P r o l o g u e
Ten Years Ago
Tears run down my face as I dart through the trees, pushing branches out of my way. The air blows my dark locks behind me, twigs and dead leaves break under my bare feet, stinging with every stomp. But I know I cannot stop no matter what; if I do I will break down.
Finally, the trees part and there in front of me is the river, running wild and free. It roars, crashing against the rocks; yet the rocks do not quiver, they stand hard and steady. I wish I were as free as the river and as strong as the rocks. But instead, I am a weak prisoner.
I stop running, crashing to the ground, gasping, and out of breath. The damp earth beneath me is cold, a mirror to my heart.
They cannot be gone! Everyone is just lying to me... They promised... they promised they would be there when I come out of the tunnel. They said I would be fine... How can I be without them? Dad still didn’t take me fishing. He said we would go this weekend. And mom did not finish making my new dress, what will I wear to school this year?
Oh Allah give me back my parents. I will be a good girl. I will sleep on time, I will finish all the veggies on my plate, I will pray on time, just give me back my parents. Please, please!
Tears turn into loud sobs as I dig my fingers into the soil. No, no, no... Suddenly, I feel a hand on my shoulder and I freeze. Who followed me here? I look behind me to see a young boy. His hair is dark and his eyes are a piercing blue. He stares at me, worry written all over his face and he looks... kind.
“What’s wrong?” he asks in a concerned gentle voice.
My lips tremble but I don’t reply.
“Mum says people who have pretty eyes shouldn’t cry. You have the prettiest eyes I have ever seen ... so please don’t cry,” he says, extending his dirty palm to me. In the middle is a tiny heart-shaped pebble. “I found this by the river. Take it! It’ll make you feel better, I promise.”
I slowly reach out to take the pebble and close my hand around it tightly. A smile breaks across his dirt-stained face, he then gives me his back and fades into the forest. And for a second there, staring at the beautiful colours of the rock in my hand, I actually do feel better.
I run through the tangles of trees, laughing out loud. I stop when I hear a bird chirp in the tree above me, and look up to see it spread its wings and fly. I raise my camera and click, capturing the bird in the sky. This photo is one of the best I took today. The forest is my favourite place to take pictures. I love how everything is alive here. At home I feel like a prisoner, that’s why I come here every day. This place is beautiful; I have to show it to Mum someday.
I put my camera in its case, which is hanging around my neck and come out of the forest and into the other side where the river runs. The sun shines brightly in the sky and I can’t help but smile. I walk closer to the river and sit beside down, throwing pebbles at it. I watch as each one falls into the water, making perfect ripples around it. I pick up another pebble and inspect it in my hand. It is not like the others, it is shaped like a heart and has a lot of cool colours in it, even though red is the dominant one. I hold it up in the sun and grin widely at how it reflects off the colours. I will give this to Mum, I am sure she will love it.
Suddenly I hear someone cry. I get up, following the sound, and reach one of the big rocks on the riverbank. I go around it and there I see a girl. She is wearing a floral dress and has her black hair in a ponytail. Her face is covered with some loose hairs and I cannot see her but her shoulders are visibly shaking.
I do not want to scare her, but she is crying and I have to help. I walk closer to her from behind and slowly put my hand on her shaking shoulder. She looks up at me with bewildered eyes which are green like the grass behind us.
“What’s wrong?” I ask her, trying to sound like Mum when she wants to make me feel better. She says nothing and I can see she is going to cry again.
“Mum says people who have pretty eyes shouldn’t cry. You have the prettiest eyes I have ever seen ... so don’t cry please,” I say, trying to make her smile.
When I see the tears collect in her eyes, I start to panic. Maybe I can give her something, girls like getting new things. I look at the pebble in my hand. It made me smile, maybe it will make her too. Mum will understand why I gave it to someone else; she always tells me to make others happy.
“I found this by the river. Take it; it’ll make you feel better, I promise,” I say, extending the pebble in front of me.
She hesitates but takes it in the end, closing her palm around it. I see the tears in her eyes disappear and a smile breaks across my face. Yes! I made her happy, Mum is going to be proud of me.
I hear a bird chirp in the trees behind us and rush back to take another shot of it. Maybe I can give the photo to Mum instead.