A narrow road runs along the edge of the Akesan model market. The road is bounded on one side by the gutter that drains the market, and on the other by the high barbwire-tipped fence of the military cantonment. The road is just wide enough for one car but on market days, with traders spilling into the streets only half of that is usable. Pedestrians clutter to either side to avoid being sideswiped by passing vehicles.

A young hijabed girl led a blind man on the side of the road. The man, in a white kaftan top, had his hand on her shoulder and he felt his way along with a shiny metal cane.

Coming in the opposite direction was a woman carrying a wide tray stacked with loaves of bread on her head.
The girl leading the blind man walked past the bread woman, and because she (the girl) was short, she passed the bread woman and the tray skirted over her head. However, she neglected to signal the blind man about the low clearance.
The tray clanged against the man’s head. He screamed, clutched his forehead with one hand, and baring his teeth, he turned and swung his metal stick hard into the bread woman.
The blind man yelled at her, his gray eyes glowering at the region in front of him. The bread woman held her hurt arm and looked apologetic.

A few metres away, an area boy saw the hit. He hurried across the road cutting between hawkers and stepped up to the blind man. He did that thing that tough guys do before they start fighting where they puff their chests up and stick it in your face and in his gravelly voice, he said, “Kini!”
Even though the blind man heard the confrontational bark, without any visual to go with it, he responded by raising his chin up, and weaving his head from side to side.

The bread woman was holding her elbow, watching the encounter with the sweetest, most innocent look on her face. She wore a brown half pleated skirt and a tight striped multicoloured blouse. And the way she held her hurt elbow with the hand across her chest, she formed a rectangle that framed her breasts.

The area boy, trying to impress her, was not backing down. “Why you flog am!” He was getting more agitated, chest bumping the blind man who was trying to explain by pointing at the bread woman. Or in the general direction of where she had been before he was initially chest bumped. A crowd was growing around them. Someone blamed the leading girl for not warning him and steering him around the tray. The girl cowered in the corner, covered her face and cried into her hands.

People tried to appeal to the area boy. “No vex, no vex.” He had muscled forearms, and to accentuate them, he had wristbands of large gleaming black beads around both wrists.

The area boy made a sudden move, phase two of stepping to someone where you spread your hands and try to scare them by pretending you will hit them. The blind man did not flinch. But the area boy’s bracelet caught on something and it broke. The beads scattered, making pinging noises as they bounced on the street.
The blind man’s ears perked up. His face darted left then right, his sightless eyes tracking each bead as it plinked on the road and clinked into the gutter. He was still staring after the beads’ fading sound when the area boy’s fist hit him low in the belly. He whooped out all the air in his body, folded in on himself, and fell to his knees.

The crowd surged in and pushed the area boy away from the blind man. They surrounded the area boy, attacking him as a shoving wall hurling insults. He swung blindly into them. Punches, kicks, his shirt was dragged. It tore down the middle in front. The shredded shirt was pulled off him leaving him absurdly wearing only sleeves. The melee went on for several minutes.

Gunshots rang out. A barrage of bullets rent the air. The crowd froze.
Then the shouts of soldiers: “Hey! You, stop there!”
Everybody scattered. Not as a unified mass. Some ran this way. Some ran that way. More shots, more shouts. Some doubled back and ran the other way.
Finally the place was empty.

Except for the blind man feeling his way slowly along the fence.


6 thoughts on “Zatoichi

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