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.Punctures them with a stick.Coconut water falls into his mouth.His mouth.I watch the way it opens, the way his lips pucker.He licks them, collecting every last drop of the water.He drains the second and third coconut the same way.Warmth spreads through me, coils in my core, and I know it’s not only the heat.I wish I were like him, maneuvering this jungle as if I belong.Throwing knives like darts, hitting bull’s-eyes every time.Knowing how to crack open a coconut.And then, whack, the sound of a coconut splitting echoes off a hundred trees.I jump, disturbing leaves.But Jospin doesn’t notice.His fingers pick up shattered pieces.His mouth eats the pulp inside.I’m getting lost in the sight of him.Until I hear a noise.I shift my gaze to the right, watching as another boy approaches.He looks nothing like Jospin, but I somehow know he is also Cameroonian.Young.Dark skin and short dreads.A friend of Jospin’s by the way they greet each other with smiles.They share the coconuts.I don’t understand the language they speak, though I recognize it’s French.They carry on for a couple of minutes, while my heart threatens to give me away with its loud thrashing against my chest.At one point Jospin stops, leans his ear to the wind, and listens.Runs a hand across his shaved head.I don’t hear whatever it is that he hears.Unless, of course, the pounding of my heart is actually to blame.I think back to the other day, when we met.I wonder about the look of surprise on Jospin’s face when he discovered me making weapons.I think about how his lips curled into a smile when I asked if he worked for the habitat.But mainly I wonder why he wants to help me.I close my eyes for a moment, imagining myself learning how to better use weapons with him.I itch to jump out and say yes, but reason tells me that there must be more to his offer than meets the eye.Just like that, he and his friend stop talking.My eyes fly open, and I watch as the friend walks away.Jospin watches him too.I wait for an opportunity to escape without being noticed.“Have you changed your mind?” Jospin says.I don’t know who he’s talking to.I can’t see anyone else around.And then suddenly I realize.There’s only one person here besides him.“No,” I answer.Jospin turns.Smiles.His smile is disarming.A million shards of my confidence fall to the ground and collect in a puddle.Jospin is staring at me.He is staring at me as if I am fascinating.As if he’s not at all surprised to see me.“Then why are you here?” he asks.How did you know I was listening?Jospin’s grin says he has the upper hand.I am exactly where he wants me to be.I can’t admit that I was watching him.So I have to pretend I am actually here to train with him.“I mean, yes,” I say.His eyebrows lift.“Yes?”I think that he’s going to call me out on my lie.But he says nothing.Just takes eleven steps toward me, his eyes focused on mine.I am confident.I am confident.Iamconfident.Iamconfident.Iamconfident.I repeat this to myself until the words blend together and the space between Jospin and me is only a foot.Twelve inches.I have twelve inches of air to call my own.“Let me see your arm,” he says.I am confident.I extend my good hand to him.I am trusting a complete stranger.“Not that one,” he clarifies.I am wary of the way he makes me feel.I unhook the sling that holds my injured arm.His eyes skitter toward the skin not covered by my tank top, toward the angry scars on my arm left by the gorilla.I let my arm relax at my side for a moment.Then casually extend it toward him.My movements are becoming more fluid, and I haven’t lost any feeling, though the doctors warned me that it was a possibility.Jospin’s fingers reach toward my scars.Pause.He offers a look that asks permission.I am confident.My eyes don’t leave his.“Go ahead,” I say, pretending that it doesn’t scare me.“This”—he touches my shoulder—“is your weakest point.”I look down at my shoulder where the scars begin, where they carve the deepest.His fingers leave me and my eyes find his again.“Exercise it daily.Even if it hurts.Don’t let it lock up.That,” he says, “will be your biggest advantage.Do not let the scars win.”I don’t want to let the scars win.“Try this,” he says.Rolls his shoulder.I follow suit.It burns like sunshine being poured over my skin.I clench my teeth, refusing to gasp or scream, though I can’t help the tears that spring to my eyes.“And this.”I roll it backward.“This.”I copy the way he pushes his fist into the air, stretching, stretching, stretching my injured muscles.My arm shakes.Jospin stops.“Try it.A few times a day.Short reps.Then longer ones, when it doesn’t hurt as bad.”I nod.He withdraws a knife from his pocket.“Conquer the pain.Learn how to work around it and through it.”He sends the tip of the knife into the heart of a tree.I don’t wait for his direction.I pick the blade out of the tree with my good arm and walk back to Jospin.Aim.The knife misses the tree and lands in a bush instead.I reach for it.“Stop.”Jospin’s tone makes me pause.“You can’t reach into a bush barehanded.”“Why not?” I ask.Jospin studies my hair, my skin, my lips.“Where are you from?” he asks.“Michigan.” I’m not sure why that matters.“Well, I don’t know about Michigan, but in the jungle, snakes live in bushes.And most snakes are fatal here.”He picks up a large stick.Scours the bush until he’s determined there are no snakes.“The jungle will offer you a thousand ways to die.” His look is serious.“Be careful.”He retrieves the knife.Hands it to me.“Again,” he says.“Think about your target.Not the tree, but what your target will actually be.”The knife’s warm steel feels like motivation in my hands.I do as Jospin says.I think about revenge.It’s a strange thing, revenge.It sneaks up on you right when everything seems okay.Flips your world upside down.Makes you live and breathe and think about it constantly.Revenge is jealous, vying for every single part of you.And it refuses to release its death grip until you’ve settled the score.Only then will it move on to someone else.Pull happiness out from under the next person.And all you can do is watch.I fling the knife.It grazes the side of the tree.Closer [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]