The sun bore down on the sandy concrete, dust blowing up from the wind that casually swept through the narrow buildings bringing a respite to the midsummer heat. A young girl, no older than maybe seven or eight, ran along the strip of shade cast down from the houses, smiling brightly to herself. Her feet skittered lightly, the patter of her sandles echoing on the bare walls, one hand trailing across the cool brick to keep her balance.
Her face shone, her happy eyes wandering around the road looking for a new toy for her imagination to bring to life. Boredom had given away to exploration that afternoon and she was determined to eke some fun whilst her mother did the chores.
She came to a junction where the alleys flowed into eachother, and stopped to reach into a bag she was carrying for an old plastic bottle full of water. She unscrewed the cap and gulped some down, scowling briefly at the sun for being so hot and pulled her headscarf further over her forehead.
Then something finally caught her eye. Up ahead in the distance, she saw a glimmering reflection on the ground. She popped the cap back on the water, slung it back into the bag and ran up to it.
The girl bent down and screwed her eyes up against the glare of the object that lay in the grit. A cylinder of golden metal reflected the sun back up at her. Slowly she bent down to pick it up, her hands curling around it before suddenly retracting as she realised how hot it was.
She stood up and kicked it back into the shade, where again she took out her bottle and poured the (slightly warm) water over it to cool it off. The cylinder was even brighter without the layer of dirt it had gathered. It was about the size of one of her fingers and bent in at the top where the hole was. She prodded it then gingerly picked it up lengthways between her thumb and forefinger. The bottom of the metal was blackened and when she held it to her nose and gave it an inquisitive sniff, it smelt strange.
The girl considered it for a second, then pocketed it in her bag before taking another sip of water. The afternoon was still young, as was she, and she had every intent of making use of her free time to explore the backalleys further.
She hoiked the bag back up, slinging it around one shoulder and over the opposite hip (having it on the same side was proving problematic) and took off again. The sun was pretty much overhead now and the shadow was starting to recede to a fine line. There was barely any escape aside from making sure that her scarf was peaked over her face.
The girl was suprised she hadn't bumped into any of her friends yet. It had gone quiet in the hour or so she'd left home. Her mother wouldn't be worried though... it wasn't the first time she'd gone out on her own, and she knew pretty much everyone in the community so it wasn't as if she was going to get lost, or worse in trouble, without being able to knock on the nearest door.
The next alley was pretty much a dead end, aside from some bins and a short fence. Being seven, she could barely see over it, but knew just over it the countryside would sprawl into the distance where tree's and rooftops were clumped on faraway hilltops, places she would often dream of seeing when she was old enough to go and explore beyond her small town.
She pulled herself up onto one of the bins, being sure not to spill the top, and lifted herself up so she could see over.
The golden landscape spilled out away from the village in front of her. Other villages and houses were speckled across into the haze beyond. The road which led in ribboned out into a valley, where far away a column of dust rose into the sky, drifting at an angle in the light wind.
The girl squinted. Something was coming.
She turned her head to the left to look at the village entrance which in easy peeking distance from where she leant. A group of men, some of whom she recognised being her mothers friends, were looking down to the approaching objects. One of them, instantly recognisable as her uncle with his shaved head and untucked white shirt, had his hands raised up over his eyes and was talking inaudibly to the others. Another older man nodded and raised some binoculars up.
All of them were frowning. One was sat down with his head in his hands.
The girl felt a sudden pang in her chest. It wasn't excitement like before, when she was running the streets with the sense of adventure filling her heart with adrenaline. No, this was something she'd felt before when she was younger. When the sky was dark and full of lights. When her father had gone into the night.
She suddenly realised she was gripping her hands so tightly onto the fence it was beginning to hurt. A large splinter had entered the center of her left middle finger and a trickle of blood had started to flow slowly into the webbing between her digits. For a moment, distracted, the feeling in her chest went away as she turned to the shard of wood that dug in underneath the surface of her skin. Her forehead creased with the pain as she reached a fingernail underneath and extracted it with a sharp intake of breath.
Even with the splinter gone, it still bled and the wound continued to hurt.
The girl looked briefly back up at the distant yellow cloud, then jumped down off the bin and ran back to her mother.
If anyone could make her better, make her feel safer, it was her.