Sweat

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A short story on the strength of the individual spirit to endure.

The first bead of sweat dropped unceremoniously to the floor. As water tends to do in a life or death battle with the midsummer sun, it dried - leaving only a salty outline of its past life.

 

Zoe, starting to feel more perspiration plotting escape, slinked back into the shadow of the curtains. Now safe from the rays, she let her eyes wander to that spot on the floor.

 

It surprised her to find that her mind wasn’t unspooling at the reality that there were a million eyes watching this moment – whether here in person or through major news networks. 

 

The truth was that her thoughts were on that drop of water. It seemed crazy to her that the human body fought for ninety eight point six degrees, starting with a single drop of sweat. 

 

But, just like that first drop, it feels like those that step forward first in times of disturbed equilibrium are destined to slip and end up as a faint spot in time…or on a stage floor. Then only afterwards, the survivors can reap the benefits of the victims. It seemed unfair... especially because those that are chosen to be the victims, rarely choose it for themselves. 

 

Example A:  A bullet had chosen this for her.

 

She sighed and stepped towards the edge of the curtain. Peeling it back, she caught a glimmer of cameras from the press box. Almost on cue, a reporter shot a finger in her direction and the camera followed. She hid back into the safety of stage left.

 

The pressure started to build. She never envisioned she would be here, speaking for the dead and those on the way there. Life had squeezed her out and thrust her into the lonely role of a symbol. Since her own tragedy (which had been caught on film), outsiders had rallied to her voice to guide their own lacking moral compass and transposed her face to a face-less catastrophe. She was now a guiding light in a historical fork-in-the-road at the age where the only thing she should be worrying about was homework and boys. 

 

Now, she worried about the intense scrutiny of political talking heads and what it meant for her story. Her facial disfigurement was a global talking point on how the world now constitutes the ever evolving definition of “war crimes”.

 

The stage manager came over to dispel her out of her reverie.

 

“Two minutes”, said the manager.

 

Zoe nodded confidently, because that was what was expected of her now, but on the inside, all she felt were knives in her gut. She felt like an imposter. She lived and breathed while the real symbols of the war were dead under the rubble of her village. She was a girl of seventeen – who was she to diagnose and cure a problem this big?

 

She was scared; of the hate, the pity, and most of all - of not doing enough. She was now responsible for speaking on behalf of her people…no, her country! She wasn’t qualified for this. Shouldn’t this be left to the politicians or the adults?

 

“No, it shouldn’t”, Zoe said to no one in particular.

 

She bunched her fists and gritted her teeth as she remembered something her father had said to her. 

 

It was around the time her parents had started to attend the rallies and realized the gravity of the situation. They had asked her to take her sisters and try to cross the border. She had to find her aunt who lived outside the war zone, they said. Zoe was the oldest, so it fell on her. Her parents thought the guards at the border crossing would be more lenient with children - or at least they hoped. The idea of going alone was terrifying, but her father pressed.

 

“You will never be ready, Zoe – nobody ever is,” he had said as he put his hand on my shoulder for the last time.

 

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said as he tapped my forehead. 

 

“‘I’m not old enough, or I don’t know what I’m doing, I can’t do this alone.’ That is never the case, Zoe. Nobody is ever ready. We are all just flailing our arms to the same song hoping it looks like the Capoeira. That’s true of whether you’re fifteen or fifty.”

 

He took in a deep sigh and let it out. He had a softer, more resigned look in his eyes.

 

“In order for us to make it in the world, we need to believe we can. You can’t let any circumstance distract you from the fact you are a child of God and can do anything you put your mind to. You have to figure this out honey, please, you must.”

 

She didn’t end up figuring it out. 

 

On the way there, they were caught in a cross-fire two miles from the border. Her sisters were killed and she was shot. Later, she was informed that her village was bombarded by drones and her parents were listed among the victims.

 

Although she could have looked back and considered herself a failure, she used her recovery time to digest it all. Whether she stayed home or tried the border, it seemed there was no choice she could have made that would have saved them. Chance had full control - she was just along for the ride.

 

What she could control was honoring her family by becoming the type of daughter her parents wished to raise. She would let go of what she couldn’t control and continue to put one foot in front of the other, until she found the path she was looking for.

 

She had survived the war, survived the loss of her family, and survived a bullet to the head. 

She was now ready to thrive instead.

 

The stage manager, frantic, looked at his watch and beckoned her toward the stage. It was time. 

 

The last speaker had just announced her name and impregnated the air with the silence of anticipation. She left the comfort of the shadows and walked towards the podium. The pages of her speech were crumpled and stained at the corners with sweat.

 

Cameras flashed. People murmured. 

 

It didn’t matter.

 

When she began to speak, her nerves purred like a cat content as it laid in the afternoon sun.

She would figure this out.

 

“I’ve come here with a loss,” she said with downcast eyes. 

 

“Not of words to describe the pain and anguish of the atrocities I have seen, but of a life I had lived only ten months ago. It seems only a dream that I once had a family. Now, I’m awake in a nightmare where I have no one to cling to and no one to listen.”

 

She outstretched her hand, as if giving the crowd an offering.

 

“Except for you.”

 

“My tragedy is your tragedy, although it may not seem like it. It’s easy to imagine this as a faraway place where things are different. Where solutions are found in the place that the problems are bred.”

 

“That is not the case.”

 

“I want you to look at me, and see your neighbor’s face. Your mother’s face. Your daughter's face. Because, when you start to look away, the problems start to breed closer to home. Like a fire that is left to burn, until it consumes the block.”

 

“It is a humanitarian crisis that affects us all, whether you want to look it in the eyes or not.”

 

Zoe paused to look straight into the cameras, with her one eye, filled with fire.

 

“What I am here to ask of you all, is for help. To listen and to heed my words, so that no one else has to write another speech about a dead family and limbs lost to an indifferent country.”

 

She went to turn the page but realized her last page was missing. She looked down in horror, as her mind went blank and the pressure of a million eyes pressed upon her. 

 

Then she breathed.

 

Then she continued.

 

“I’m OK to be the first to tell you of my story. I’m OK with that, because it means I have had the opportunity to when others before me have not. Mine was the face that was caught on film, when others died in the dark. I have lost part of my skull but I have kept my whole life, and I will use that life to ensure those that died in the dark have their chance in the light.”

 

“Please, help me shine that light.”

 


Submitted: February 10, 2021

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Stellanotte

What a beautiful and beautifully written story.

Wed, February 10th, 2021 6:00pm

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