What I Become

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A coming-of-age story about a girl whose world is shaken by an unfortunate event.

*I wrote this story in Creative Writing basing the plot off of a picture. I do not have the picture currently, but it does help the mood of the story. I may acquire it sometime soon.

Submitted: June 03, 2008

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Submitted: June 03, 2008

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I was told never to cry as a child. My father believed that crying was the most insulting act a person could perform, whether it be in public or in private. My brother, my sister, my mother, none have succumb to the reservoir of salt and water stored beneath their flesh. I have done my best to hold in my sorrow.

When the call of hunger, created by one too many days without food, stung at the core of my belly, one that has never been filled it seems, I held back. When the loss of childhood friends was too great, I held back. When all hope seemed lost in the dark days of the ongoing occupation, I held back. My cheeks, still rose-tinted and full of the innocence I may have once possessed, have only felt the hot forgiving tears of sadness but once in their lives, and never again.

I was five years old… No one will probably believe that in the eight years of life that have passed since the incident that I remember the event as vividly as I retell, but I promise, every word that leaves my mouth, passes over my lips, and into the bright air of reality is true. I was five years old, the age when the entire world becomes your playground and fear only exists in the night terrors created by the thump-thump-thump of gunfire and the morbid screams for mercy as people receive the hot metal bullets as an apple receives the blade of a knife, when I dared to seek adventure. My legs, sturdy yet still waiflike, carried my body and my imagination to the kitchen. My mother was cutting an onion to add into the weak soup my family dined on almost every night. I remember the scent of the onions. Sweet, acidic, bitter. An amalgam of smells to tempt the olfactory, but also repulse it at the same time. I did not cry though, as most people would believe. My tears were not the spawn of a vegetable sliced in the early evening. No…

They were tears of pain.

I crept my way towards my mother, hoping would be chosen by her to assist with the meal, as I had seen big sister do so many, many times. Father and brother need not help, I know, for they were men. They struggled daily to provide for us, the weak, dependent women of the household, and needed to rest if they were to support our aching stomachs another day longer. I stood beside mother, standing only thigh-high to her, pulling on the rough cloth she wore over only what I can imagine to be the body of a goddess, if that statement does not offend almighty Allah.

My mother’s skin, what little of it I could see, was a dark, sandy brown. Deeper in hue and radiance than the walls of our tiny house. Her brown eyes mesmerized my youthful stare into eyes which glowed with admiration for this beautiful creature I was privileged to call my mother. Her raven black hair was tucked into her burqa, yet I could see strands slipping down onto her face. Now as I look back onto this time of my life, I realize that my mother’s eyes were not as vibrant as I had once envisioned. The lines of wear and tear were starting in, and the small traces of gray were appearing in her hair. She was still my mother, though, and she was a vision.

“Mother,” I said my voice pleasant and respectful, as we are expected to address our elders in such a way.

“Yes, darling?”

“Mother,” I repeated, the nectar of youth covering the word as it my mouth, “I want to help make dinner.”

“No, little one,” Mother reached up with her left hand, brushing away the loosened tendrils of night, “It is much too soon for you to learn. You can barely even see the counter, let alone work on it. Go play in your room until I call for you.” She set her knife down onto the counter, her hands scooping up the diced onion.

Maybe it was fatigue, maybe it was the weariness brought upon by age, maybe it was pure happenstance, but my mother’s hand placed the knife on the counter so that the handle of the bright utensil balanced oh so precariously over the counter’s top. My childish eyes saw this as an opportunity to prove myself to my mother.

“No, I’m not. See?”

No sooner had the words escaped my mouth my small, chubby hands reached towards the handle of the blade. Mother was right. I was too short to work at the counter. My fingertips grazed the handle, not succeeding in the original task of claiming the knife as my own, but it did throw the blade’s circus-like spectacle of grace off kilter, sending it plummeting downward.

I heard my mother gasp in horror. Let me rephrase that. I saw my mother gasp in horror, yet no sound was uttered, at least to my ears. All I could sense at that moment in time was the hot, sticky fluid that ran down my forearm. I felt a cold, stinging pain rush through my body, starting first at the nerve endings in my arm, making its way through my upper body, down into the far reaches of my toes, and back up towards my brain. I looked down to where the sting had started. I saw a stream of crimson flowing down my arm. I heard the distinctive plip-plip-plip of the liquid hitting the hard floor, creating a dark pool wherein my reflection was lost and distorted. Next, I felt the tears.

Hot, fiery drops of water rushed down my cheeks, cooling the pain that centered itself on my face. My eyes closed shut, wanting to block out the flowing river that had once flowed in my veins, yet now blended with the dust and onion skins on the floor. I opened my mouth, not knowing what I wanted to say, just letting what came out come. I screamed, I moaned, I cried for relief from my pain, but all for naught.

The next thing I knew, I felt something stiff press into my abdomen, lifting my body upwards. I opened my tearstained eyes to see it was the arm of my father. He would comfort me, I thought, he would take away all my pain. How surprised was I when he sat down and placed me over his knee. I knew what this meant.

I was being punished.

The first strike was hard and firm. Although it was not as painful as the sting I had felt in my forearm, it was just as painful. It was followed by a succession of hard, unwavering blows that raised the volume of my screams. I looked around frantically with my blurred eyes, searching for why I was being disciplined for crying out in pain. I saw my mother, a damp cloth in her hands, kneeling on the floor to wipe away the evidence of my outburst. Her head was bent low, never once looking at me. Only towards the floor. Towards the floor with the stains of my youth.

I could not stop crying. My screams had seceded into a wavering whimper. Yet the salt water still remained on my face. My father took me off his knee and set me down in front of him. The legs of his pants were stained with his own child’s blood, yet he showed no sign of compassion.

“We do not cry in this family,” his eyes stared into my own, never blinking, never wandering, “To cry is to show that you are weak. I did not work to support you and your siblings by breaking my back, giving up all the things I wanted in life, and slaving away for some mindless company so that you could become a weak, pitiful, loathsome, spoiled brat who cries at everything! If you so much as shed one tear in my presence, in my house, I shall disown you like a mutt. Understood?”

“But father-” A hard slap to my already burning cheek cut my sentence short.

“Understood?”

I could not stand staring at my father’s burning dark brown eyes. I wanted to cry now more than ever, yet I understood that I had broken a taboo my father had set forth as sort of a payment we owed to him.

“Yes, father.”

“Good. Now, have your mother wrap your wound. You are going without dinner tonight as punishment. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, father.”

Father was a strong man. His strict morals and expectations molded me into what he believed to be perfection.

For a girl, at least.

I have held to father’s expectations, not because I feared his hand, or the knowledge that I would drift away to the realm of dreams hungry and sore. I lived up to my father’s expectations because of what my mother told me on the day I… Matured, if you will.

My mother, a kind, gentle, and firm woman, kneeled before me in the bathroom. I sat on the side of our tiny, mildew-ridden bathtub, letting my mother gently run a wet cloth over my exposed muscle. The stream of red had slowed and as it mixed with the soothing cold of the water, it ran a dark pink, falling down into the tub, dripping from my fingertips.

“I’m sorry, mother. I did not mean to anger you or father.”

Mother did not reply. She discarded the now blood-soaked rag, still damp with water and my own life force. She opened a small bottle of rubbing alcohol (a precious commodity we were lucky that father had acquired), pouring a small portion of it into a glass.

“Your arm,” mother’s voice had no emotion in it. I did as I was told and offered my arm into her waiting palm.

“This will hurt, but do not scream or cry. It is all for the best, dear.”

Mother emptied the glass in one fluid motion, covering the length of my arm. The burning sensation I felt was unbearable. I bit my lip, increasing pressure as the pain spread from my open wound to the rest of my body. I closed my eyes, trying to push the pain away from me. I saw tiny specks of color, I tasted iron, and I smelled the sickly odor of the alcohol.

I made the attempt to open my eyes, to plead with my mother. She was quick to respond to my nonverbal begging, for she placed the large swatch of cotton over my cut and began to tightly wrap the gauze around it.

I did not desire the droplet to leave my eye; it did so of its own accord. I snatched it up with my free hand. Mother looked to the floor as she finished securing my bandage.

“I’m sorry…” there were no other words I could muster up at the moment.

That was when my mother looked towards me with her eyes, now showing the signs of age even more so than before. All the vibrant color within her pupils had been deadened over the course of the last fifteen minutes.

“Your father is very disappointed in you…” her voice was quiet and low. She gripped an area of fabric on her burqa and twisted it tightly, searching for the strength to continue her speech, “I would not be surprised if he ignored you for the next few days.”

“I’m really, really sorry, mother.”

Mother rested a hand on my face. Her flesh was cold as it made its way over the fiery desert that were my cheeks. I saw the love my mother felt for me at this exact moment in time. Her eyes shined now more than ever, yet it was not from her heart alone, but from the thin veil of tears that had gathered over her eyes.

“Dearest, do not apologize. It is my fault that this had to happen. You are my responsibility, and I was not careful. You would not have had to suffer this if only I was taking better of all I did. I should apologize to you.”

Mother’s lips quivered as she spoke. The water eyes remained full, ready to burst. “Please child, do not cry. If you learn this now, yo9u will not have to hurt in the future. Your father expects you, as well as your brother and sister to never cry. I myself have not cried for over sixteen years now. It is not as hard as you would imagine it to be. Please, for your mother’s sake.”

“Yes, mother.”

Mother let her eyelids close, to fight away the oncoming rush of emotions. Her hands, cold and lifeless, grasped mine as she laid her head in my lap.

“Thank you.”

Mother repeated the phrase, as if this mantra would change both our lives for the better. Mother had always dreamed of living the lives we had seen in the American magazines mother had hidden under her and father’s bed. There were large houses and primrose gardens filled with sheer and utter beauty. The women were always kept proper and clean, their cream-colored skin shining in the glow of a free-standing lamp.

Maybe fantasies are better left just that. Unrealistic visions of what could be. I want to forget the dreams my mother had for me. They never did pan out as I had imagined.

I’m sitting on a large stone slab as I tell this story. Well, the first half of my story. I am here now as a result of the second half of my tale.

Yesterday, I was an average thirteen year-old girl. My family and I were in the heart of our city. It was always a joy to see the delightful sights and hear the wonderful sounds of the city. The golden sand of the streets shimmered in the midday sun as people traversed the main streets, entering and exiting buildings and restaurants, chatting with old acquaintances. How I loved the lure of the city. It was simple, compared to the images I have seen in the American magazines, yet I was still held in awe as I passed the crowds. The reason we were in town today was to celebrate. Father had arranged for us to have a grand meal at a quiet little cafin honor of my brother’s twentieth birthday. Brother’s birthdays were always a treat for my sister and I. Our births were only celebrated with the weak soup we were accustomed to in our daily lives accompanied by the grumbles of good wishes given my father.

Brother, on the other hand, was given praise at a grand feast put together by father. The food was always rich and savory on those days. I never complained about the lack of zeal put into my birthday, for fear I would lose the fullness I would feel on a day where food was now more than just a necessity.

The meal set before my family was quite a sight, one which only existed in my dreams. There was fresh, steamed rice served with wild vegetables, followed by a large rack of lamb. Of course, father and brother took what they wanted first, but an aching stomach is never an ungrateful one. I waited alongside mother and sister, tasting the meal in my nostrils before the first bite reached my mouth or even touched my plate.

The meal was delicious. Laughter melted away hunger and joy stood over the presiding, observing the gaiety and overflowing of emotion. I know now that this happiness only veiled the true intentions of fate.

I finished my plate first, the lure of the sweet meat and fresh produce too strong for my adolescent willpower. I kindly excused myself from the table, wanting to take a short walk to explore the city, which I rarely had the opportunity to do.

The streets were warm and glittering, the footprints left by the rush swept away by the light breeze. The voices of vendors and customers bickering over the wares in the street side bazaars were lively and musical. A group of my friends sat on a corner, sharing stories, making idle chit-chat, and marveling at a new purchase one had made.

I joined the group, ready to share whatever I could, when I heard the screams. These were the screams I had heard in my nightmares. I was awake and fully conscious of these cries this time. I turned, wondering all the while who had been hurt, but as my body swiveled to meet the cacophony, a large fireball blinded me momentarily while the deafening boom rattled my eardrums.

I was pulled to the ground by an unknown body. I did not think to look as to whom it was, for the sight before me had hypnotized me. The cafI had left no longer than three minutes ago was on fire.

Bright yellow flames and vibrant reds melded together, consuming the small establishment. The dancing colors hypnotized me, pulling me into a trance where I could not hear the voices around me, nor see anything else but the fire. I was snapped out of my trance when arms gripped me by the shoulders and rushed me to my feet.

“Move, move!”

It was an American soldier, and a young one at that. He gestured for me to take shelter near a huddled mass of civilians. I made my way towards the group, my legs wobbling as if they were made of rubber. I now knew that the fire that burned before me was not just a gas leak or any other kitchen accident. It was a bombing. The soldiers only showed up if there was a bombing, or some other form of attack.

I had finally gathered my senses, no longer a slave to the flames that swallowed the now charred caf and wondered where my family was. Frantically, I raced through the crowd, screaming their names, scanning the hundreds of bodies for a familiar article of clothing or the open arms of my mother.

Nothing…

I ran. I did not know where I wanted to run; I just needed to put as much distance between the pyre and myself as possible. Buildings became a blur as I ran, my legs growing numb to the pain in my heart. Nothing was real at this point. Nothing except for the knowledge that my family, those dearest to me, were gone.

Yet I did not cry.

I finally stopped running, slowing my pace to a slow trudge. My senses finally returned to me as the background came into focus. I was very close to my house, as far as I could tell, since the last remnants of the city appeared to have long since faded away behind me. I pressed on forward, hoping to find solace at home.

Home. A word that should make every child feel safe when they hear it. I prayed that it would comfort me now more than ever.

I opened the door slowly, pushing my way through gently. The scent of yesterday’s onions filled my nostrils, and awakened the memories of my family. I hung my head, hoping the odor would leave. I made a beeline to the room shared by my sister and I, and laid down on the hard, uncomfortable bed. Pulling my legs towards my chest, I curled up into a tiny ball, burying my head and closing my eyes, my ears, my nose to the outside world. I waited for sleep to come.

How painful that wait was.

I awoke the next morning, my throat dry, my stomach crying out in pain. I wanted to rid myself of these physical ailments. Placing my feet steadily onto the floor, I made my way to the kitchen.

Finally I was tall enough to reach over the counter. Mother still did not want me to cook yet, but she knew I was able to. I scanned the countertop, searching for any form of sustenance. Only mother’s utensils, pots, pans, and unwashed dishes remained.

And an onion.

The vegetable was still fresh, glistening in the light of a new day. I stared at the pale white object before me. What a complex being, the onion. It consists of layers upon layers of skin and flesh. The layers appear to stretch on for forever, yet when you reach the onion’s core, there is nothing.

What a frightening word. Nothing. A state of nonexistence. Had I finally reached a point in my life where that was all I had to look forward to? Nothing?

I turned away from the onion, from its pale skin, from its odor, from its cynical gaze. How I despised onions.

There was a loaf of bread sitting in the cupboard. It would have to do. I decided to bring it along with me. I wanted to take a walk, in hopes that it would take my mind off of yesterday’s events.

I started off to the south, leaving the outer perimeter of the city. There was a large hill that I remember climbing as a youth. Atop that hill lay the ruins of what may have once been a lavish stone building, whose origins have been unknown to all aware of it. It was a gorgeous sight, nonetheless.

I finally reached the apex of the hill, surveying the area I had not seen in over five years. The stone slabs were still strewn about, moved by who knows what to form a graveyard of sorts. I took a bite of my bread as I looked for a seat.

An oblong piece of rock caught my eye. There was nothing particularly special about it, but I felt that it was meant for me to sit upon. I rested my body on the cool surface of the slab. A cool breeze whirled around me, pulling at the loose bits of my hair. I stared blankly at the world that surrounded me, hoping to find an answer somewhere among the twirling blades of dead grass and swirling lines of dust.

That is when I heard his footsteps.

My head jerked up quickly, praying that this visitor not be another harbinger of death. Perhaps it was my father, come to bring me back home. It was neither. In front of me stood a young man, no older than my brother, with curly golden hair that glimmered in the sun. His skin was a dark cream color, covered by shorts and a dark green T-shirt. His face definitely stood out among all his other features. He had green eyes, something which I had never seen before in my life, which pulled me in and held on tightly. They did not frighten me, but I felt a part of me tremble at the intensity behind them. His sharp nose rested over a rough, stubbly goatee that encompassed his full, bright pink lips and clung to his chiseled jaw. He was like the charming prince from the fairy tales, so handsome and dignified. He was carrying a bag slung over his shoulder. Kneeling before me, this prince began to speak in broken Arabic.

“You… Okay?”

I nodded, not knowing how to react just yet.

“I photographer from America. You mind I take photograph?”

I could not help myself from laughing at his poor Arabic, but I nodded my head. What was it about this man that took me away from my problems? Perhaps it was just the magic that surrounded him.

He pulled out his camera, and lined up his shot.

“Smile,” he said, adjusting his lens one last time.

I did the best I create a smile out of my chapped lips. One flash. A second one. My prince lowered his camera and smiled at me.

“Thank you. You will be fine alone?”

I smiled and nodded, although his company would have been appreciated. But my prince packed up his camera, smiled at me once more, and began to descend down the lonely hillside.

I waited until his footsteps were out of earshot. Was I really going to be fine alone? I pondered this question for a moment before I decided that, “Yes, I am going to be fine alone.” I stared down towards the city. The smoke that covered the city yesterday had now dissipated, and a small black mass was left where the cafonce stood.

I was going to be fine. I would find a way to survive whatever life may throw at me from this point on. Father and mother raised my brother, my sister and I to be stronger than we thought we were. I did not want to let them down now. “Death was only an obstacle,” my father was known for proclaiming. I now know what he meant.

I smiled again as I felt a warm droplet trickle down my cheeks, now stained with dirt and grime. Any innocence I may have kept to this date had now abandoned me as my tears flowed and mingled with the particles of dust. I could cry now with no fear of repercussion, yet my conscience still nagged at me.

I’m sorry father. It seems I have failed you once again.


© Copyright 2017 MichaelChristopher. All rights reserved.

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