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Little Hossein

Little Hossein was the first person I knew who died. We started calling him Little Hossein when Big Hossein moved down from the mountains to live with his brother Mohammed, our cook. Little Hossein was older than me, but just my size. His head was shaved. His father, Mashala, our gardener, spent the whole day, every day, watering the rose bushes, because the minute he stopped they got dusty. Little Hossein's skin was the color of the dust and smelled like kerosene. One day, Big Hossein found him stealing Kool Pops from our refrigerator and hit him on the head with his flip flops. Over and over. Harder and harder. Little Hossein started to cry, and so did I.

After that I guess we were friends, except I spied on him and he spied on me. He crept onto the terrace and looked through my bedroom window. I told him the picture of President Kennedy on my dresser was the Shah of Emrika. He stared through my window at that picture a lot. Or maybe he was looking at my piggy bank right next to it. He'd stand outside my window where my bike was parked. It was a three-speed from the States, but finally I let him borrow it. He rode it outside the gate to the village. He didn't let the village boys ride it, but he rode it round and round the square while the boys tried to push him off. Every morning I had to walk past the sand dunes on the way from the gate to the school bus. The village boys hid behind the sand dunes. They threw stones that hit the gravel near my feet. One day when I came back from school Little Hossein was hiding with them.

Then my bike disappeared. Mohammed saw the village boys riding it. That evening I heard Mohammed and Mashala and Big Hossein yelling at Little Hossein. You could hear the flip-flops slapping his head all the way from the servants' quarters. Early in the morning Little Hossein tapped on my window screen. We snuck out of the gate and hid behind the sand dunes. We waited. The sun rose. The mullah stopped singing. The roosters stopped kukukoolooing. Then Hassan, the tall, skinny, meanest one, appeared from far across the desert, riding my bike, skidding and scraping the tires. He was singing when he passed us. Little Hossein jumped from behind the sand dunes and knocked him over. I shouted, "Thief. Thief. Thief!" Hassan scraped his face on the gravel but held tight to the bike. They were yelling about money and Hassan kept saying, "Hossein AGHA! Mr. Hossein. BIG Hossein!" Then he yelled, "TEEF. TEEF. TEEF!" and turned my bike upside down. The tires were still spinning fast. He grabbed Little Hossein by the back of his neck. He pushed Little Hossein's face at the bicycle, pressing his tongue against the tire until the spinning stopped. Then Hassan yanked Little Hossein's head back and at me. His tongue was covered with dirt and snot.

Big Hossein didn't get fired for selling my bike. Little Hossein stopped sneaking around my window, even when the 10-speed came from A.P.O. He hid with the village boys and whispered, "Teef. Teef, Teef," with them every day when I got off the school bus. The snot stayed on his face and his throat got swollen. Finally Mashala took him to the hospital. The next morning when the Mullah stopped singing I heard Mashala crying so loud that the roosters hushed. Mohammed said it was the will of God.

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Chris Westberg