|Photo found by Bex Freund, Taken by Christopher Russell|
Lumo Bashiri smiles at everyone, because he knows he is not going to die. Not today, or tomorrow, and at ten years old, those are the only days that really matter. Lumo runs barefoot through the streets of his village and he smiles at the other children, he smiles at the aid workers and the tourists, and he smiles at the mercenaries. He knows he is not going to die today or tomorrow
because he knows when he is going to die, although the memory is not as clear as it once was. He is going to die of a bullet to the stomach in a large, white house when he is much, much older.
Lumo’s skin is black and unblemished and almost glossy, so that he looks like something sculpted out of rich clay. There are spaces between the teeth that make up his smile, and a few of them are rotten, but no more than is normal. He has no more flesh than is strictly necessary. The hand-me-down American clothes that the aid workers bring hang on his shoulders like a phantom’s shroud. His favorite is a red t-shirt with a faded picture of a band whose name he can neither read nor recognize.
Lumo came out of his mother face-down, and when he cried, it was because he had just learned how he would die. He had just learned everything there was to learn, in fact, and his tiny body was overcome with the impossibility of communicating it all. For years he cried endlessly, and he was as excited as his mother to aquire the power of speech. But his first word was “fire,” and their house burned down soon afterward. After that, his mother was much less enthusiastic about hearing him speak, and Lumo learned to keep his knowledge to himself. Most things he knows do not seem so urgent to him anymore. He is much more interested in candy.
When white people come to the village, they almost always bring candy. The Germans are his favorite, with their black gummi pretzels that seem to freeze and burn his mouth by turns. But he does not discriminate; all candy is precious to him. He charges into the crowds of other children wherever candy is dispensed, wearing his best smile and posing for the cameras. He is an expert by now.
And he trades bottlecaps and buttons and other small, sacred things for more candy, which he stockpiles beneath his mattress. He allows himself only a certain amount every day so that he will always have more. Ever since his birth, when he learned the names and the natures of all things, he has wanted candy because it seemed to him one of the purest goods in the world. Sure, too much could kill you, but Lumo knows that’s not how he’s going to die, doesn’t he? And with every piece he unwraps, that far-off future becomes a little less important, a little less distinct. Lumo’s life will be littered with these kinds of moments, he knows. He knows, too, that his life will be a slow unlearning of all the knowledge in the world.