It’s time to head back to Write...Edit...Publish… for the last post of 2016. This month the prompt is Utopian dreams, as enticing as all the others I’ve written to throughout this year. A special year-end vote of thanks to Denise and Yolanda for creating and hosting this very special bloghop! Incidentally, this is my 500th post (yay! and....phew!) - it feels entirely appropriate to celebrate this milestone in the company of WEP-ers.
I started off writing something quite different in tone. But there were some dire news reports coming out around the time, so my story kind of went off track into something completely different. At first I had thought I’d wrap up the whole thing in a thousand words and be done, but Heba the MC has other ideas….this story is now more than 5000 and no end in sight….so I am presenting an excerpt which adheres to the word limit.
This is the story of Heba the refugee, the Utopian dream in this case is Saeed’s, Heba’s eldest son’s, which remains unrealised in the story as he has already been killed by the time it opens. Heba and the family have found asylum in USA where Saeed had dreamt of going. The resettlement becomes an ordeal for Heba through a series of circumstances, her insecurity and confusion rising with the campaign rhetoric and climaxing with the election results. Saeed’s Utopian dream thus morphs into a nightmare reality in Heba’s life.
Saeed had the most beautiful deep-blue eyes, Heba had lost herself in them the first time he was placed next to her at the hospital. One minute she was a brand new mother, wracked from a hard labour, exhausted and wanting nothing else but the complete oblivion of sleep. And the next there was this baby who opened his unfocussed eyes and blinked at her, changing her heart and soul irrevocably, seeding into her life a love that was like an affliction in its intensity.
“Many babies are born with blue eyes,” everyone assured her, “they’ll change, just you wait."
But they did not change, they remained that same ultramarine. She looked into them at six months, and at six years, and into his teenage eyes when he was almost a man, his jaw dark, his brows heavier, the babyhood cuteness stripped from his face, those eyes more sharply soulful, and lost herself in them each time. She treated all her children equally, but in her heart the first born had authoritatively staked out a greater share of territory.
Here she was looking into those eyes, playing peek-a-boo with him. And here she was looking into them saying goodbye for school, looking a split second longer than necessary before she turned to Eissa and Zouhra to bid them farewell.
And here she was looking into them again, tiptoeing into the room to check because a thread of light was showing under the door when it should not be.
“Go to sleep, my son. What are you doing, staying up so late? You brothers are fast asleep.”
“I have to finish this, mother, otherwise I will lose it.”
“Lose what? Finish tomorrow my darling, all you’re losing is sleep. You’ll feel tired in the morning.”
“No, I’ll be fine. Need to finish this sketch, or I’ll lose the idea.”
“What are you drawing?”
“It’s for my portfolio, my mother. Let me finish it. Just sit by me here, okay? I’ll finish as fast as I can. And then – bed, promise.”
So she had sat down and murmured of inconsequential things, the day, the school, Eissa’s mischief, how he, Saeed should eat more, rest more. He had attended with half his mind and responded with his own unrelated rejoinders, working feverishly all the time. How long he was taking! She was so sleepy, so tired. Heba had almost nodded off on the couch when the word ‘USA’ jolted her awake.
“You were dozing weren’t you? You should really go to bed,” he laughed. “I was just saying if I win a place in this completion, then I might get a chance to go to USA to study.”
“Oh. Where in USA?”
“They have one of the best art schools, mother. It is the chance of a lifetime!”
Heba was quiet. She had not known that he nurtured ambitions that would take him away, so far away! from the family, from her. When had he grown so independent? She looked at his hands with their strong but delicate fingers, long, tapered, the knuckles looking absurdly vulnerable, yes, an artist’s hands. As she watched, those hands picked up a small sketchbook and were rifling the pages, each containing a drawing of a man with his back to the viewer, walking away, his back receding a little further in each drawing so that when they reached the last page he was only a dot on the horizon. Saeed was smiling softly, he shuffled the flipbook faster, the figure receded from somewhere close to an unbridgeable distance in seconds.
Heba stirred uneasily, she knew she must not let him do this and willed him to stop, she must not fall into that trap again. But Saeed continued to flick the pages over and over, the leaves rustling in the quietness of the room. She reached out to arrest the movement, to hold his hand and still it, but he spun out of her reach like a puppet jerked by strings, and now both the man in the flipbook and Saeed were receding, becoming smaller and smaller as they smoothly glided away. Her limbs felt heavy, frozen. There was a sudden, icy flare of fear in her heart as it caught her in its coils and she knew there was no escape.
The rustling grew louder and louder, the pages and the drawings and Saeed himself, all of the room, blurred and became one, indistinct in a blizzard of white leaves. She tried to run after him, but her legs would not move. She could see nothing except a dense flurry of white flakes and pages – they fell faster and faster and obliterated everything from view. She called out to him but there was no answer, only the silent flakes falling in a white curtain all around her. Heba’s heart ballooned, filling her chest with terror till she could no longer breathe.
She sprang awake suddenly, sat up with her heart thudding wildly in her throat. The room was quiet, Mahmoud slept beside her, a car honked somewhere, a brief, faint pulse of sound that throbbed once and ebbed away into silence again. Tears, never far from her at night, pricked her eyes.
Mahmoud stirred, disturbed by movement, “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing,” her voice was choked.
“You’ve been dreaming? The old nightmare?” Mahmoud came fully awake and sat up, put his arms around her and gently laid her back down.
He kissed her forehead, her eyes, the incipient tears from their corners. She let him make love to her, and he did so with a great tenderness, trying to soothe away the hurt, to provide a distraction from their relentless grief.
“Sleep, my life. It’s late.” Mahmoud caressed her hair afterward and slowly drifted back to sleep himself.
Heba lay awake in the dark for a long time, listening to him breathe. Seeing a flurry of white pages and a receding man hidden by them all the time her eyes were open. And all the time they were shut.
WC - 1006
Read the stories/posts of the other participants' by clicking on their names in the linky list below. Wish you all a very Merry Christmas and the very best for 2017! See you all next year!