The Flame Tree

The Flame Tree by Richard Lewis Read Free Book Online

Book: The Flame Tree by Richard Lewis Read Free Book Online
Authors: Richard Lewis
enough so the other kids could hear, an earnest, thirsty-for-knowledge expression on his ruddy face. “Is it the survival of the fittest, or is it the survival of the fattest?” He poked a finger into Rhyan’s pudgy arm and grinned.
    “Well, David,” Rhyan said, turning a page of the magazine without looking up, “if Wonobo ran out of food, I’d survive longer than you would, that’s for sure.”
    “No wonder, with all that extra padding you’ve got.”
    “Nope. I’d survive because I know how to live off roots and snakes and spiders and scorpions and cicadas and grubs. Grubs are pretty tasty if you like squishy things. You roast them up on a fire and the skin gets hard, but when you bite into them, the insides squirt out. They’re very nutritious. You can live on grubs for a long time. Studies have been done—”
    “All right, all right,” David said. “Grubs, jeez.”
    Rhyan smiled and continued reading his magazine.
    The lunch recess bell rang. Isaac ran home. Ruth had prepared a rice curry with a fiery hot sambal . She was just on her way out for her noon break. As she always did before she left the house, she unclasped the thin gold necklace and cross that she wore when working. She folded it in a handkerchief and stuffed the wad down into the bosom of her blouse. She took no chances with the increasingly abundant and brazen purse snatchers.
    Isaac said, “Ibu Ruth, do you know anything about Tuan Guru Haji Abdullah Abubakar?”
    She turned to face him, her eyes flared in surprise. Then they narrowed. “The Tuan Guru. Who doesn’t? To him, you are an infidel. Either you convert and become a Muslim right there on the spot, or”—Ruth leaned closer and whispered—“or he’ll cut your head off and put it on a pole for other infidels to see.”
    Isaac’s mouth opened. Absent from Ruth’s voice was the telltale tone of truth-stretching that adults used when saying scary things to kids. She patted Isaac’s cheek with her free hand. “This isn’t something for a boy like you to fret about. You’re safe enough here.” At that she left.
    Typical grown-up , Isaac thought. Get you all worried, and then tell you not to fret.
    Isaac loved curry and sambal, but he was in a hurry. He quickly fixed himself a sloppy peanut butter sandwich and raced out of the house, not bothering to clean up the mess he had left behind.
    Rhyan and Sairah sat side by side at their usual table under the flame tree. Isaac sat down across from them. They stared at him without speaking. His courage nearly failed. He tried to think ofsomething to say to break the ice. “I’ve been wondering why you are going to school here and not at the international one in Surabaya.”
    “It was our choice,” Sairah said, civilly enough. “We would have had to board there. Surabaya would have been so boring. We enjoy working with our parents on their digs.”
    Surabaya was to Isaac the world’s second most exciting city, the first being Manhattan, where his grandfather Butch Williams lived in a brownstone building. During the Williamses’ recent vacation in the States, Isaac had visited his grandpa Butch as much as he could, partly because he enjoyed the stories the former secretary of state loved to tell, but mostly because Manhattan had lots and lots of people to make up for the eerie lack of them in Connecticut.
    Around a mouthful of goopy bread, Isaac asked the question that he’d really sat down here to ask. “Is it true what you said about eating grubs and snakes and all that gross stuff?”
    Rhyan took a bite of his tuna fish sandwich. “Gross?” he said. “A lot of it is delicious.”
    “Especially barbecued field rats,” Sairah said.
    “You’re kidding,” Isaac said. The way Sairah smiled at him, with those owlish eyes of hers looking quite carnivorous, he thought that perhaps she wasn’t. “Hey, Rhyan, I’ve got something to show you.”
    “What’s that, Isaac?”
    “It’s a secret.”
    “Then why do you want

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