I Trudge Through the Soaking Woods
I trudge through the soaking woods, the lush green stillness trembling in the afternoon shadows. There is no one around me, and the wild desire to pierce the thickness of my solitude is immense. Mother is gone, and I know very well that she will never come home. When she left, I think she was already fading away. It was something I never understood, and that is why I am standing in sheets of rain, vulnerable, and weaker than I have ever been, here in the unknown. The stories she would tell me! Mother, I mean. She would grab me by the waist, slip her hands under my knees, and carry me, breathless, to the old Moroccan rug next to the hissing fire. I think dreams were here favourite thing of all, but the harsh truth of reality confused her. I dreaded the winter mornings where I heard her screaming at 3 am, running to her only to see the savage fury in her colourless eyes.
-“Mummy! Mummy! Wake up! It’s just a nightmare!”
-“No! It’s real! Its reality, Emma”
I jump over the path of crumpled leaves that skitter across the floor. Pine is sharp, the trees are tinted violet in the soft light, and time inches up the scarred trunks, and rests heavily on their stooping shoulders. The evening flits over me, as if taunting me. The grey sun will be gone soon and I must survive the night.
Just about ten minutes before the last sliver of dreary light disappears, I fall against a tree, sighing as my head drops to my knees. I am approaching mother, she is stroking my hair, whispering in my ear, invading my thoughts and stitching my dreams from the threads of her heart. But it is all abruptly ruined by the sounds of muffled footsteps creeping near. My eyes are wide open. Is there another human being, ever so close to me, will I see him? Oh, it’s been years since mother left our cottage in the middle of the woods. It’s been years since I have talked to anyone but myself. I was twelve when she left me all alone. Now, I am fifteen.
I hug the tree, my heart slamming against my chest, a panting wheeze overtakes me, and spots of colour zoom in front of my eyes.
That is when I notice the man. He has not seen me. In his arms, he cradles a little girl. She is 4 or 5. She is so precious, asleep, her hands spread out on his chest, her golden head tucked carefully in the crevice of his shoulder. Her little pink lips, ever so slightly apart, and the thick lashes that cast long silver shadows on her ivory skin.
I reach towards her, I long to carry her in my arms, just for a moment.
The man settles her down, ever so carefully, on a bed of moss close to my tree and plucks a lily from the grass. He lays it on her chest, and watches the petals shiver as her heart moves up and down.
“Now dandelion, be wakin’ with the birds”
From behind my tree, I notice his dark eyes glassy with tears. He lays a cream envelope next to her, and caresses her cheek, gently. She smiles at that moment, and the man sucks in a long, quivering breath, before running away, without turning back, leaving his child in the hands of mother nature.
He is gone. And the blind night slithers towards us. Every second thousands of stars seem to stretch open their eyes, gazing down right at me. I wonder if the father I never had is one of them, and if the mother who abandoned life is somewhere in that sky too.
-“Mummy?” I would ask, cuddled up against her.
-“I was wondering mummy, when I become a star, what if there’s no more space in the sky?”
She would laugh then, but I would begin to cry.
-“Won’t I be a star?”
-“Yes, dear, I promise, there will be space for you, right next to me”.
I wipe away tears, and wonder if she will keep this promise, since she has broken so many. I don’t know whether I should disrupt the child’s slumber. Slowly, hesitant, I slide my arm around her and allow her head to loll onto my knees.
The morning settles down on the forest suddenly and I await nervously the girl’s awakening. She is still fast asleep and I nudge her head onto the moss. I remember the letter. Curious, I pick it up, tear it open, unfold it, and read:
“My dearest Jasmine,
I hope you will one day forgive me for what I have done. I prayed nature would feed and shelter you more than I have. Remember the wise words of your mother: “You might be alone, but your dreams are always with you”. I know you are too young to read this, but I hope you will understand one day. Now dandelion, move with the wind, rest with the moon.
I slipped the letter in my rucksack and looked towards the horizon, waiting for the appearance of the early morning creatures, the slow but wholesome life of the forest. I touch a berry on the nearby bush, and it falls into my hand, ripe and sweet on my sandy tongue. I hear a whimper and I whip around, only to see a pair of twinkling brown eyes, half-open, blinking.
-“Pa? Pa? Where is my Pa?”
-“Hello”, I say, shyly.
Startled she jumps up
-“Who are you?”
-“I’m Emma, you must be Jasmine?”
-“Yes, but where is Pa?”
I hesitated, my head was throbbing.
-“He-he left you with me for now. He’ll come back”
I swallowed. -“I promise”
She wasn’t very talkative, but she followed me through the humidity of the woods, and sipped at the small streams where we would rest. Soon enough, I heard her panting, her footsteps dragged lightly in the piles of sycamore leaves, and I knew that she was silently pleading for help.
Without a word, I hauled her onto my back and she wrapped her hands around my neck, and clutched on, not delicately but tightly, nearly desperately: she was in great need of safety, of love.