★ ★ ★ ★


Image by Zuzana Kacerova

‘With Eyes on Wings’

Lina circles her arms around Layla, born just three weeks earlier. She breathes in the sweet redolence of the baby’s head, watches her latch hungrily onto the swollen nipple, grip her mother’s thumb, gaze into her mother’s eyes, safe and loved. Lina tries not to think of how a bomb tore through the roof of the apartment building where her cousins lived—Dalia, Amal, and Ahlam—with their rebellious black curls. Where laundry furled and flapped on balconies festooned with herbs and flowers. How concrete and rebar were shredded. Embroidered cushions, backgammon sets, brass coffee pots, framed photos, school books, all now ash fluttering and swirling amidst ghosts and survivors. Nothing left to hold.


Each day now, Lina’s seven-year-old son, Mahmoud, waits at the distribution center hoping they’ll be able to fill his jug with water, his dented aluminum pot with rice or pasta. He takes this job seriously having just recently become the man of the house. He tries to hold up the white handkerchief his mother gave him in the hand that also holds the pot because the jug is too heavy and awkward to carry on his head. He hopes the men in planes will see it.


Lina swallows spoonfuls of plain rice from the chipped teacup—the one with the rose pattern that used to be her own mother’s. This is what she’s eaten every day this week, whenever Mahmoud has been able to bring home water. She doesn’t ask him where he gets it. Instead, she boils it briefly, hoping this will kill the microbes that might infect them. She knows the propane cannister will be empty before long. Tries not to think what she will do then. She longs for a little yogurt to dollop on top, knows it’s futile to dream of chicken fragrant with garlic and cilantro or green beans with onions in savory tomato sauce, spiked with allspice, cinnamon and cardamom. For now, she just hopes the rice will be enough to keep her milk flowing.


Mahmoud stands at the edge of the crush of people lined up six or seven deep at the warehouse so he won’t be swallowed up by the crowd. He slips his sweaty feet in and out of his rubber sandals, remembers how he and his friends, Ahmad and Hamza, used to fly kites on the beach—a purple-and-green butterfly with eyes on its wings, a tiger with a fearsome roar, a fox with ears on alert. Remembers how they’d run and run and run until the wind caught the kites, and they’d dive and dance before climbing higher and higher into the wide-open sky.

‘Children of the Banyan’

Urban legend has it that Malik and Malika have lived since birth amidst the sheltering roots of the grand old tree. Nobody knows how they got there, but they’ve survived until today—what the students maintain is their thirteenth birthday. At night the ubiquitous campus cats spirit easily between the vertical roots, winding around the twins’ legs, sleeping on their chests, occasionally offering themselves as pillows before growing restless and stalking off with a meowl. In winter, Malik and Malika wind their ankle-length wavy black hair around their wraithlike bodies for warmth.

Some say Malik and Malika were abandoned on this spot by an unwed mother eager to avoid scandal, back when the tree was planted in the 1870s, that the banyan’s magical properties keep the pair forever youthful. Others claim banyans provide shelter to supernatural beings, that the twins only appear human to those outside their viney cage but are actually spirits living in a suspended reality, that the food left for them by kind-hearted souls is eaten by the cats, since the siblings require no earthly sustenance.

Still others believe they grew up entwined with the banyan, absorbing the sun’s energy to make food, taking carbon dioxide from the air, water from the soil, to make sugar and oxygen, thus breathing and growing in sync with the majestic tree. 

Since Malik and Malika never speak—only purr like the campus cats or flutter their lips like leaves in the breeze—they can neither confirm nor deny the lore. But each morning they exchange waves and nods with students on their way to class. As they’ve grown, so has the ancient tree, its roots becoming longer and farther apart, until this drizzly February morning when students in sweatshirts trudge arm-in-arm, hunching under heavy backpacks before noticing the dozens of cats clustered around the banyan—gingers, tortoise-shell, marmalade-striped, sleek black felines, all huddled together. 

When they realize Malik and Malika aren’t inside the tree, alarmed students form search parties, post message boards, before reluctantly accepting that the pair, no longer children, must have slipped betwixt the weeping roots, to venture into the unknown world—an impulse the students understand well, despite their sorrow. That night, they light thirteen candles, then thirteen more, share memories, worry, pet the cats, try to imagine what life outside the great banyan might have in store for Malik and Malika in their newfound freedom.

Kathryn Silver-Hajo’s work was selected for the 2023 Wigleaf Top 50 Longlist and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, Best Small Fictions, and Best American Food Writing. Her work appears in many lovely journals. Kathryn has a flash collection, Wolfsong and YA novel Roots of The Banyan Tree. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband and curly-tailed pup, Kaya. More at: kathrynsilverhajo.com, facebook.com/kathryn.silverhajo, twitter.com/KSilverHajo, instagram.com/kathrynsilverhajo

1 Comment

  1. Ramona Taylor

    I so enjoyed these two excellent stories! You are a master storyteller


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.