The Weight of Our Sky(9)

I grit my teeth and think about how satisfying it would feel to punch him. “Fine,” I say, throwing my hands up and heading for the ticket office. “Fine, I’ll go and buy another ticket.”

Minutes later I’m back at the door, ticket in hand, and the usher, now puffy with self-importance at having completed his task, makes a grand show of examining it carefully and tearing the stub before opening the door with a flourish. Inside, the theater is already dark, and he walks before me, shining his flashlight along the rows until at last, we spot Saf right in the center of the hall, staring at the screen in rapt attention. I quickly begin to work my way toward her. “Sorry, sorry, excuse me, sorry,” I murmur, banging into all number of shins and knees and counting seats furiously inside my head until at last I manage to squeeze into the one beside Saf (number fifteen—a good sign).

“Saf!” I hiss.

“Hmm? Oh, hi!” Saf grins at me. “Couldn’t resist, huh? I don’t blame you—it’s so good.”

“Uh-huh.” I jab her in the ribs. “Come on, we have to go.”


“We have to go.”

Saf stares at me, bewildered. “Why would we do that?” she says. “The movie isn’t even over.”

Paul Newman has just won his race. From the recesses behind us comes a loud, distinct “SHHHHH.” In the glow of the movie screen, I can just make out the disapproving faces of the couple in the next row, glaring at us. I tug desperately at Saf’s sleeve. “Come on, Saf, come on, please. Please.”

You’re running out of time, the Djinn says helpfully. Ticktock, ticktock. He pounds to the beat on the inside of my chest, and my school blouse is suddenly about five sizes too small, and I can’t breathe, and we have. To. Get. Out. Of. Here.

“Can you two please keep it down?” The male half of the disapproving couple can no longer contain his impatience. “We are paying customers, you know—we have rights!”

“Come on, Saf, come on, come on, come on. . . .”

Saf sighs. “Okay, fine, you weirdo. Let’s go.”

As we make our way out of the row—“Finally,” a voice behind us mutters—I feel a relief so palpable it almost makes my knees buckle. Now we can go home, and Mama will make everything right.

Suddenly, just as Paul Newman stoically receives a kiss on the cheek from a blond beauty queen, the movie stutters to a stop, and the screen goes blank. Outraged voices chime up in the darkness: “What’s the big idea?” “Is it broken?” “Fix the movie; we want to know what happens next!”

Nothing happens.

Then suddenly, the screen blinks back to life. Against a bright red background, stark black letters blink the same message over and over again: EMERGENCY DECLARED.

The lights come back on, flooding the room, leaving us all blinking at the brightness.

The Djinn perks up then, alert, anticipating. An immediate sense of deep, deep dread settles in the pit of my stomach. The room buzzes with panicky energy as everyone begins to get up and head for the exit. “Come on,” I say, dragging Saf by the sleeve. “We have to go. . . .”

The words die on my lips.

The men stand silently in front of the theater doors, blocking the exits. Some wield parangs, their cold steel glinting in the dim glow of the screen; some hold iron pipes; some bear large wooden sticks, hacked to sharp, deadly points. Several boast scars and tattoos that peek out from beneath their rolled-up sleeves, marking them as members of the same gang.

One, clearly the leader, steps forward. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he booms in accented Malay, his voice echoing through the room. “Sorry to interrupt your show. There’s been . . . a change of plans.” He smiles, revealing rows of perfectly even, white teeth. “I’m going to need all the Malays to stand over here”—he gestures to his right, the blade of the sharp knife he grips glinting in the light—“and all you other fellas to stand over there.” The knife whips around as he gestures to his left.

There is a moment when everything seems to freeze, when everyone looks at each other, unsure what to do next.

“I suggest you move quickly,” the man says quietly. He isn’t smiling anymore.

There is a great rustling then, as people jostle to do as he says. My head is a symphony of a thousand deaths, and I bite back the urge to count every single seat in the theater until my brain shuts up or shuts down, whichever comes first. “We have to try and get out,” I whisper to Saf, who is visibly pale and shaking imperceptibly. “We have to—”


The man is in front of us now. Beside me, I feel Saf freeze, and before I even realize it, I shift my body so that it’s ever so slightly in front of hers. The Djinn howls, flitting from my stomach to my chest and back again, sending my insides roiling.

The man eyes Saf, with her clear brown skin, her heavy brows. “Melayu. Over there.” He reaches past me and shoves her roughly toward the rest of the Malays on the right, and a whimper escapes as she makes her way to the group, not daring to disobey. He turns to me next, and I shiver slightly at the look in his eyes. It’s not the hostility that’s disconcerting—it’s the glint buried behind it, the little spark that shows how much he’s enjoying this.

“Now you,” he says to me, taking in my light skin, my eyes, my face. “Melayu atau Cina?” I know I should answer, but I can’t think, can’t speak over the noise in my head.

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