An anti-fairy tale.
There were once six boys named Hamza who were all between ten and twelve years old. Hamza Hussein was the smart one. Hamza Ahmad was the stupid one. Hamza Osman was the tough one. Hamza Dawud was the weak one. Hamza Mansoor was the noble one. And Hamza Laith was the wicked one. But no one really took these differences into account. Not much mattered other than that they were all named Hamza, and therefore friends.
One afternoon, the country house where their families were having dinner lay under a thick summer heat, and warm winds that chilled the skin blew in from distant, forlorn trees that circled them. The boys were forbidden to go into the woods, so, naturally, they went there, intent on playing various forms of tag.
It had been Hamza Laith’s idea, of course. He was the wicked one. Hamza Hussein proposed they lock a room with a movie on high volume so no one would find them missing. Hamza Ahmad accidentally told his 8-year-old sister, who begged to join them, and Hamza Osman threatened to push her down the stairs if she didn’t shut up. Hamza Dawud was apprehensive about the plan, but Hamza Mansoor, noble as ever, promised him they would return by sunset. So together they ran across the field, from the country house where their parents were having dinner, into the forlorn woods that heaved great sighs of loneliness, bent on playing various forms of tag.
They played all types of tag. They played freeze-tag, virus-tag, movie-tag, shark-tag, apocalypse-tag (a tag in which everybody was It) and communist-tag (a tag in which no one was It). The last one was especially complex. Then the Hamzas decided to play hide-and-go-seek tag. Noble Hamza Mansoor was nominated to be It by Hamza Laith. Although they were friends (both their names were Hamza), wicked Hamza Laith hated nobility and saw it in Hamza Mansoor.
So, as 10 ¾-year-old Hamza Mansoor closed his eyes and started counting to three million, Hamza Laith had time to lure the others into his scheme.
He convinced Hamza it was actually part of the game. He told Hamza it would be a clever trick to play. Hamza was too scared to do it. “But what about Hamza?” Hamza said. “We can’t leave Hamza!” But then Hamza made a fist and told him to be a man. And so Hamza smiled evilly, and left Hamza alone in the clearing, counting, counting, counting.
Four Hamzas, led by a fifth that was wicked, went back to the house.
A few months later noble Hamza Mansoor had turned 11 and completed counting. He took breaks, of course. It was difficult with his eyes closed, but he managed. He slept by making a small bed out of soil and rocks, ate juicy berries that felt like crawling bugs and juicy bugs that felt like crawling berries, drank water from a nearby puddle that could have been a lake if it had more grandeur, and execrated in holes made every five steps. When he lost track of his many makeshift lavatories, beds became softer and eating and drinking became complicated. Yet he kept counting. Noble Hamza Mansoor was not tough, but he was not weak either.
He began to seek as soon as he reached three million. He scoured the woods, learning every twist of a branch and every curve of the land and each sigh of a tree that wondered how many more hundreds of years it would grow and grow alone. As he searched, he began to grow out of his clothes and think strange thoughts and find a beard on his chin. It was then that he realized a plot had been made against him, a terribly wicked plot, a plot that could only be the brainchild of a terribly wicked boy he once knew. Noble Hamza Mansoor was not smart, but he was not stupid either.
Sixteen years old and full of young blood, trained in physical combat by local natives that were mostly unfriendly and friendly apes that were mostly not local but came from nearby forests, Hamza Mansoor was ready for his revenge. He left the woods that had grown around him and learned to love him, left the trees back to sighing in the way they had a habit of doing, left the unfriendly local natives and the friendly apes that weren’t local, to track Hamza Laith down.
Wicked Hamza Laith, still wicked, was now eighteen and father to four of his own Hamzas, all of whom were wicked like their father. He sat, smirking the way he always did, on an oak bench outside the country house where his parents once used to have dinner, with his Hamza children and Hamza friends. And then, from the roof, noble Hamza Mansoor, noble no longer, leapt onto the porch and attacked the boy he had once foolishly trusted enough to play various forms of tag with.
Hamza Laith blocked the blows and quickly began to fight back. A battle ensued.
Four little Hamzas cheered for wicked Hamza Laith. Hamza quickly calculated which Hamza would most likely be victorious. Hamza wondered why bees were yellow and black when flies were only black. Hamza was frightened out of his wits and focused all of his attention on dodging projectiles being flung from the epic battle. Hamza was enjoying the duel immensely, mumbling different moves under his breath.
And although noble Hamza Mansoor was both trained in physical combat and sufficiently awesome—the trees watching from the distance exhaled one last parting sigh, blowing a particularly melancholy breeze their way—wicked Hamza Laith was wicked and had a gun. ❧
Saima is a Rutgers alumnus who likes to tell stories with the pen and with talking.