It’s early morning, the morning of Simon's eleventh birthday, and he’s dreaming of Kanoni again, dreaming of the strange world she sometimes shares with him. This time, though, it’s different. He’s never seen her so clearly before, never been so vividly aware of the differences between her world and his. The sights and sounds and smells of Africa overwhelm him.
Kanoni straddles a tree branch that floats two metres above Simon's bed, her long legs dangling, her bare feet swinging close to his face. There’s a cut on the underside of one of her toes, and he can see that her naked soles are lined with thickened, hardened skin.
Outside his bedroom window, London traffic rumbles by beneath grey clouds. A dog barks. A car alarm screams in the distance.
'Hello, little seedling,' says Kanoni. 'Happy birthday.'
Simon sees her lips move, hears her inside his head - but he knows her voice hasn't got into him in the usual way. Kanoni speaks her own language, her mouth forming strange, shifting shapes, yet the words he hears are always English words.
'Thank you, Kanoni,' he says.
He speaks quietly, for his parents are light sleepers and he doesn't want them to hear him talking to himself again. Not after what they made him do last time.
Kanoni grins, her teeth a shock of white in the dark oval of her face. 'Come,' she says, reaching down.
He pushes back his quilt, takes her hand, and with one easy leap joins her on her African branch, the tree bark rough beneath his skinny thighs. He looks down the dry, deserted track that leads from the tree to the village and sees the sun, a huge, orange ball, coming up over a small group of dusty huts. The sky above is an inverted bowl of blue and gold.
When he turns his head just a little, he can still see his bedroom, the posters on his walls, his TV, his computer...
The car alarm stops, but the dog keeps on barking.
'This is strange,' he says, feeling poised on the cusp between two worlds.
'We are on a horse, riding towards Mombassa,' says Kanoni. 'A wooden tree-horse.'
She laughs, and together they watch the African day dawn.
Simon is suddenly aware of his Spider-Man pyjamas. What must he look like, perched up here in this tree? He grins.
'Lean back, little seedling,' says Kanoni.
He does so, and she wraps her arms around him. He feels the warmth of her body, smells the good smell of her skin, and he feels safe. He feels like he belongs.
'Of course you belong,' says Kanoni, reading his thoughts. 'We belong together, you and I. My seed grows in you, your seed grows in me.'
Simon puts his hand in hers. She touches the bruises, the red, angry marks on his wrist. She traces them with a finger.
'Your father?' she whispers, kissing his ear.
Kanoni sighs. He can tell she’s looking around his bedroom.
'You have so much,' she says. 'And yet you have so little.'
Simon sees the dusty village, sees Kanoni's father emerge from a hut. He stands at the doorway, waving in the golden light.
'You have so little,' Simon says. 'And yet you have so much.'
Kanoni hugs him.
'Today is your birthday, little seedling. You are old enough. There is much I have to tell you.'
For a time they sit together in the rising sun, talking about themselves, about all the other little seedlings.
Talking about how they will make things change.
END (600 words)