The Place We Knew

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She walked and walked as her feet gathered more and more dust, her flip flops worn out, back feet cracked, and cackle brown. She had no destination in mind, but as she became more and more surrounded by unfamiliar land stretched out, she was soon aware of her exhaustion, of the dryness in her tongue as her throat threatened to seize altogether. She knew she had to find a place to rest soon, kind people to accommodate her at least for the night. How was this possible? She had only been walking for a few minutes, maybe hours. She had hoped the people she imagined on the other side of her commune existed. So far, she was greeted by deserted lands and abandoned homes that were once someone's. She continued her journey east or west, north or south. She did not know the difference. At first, the clouds shaped like characters someone forgot to finish painting seemed to dance in the right direction, which she had been following. Now the faces in the sky were mocking her, perhaps for not having a plan. She made out their features by tracing them with her fingers. They reminded her of sleeping infants. The clouds changed their position, pointing the wrong way, resigning, she turned around and began walking in that direction.

She cursed under her breath, wishing the sun would stop following her. Rising her palm across her face, she shielded herself from the burning sensation peeling back her skin. She challenged herself to stare at the sun, daring it to back down, then it might leave her alone, the sun in defiance burnt her eyes. Eyes closed and watering, she crawled under the shade of a large tree, the Baobab, with vibrant green leaves sprawled out across its branches. It was the shelter for many homeless like herself, of many other strange creatures, crawling and large. She eyed its fruits. They were large green pods, close in appearance to a coconut but not quite. She dragged down a nearby branch curiously examining the one almost brown curved ball that came with it.

She bet it tasted like one of the fruits she and her friends would chomp down at the sweetness, then proceeding to use the seeds in a game, and on a sunny day, not like this one, they would gather at the fountain in the middle of her town. It was surrounded, by a buzzing marketplace, where everyone traded one another, buyers haggling on the price of an item, children's laughter echoing through the walls of stalls, the teenage girl, and her friends sprawled by the pond located in the middle, conversing about many unknowns. They would toss the leftover at the little children hiding between the legs of their parents. It was funny to them, watching the children stare at the sky, believing it was raining seeds, and this was where her friends began imagining a place existing outside their little town. For all they knew were the people of Aruba, the culture they grew up with, and to them, nowhere else even existed. She had declared she was going to leave in search of something more, and she had earned it. Her friends had warned her that the possibility of something better was hysterical. Still, she harbored this imagination for months, safeguarding it but knew better than to discuss it again.

The day she left, it was a very dark early morning, but late enough for the chickens afar off to begin clucking. She closed her eyes, committing her town to memory. The house she lived alone with her soon to be heartbroken mother had cracked lines running across the brick layered exterior. On the sandy outside layered ground, she took her slippers off, standing still, barefoot for a minute, letting the coldness send shivers up her spine. She passed by the pond that started this quest, watched as the early risers began unlocking their stalls in time for a busy market day. She almost returned to her bed, but the calm sky, slowly rising sun, trees winding back and forth, sky shaped like hands clasped together as though applauding her brevity, propelled her forward until she no longer saw her town.

Today was not the only time she had run away. The first time she had woken up that morning determined to leave the four walls of the brown bricked layered home she shared with her mother. She got up at the crack of dawn, the chickens had just begun roosting afar off, and the sky had started waking up. She brought out the bag she had stuffed earlier with clothes, a filled to the brim water jug, her favorite teddy bear Garland she slept with as a child, all the essentials for travel. She tiptoed from her room, caressing the walls with her fingers as she made her way to her mother's room. Where her mother laid peacefully, her arm stretched out from underneath her head, slightly grazing the glass of water on her nightstand, next to her reading glasses and some pills. Who will take care of her mother when she is gone? She stood by her mother's door for a moment, memorizing her features. Dragging her feet, she made her way back to her room.

The night before, she had told her mother of her plans to leave their town, in search of something better, that she had seen all there was to see there, where everyone looked like her. They all had hair that made nature talk and skin which constantly glistened in the sun. She wanted to see the rest of the world. Her mother had said calmly, "Ada! you are not ready," before she looked down at her breast and cursed it. She pulled her stomach, yelling at her daughter's first home. She stomped the ground, unshaken by their house roaring too, beating her chest multiple times before finally pointing to the roof and calling on whoever was above it to take her daughter back since she refused to listen. She had watched her mother tire herself out. Untethered, she knew more than ever she was ready to leave.

Why was she then still sitting on her bed, with her hands clasped underneath her thighs? She took a deep breath in, moved her feet with purpose, and made her way outside. She unlocked the fence surrounding their house, pushing it forward gently as the clanking sound threatened to ruin her escape. The sky was grey, making it hard to see, but she could still make her way through had she been blindfolded. All she had to do was reach where her town ended and walk through the forest that surrounded it, which blocked it from the rest of the world.

The elders of her town told folklore about the benefits of togetherness, stressing the consequences of leaving. As a child, her favorite stories were about children who got lost and died following a singing animal into the woods. Aruba, sheltered by tall trees, rumored to end in nothing. She had arrived at the end of her town, taking one last look back, as she propelled herself towards the forest when she heard a rustle in the trees.

Now, the sun is scorching hot, punishing her. She thought of her mother, who usually woke up around noon, right about now. What was her mother doing? Did she miss her? Did she notice she was gone for good this time and was not returning like the first time? She wanted to return home, to lie in bed with her mother so she could assure her that evil was far away, so she could wake up to the sizzling pan of fried plantains and fish the next morning. But she was lost, in this forest, like the stupid children in her favorite stories. She resigns herself, slumped on the bare sandy ground. She sits up, using the edge of the branch to carve out letters strung together that read, "I tried." Her hunger decides for her since this might be her last act of bravery, eating the possibly poisonous fruit she had set aside from the branch. She holds it up to her face, willing her mind to deny herself. Unable to resist, she takes her first bite. She slurps down aggressively as the wetness from the fruit in tiny droplets spreads across her face, cooling her skin.


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