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The dragon kite
Short story

By Reza Ordoubadian
November 20, 1999
The Iranian

He took two steps forward to the worn-out wooden counter and hopelessly stared at the array of kites arranged on the top shelf of the back wall. Inside, the dingy, windowless store looked like a dungeon, the door directly leading a customer to the toothless man who sat squat behind the counter and sold "necessities" to the young students. "I could fly the one with the dragon on it," he thought, and his gaze moved swiftly passed the kites, focusing on the multicolored candies that had been carelessly spread on chipped metal trays, flies feasting upon them. Two fly-papers had their catch, too, never replaced since early summer.

"Gimme one rooster," he said bravely, pointing at a large rooster candy atop a stick handle. "No, the one with the rainbow colors!"

"That'll be half a shahhi," the toothless man said with a yawn.

He gave the man a ten-shahhi brass coin and received nine and one half shahhis back. He liked rooster candies; they were life-like, lickable, and he would always tear a clean piece of paper from his writing book to hold the candy because they made a mess in his hands. Once, he had used his white handkerchief, which got him in trouble at home. That was early in the year; he knew better now: He could get rid of a piece of paper so easily, no trace of color to betray, and he would make sure to wipe his mouth carefully before throwing the paper away; then, twisting his tongue all around his mouth, especially his teeth, he would rinse off as much of the trace color as he could. As a matter of fact, he was very proficient at it now; neither his mother nor any one else could see through his secret. He sucked on the rooster candy, wiped his nose on his right sleeve, but he could not bring himself to leave. Those kites were so very beautiful, and he let his eyes feast on the kites that had already been assembled: Small, square, with many colors, some had as many colors as his rooster candy. A few had tails made of paper link-chains, and some had a string of multicolored silk tails with a knot at the end to keep the cloth from unraveling.

"I could fly the one with dragons on it," he thought again. That was his favorite. "The new moon-face is pretty, too." It reminded him of his mother; the moon-face kite had a painting of the moon with the face of a woman on it. The cheeks were very red, like his mother's cheek when she put on make-up.

"How much for the moon-face?" he asked, trying to sound older than six.

"Are you buying today, now!?" the old man snickered.

"How much?"

"You won't take it for free, now, would you!?"

The old man was right; he couldn't, but his pride was at stake, and he asked firmly, "How much?"

"Four and one half shahhis."

The boy pondered the price and asked for half a shahhi's worth of black ink to be put in his ink-well. As the old man was pouring the ink, the boy looked desperately at the kites: dragon or the moon-face? He could take either one. As a matter of fact, he would take any kite that would fly, although he preferred, well, maybe, the dragon kite. There wasn't really a dragon on the kite, only a delicately painted abstraction of a twisting snake, but for the boy exact word did not matter much; it was his dragon kite! Some nights, he would actually sing for the kite as he prepared to go to bed. He even dreamed of it: Once, he was flying the dragon kite, which was as large as the school building and had a tail of multicolored paper chain-links that reached the copper-colored mountains near where his two 'prune-faced' old aunts lived. The pull was so tight that he thought he would be lifted high up in the sky and would fly over the mountains to the Caspian Sea, where rain drops are made; he awoke in terror, unable to sleep again that night.

He paid the man for the ink and still would not move. The wily old man knew what he wanted, and he teased him mercilessly.

"Now, do we want the moon-face or the snake kite!?" he laughed, showing his toothless gums. "I'm not afraid of him," the boy thought. He wanted the kite, and he had the money to pay for it; but if he bought the kite and went home with it, his mother would say in her shrillest voice, "You did get a kite!" She would say, "It is awful, just awful. How are you going to explain this to your father!?"

The boy would think, "Well, we won't tell him," but that would never do; his father always found "things" out, and he knew everything! The boy could hear his mother's voice saying, "What would the neighbors say, now!? What would they think of you!?"

"I could fly it at school-nobody will see me there," the boy would say.

"And, the principal? He knows your father!" she would counter.

No, there was no hope, and he must have that kite. Imagine letting the string slowly roll from your hand and the wind lift the kite up; faster and faster the string will roll, and the kite will rise near the sun, glittering. He knew exactly how to tug and pull to get the kite higher and higher; there will be music in the air, the kite playing against the wind, and all the angels in heaven will gather to hear the music and see the kite; they will all ask who was flying that beautiful dragon kite so high in the sky, and he will hide behind the huge stones and grape vines. Nobody will see him, but they will know someone who really can fly a kite was mastering the string. His older sister might tell on him, but she could be bribed with a couple of multicolored rooster candies.

"Are you still thinking about it?" the old man asked, smiling.

"I will buy it all right," he replied, fire inside his eyes.

"I also want two lengths of reed for my pen."

"That will be another half a shahhi."

"Good, please cut the tips fine."

His rooster candy was just about gone, and he was sucking the core, the amber-colored section of the candy. He had made a mess of it, and both of his hands were sticky. He ran his tongue against his teeth several times: Even though he could not see them, he knew from experience that his teeth were clean enough to pass his mother's routine inspections when he got home. He had wasted enough time now; if he did not get back home soon, someone was bound to come after him, and he loathed it. Early in the year someone took him to school and picked him up after. Other students made fun of him, and he vowed to his father he would never go to school unless he did it by himself. He had promised to be home fifteen minutes after the school was closed, but that day he must have stayed at the school for hours, or so it seemed to him.

Again, he paid the man and said, "I would buy the kite, but I'm not going home directly!" He lied without feeling bad about it; this was a white lie: Maybe he would go by the municipal gardens, and that would be indirect enough.

The old man laughed, and the boy ran out of the store and into the deserted street. He felt his heart pounding against the satchel he was carrying high up in front of him, his shield against the world. This one was close: He could have bought the kite, and what then? He was almost weakened enough, after several steps, to want to go back to the store for another look, but that could be disastrous. He ran a pace and came to an open area where several young boys were playing. Two had a kite at the end of a string high above the ground. His heart leaped, and the breeze of the autumn air filled his lungs deep as it also lifted the shimmering kite high in the heavens. His steps slowed to a dance, and his large, brown eyes widened to take in the picture as vividly as possible. It was a large, triangular kite, clean and unpainted. "It is plain, but it'll do," he murmured.

Now, he had come within ten steps of the kite-flyers, a respectable distance to watch, but not to be mistaken as one of them. The boy who was tugging at the string was just about his size, and he wore old clothes: a worn coat and patched pants, no socks. "But he has shoes?" he observed. The excited kite-flyer was expertly moving his wrist to allow the thermal current to lift his simple kite even higher. He had really come to the very end of his string. "I could buy ten rolls to give the kite a chance to go to the moon," the boy thought. "It is terrible he cannot even get more string!" A sudden drift of air spun the kite, and it started dove-tailing downward; a slack set on the string like a bowed piece of wood. The kite-flyer desperately pulled in the line as his assistant wound the string on a piece of rough wood. "He doesn't have a crank!" the boy exclaimed. "With a crank it is real easy to bring it in!" The kite was now falling fast. "Tug on the line, tug" the boy heard himself shouting. "Tug, you fool; it'll catch the wind that way." But the words did not come out of his mouth. He was shouting in his head. "You're losing it; watch for the trees; watch for the trees: They'll get it for sure!"

Excited, his small body had become one muscle, mentally trying to bring down the kite-and someone was pulling at his arm. Distracted, he turned, and there he was: their man-servant.

"You're late; Missus is crying; come, come!" the servant said.

The young boy jolted to his world of reality; so, he had been late after all!

"You saw me; I was just watching-honest, I was just watching." he pled, and there was disappointment in his voice, but not fear.

"Come, come; you're not a poor boy to fly a kite!" the old man-servant said. The young boy moved with the servant, turned and had a last look at the falling kite; he sighed and thought, "Next spring! Next spring I am going to fly a kite!"

All copy rights are reserved by the author.


Reza Ordoubadian holds a Ph.D. degree in English and linguistics. He has held a professorship at Middle Tennessee State University and Visiting Professorship at Umea University (Sweden). He has published numerous pieces of fiction and poetry as well as scholarly articles and books on both sides of the ocean. He was the editor of SECOL Review for 18 years. TO TOP

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