The trees looked down, from so high up. The leaves were in the heavens. Guzu lay on his back looking upwards at the spectacle.
A caterpillar crawled near his arm, he slowly moved onto his side, so as not to make a sound. Watching it amble, over bark and leaf. Stopping occasionally, as if sniffing the air and sensing a larger presence watching; the caterpillar scuttled onward, past Guzu’s leg and foot and out of sight.
The forest was not far from the school. He walked the mile to school every morning; before returning home, he would escape the world and sit in the woods. It was so peaceful and colourful compared to the shacks and corrugated metal of the slums; or the prefabricated concrete and paint of the school.
The late sun rays scattered through the leaves; it was getting late and his mother would wonder where he was. Getting to his feet, he brushed away the forest floor and made for home. The smells of the slums always hit first; the raw sewage made newcomers gag. Guzu was used to it and barely noticed it as he entered the shanty town of his home. Waving silently at the older women, he smiled and walked barefoot to his door.
The ground outside his door was stone and sand, much like everywhere else. As he pushed the metal door open he heard his mother’s voice “Guzu? Guzu? Is that you? Go to your aunt’s and get me red peppers.” Closing the door, he walked down the track to where his aunt lived. On the way, no more than a hundred metres from her door, a man barged into Guzu from behind, sending him sprawling. The man, dressed in a red T-shirt, jeans and trainers scrambled to his feet and carried on running. He did not look back. Guzu didn’t recognise the man, but he wasn’t old, maybe nineteen or twenty.
The man stopped, looked furtively towards the direction he had come from and slid in between two shanty huts, into a small dark alley.
Seconds later, with Guzu still on the floor, sitting up and touching his knees to where he felt pain; another man ran past; this one older and tanned. He wore jeans and leather boots with no top. In his left hand he held a revolver, catching the late sun and shining into Guzu’s eyes. The man stopped near the alley; holding his pistol up he walked in. A cry and two gun shots could be heard. No-one stirred or looked, only birds called in alarm.
The man came out of the alley, his arms dropped to his side; in his left hand was the gun. He walked back up the track past Guzu, without even acknowledging him. Guzu got to his aunts and told her what had happened. “It’ll be about drugs, women, money or thievin'” she said. Bringing him the red peppers, she carried on about her usual topic, “We’re meant to be here, just cuz the drug barons want this land doesn’t mean they can have it.” She frowned and looked at Guzu. “They kick us off our land, bulldoze our houses and they still want more. Well I’m not for leavin’; I was born in the Valley and I’m meant to die in the Valley.”
Guzu thanked her for the peppers and left. It was dark now; the slums had little electricity so they relied on moonlight to guide their way more often than not. He got home without any further incident; passing his mother the peppers he turned the small black and white television on. It was still cartoons. He imagined he was in outer space; were there caterpillars there too?
His mother called his name, the food was ready. He turned off the TV; his mother always told him never to leave it on long, it drained the battery. Every shack used old car batteries, mainly from the city to power their homes. They couldn’t afford to replace it often, with Guzu’s mother working in a restaurant in the city, they had enough for food and for him to go to school rather than work, but they had to be careful.
“Get any homework?” His mother inquired. He shook his head; they were doing about animals and the project was going to be a collage made from magazines in the shape of their favourite animal. “Then get your clothes ready for tomorrow, it’s almost bedtime.”
He got up from his chair and took off his school clothes, changing into a T-shirt and baggy pants. He smoothed the creases out of his shirt and shorts and laid them carefully over the arm of the old blue sofa; one of the few things his mother had saved before their house had been bulldozed. Kissing his mother goodnight; he settled on his mattress in the corner. From here he had made it so he could see through a crack in the corrugated side.
Through his spy hole lay the moon and the stars and everything beyond. He stared at the night sky until his eyes grew heavy and he fell asleep.