Khalil didn’t know why his uncles scowled when he pretended to be one of the robot birds.

As he did each day after chores, Khalil scrambled atop the berm outside his home. He ran along the edge, arms a broad arc, face flung upward in the joy of faux-flight, emitting spittled onomatopoeia. He leapt, tucked his knees, and half-stumbled a step before resuming his headlong rush toward the western fence. That, too, he straddled and ran along the top of, his head full of buzzing through clouds, his mouth laughing.

His parents had told him once that he shouldn’t play like the metal sky creatures. They had said the birds were inhuman, from far away, that they hated his family. But Khalil didn’t understand. He didn’t hate his parents, his sisters, his uncles. He just wanted to be one of the buzzing metal birds overhead. Right back to his imaginationing he went, but now when he saw adults watching he seamlessly switched to another innocent game.

His uncle who lived far away had told him that the robots threw things at people, bad things. This immediately became one of his favorite games: he would shimmy up the broad trunk of their mulberry, and toss pebbles at the goats from his pretended skylike vantage point. One time he hit a fox with a rock. It was really far away, too. He threw some rocks today before wandering back home.

He was playing in the truck shed when he heard it. He dashed outside to see it. He looked up, jaw agape, neck craned, spinning to find it among the clouds.

There! And this one was different – it was right overhead! Khalil jumped up and down with glee. It twinkled back. It made a sound he had never heard before. Khalil stretched out his arms to the sky robot.

Dave Liepmann, 25 January 2013