Story:Nur 'No Eyes' Iwata
Nur 'No Eyes' Iwata
Written by IllaRouge
The sea bunny's antennae popped up. Nur scanned around and looked for whoever was calling their name. They set sights on a saltwater crocodile. The crocodile's name was Mandy, and she ran the community center Nur presently sat in. Mandy had been in charge for decades, certainly in the near decade Nur had spent in this area of Miami. She laughed. "You all right? You've been tying your shoes for ten minutes."
"Hmm?" Nur looked down at their shoes. They had their hands on the laces, but they remained untied. They finished tying them.
"Girl, you're always spacey." Nur didn't bother correcting her gendering. It required too much effort, and they really didn't care. "Something on your mind?"
Usually, Nur didn't think about much, but they did have something. "Thinking."
Mandy approached Nur's seat on the pull-out bleachers. "Not your usual style. It about school?"
It was 2018. The sea bunny had applied to a number of colleges, less interested in the education and more interested in furthering their basketball skills. At the behest of their mother, Nur kept school as an option, even though there were valid minor league teams that the sea bunny could explore. Three schools had sent offers, but one was on their mind: Pacific Islander. It was a longshot school. They'd sent an application simply because Nur and their family had spent some time there for their father's job. Now that their parents were divorced, Nur felt a small amount of affection for the far-off islands.
But Hawaii. It was a big move. They'd been in Miami for many years now. Nur had been all over the world, but Florida felt like home.
"Hawaii, right?" the gator asked.
"Heh, sounds fancy." Mandy was brutish looking but soft in tone. "You wanna go there?"
"If you're thinking about it this hard, probably means you should go." Mandy recognized something in the sea bunny. Nur didn't emote at all off the court, but this much puzzling suggested some conflict. "Know what my mama used to call that feeling? Wanderlust."
Nur's antennae twitched. They didn't want much. But they remembered the first big thing they'd wanted. After Nur's father left, their mother attempted to give them a sense of normalcy. Nur's mother had worked hard to get them set up in a place that would be good for the sea bunny. Nur felt called to attempt a big move, one like this move to Hawaii for college. And it made the sea bunny feel guilty.
"Tell you what," Mandy said. She clapped her hand on Nur's shoulder. "Talk to your mom. She's always been there for you, and she shows up to every game, yeah?"
"She's a smart lady, and you're..." Mandy tried to find the right words. "...you're whatever you put your mind to." Mandy stood up. "And whatever you pick, you've already made a big impact here. Brought a lot of smiles to people's faces, and I've only ever seen you smile on the court."
As Mandy walked away, Nur was struck with the feeling that they usually only went with the flow. Nur was passive, always had been. They were used to decisions being made for them, just going with the flow. But this was something they felt conflicted about in a way that was alien to them. The pressure of this being something they were wholly responsible for was daunting; it made Nur retreat more, having barely talked about this with anyone.
This time, they were the one to determine where that flow went, just like back then.
In 2007, it had been three years since Nur's parents chose to separate. Nur and their mother moved from the affluent neighborhood near the university to somewhere more affordable. Nur's mother, Siti, did what she could to get by, but the sudden separation left her with few options. The lower rent at least made it possible for her to build up her own skills now that they were on their own.
For several years, the two had lived relatively isolated as they attempted to make sense of their situation. Nur, perpetually unbothered, didn't show any trauma, but Siti wanted normalcy for the two. She knew she would need to work, so she tried to find a place with something of a community attached to it. She'd done some research, and she came across a number for a community center in this part of Miami. The woman on the other side was direct but very upbeat about what they could do for Nur. The activities were nearly constant, with groups always running events and providing services for families. This intrigued Siti, and before they settled on an apartment, they were invited for a tour.
Siti's accent was strong, but she always spoke to her child in English, for better or for worse. "Nur, we are going somewhere Saturday."
That Saturday, Siti navigated the buses to get them to the DuBois Community Center. Nur wasn't sure what to make of what was going on. They knew their mother was looking for a new place to live, but they were expecting to visit an apartment, not whatever this was. Siti's mind was set on making sure Nur was taken care of. There were apartments in the area she had visited, but they were going to make it work out no matter what.
When they arrived, Mandy came up the sidewalk and introduced herself. Hands on her hips, she looked down at the young sea bunny.
"So this is Nur, huh? I pronouncing that right?"
Nur nodded. This was a big personality, to be sure. They were only used to their mother's more reserved demeanor. And yet, the elder sea bunny, with slightly different markings to Nur's, responded positively. Siti almost seemed excited. Nur expected a comment on their appearance, but Mandy simply started the tour.
Mandy took them inside. While not state of the art, the facility exuded care. The walls of the entryway were adorned with pictures of the many community members throughout the year. Mandy led them to different rooms dedicated to different kinds of activities: art room, classrooms, even a makeshift movie theater; this one, Mandy seemed proud of.
"You see all these chairs?" They were older but still well-kept movie theater seats, though their style definitely clashed with the rest of the building. "Get this, fancy rich theater was going out of business across the city. I heard about it, and I went in and asked if we could buy some of the seats off of them. Dude just laughed at me and said they'd save money throwing them away or some sh...sorry, stuff. Now I didn't like that none too much, so I figured out where they were dumping 'em. Gave the guy at the dump five hundred bucks, and we loaded them in a Ewe-Haul." She held her hand out to the theater. "Whole theater cheaper than what we were gonna give that jerk!"
Nur took in the information but gave very little indication that they'd done so. For the sea bunny, it was beginning to register that things had been actively changing since their father left. It made them not want to get attached to this place, as much as they'd gotten attached to anyone or anything before.
But the tour didn't stop there. In each room, Mandy rattled off a few names or groups and recited regular and upcoming activities, as if she had them all memorized. Siti was impressed, and Nur felt something nice growing inside them. Nur didn't mind boredom, not at all, so it wasn't the events that sounded nice. It was the names.
Maria. Boris. Crista. Bertrand. Lupe. Ivan. Valli. These were all people that lived around here, and they made a second home in this building, cared enough about one another to devote time and energy into giving others a place to be safe and feel wanted. Nur felt these in a familiar way with their mother. However, this felt new.
Mandy led them to the entrance to the basketball court, which led into the rest of the gym facilities. "Listen, this stuff's in a bit of a bad way, but if we get some volunteers to put in some elbow grease, this'll look like a proper gym, I tell ya."
Before they followed her in, Nur paused. Siti saw her child stop. "Are you okay?"
Nur didn't mince words. "I wouldn't mind living around here."
The proclamation caught Siti off guard. She bit her lip to curb her emotions, but she gave her child a big hug. It was, perhaps, the only time Siti remembered her child having an opinion on a place. Nur knew it would mean a lot to their mother. Maybe they could come to care about this place as well.
After the move, Nur went to the center almost every day. When asked about their interests, Nur didn't really have an answer. TV, some games, not liking school, all the normal things, but nothing in particular. But before Mandy got a good sense of the sea bunny, Nur told her, "I want to fix the gym."
Though completely surprised, Mandy never missed an opportunity. "Great! I'll ask around to see who else wants to match this little..." The crocodile paused. "Say, don't take this the wrong way, but are you a boy or a girl?"
This was a new question for Nur. Their name came from a friend of their mother's, but they were usually called a girl. Sea slugs are one of those species that have a negotiable and shifting relationship with sex and gender. Nur didn't usually bother with it. "I don't know," they answered honestly.
Mandy was always laughing, yet this laugh didn't seem disrespectful. "You know, we got some folks that come around, and some of them don't know either. Mind if I call you 'they'?"
"Sure." Nur liked the simplicity of the pronoun.
And to her word, Mandy got together a crew. Most days, Nur came and used some of the older gym equipment, but one Saturday, Mandy pulled them into her office. "Nur, you got time to meet with some folks today?"
"Good!" Mandy took them to the court, and within half an hour, several people had showed up. Several had toolboxes, some with notepads. Mandy introduced Nur, though some already knew of the nudibranch. "Nur here's gonna lead this little revitalization project, aren't ya?" Nur felt thrown off, but Mandy dispelled with the ruse quickly. "Nah, but Nur here's gonna help out with this place. Got you old geezers off your butts, huh?"
A few of the men grumbled. It was true that someone willing to spur them into action got a small buzz going. Over the next several months, what became a new committee worked to fix up what was there, find cheap options to replace equipment and parts, and brainstorm ideas for how to get what they didn't have access to. Since Nur spent the most time in the gym, they had the most suggestions for what needed improving, and they were always around to help with whatever projects were going on. They learned how to use tools. When the older members were around, they were always telling stories, stories which Nur absorbed intently; these were Nur's favorite times, when others were telling about the history of this space, of events that happened a few streets over, how things had changed over time. When days got long, Nur helped make meals with some of the folks in the kitchen. Nur just seemed to enjoy doing things.
Mandy was always present when the group had meetings, and she was usually around when clean-up happened. At a meeting one day, she was struck with an idea.
"Y'all heard of the Kweens?"
Most of the committee were at least somewhat into sports, so the name held memories for them. They explained the group to Nur. They were a team of basketball players that played exhibition matches. They showed off skills and performed comedic routines, all with basketball at their center. The idea sounded odd to Mandy. A few asked Mandy why this had come up.
"You just leave it to me. Time to play the charity card."
It was no secret that the community center's finances were always in flux. If Mandy was directly responsible for anything, it was getting money from grants, government programs, and charity functions that she attended in all of her free time. And to her credit, while she wasn't always successful, she always found ways to manage. If she was motivated, that meant that something was about to get done.
And done it got. The next week, a moving truck arrived as the group met to do another round of repairs, Nur as present as ever. When Mandy opened the truck, most everyone there gasped.
Inside was a host of new equipment: exercise equipment, towels, new backboards, hoops, nets, as well as a metal bin filled with Queens Kweens basketballs.
"What's all this?!" asked a ringtail lemur.
"This?" Mandy snickered. "Oh, this is what happens when you make a few phone calls." She explained the gist of her activities: She managed to get in contact with the GM of the Kweens and explained their community center's situation. At present, the comedy team didn't do much in the way of charity, but that was always how Mandy reeled in new sponsors. She proposed that this could be the beginning, where the organization could donate money, equipment, and time to local areas in need, which would generate more support for the team and also benefit these places they visited. Mandy was smart about it, looking to see when the Kweens would have their next performance. They were scheduled to be there the following month with an extra few days between their Miami game and their next venue. 'Why not do a small show here? Donate your time, get some good press?' However she had pitched it, here they were with the basics for a basketball program.
Nur wondered who these people were. Mandy looked at the sea bunny. "And you've got front row seats with your mom at their game downtown, Nur baby."
Nur and Siti made a day of Mandy's well-intentioned antics. Neither knew anything about the show, much less about basketball. On their way there, Siti examined the tickets. She showed them to Nur; these were VIP tickets, with a meet and greet before the game began.
They arrived at the venue early, which was a multi-purpose arena and stadium. Once they showed their tickets, they were escorted to a conference area. The room they found themselves in had several other people in it, most clearly with some level of wealth to their appearance. The sea bunny family stood out. But as the players arrived, there was no chance for attention among the participants. Each of the players was athletic, most quite tall, with charisma to boot. They greeted everyone there and handed out merchandise and signed autographs. Nur and Siti were toward the end of the room, so they were some of the last to be recognized.
A tall turkey approached them, energy in every movement and word. "And hello to you two--" He paused briefly, taken aback by their seeming lack of eyes, but soothed by how fluffy and bunny-like they appeared. "Sorry for being rude. Are you two enjoying yourselves?"
"Yes, thank you," said Siti. "We apologize. We've never been to something like this."
"Oh!" It seemed he knew them. "You're the ones that Mandy lady got tickets for!" Just what was that crocodile up to? "Name's Kelly Johnson. I'm the captain of the Kweens. So, you two have never seen our show?" They shook their heads. "Well then, I hope you're ready for a laugh. Since you're new, are you okay with being involved a little bit?"
They looked at each other. Being involved? As in part of the show. Nur turned back to him. "I'll do it."
"Great!" Before Siti could caution her child, the captain reached out for a handshake. Nur looked at the strong hand. They shook it. "Ever held a basketball?"
He held his hand up, and one of his teammates tossed him a ball. He caught it without looking, and Nur's antennae perked up. He handed it to them. "Get a feel for it. I have a feeling it won't be the last time you play."
Nur felt up the ball. It was bumpy, with deep grooves in a pattern all the way around. It was flashier than the balls they'd seen on the truck. It had the Kweens logo plastered on it. They took the ball and bounced it. Full of air, it came right back. It was signed by everyone on the team. Nur didn't recall seeing anyone else with such a souvenir.
Siti and Nur were greeted by a few more players, but soon, the meet-up ended. They were taken down to the front row, right next to the team. They were given vouchers for food and drinks, which Siti was thankful for.
The game began, and they were in for a show. Every play, every pass, it was all filled with skill and humor. Each of the players was adept at handling the ball, effortlessly passing it in seemingly unnatural ways, all at the expense of the other team, paid to be in on the joke to some degree. Each joke was received well by the crowd. Even Siti felt amused, laughing at several points.
But Nur was enamored by their playing, their ability to control the crowd, how much they made people happy. It hit them all in that moment that this was what they had been looking for. They saw a community of people enjoying themselves. They saw happiness being handed out for nothing. They saw their mother not worried. It was just like the community center.
So enthralled, they snapped back to reality when Kelly nudged their arm. "Hey, you ready?"
Nur turned. It was close to halftime. The routine called for them to sub out one of the players for someone from the audience. Kelly had chosen Nur. A few other players kept up the routine by fake arguing with the referee, all to his expense. Nur nodded. Kelly pulled Nur to their feet, which sent the other players into the next step of the joke, distracting the referee by pulling his shirt over his head. Kelly was passed the ball, and he handed it to Nur. "Just dribble it down the court, run around the other team, and throw it at the basket. I'll take care of the rest."
The crowd cheered. Nur felt nervous, unused to being the spotlight. They bounced the ball again. It felt natural. They dribbled down the court, albeit with some visible shakiness in their movements. After a few dribbles, they steadied. A few of the defensive team's players were ready to defend, but antics on the part of the Kweens put them into comedic disarray, from several players circling individual defensemen to wedgies. One of the Kweens held up their hands for a pass, and Nur responded. They passed it between the legs of the defense in one of their choreographed routines. Eventually, one passed it back to Nur, who continued their trek down the court. Stopping near the three, they were struck with the fact that they'd never shot a basketball. Somehow, they felt confident, and Nur let loose the ball, mimicking what they'd been watching. It sailed through the air, and it hit the backboard to the left of the rim. What sored up next was Kelly, who picked the ball out of the air and smashed it down for the half. The crowd cheered, and the players congratulated Nur.
This was it. This was what they wanted.
The bleachers were filed for The Kneeslappers' monthly show. After Mandy's successful fundraising and the committee's revitalization of the court, Nur began training in earnest. They watched video after video online of classic Kweens games. They taught themselves the fundamentals of basketball, eventually joining their new school's team. But on their off time? Back to the community center, where they eventually organized a new club, The Kneeslappers. The group put together their own shows, reminiscent of Kweens routines. They traded times as the protagonists and the defensive team. Nur loved being on the comedy side. On the court, they opened up. They cracked jokes, practiced fancy moves, and organized routines that let everyone shine at different times. But as soon as any show was over, Nur went back to normal.
Mandy made the group a fixture in her schedule, and they were a hit in the community. The crowd's favorite routine involved a washable marker and a ball. Nur would draw a face on the ball to mock the fake referee. Later, they would miss the pass, catching the ball near their face, and transferring the joking eyes onto their fluffy fur, much to the delight of the crowd.
But beyond that, Nur leaned into the skills they wanted to enhance to make the shows better. Nur practiced shooting relentlessly, because there wasn't a point to the joke if one couldn't make the shot, something they learned from watching old Kweens footage. They also embraced ball handling skills and no-look passes. Their face already made it difficult to discern their looks, but it wouldn't have mattered. Nur seemed to be able to bend the ball to their will. Their favorite shot was a behind-the-back, no-look pass with a flick, sending the ball snapping in the opposite direction than where it seemed like they were setting it up. This also meant reading their teammates' moves, so no pass went unanswered.
Siti attended when she could, but when she did, she was amazed at what she saw, mainly that Nur seemed completely different and yet wholly comfortable. Years and years of practice led to Nur helping their high school team win state championships, do well in nationals, and gain the respect of the community at home. Siti couldn't help but see this place as where they both belonged.
Which made the conversations about Nur's future all the more impactful. While Nur was as they always were, small in conversation, Siti helped guide her child's decision with her own speech and experiences. Nur knew that this would never not be home, but perhaps what they were looking for was a new challenge. Siti knew, without doubt, that Nur could one day secure a spot with the Kweens. But in the meantime, what could her child accomplish in a different setting.
"I think you should accept Hawaii's offer," she told Nur.
"Maybe some do not see it, but you have a tireless energy. You have helped so many people here."
Siti nodded. "You have made this our home. Nothing will change that. I am excited to see what you could do in a new place."
Nur accepted the offer the next day. They would attend Pacific Islander University. They spent the next few years honing those new skills at college, while attending every Hawaii Kahunas game they could.
And now, they set their sights even higher.
Nur 'No Eyes' Iwata, basketball court jester.
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