Out by the creek behind our home, the moon and stars reflect off the water, and Bandile would often go out there. The trees were big, but he could still climb any of them. Our backyard had an unfinished picket fence, so the big green grass ended and it led into the orchard. We would run through the orchard, eventually getting to the creek.
“If you were a giant would you change the shape of the stars?” Bandile would ask me. At the time, I never understood what this meant. How could I change the shape of a star when a star must be round?
My parents adopted Bandile when he was only five and I was six. He came from Africa where there was a lot of conflict. His parents were killed — the details I don’t know — but his brothers and sisters were still there. “They were taken to the bush,” he would say. The people that let us have Bandile said he was dealing with some trauma. I didn’t know that at the time. I always thought Bandile was just fine the way he was, or at least everybody else seemed to think so. The whole neighborhood loved Bandile.
The kids of the neighborhood would always come to the house and ask to play with Bandile. They would go out to the creek and swing on the ropes. I would go sometimes. Bandile could swing off the rope and do flips before going in the water. Sometimes I wouldn’t go because I was practicing my magic. I got a magic set after Bandile came. I performed for the family and they loved it — especially Bandile. I would never tell him the secrets to my tricks and I hid my magic set in my secret bunker by the creek, which is where I kept all my cool stuff like my books, my BB gun, and the machete I found in the abandoned shed. “Wait here,” I would say and then run out to the creek, move the dirt off the board, and lift it up to get my magic set out of my secret spot. I would then run back and do my tricks.
It was always good to surprise my dad with my tricks. He was always so tired. “His job is hard on him,” mom would say. “you shouldn’t pester him.” All I know is that he controlled planes in another country. He worked for the government I would overhear them say. He took medication because of his job. It was hard on him and my mom. My magic did good too though. I think my magic helped make him happy at times. Dad liked the trick where I made the bottle disappear in the brown paper bag.
Dad always watched the news about the Middle East. He was always listening to what they would say about bombings and the bad guys. The first time I heard Bandile talk about “Ubuntu” was when we watched the news about the Middle East. He would point to the TV and say “There is no Ubuntu there.” It was some African word about love or something like that.
“Are those the planes you fly Dad?” I asked him once.
“No,” he said. He never told me much about his work. “You guys don’t need to be watching this. It’s your bed time,” he would say.
Last year, when I was ten, I decided my tricks were too boring. I needed to make a bigger show. I bought some fireworks for the big surprise. I gathered all the kids from the neighborhood and told them I was going to give the best show I ever gave. I put chairs in the backyard on the big green grass. I had my table and a cloth covering it. I even had a cape tied around my neck and a big pointy hat the flopped to one side. Everybody was there and I had the fireworks set up for the big show. All the great magicians had explosions in the big finale.
Maria and Jonny were there in their soccer uniforms. Jason was there; he was never impressed by my magic. Jason only wanted to go to the creek with Bandile and watch him do flips into the water, but I thought this show was going to amaze him. Bandile was there of course. I could see my mom watching through the window from the kitchen while she was washing dishes.
The fireworks were set up beneath the table and nobody could see them because of the cloth that went over the front of the table. After my first few tricks, I decided it was time to do the big trick. The trick was the bottle in the brown paper bag. Only my family had seen the trick, but they had never seen the trick with the big bang at the end.
“This is a bottle,” I said. I lifted up the bottle to the crowd. “The bottle is real, I swear.” I lightly tapped it on the table so it made a clinging sound.
I reached under the table to grab the brown paper bag and when I did this, I lit the fuses on the fireworks. I had to time it all just right.
“The bottle goes into this bag,” I announced.
The bottle went into the bag. I hovered my hand over the bag and bottle and looked down to see how far along the fuses had burned. It was time.
“Abracadabra,” I yelled while I lifted my hand to the sky. “Alakazam!” and my hand came down and smashed the brown bag into the table. The bag crumpled and the bottle was gone. The fireworks shot off, most of them went off behind me and flew into the sky, but one fell over and shot towards the crowd. It went screaming through the cloth draped over the front of the table and went whizzing right by Bandile and Maria’s faces. Maria put her hands on her face and screamed to the heavens. The rocket flew into the dry bush near the house and it went up in flames.
Mom could see the flames from the kitchen window and ran out with a fire extinguisher to put the fire out. Maria was still screaming at me.
“It was accident, I swear,” I said. “It was supposed to go up like the rest.”
“I hate you,” Maria yelled at me.
“Where did Bandile go?” somebody said.
“He ran into the orchard,” somebody else said.
Mom told me to go find Bandile because the sun was going down. I needed to find him before dad got home. He would be angry with me about the fire once he gets home. He would be even more angry once he finds out I scared Bandile away.
I walked through the orchard calling his name; hoping he didn’t go all the way out to the creek. The last bit of sun was in the sky and I was nearing the creek then. The moon and stars were about to come out.
When I reached the creek where the rope swing was, I did not see Bandile. The creek ran with enough water to reach past my ankles. I remember the water in the creek and the stars appearing in the sky.
“Bandile!” I called out “Where are you?”
He jumped from the tree and scared me half to death.
“I guess I deserved that. I didn’t mean to scare you,” I said.
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s not your fault. It reminded me of Africa and the stuff on T.V. You know dad does those bombings in those countries?”
“How does he do that?”
“He controls them like remote-control planes. Just like our toys. I overheard them talking about it.”
It was getting darker by the minute.
“We should go back home,” I said. “They will be waiting for us.”
“No, no. We have to wait for the stars,” He said.
Bandile went to the creek. He reached his hand down and ran it through the water. “The stars will be in the creek” he said. It got so dark out there that the stars began reflecting off the sky. He told me “If I was a giant I would change the shape of the stars. I would make a path for my brother and sisters.” He started to undress himself. He put one foot in the creek to test the water. He then walked out into the middle of it. Bandile was surrounded by the stars. It was like he was stepping out into space.
“Come out here. The water is not too cold,” He said.
I undressed and went out into the stars. I thought the water was cold. I started shivering.
“I think we should go,” I said.
“I think I know how to translate Ubuntu now,” he said.
“Tell me,” I said.
He raised his hand up. “Put your hand against mine,” he said.
I put my hand against his. One dark hand and one white pressed up against each other.
“It means… I am, because you are,” he said.
I never forgot the stars and the water. We splashed out in space and moved the stars around. I showed him my secret bunker and all my magic sets before we went home. We were wet and we were late for dinner. They were quite angry with us when we arrived.
Darin Milanesio grew up in Strathmore, CA. He attended Chapman University, where he acquired his Creative Writing degree. He loves to travel, and currently resides in Uganda.