Kest threaded through the throngs of shuffling students milling in the corridors. He took a deep breath, fighting with impatience as much as the gridlock causing it. His locker was around the next corner. Then it was a straight shot to the side-door exit… down a less crowded hallway not bottlenecked by the queue for the busses.
Kest spun the combination through the digits. When it surrendered, he tossed his books inside, grabbed his hoodie and slammed the door shut.
“Yo, Kiss, wait, dude,” said a voice behind him.
Kest turned, suppressing a sigh.
The hail came from a brawny, six-foot junior he recognized as one of the more entitlement-minded football jerks who enjoyed pushing freshmen around.
“Do you have a speech impediment?” Kest said, tilting his chin up a fraction. He met the eyes of the face that had come deep into his personal space, along with the rest of the jerk’s anatomy.
“Huh?” The jerk frowned, wrinkling his forehead.
Kest waited. The football jock’s name was Dirk… Macauley. It took a moment to put a name with the face. He paid little attention to that crowd. They were from a different world. One he was not likely to visit.
After a few moments, Dirk took a half step back.
Kest leaned on his locker. “It’s Dick, right?” he said, raising an eyebrow.
“Dirk,” the dick said, his voice dipping down to a threatening tone.
“Well, Dirk,” said Kest. “That means we don’t know each other—even though you did not start this conversation by introducing yourself. Because you sure as hell didn’t say my name right either. So, why don’t you tell me what you want—pronouncing my name correctly this time. I’ll do you the favor of introducing myself. My name is Kestrel Tashquinth-Avsar.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Dirk said. “I want you to switch places with me in the Math groups, ‘cause I need to bring my grade up in Calc. I need those two cow-kissers in my corner for projects this year.”
Kest kept his face impassive. No way in hell was he going to stick Avi and Aparna with this pendejo. “I’ll think about it,” he said, turning to go.
“Whoa! Kiss, wait-wait-wait.”
Macauley grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back. Kest met Macauley’s eyes again, still keeping his face neutral.
“Sooo, Tashquinth. That’s an injun name, right? I guess you don’t wanna break up the Indian/Indian connection, huh? Ha! See what I did there?”
“I was right the first time,” Kest said. With an unhurried motion, he raised his arm, so it passed under the football player’s hand and brought it back down, breaking the grip on his bicep. “You are a dick. I’ve thought about it. The answer’s no.” He took a step back and turned.
“I’ll catch you later,” Macauley snarled.
Kest waved a careless acknowledgement as he walked away.
Outside, the skies above Tucson were clear and blue, and—according to when he’d checked his cell a few minutes ago—the temperature was 75 degrees. Not bad for January. He buckled the chest-strap of his sling bag to stop its bouncing. Then he headed north past the senior class student council members pulling down the ‘Farewell 2021’ banner. At the sidewalk, he turned west to the crosswalk, knowing better than to cross early with the spying eyes from the school window behind him.
Kest ducked into the capoeira academy across the street to check their event announcements on the bulletin board. He waved to his friend Karin, covering the front desk. The sounds of students chatting and laughing as they came in for their after-school classes swirled around him with remembered fondness.
He’d taken lessons here until three years ago when he’d started teaching a few street kids he knew. One of his father’s special forces buddies—also a capoeirista—had visited. They had talked three hours, not just about memories of his father, but what it meant to be a warrior and how capoeira had started.
After pondering, Kest decided on a direction more in keeping with where he wanted to go—less about performance, closer to the roots of capoeira—the martial art.
His teachers had wished him well. They still invited him to come when they traveled to events. Kest’s own informal teaching and practice with friends didn’t compete with their demographic anyway. Also, since Kest and his friends sometimes attracted attention on the street, and Kest was glad to refer people to the academy, they gained more than they lost.
With nothing new coming up and Karin busy explaining the class schedules to a father with three middle-school kids in tow, he ducked out the door into the sunshine. The roda would gather at the church parking lot soon, and he didn’t like leaving them unsupervised when they were all together. They were raw street kids and needed direction to keep on track.
Kest grinned at the thought. Most of his high school teachers would say the same about him. He hit the sidewalk again. Kiddie parks and alleyways faded behind him as he fell into the rhythm of running. He touched a few of his favorite parkour obstacles on the way. Dive kongs and other vaults across picnic tables, park benches, railings, wall climbs—all sped past as he reveled in the freedom of movement after being held captive all day.
As he flipped through a spinning vault, he noticed he’d picked up a trailer. The kid had followed him before, but today the slight figure—coasting in his wake—had pulled closer. Kest didn’t recognize him… or her. It was just someone thin, dark-skinned and wearing a bandana head wrap who moved with the grace of a wild animal. Kest saw a flash of white teeth grinning at him when he looked over his shoulder.
Ahead, he could hear the raucous voices of the roda gathering in the parking lot. When Joseph, his second, spotted Kest vaulting the fence, he started the recorded drum music that signaled everyone to circle.
Kest smiled. The group was excited today. He did a front flip, followed by a one-handed round-off to land in the circle then called the invitation. “YaaaaaaaaY! “
Everyone hurried to a place. Twenty-two had gathered today. He noticed the slight figure—who’d followed him on his run—come up and hover on the outskirts. Now he could see she was a young dark-skinned girl wearing baggy, gray, harem-style running pants and a matching linen hoodie. He smiled at her and motioned her to move up and fill in a gap in the circle. She bowed to him with a grin and came forward. Usually, about a third of the group would be girls. Today the number was eight.
Joseph turned off the conga recording and handed the berimbau to Kest so he could start the litany, the ladainha. He thrummed the string in a rapid, attention-getting sequence slowing to a 4/4 count. When everyone seemed ready, he sang.
My deliverer is coming,
My deliverer is standing by.
My deliverer offers courage
when I take small steps ahead.
My deliverer is coming,
My deliverer is standing by
With each step to freedom,
Though I die,
I’ll live free.
My deliverer is coming,
My deliverer is standing by.
Then line-by-line, they all repeated the verse in Brazilian Portuguese, out of respect for the origins of capoeira. When Kest had rewritten the chorus of the old gospel song by Rich Mullins, he’d kept it short so they could repeat it in O’odham, Navajo, Apache and Spanish. Unlike the normal ladainha—sung solo entire—Kest only sang the English by himself. They all knew it now, but he wanted to represent as many of the languages from the area as he could. He was open to adding more if someone wanted to do the translating.
When they finished, he handed the berimbau back to Joseph. Joseph winked, pushed his dreadlocks back, set the instrument behind the speaker then turned on the music. He had it queued for the responsive section, and everyone clapped their hands, joining in on the chorus phrase. Their Portuguese pronunciation had improved a lot this month.
“Calypso and Rogue,” Kest said, raising his voice above the music. A tall Jamaican girl and an Apache girl with a tattoo of a Gila monster across her shoulders stepped forward. Calypso and Rogue were the street nicknames of the top two female capoeiristas in his group. Instead of giving apelidos to his students, Kest stuck to their street names. It was the same idea anyhow. Somehow, he’d collected both for himself. When he told his friends what his apelido was for the roda, and both his real name and apelido, Ventania, meant ‘windhover’ they now called him Hoverbird. He answered to all, but most of the time he introduced himself as Kest.
The girls linked hands, lowering their bodies into the starting stance and swaying to the rhythm for three counts before exploding into the whirling kicks that marked the roda. They were fast and graceful, and both brought a touch of their own heritage to their styles. Calypso often used her limbo skills in evasive movements, and Rogue, tenacious and fearless, struck with direct, blazing fast combinations.
Kest watched for a while then waved to another to take Calypso’s place. He continued mixing the capoeiristas with others of similar ability until Razor and Coyote—his two strongest male capoeiristas—were in the roda together. As usual, Razor took a very aggressive approach to the roda and Coyote used his flexibility and speed to avoid confrontation, counter kicking and spinning away. Kest frowned, he wasn’t sure if he wanted Coyote to work on stronger attacks or Razor to use more guile in his approach. Both would be nice.
As he considered moving into the roda himself, the girl who’d followed him earlier caught his eye, pointing to herself and rocking to show she was ready. Though she looked young, about twelve if he was any guess, her confident smile reassured him and he nodded for her to go ahead. If things went south, he would just step in himself and afterwards call a volta ao mundo to restore the balance.
“Nighthawk,” the girl announced herself, stepping into the roda to face Coyote. She wind milled through an explosion of kicks to establish her presence then slipped under one of Coyote’s whirling kicks to brush him as she passed. At Coyote’s first evasive move, she dropped and tagged his grounded leg with a grass-cutter sweep. Kest noted she’d held back from taking it from under him and knocking him on his ass. She continued, countering his evasions, forcing him to either bring the attack to her or run.
When Coyote tired, Kest motioned for Razor to move in and take his place. Before Razor could mount an offensive, the girl—Nighthawk, he amended—took the offensive away, forcing Razor to dodge, weave and roll away from her strikes, sweeps and kicks. He had to; the other choice was to be swept away.
The strategy was perfect; exactly what Kest would have wanted to do to correct the balance for each of them. He moved forward to cut in on Razor and enter the roda himself, but Nighthawk’s head snapped around to look outside the circle. She brushed against him as she slid through the line and ran toward the fence.
“Escravizadores,” she called, her voice cutting through the music as she vaulted the fence.
Kest froze, looking around as the Portuguese word’s meaning sunk into his awareness.
Bwee Boop. A police siren sounded. Kest looked toward the sound to see a black-and-white double parking on the street in front of the church.
“Everybody take off,” said Kest. “I’ll explain the church lets us play here, so they’ll leave us alone next time.”
“Yeah, right,” Razor said, anger coloring his voice. “When have they ever left us alone?”
“Just go,” Kest said, stepping toward the chunky uniformed cop marching across the walkway.
“Is there something wrong, officer?” Kest asked.
“Halt!” snapped the cop, holding up a hand. “Everyone here is under arrest for disturbing the peace.”
“But we have permission to play here,” Kest said, trying to reason. “We aren’t making any more noise than that basketball game over there.” He nodded to the playground across the street.
“Down on the ground. Hands away from your body,” said the cop, pulling out his Taser and pointing it at Kest.
Oh, God. You should have expected this.
Razor’s voice came from behind him. “You can’t tase all of us, Popo.”
He glanced back. They were all still there. Spread out and looking too damned determined for their own good.
Bwee Boop. The siren sounded on the cop car. Kest heard the Taser fire an instant later. The cop had spun around to see what was going on with his car. Kest looked at his chest. One electrode had bounced off the big plastic buckle on his sling bag; the other was stuck in the strap. The cop didn’t even seem to realize he’d fired it.
Bwee Boop. The siren went off again, and the patrol car crept down the street, gaining speed..
“Shit!” snarled the cop and ran after it, still holding the Taser. The other electrode popped off Kest’s pack strap, and the wires trailed behind the cop as he puffed back across the parking lot. A thin figure in gray rolled away from the squad car to the cover of a parked SUV. The black-and-white continued rolling then hopped the curb at the end of the cul-de-sac and rolled into an arroyo.
Kest couldn’t help a flash of amusement as he spun and ran back to his students. Only a few had taken off, the ones who’d found themselves on the wrong end of the ‘justice’ system in the past. It had taught them good sense and caution. That sort of experience drove home the knowledge that you didn’t get justice in the legal system; you got the law—as interpreted by the ones who had the most to gain from making you a prisoner.
As Kest reached those still there, Razor slapped him on the arm. “Hey Mestre, are you Taser proof?” he said with a grin. “Is that something you can teach us?”
Kest grabbed the berimbau so Joseph wouldn’t have to carry both it and the speaker too. “Let’s just be glad today’s manifestation of the Deliverer made off with the donut patrol buggy,” he said. “Else we’d all be lining up for the wagon for assaulting an officer of the law. Now everybody get the fuck out of here and lie low for a while.”
He turned to Razor. “He probably has you on his button cam, my friend, and what you said might be considered a threat in court.”
“Yeah, ‘cause it was,” Razor said, voice flat.
“You learned nothing from Nighthawk in the roda today? There’s a time to attack and a time to evade. You don’t challenge the PowersThatBe unless you can run to a quilombo.”
“You put yourself in front of us, Mestre,” Calypso said, shaking back her dreadlocks.
Kest shook his head. “I’m still a minor. Most of you would have an arrest on your record for this bullshit; maybe jail time too. Now let’s move out.” He slung the berimbau over his shoulder and trotted toward the basketball court street. “If the cops have your picture on record, don’t go home. Stay out of sight unless you want to start a new career busting rocks for the CJS,” he said as they moved with him.
“Rather be busting caps at ‘em,” Razor muttered.
“I understand your anger,” said Kest. “But we need to be smarters, not martyrs.”
“Oh, that was baaad,” Joseph said as he loped after Kest, the compact speaker strapped to his back.
“As long as you remember it.” Kest vaulted the fence, adding flair with a spin, just happy not to be wearing handcuffs and a Taser burn at the moment.