L’oeil d’Orochimaru

— Jiaqi Kang

was what we called the yellow tube that stuck out from the ground, with a dash of red paint wrapped around the top like a hat, standing alone in the farmer’s field by our houses. We were five and seven and eight and nine, or maybe six and eight and nine and ten, but ten feels too old for Nozomi, or maybe she really was ten at the time, she would’ve worn those double digits proud and shiny like a badge on her carefully-ironed denim jacket, she would’ve wielded it as a weapon over our heads, I’m ten, can you even count to ten? she’d sneer, the way we liked to tease my little brother during hide-and-seek when we’d ask him to count to fifty like, Have you learned to count to fifty yet? Do they even teach you to count in Enfantine? In those days the public school system still had such a thing as Enfantine, the two years between kindergarten and primary school, when you envied the bigger kids in the playground without knowing that they also envied you for not having to learn addition or whatever. When, later, they abolished the nomenclature and Enfantine became first grade and second grade, and first grade became third grade, and sixth grade became eighth grade, it was chaos and anarchy—I wonder if that was when things truly began to go wrong, when the numbers, so core to our identities, were snatched away from us. But I’m getting ahead of myself; that would be later, after the eye, after the blink, after the brink on which we found ourselves that early-summer dusk when we’d decided to play in the field instead of the park and thus first encountered l’oeil d’Orochimaru. So I think, yes, we were five and seven and eight and nine, because five was the second year of Enfantine, and I think that was the summer we teased my little brother about graduating into primary school and made him prove his grown-upness to us—but then ten feels like Nozomi’s number, the leverage she would’ve used to herd us toward the yellow tube, those two glorious digits that represented her authority sliding smoothly into the canals of our ears and wiggling about inside, poking at the sponges of our brains, which would’ve been the only way she could’ve convinced us to pop open the lid on that yellow tube that first time, the only way we would’ve then made my brother stick his little Enfantine hand in there that last time; and only at ten would Nozomi have been allowed to get her ears pierced at Claire’s—I remember the plastic Christmas trees hanging from her earlobes and catching in the ninja bandana that she always wore around her neck, like Hinata. Yes, it was Nozomi who taught us how to trade the Naruto cards that were all the rage in Benelux-France-Switzerland that year, and we were all deathly afraid of the ones with Orochimaru on them, his yellow snake eyes boring into our souls. Nozomi would gather us around a tree and show us how to improve our martial arts by kicking the trunk over and over perseveringly, like Rock Lee, and while we trained she would meticulously note our progress in her Diddl notebook, the feather fluff of her prized pink pen bobbing up and down as she jotted something invisible to us. Nozomi said that Orochimaru was based on a real historical figure who’d died and now demanded daily blood sacrifices and was widely worshipped back in Japan, and all the three of us could do was nod, because why would Nozomi lie, or rather, would Nozomi ever admit to lying? It was my idea to rip out handfuls of grass from each of our little gardens and bring them to l’oeil d’Orochimaru, to throw them down while whispering prayers, to watch as they disappeared into the utter blackness of the void, at the bottom of which was a patch of pale light too yellow to be a reflection of the sky. I said that all of these prayers were little practice ones, to help Orochimaru get used to the lilting tones of our French, and one day l’oeil d’Orochimaru would blink and that would mean he was awake and ready to acquiesce, and we had to be ready with the most sincere wishes of our hearts. Nozomi rolled her eyes and pulled my hair and said that wasn’t how it was in Japan, and our other neighbor snickered. But then one day l’oeil d’Orochimaru really did blink, we all saw it, and we made my little brother reach in as far in as he could, and he gasped and said, It’s water. Water? Cold water. Of course we knew that the pipe was there because the city was planning to convert the farmer’s field into some kind of tunnel to join up the highway nearby and that this was some kind of surveyor’s tool, staking a claim, but in that moment we wondered if Orochimaru was crying—out of rage, of course, for we’d offended him, but how, and why, and what now? Everyone looked at me because I’d been the one to predict that he’d blink, but I looked at Nozomi and knew that she knew about the prayer I’d made the night before when the others had been bickering over something, and I’d slipped a Google-translated Japanese message into the pipe, the most sincere wish of my heart. And Nozomi gazed at me, and then suddenly raised her arms and moved them to the back of her neck. She untied her Hinata bandana and knelt down and made a hole in the farmer’s field, and buried the bandana next to l’oeil d’Orochimaru. This is lame, she said, wiping her fingertips against her denim jacket. I’m going home. And I said, Wait. As she got up, a dark patch of blood bloomed between her legs, and we screamed.

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