forward, inching himself past Rhoda and ran in the direction his friends had taken. Rhoda breathed deep, stilled the urge to reach out for the tire and watched the boy running and looking back at her. It was not until the boy was too far to see her did she crouch under the car to retrieve the tire. The boy would soon be back with his friends, she thought steering the tire homewards, throwing furtive glances past her shoulders.
When she saw the familiar houses that made her neighbourhood, she relaxed and even savoured the feel of the zigzag dents of the tire brushing her palms. She pressed her fingers to the tire firmly to make it stop and looked around for her friends. It was lunchtime and all her friends had been called home, her older sister had most likely looked for her but she would not go home until she tire raced.
She dropped the tire and relished in the thumping sound it made. She bounced on the sidewall, the rubber underneath yielded, absorbed her weight and catapulted her inches in the air. She laughed giddily. Her limbs soon tired so she sat on the tire and waited. She ran her fingers over and around the tire, feeling the tread. She couldn’t wait for those boys anymore, she decided, and got up. She would run with the tire around and come back to see if they’d come out. Rhoda steered the tire on with her hands, going further and further than her mother would have allowed. She ran with the tire up a hilly road and chased it down the other side. She came to a stop when she saw some distance away, a crowd that blocked the way. The crowd fascinated her, it was living, moving like a whirlwind but forcing its way into an unseen eye, so that she walked slowly towards it.
Two men accused of being thieves had been caught, a third had escaped. The crowd was made of people who had been working, walking about or lounging but had left whatever it was they had been doing and came running when they heard shouts of the two syllabled word. Most of them were men, and some still struggled into the center for another kick at the men lying down. When Rhoda arrived, the two men were lying on the ground beaten senseless. Women and children had assembled on the fringes and stared. There was a sense of time bidding that could be felt. A harsh and coarse voice called for tires, petrol and matchsticks.
A tire, a jerry can half- filled with petrol and matchsticks mysteriously appeared within minutes. The crowd parted, one of the men was forcefully raised and the heavy black amulet was placed on his neck. Someone yelled that they still needed another tire, so some men went looking for one. Everything had been suspended while the search for another tire went on. Rhoda had watched this transpire in quiet shock, her tire absent mindedly held. A man walked towards her, Rhoda turned her gaze from the crowd and looked at him. As he walked towards Rhoda, the man’s clean shaved sweaty head glistened. He snatched the tire with ease from her light grasp. She stood and looked as he matched back towards the lying men.
Rhoda watched as they raised the second thief and placed the tire around his neck. The tire looked strange on him, like a reptilian animal coiled snugly and sleeping in peace. They waited to set them alight together, then made them stand up and sprinkled the petrol on them in modest proportions. First on their heads as though they were anointing them with holy oil, then sprinkled it on the tire and their clothes and the exposed parts of their arms before lighting the matches.
Rhoda shook when she heard the screams. They ran and bumped into each other and laughs from the crowd mingled with the screams, tainting, distilling but not ridding. They fell and rolled. Dark grey fumes rose. Rhoda’s eyes stung and she placed her arm over her face but that didn’t help. She felt her lungs burn, she coughed and the tears streamed down her face unsummoned. Then came the smell that she would never forget. She walked a few steps back, still watching the figures on the ground making pantomimic movements.
When the police came it was all done. The crowd had dispersed. Children had begun playing close to where the bodies lied. Some men while walking home from work were stopped and told by the police to carry the bodies to the back of their vehicle. They objected at first, but asked whether they would prefer a night in the cell to clear their heads, did as were told. Then the police left and all that was left were charred pieces of rubber and wire and other matter on the darkened ground.
Rhoda walked home in a daze. Her friends when they saw her, came running to her with their tires to provoke the morning’s envy. But there was no envy in her face. No anger, not even feigned indifference, only complete and detached blankness. Not even when Mutua offered his tire did she turn. THE END.