Romeo and Juliet Diary Entries: Minor Characters (Nurse and Benvolio)

Benvolio Montague

16 March 1308  – Verona, Italy

Dear Diary,

No matter how hard I try, Romeo won’t stop sobbing about that girl he claims to love. He’s too caught up in his own false thoughts that she can’t seem to exit his mind. This morning, very early, I saw him retrace the path he’s been visiting for the past week towards the sycamore tree. I know that’s where he goes to find cover, where the trees from the forest lock him out of reality. He’s got to get over her: she’s just another average girl that isn’t even interested in dating him. She’s becoming a nun, for Pete’s sake, doesn’t Romeo realize that?

Uncle Montague and Lady Montague have told me how he locks himself up in his room all day and night and refuses to talk to them. As they spoke to me, I could see in their eyes how much they wanted to find a cure for their son’s depression. I think they’re counting on me to get my cousin back to normal, but we’ll see how that goes.

Romeo is too emotional sometimes – too sensitive – yet seeing him with puffy eyes, from the morning light till the moon replaces the yellow glare, worries me. He’s got to get outside and move about to clear his mind out and wash out the nonsense. That’s why I went over to his room and got him to come for a walk with me. At first, he didn’t budge, resisting to my suggestion, but after only five minutes he succumbed to my words, knowing that I had good intentions and was only trying to help my best friend.

For most of the walk, he was quiet, only responding to my words and banter with a delicate voice and long sighs between sentences. He seemed to be brainwashed by that girl somehow, but that was enough, I couldn’t bear seeing him waste so much time thinking about a girl who never even spent a second thinking about him. He needed to understand that there’s not enough time to stay in a definite trance. That’s why I made him a promise. I promised him I would help him find another girl if he gave it a chance. I know there a plenty of single young ladies out there who’d die to be with Romeo: he’s just got to open his eyes up again and stray a bit from home base.

He’s going to get over her the minute he lays his eyes upon another girl. I’ll show him that his beloved swan will soon look like a crow compared to the rest of the girls out there. I mean come on, Romeo is bound to find true love: he’s just got to give it another try.

 

Sincerely,

Benvolio Montague

 


 

Benvolio Montague

18 March 1308  – Verona, Italy

Dear Diary,

A miracle has happened – something unthinkable by the human mind: the gods have had enough of Romeo’s whining and whimpering and have restored his good old self. Somehow they’ve managed to completely wipe away all traces of Rosaline from his mind and emptied out the need to weep about a soon-to-be nun.

Like the good old times, Romeo had joined us in the village square and to everyone’s surprise made jokes he seemed to have been holding in for a very long time – such a jokester is he. Isn’t this a lot healthier and better than crying about some girl he thought he loved? A good laugh is almost like therapy, I’d say. Smiling brighter than I remembered he could, he rebuttaled our banter like a professional until Nurse came along.

With her exaggerated dress she hobbled through the plane towards our group of obnoxiously loud teenagers. With Peter at her knees, she waved her fair fan before her unseemly perplexion before calling upon a Romeo amongst us. Whooping like hyenas we nudged and poked him as he struggled to make his way towards her, knowing what she had to tell him was of importance.

A feast – it must be – I proposed to the boys. Just for him. But why? What in the world has Romeo now managed to get himself into to be invited personally by the Nurse of the Capulets to such an important and formal event? I’d rather not know, but what else would it be if it weren’t for a feast? Romeo has some explaining to do.

 

Sincerely,

Benvolio Montague

 


 

Nurse Capulet

18 March 1308  – Verona, Italy

Dear Diary,

May the heavens cast a curse upon Romeo’s foolish head. Upon his youthful fantasies of taking the hand of my beloved Juliet in marriage and in shedding the blood of my dearest friend Tybalt Capulet – such a man of honor and grace. Tybalt, oh Tybalt, who’d ever think I’d live to see the day his eyes would no longer open – oh but the blood, the blood was everywhere. Right in his chest was the gaping wound that lead to his last breath – a wound caused by the boy Romeo. But Romeo, why was Romeo the one to end his life? How had my Juliet managed to fall for such a deceiving handsomeness?

They’re all the same: no woman can ever trust a man. They’re liars and all they know how to do is cheat in any game they play. Oh, poor Juliet, how did she get herself into such a foul-ending love, with paths covered in thorns and paved in glass shards. A girl: she is no more, yet acting like a grown up she seems to be. Oh, how I wish Tybalt were still alive. Oh, how I wish Juliet just married Paris. Oh, how I wish, I wish, I wish Romeo were nothing but a stranger to my dear lady.

 

May tomorrow be brighter,

Nurse Capulet

 


 

Nurse Capulet

19 March 1308  – Verona, Italy

Dear Diary,

Oh, Juliet! Oh, Juliet! Dead she lays in her coffin at the moment, delicate and immobile like a doll made of porcelain. In her fairest clothes, she is adorned: a long white dress she wears that belonged to her grandmother and a complimenting head adornment that I made myself for the day of her wedding. Her hands are politely resting upon her lap as though she were listening attentively to her mother. Every muscle in her gorgeous face shows no sign of life for they’ve retired from all motion and are far too relaxed for comfort. I’ve braided her golden hair into an intricate braid in order to keep out all the loose strands from her stunning face. Juliet is so fair that she makes even death look beautiful.

But why Juliet, why, why my love Juliet? My beautiful, young, healthy flower has withered just before the ceremony of marriage to Paris. Instead of marrying the handsome young man of such high class, she has managed to marry death. She has lost her life on such an unexpected day and has caught even her father by a miserable surprise.

First Tybalt and now my informal daughter Juliet; oh I wonder who will be next? Have the heavens punished me for some crime I have committed – oh lord, if so, I beg of you to let me know how on earth I can make it stop! Tell me how I can make this heartache, these tears, this pain finally cease. There’s no joy left in life for me.

 

May tomorrow be brighter,

Nurse Capulet

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Romeo and Juliet Diary Entries: Romeo Montague

16 March 1308  – Verona, Italy

Dear Diary,

Today hasn’t been any easier than the days before. I revisited the sycamore early this morning when few people were about and couldn’t help but feel that deep sorrow again that forms inside my gut and teases my eyes until they cry. I retreated to the dense woods where I knew no one would hear me weep and where the trees that witnessed my sobbing minded their own business, unlike the people around me. I have forgotten what happiness feels like for the ache of sadness has possessed my body making me weak and vulnerable at all times. Seeing people smile makes me sink even deeper into my misery, knowing they don’t have to deal with their hearts nagging at your souls constantly, reminding them that no one loves them back.

The days have lengthened tremendously in time and the nights are even longer, keeping me up until my eyes sting from the pain and make me forget about my sorrow for a split moment so that I can finally fall asleep to dream about a fake world where I dance with her under the stars and never get tired. Once I wake up in bed and realize it was all just my wicked mind playing tricks on me, I feel even worse than before. There’s nothing left for me to do apart from hide in my dark room and pretend the world outside has ceased working. Nothing can take me out of this pain. And all this for a girl. It’s as if Cupid shot the first arrow at me but then missed his shot when aiming at her. How did he even manage to miss? Isn’t it his job to make two people fall in love? Not only one?

Benvolio dragged me outside to get some fresh air today as well and to “clear out my mind.” He told me about how my family got into a quarrel down by the village market with the Capulets. Swords were drawn but no one got injured for the prince disrupted them before any harm could be done. But that didn’t interest me.

Benvolio also kept insisting that I had to snap out of it – this trance that I’m in: as he calls it. He kept reminding me that this is all temporary: you think you fall in love until she breaks your heart, then you’re a bit devastated, but you move on and repeat. I’m still stuck in the third step, though. Can’t seem to move on. Anyways, he told me I had to stop talking this nonsense and get over her. There are tons of other girls out there far more beautiful than her, far more worth my time, he said.

I hope he’s right. But until then, as much as I want to stop thinking about her, my mind has other plans. I’ll see what the sunrise of tomorrow brings along.

 

Until tomorrow,

Romeo Montague

 


 

17 March 1308 – Verona, Italy

Dear Diary,

I can’t believe how blind I was all this time. How was I so caught up with my own dumb feelings for that girl who didn’t even care about me? I couldn’t thank Benvolio more for pulling me out of that trance and shoving me onto the dance floor during the party. Let me explain what happened:

While walking around with Benvolio, all of a sudden a servingman comes up to us and asks me whether or not I could read the letter he had out loud. Assuming he didn’t know how to read it himself, I did it for him. Aloud I read the names of the guests who were invited to a party that the Capulets were throwing and that’s when Benvolio insisted we ought to go. Denying it at first, he somehow managed to drag me over there and before I knew it we snuck in with masks on and were dancing amongst the guests of our enemies. That’s when I saw her.

Like a sparkling jewel, she swayed around the dance floor greeting guests and friends that seemed to surround her. Her hair was pulled back neatly and braided into an intricate pattern that was pinned to the back of her head, exposing her graceful neck and collar bones. As bright as the northern star in a cloudless night, she became the white dove in the crowd of black crows. Did I even feel real love till now? Never had I seen true beauty till this night.

I couldn’t resist and took the chance I’d never thought I would. I walked up behind her and swiftly slipped my hand into hers, catching her by surprise. My heart almost sprung out of my throat as I talked to her and leaned in for a kiss after her subtle consent. To my own surprise, we kissed a second time and my heart couldn’t contain itself from the intense joy it felt. But before anything else could happen, she was called upon by her mother, that’s what a woman came to tell her.

I quickly asked her who her mother was and that’s when it struck me. The girl I had kissed twice was the daughter of a Capulet: my family’s loathed enemy. That night I had left happier but more confused than ever before. How could this be?

For her, I’d do anything, though, even if it means sneaking around my family’s enemy. I don’t care how dangerous it might be: she’s the one I want to love.

 

Until tomorrow,

Romeo Montague

 


 

17 March 1308  – Verona, Italy

Dear Diary,

I still can’t believe I haven’t woken up from a perfect dream. Just thinking about Juliet makes my heart ache of pleasure. Being away from her even for a couple of hours makes my dear heartthrob more than ever before, begging to see my love again. Last night I couldn’t resist and had to find a way to see her once more so I followed my heart up the stone wall and into the garden of Juliet’s house, risking my life by hiding in the bushes of fatal territory.

She was perched up on her balcony like a goddess, gazed upon by the gentle but envious moon that made her eyes glisten like diamonds. Clad in an elegant nightgown she rested her fair face onto her delicate gloved hand and stared off into the distance – oh how I wished I was her silk glove that gently caressed her cheek. From below I overheard her conversation with the moon and her stars, but the moon was still so envious of her beauty that she only shone a pure white light onto Juliet’s figure and didn’t bother listening. But I would hear her voice forever and ever. Like a nightingale, she produces angelic notes that soothe even the wolves in the mountains beyond to sleep.

She sung about how she wished our names lost all significance and how we could still be each other without being chained to two rival families. “Lose your name Romeo,” she spoke to the rude moon “and take me as an exchange.”

In a blink of an eye, I would do that. All she had to do was promise her love and I would stop being Romeo for good. But to my surprise she kept insisting for me to leave before her family caught me there, worrying they’d kill me on the spot. Even though she admitted love, she was afraid to make promises she might not be able to keep that night. Before vanishing within her majestic building, she left me to dwell on her words: If I truly want to love her, send her a word telling when and where we’ll get married. And that’s exactly what I’ll do.

I’ve come to the decision that I’d rather die than live without Juliet’s love, even if it’s forbidden.

 

Until tomorrow,

Romeo Montague

 


 

18 March 1308 – Verona, Italy

Dear Diary,

For a long time, I haven’t had such a good laugh with my mates. Mercutio and good old Benvolio lured me out onto the village square where they greeted me playfully, hoping I’d respond in the same way. And that’s just what I did. Like playful wolf pups, we bounced and hopped around teasing each other by grimacing our teeth while play-fighting with our brusque words meant as insults but accepted as jokes. My laugh was bright but theirs were even brighter. “It’s good to have you back, mate,” they confessed as they pat me on the back. It’s good to be back.

Juliet has enlightened my spirits like an immortal candle that shines even in the darkest alleys of my soul. There will never be a word powerful enough to describe how much I love her. Not even an infinite combination of words would cut the job. She’s all that I’ve ever wished for and all I’ll ever need.

While fooling around in the village, Nurse sought a youthful Romeo amongst our group and I presented myself before her as the youngest with that name. She talked of the name I so fondly dream of and how she’s bound for happy days with me, Romeo, in her life. As a response I have sent dear Nurse on her way back to pass on a message to my love, telling her to meet me at Friar Laurence’s cell this afternoon for us two to finally become one through marriage.

 

Until tomorrow,

Romeo Montague

 


 

 

18 March 1308  – Verona, Italy

Dear Diary,

I must hide myself inside the deepest pocket of the shadows’ cloak where no one will ever get another glimpse of my face – a face that screams out the name of Romeo, a boy of the Montague family who had taken the life of a proud Capulet known as Tybalt. Tybalt, the ruthless fighter, warrior, that struck down my dearest friend Mercutio – who I had been fooling around with no more than a few hours ago on the square – as if he were swatting a fly with his sword, so careless and cold-hearted. Down he fell, onto the cement cursing me, accusing me for my mistake of having leaped between them in hopes of breaking what seemed like a silly fight. But a silly fight would never have dared to shed someone’s blood. Not in that cruel way at least. Mercutio could’ve finished Tybalt, slain him in a fair fight, one-v-one, but of course, I had to blind him with my foolish act of interception. Mercutio will die knowing that I, Romeo Montague, his dearest friend, had killed him. Never will I be able to forgive myself for taking the life of my dear, dear friend.

But Tybalt – oh, that gruesome grimacing face showed no respect for Mercutio who was bleeding to death at his heels – that hideous smile that showed his pointy teeth like some sort of demonic being, possessed by his will for killing. My mind was caressing Mercutio, begging him to hold on until the medics would arrive to save him, but my body thought different. It grabbed Mercutio’s tranquil sword and pierced it right through that greedy soul of Tybalt. It wasn’t until he fell to the ground beside Mercutio that I had realized what on earth I had just done.

I rushed to Friar Laurence’s cell through the outskirts of our village in seek of refuge, making sure that no one could see me frantically running away from what seemed like the sun. Friar Laurence took me under his wing as I impatiently questioned what the Prince had scheduled as my doomsday appointment. What he told me was far from what I expected to hear. No execution but exile, banishment – a far gentler punishment according to Friar Laurence, one I should be thankful of. But thankfulness is the last I’ll ever be for banishment is just as bad, if not worse, than execution, for being banned out of the walls of Verona is like being banned from the world. Never, will I ever see my love, Juliet’s delicate face again. Never will I be able to come back and be alive.

 

Until tomorrow,

Romeo Montague

 


 

19 March 1308 – Verona, Italy

Dear Diary,

I have just scaled my path down Juliet’s antique balcony walls, taking the rope ladder with me to diminish all traces of my presence at her mansion-like home. The Lark gave a warning call reminding me that the soon-to-rise sun would reveal me with its burning rays that no shelter could ever shield me from. I had to leave and not a second too late, for if the guards caught me in their terrain I’d be done for. Oh, what I would do for my love, Juliet.

It was the nightingale – she insisted – “Stay dear Romeo, there’s no need for you to leave so soon”. But it was either stay and die or leave and be banned and just the thought of having me dead right before her flipped her mind like a switch. She had almost pushed me out her window before our rushed lips met one last time and she hurried me with her sweet, sweet words.

Will I ever see her again? Like a bright light, she’s a photograph in my brain, her perfect face imprinted into my mind with each crevice where it’s meant to be, but I know not whether this image is permanent. I’m afraid that once I leave the walls of Verona I will never return and therefore never refresh my memory of Juliet.

 

Until tomorrow,

Romeo Montague

 


 

19 March 1308  – Verona, Italy

Dear Diary,

A day has yet to pass and my life away from Juliet is a miserable one. Beyond the walls of Verona I know I will never feel at ease. Every passing moment around here brings me pain for I know that I could be at home where my eyes can rest on Juliet all day without having to look at anything else. I might be wandering the streets aimlessly with my body, but my mind is still stuck within the walls of my home. It has refused to come with me on this temporary voyage and therefore I am unable to think straight about the current situation I’m in.

I have yet to hear from my love and I am starting to worry if something has gone wrong. She had promised me she would send a word my way whenever she got the chance to, but so far I haven’t heard from her at all.

She might’ve gotten caught – impossible: I took the ladder with me to erase all traces of my presence at her home. What if a guard spied on me leaving the building – he would’ve killed me on the spot if that were the case, though. Something far worse must’ve occurred if she’s unable to send her devoted love this way, and I dare not think of what the cause might be.

In the deepest of my heart, I hope that Juliet is safe and that I will be able to return home soon before another tedious day passes. I’ve trusted Friar Laurence with keeping my actions a secret so I might as well trust him a bit longer until he figures it all out. I’ll be back soon, Juliet, to save you from whatever is threatening you, I promise.

 

Until tomorrow,

Romeo Montague

 


 

19 March 1308 – Verona, Italy

Dear Diary,

Friar Laurence has finally sent his word with a frantic messenger who carried a far too risky message to say aloud before a crowd of bypassers. If anyone overheard this – our plan would be ruined. He told me that Friar Laurence had devised a dangerous plan, far too risky for anyone in the right mind to put into action, but already accepted by the love-bewitched Juliet who has nothing to fear.

He told me that Juliet has ingested a drug that will make her seem as though death has possessed her body, putting her into a temporary coma that’ll last for 42 hours. She will be paler than the moon, stiller than a rock and frailer than a daisy as she’ll be carried to her tomb pretending to be dead. She will be unconscious of her surroundings so Friar Laurence will have to keep a constant watch over her body in case anything unsafe occurs to her in that state.

If all goes as planned, I will make it to her burial place before the invitees arrive and she will waken to my appearance. There I will have minimal time to sneak her out of Verona to Mantua where we will live our lives undercover but together.

This is going to work – no matter how slim our chances of success are at the moment – this is going to work for there is no other option. May love give me the strength to partake in this life-threatening mission.

 

Until tomorrow,

Romeo Montague

 


 

19 March 1308 – Verona, Italy

Dear Diary,

If I’m allowed to trust what my wild dreams have told me tonight, my future will bring me unexpected joy, but if dreams are evil enough to put false hope into the minds of young beloved ones, I will no longer take notice of what other foolishness it plans on teasing me with.

As I lay resting in a bed far from my own, I dreamt that my love found me dead. I was hovering above my own corpse as if my spirit had detached from my breathless body as I witnessed her fragile figure collapse onto mine. She cried a river of tears onto my immobile body as her own shook with every ragged breath she took. Unable to float down and soothe her by proving that I’m fine, I could do nothing but watch her hopeless emotions spill out.

But it wasn’t long until she leaned in and grazed her plush lips onto mine and she breathed color into my skin and blood into my veins. She blew life into me and at that moment I opened my eyes to find her hovering above me, her eyes puffy with previous tears but prepared for another wave of them – this time of joy. Our bodies embraced each other as our lips met once more.

That’s when I woke up from the deceitful dream and when Juliet’s light figure faded with the strong dose of reality.

At first only my heart was throbbing but now my body is physically aching because of the distance between Juliet and I, and I know that I can’t wait much longer without her around.

 

Until tomorrow,

Romeo Montague

 


 

19 March 1308 – Verona, Italy

Dear Diary,

I have just heard from Friar John who spoke with informal words that were derived from his own eyes not long ago. Frantically he had spilled the news that sparked all the way from within Verona’s walls and had traveled with his fast-paced body to the spot where he stood at the moment. With as little words as possible, he brought across the point, limiting himself from going on forever before I got impatient.

He told me that Juliet’s body sleeps soundly in a tomb near the cemetery with her soul already accommodating to the life of the angels above. Peacefully she was lowered into her deathbed without the disturbance of any kind after those who had known her gathered around to say farewell.

Urgently, Friar John had rushed to come to tell me the news, but I’ve already sent him back for I have ordered him to get ready to ride back to Verona’s troublesome streets immediately before things get worse.

I have also written a letter to my dear father in which I explain what I plan on doing.

If Juliet has taken her life for mine, I will gladly do the same in return to meet her up in the clouds where our stern, opposing parents are unable to ban our everlasting love.

 

Until tomorrow,

Romeo Montague

Art Installation

Art Installation inspired by Memoir

IMG_4474

Amaia van Dommelen

Through the Lens, 2018

Cardboard, paper, metal wire, lemongrass, leather, magnifying lenses, rocks, wooden sticks and wooden dragonflies

As a little girl, most of my childhood was based in the heart of África: Rwanda, where I lived at the time. Every five weeks or so, my family would travel a path of about 30km to get to the gate of Akagera National Park, a wildlife reserve on the border of Rwanda and Tanzania. We often camped there amongst the wild animals and spent our weekends tripping around the area with our clunky Toyota Land Cruiser. One day my dad introduced me to the invisible world of critters when he gifted me a yellow magnifying cup (the same yellow-lidded cup found in the box). All the elements inside the suitcase are very tactile, representing how kinesthetic I was: the grass, the rocks, the magnifying lenses and even the wooden dragonflies. The clippings of text found throughout the suitcase are excerpts of my memoir that interweave both things together. My suitcase symbolizes how I saw the campsite as a girl, too intrigued by all the magnificent bugs to be aware of the birds and larger animals that surrounded us in the National Park.

 


Corresponding Memoir:

 

The Things I Carry

The things I carry are largely determined by necessity. Amongst my necessities or what I believe are necessities are messy bracelets, a three-year-old Casio watch, two hair ties (just in case one of them decides to break), a red swiss army knife, a complete deck of cards, my Apple earbuds, thoughts I keep to myself, a pack of tic tacs, and a 50 spf bottle of sunscreen.

I carry my tight braid down my neck with the same loose strands of baby hair at the top that I always tuck behind my ears. I carry my dad’s cute little nose, his dirty blond hair and his almond-shaped eyes with the mixture of my mom’s laugh, smile, and her gaze. I carry my mom’s rhythm and feet that tingle whenever music springs to life, urging me to move. I carry my little wrists with twiggy fingers that are ideal for precise tasks and I carry my sturdy legs that support my body and can withstand days of hiking.

All I carried as a kid was limited by the size of my own palms. I carried pretty seashells from the long walks across the Basque shores with my grandma, I carried smooth pebbles or lucky pennies I would find on the sidewalks, I carried colorful leaves that had fallen to the ground from the trees above. All fourteen of my stuffed animals, I carried, each named and taken care of as if they were real pets. I also carried my magnifying cup everywhere I went. That was the object I used the most.

••••

While my dad always kept his head high up in the clouds, I was always busy burying my nose under the grass and soil beneath our own feet. Right before our trip to Mutumba Hills, my dad had gifted me a teleportation device that allowed me to shrink down to the same size of the critters that were concealed by the blades of grass, petals, twigs, that no one bothered to notice. A plastic cup, nothing spectacular, just a plastic cup with a magnifying glass on the top. The lid was a pale yellow and the plastic was molded into a flower form with large petals that suck out just a bit on the edge of the container. Nothing too fancy. Trapping bugs, or “bichos” as Ama would call them, in the container just to examine them, was all I did as a little girl on the top of this hill. A plastic cup with miniature black markings that indicated size was what it was.

Eight pointy legs with a little abdomen and an even smaller head. Eight matching eyes, beady and shallow, with superficial intelligence, positioned one above another. Four blue blotches stained its body that was black everywhere else, black, like the color of the unharmed night sky, black, like my mom’s trimmed hair, black.

Aita had shown me his magnificent encyclopedia of bugs & buzzers & beetles. Page after page he’d flip with his coarse fingers, each new one revealing a close-up photo of a beetle or a bug or a buzzer, mid-action shot, as if it just froze in space and time and would never be able to reach the next flower or leaf. Never again to come to life. Colors stained my fingers, clothes, eyes, tinting my vision with hues so contrast I thought I’d go blind.

Identical to a twig, it balanced itself to the best of its abilities to try convince me that it was somehow just a simple stick with legs. But it didn’t fool me, for I knew this critter only wanted to camouflage into its surroundings that were conveniently not there, making it look dumb in a way.

It was finding them, that was the hard part of this process. Finding the bugs that needed to blend into their environment in order to survive, and if they didn’t do that job properly, well, that was the end of that. Either their predator would come, or they’d be lucky enough and a little boy or girl like me would capture them with their curiosity only to release them a few moments later back into the safety of a bush or tree.

Its uncomfortable studs as legs bent in awkward ways as the critter stumbled around in the transparent container. Its flossy armor returned an ancient emerald green into the palid world of Akagera, made of mainly yellows and browns as if burnt to crisp by the flaring sun. Without a neck, the head stuck from under its wings timidly wishing it could retract into the safety of its armor.

“Amaia!”

It waddled back and forth, trying to find its way out of the invisible force it was enclosed by that was somehow keeping it in.

“Look up here! It’s another weaver bird with its yellow belly and wings – it’s making a snake-proof nest.”

Its minuscule head seemed to tilt slightly as if inspecting its surroundings, trying to understand a concept far too complex for its tiny brain to wrap around.

“Look! It’s a weaver bird with its yellow wings – it’s making its snake-proof nest.”

“Amaia! Come look!”

“Quickly, or it’ll fly away!”

••••

What I carried varied from day to day. Three out of the five days I would carry my bulky rubber and rope bracelets. I usually forgot them at home or would lose them for a week before finding them in my bag or in my desk at home. Two out of the seven days I would carry a bandana with doggie bones or with flowers on them; the bandana-phase was what my mom called it where all I would wear where those pieces of cloths on my forehead as if I were a three-year-old. Only once a week I would carry a necklace only to hide it in my shirt for one reason or another, but one thing I carried every single day was the thought of learning something new in school. I loved coming home and telling my dad and mom about how time travel exists or about how long a tortoise can live in the wild; 100 – 150 long years.

I carried the fascination of unexplainable phenomenons or riddles that no one could answer and the characteristic of it being unknown was what intrigued me the most. Pondering about these mysteries I would dream for hours off-end with my dad of what the truth could entail. I carried National Geographic Kids magazines that would talk about these mysteries: The disappearances in The Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster, The Walking Stones in Australia; these myths where what fueled my imagination as a little girl. I carried a box of magic tricks that promised anyone could be a magician but must’ve forgotten to mention me as the exception. I carried my grandma’s mystical rainstick that I was convinced was a pure form of magic when I played with it.

••••

There it leaned, against the Guatemalan tapestry that clad the Spanish walls of Amama’s apartment, her evidence of having escaped the safe borders of her hometown and out into the land beyond. It leaned against dynamic colors-reds and blues and greens and yellows-that intertwined and netted her latin memories into the home she so dearly cared for. If her husband were still alive, he would’ve taken it down by now and would’ve replaced it with an abstract work of art in shades of blues and purples, showing nothing but an eerie agony she always hated in him. But there it hung, securely, knowing he wouldn’t ever take it down.

A pipe at most, from the outside at least, wooden but with a polished texture, too glossy for it to be genuine wood from a forest. Tiny knobs poked out on the sides randomly which made it look like it was sprinkled with black polka dots or little droplets. It wasn’t until I asked Amama what it was that I found out what this magical instrument could really do.

Dusk, maybe 9 pm, the sun took forever to settle under the skyline but it finally did and the apartment began to glow with its yellow lights my grandma adored. Ama was outside with her old friends. Aita was somewhere near her, laughing loudly and telling them about our family adventures and how he had three kiddos. Amama was tucking Kepa and Unai into bed, reading them a bedtime story with her soothing voice that would lull them to sleep.

Clad in my long-sleeved PJs I sat on the carpeted hallway, criss-cross applesauce, facing the rainstick that just leaned lonely against a corner of two walls. The door to their room was shut and my ears couldn’t even pick up the slightest whisper from the other side.

Curiously I reached for the rainstick and flipped it upside down quickly, just to lean it back against the wall to pull back my hands in an instant and allow the magic to take place.

Instantaneously a noise filled my ears soft at first, like a hum, but became louder as the seconds passed by. The noise became a rattlesnake with its dense eyes and its maraca tail that shook back and forth hastily with its split red tongue that could smell me standing in the same hallway. The noise started growing louder and louder as the snake grew three times in size. All of a sudden, the snake swiftly hid under the rug for the numbing noise became a thunderstorm, pounding its millions of droplets onto the floor, penetrating the wood with an unthinkable fury. Afraid I’d become deaf I covered my ears with my hands but kept looking at the furious downpour that was taking place before me. The noise kept going until it calmed down, slowly coming to an end as it formed a smoldering fireplace with a heap of wood that was crackling under the touch of the flames as they licked the wood that forced them to break under their own weight. And that was when it stopped.

I sat still for just a bit to listen to the dead silence in my grandma’s little house. I still didn’t hear a peep from behind the bedroom door. Not even the radio was on in the kitchen, something that I thought was built into the apartment walls permanently. And then I’d do it all again.

Magic was what it hid within. A magic that made me believe until my father killed it by telling me how it really worked. Hollow was what it was on the inside, home to millions of pebbles or kernels or beads – no one really knew – that would trickle down the tube when flipped hitting hundreds of horizontal rods or pins to make a noise similar to the numbing sound of rain. After that, the rattlesnake never returned and the thunderstorms never formed in the hallway nor did the fireplace appear any time soon.

But, there it leaned, against a corner of the hallway, one wall bare, the other coated in the Guatemalan tapestry of Amama’s apartment; the rainstick.

••••

The things I carried depended on my age. At 5 I started by carrying snuffy around: my worn out stuffed animal I dragged my entire life by one of its four old paws, as well as Duplo blocks, chupetes, my brother’s baby toys and colorful crayons I would use to draw abstract pictures with. Before then I never carried anything long enough to remember apart from my stringy bangs that were left behind for a good reason. At 6 I carried ziplock bags everywhere I’d go. Ziplocks with those sticky cheerios, or salty pretzels or even fresh apple slices my parents would prepare for me to bring to school and munch up. Ziplocks was all I knew of at that age.

7 years old was when I started carrying a dangerous amount of Silly Bands on both arms: those colorful rubber bands that were all unique shapes and colors that choked my arms leaving red marks I simply ignored. Silly Bands were what we traded as kids in the playground during recess time and the more you had, the cooler you were. Then I was 8, and I started carrying my mom’s habit of wandering around the house aimlessly with a toothbrush in my mouth as a behavioral inheritance, while my dad just stood in front of the mirror complaining how pointless it is to do so. 9 years went by too fast to remember, apart from a few cookie cutters and playdoh. 10 years was when I carried both hands up in the air exposing all the little fingers on my hands to prove I had finally made it to double digits.

And when I finally got my Apple iPod Touch I knew I was 11, old enough to carry addictive childhood apps like Temple Run and Dumb Ways to Die that I would play with my school friends in fifth grade. Before I knew it, I was 12 and I carried a large appetite everywhere I went. I carried the age of a teenager at 13, but felt nothing different than twelve. At 14 I started carrying my name proudly telling everyone that I’d never wish to change it. And 15 is the age I carry to this day knowing nothing better than to wait and see what’ll carry next.  

The Things I Carry

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The things I carry are largely determined by necessity. Amongst my necessities or what I believe are necessities are messy bracelets, a three-year-old Casio watch, two hair ties (just in case one of them decides to break), a red swiss army knife, a complete deck of cards, my Apple earbuds, thoughts I keep to myself, a pack of Tic-Tacs, and a 50 spf bottle of sunscreen.

I carry my tight braid down my neck with the same loose strands of baby hair at the top that I always tuck behind my ears. I carry my dad’s cute little nose, his dirty blond hair and his almond-shaped eyes with the mixture of my mom’s laugh, smile, and her gaze. I carry my mom’s rhythm and feet that tingle whenever music springs to life, urging me to move. I carry my little wrists with twiggy fingers that are ideal for precise tasks and I carry my sturdy legs that support my body and can withstand days of hiking.

All I carried as a kid was limited by the size of my own palms. I carried pretty seashells from the long walks across the Basque shores with my grandma, I carried smooth pebbles or lucky pennies I would find on the sidewalks, I carried colorful leaves that had fallen to the ground from the trees above. All fourteen of my stuffed animals, I carried, each named and taken care of as if they were real pets. I also carried my magnifying cup everywhere I went. That was the object I used the most.

••••

While my dad always kept his head high up in the clouds, I was always busy burying my nose under the grass and soil beneath our own feet. Right before our trip to Mutumba Hills, my dad had gifted me a teleportation device that allowed me to shrink down to the same size of the critters that were concealed by the blades of grass, petals, twigs, that no one bothered to notice. A plastic cup, nothing spectacular, just a plastic cup with a magnifying glass on the top. The lid was a pale yellow and the plastic was molded into a flower form with large petals that suck out just a bit on the edge of the container. Nothing too fancy. Trapping bugs, or “bichos” as Ama would call them, in the container just to examine them, was all I did as a little girl on the top of this hill. A plastic cup with miniature black markings that indicated size was what it was.

Eight pointy legs with a little abdomen and an even smaller head. Eight matching eyes, beady and shallow, with superficial intelligence, positioned one above another. Four blue blotches stained its body that was black everywhere else, black, like the color of the unharmed night sky, black, like my mom’s trimmed hair, black.

Aita had shown me his magnificent encyclopedia of bugs & buzzers & beetles. Page after page he’d flip with his coarse fingers, each new one revealing a close-up photo of a beetle or a bug or a buzzer, mid-action shot, as if it just froze in space and time and would never be able to reach the next flower or leaf. Never again to come to life. Colors stained my fingers, clothes, eyes, tinting my vision with hues so contrast I thought I’d go blind.

Identical to a twig, it balanced itself to the best of its abilities to try convince me that it was somehow just a simple stick with legs. But it didn’t fool me, for I knew this critter only wanted to camouflage into its surroundings that were conveniently not there, making it look dumb in a way.

It was finding them, that was the hard part of this process. Finding the bugs that needed to blend into their environment in order to survive, and if they didn’t do that job properly, well, that was the end of that. Either their predator would come, or they’d be lucky enough and a little boy or girl like me would capture them with their curiosity only to release them a few moments later back into the safety of a bush or tree.

Its uncomfortable studs as legs bent in awkward ways as the critter stumbled around in the transparent container. Its flossy armor returned an ancient emerald green into the palid world of Akagera, made of mainly yellows and browns as if burnt to crisp by the flaring sun. Without a neck, the head stuck from under its wings timidly wishing it could retract into the safety of its armor.

“Amaia!”

It waddled back and forth, trying to find its way out of the invisible force it was enclosed by that was somehow keeping it in.

“Look up here! It’s another weaver bird with its yellow belly and wings – it’s making a snake-proof nest.”

Its minuscule head seemed to tilt slightly as if inspecting its surroundings, trying to understand a concept far too complex for its tiny brain to wrap around.

“Look! It’s a weaver bird with its yellow wings – it’s making its snake-proof nest.”

“Amaia! Come look!”

“Quickly, or it’ll fly away!”

••••

What I carried varied from day to day. Three out of the five days I would carry my bulky rubber and rope bracelets. I usually forgot them at home or would lose them for a week before finding them in my bag or in my desk at home. Two out of the seven days I would carry a bandana with doggie bones or with flowers on them; the bandana-phase was what my mom called it where all I would wear where those pieces of cloths on my forehead as if I were a three-year-old. Only once a week I would carry a necklace only to hide it in my shirt for one reason or another, but one thing I carried every single day was the thought of learning something new in school. I loved coming home and telling my dad and mom about how time travel exists or about how long a tortoise can live in the wild; 100 – 150 long years.

I carried the fascination of unexplainable phenomenons or riddles that no one could answer and the characteristic of it being unknown was what intrigued me the most. Pondering about these mysteries I would dream for hours off end with my dad of what the truth could entail. I carried National Geographic Kids magazines that would talk about these mysteries: The disappearances in The Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster, The Walking Stones in Australia; these myths where what fueled my imagination as a little girl. I carried a box of magic tricks that promised anyone could be a magician but must’ve forgotten to mention me as the exception. I carried my grandma’s mystical rainstick that I was convinced was a pure form of magic when I played with it.

••••

There it leaned, against the Guatemalan tapestry that clad the Spanish walls of Amama’s apartment, her evidence of having escaped the safe borders of her hometown and out into the land beyond. It leaned against dynamic colors-reds and blues and greens and yellows-that intertwined and netted her latin memories into the home she so dearly cared for. If her husband were still alive, he would’ve taken it down by now and would’ve replaced it with an abstract work of art in shades of blues and purples, showing nothing but an eerie agony she always hated in him. But there it hung, securely, knowing he wouldn’t ever take it down.

A pipe at most, from the outside at least, wooden but with a polished texture, too glossy for it to be genuine wood from a forest. Tiny knobs poked out on the sides randomly which made it look like it was sprinkled with black polka dots or little droplets. It wasn’t until I asked Amama what it was that I found out what this magical instrument could really do.

Dusk, maybe 9 pm, the sun took forever to settle under the skyline but it finally did and the apartment began to glow with its yellow lights my grandma adored. Ama was outside with her old friends. Aita was somewhere near her, laughing loudly and telling them about our family adventures and how he had three kiddos. Amama was tucking Kepa and Unai into bed, reading them a bedtime story with her soothing voice that would lull them to sleep.

Clad in my long-sleeved PJs I sat on the carpeted hallway, criss-cross applesauce, facing the rainstick that just leaned lonely against a corner of two walls. The door to their room was shut and my ears couldn’t even pick up the slightest whisper from the other side.

Curiously I reached for the rainstick and flipped it upside down quickly, just to lean it back against the wall to pull back my hands in an instant and allow the magic to take place.

Instantaneously a noise filled my ears soft at first, like a hum, but became louder as the seconds passed by. The noise became a rattlesnake with its dense eyes and its maraca tail that shook back and forth hastily with its split red tongue that could smell me standing in the same hallway. The noise started growing louder and louder as the snake grew three times in size. All of a sudden, the snake swiftly hid under the rug for the numbing noise became a thunderstorm, pounding its millions of droplets onto the floor, penetrating the wood with an unthinkable fury. Afraid I’d become deaf I covered my ears with my hands but kept looking at the furious downpour that was taking place before me. The noise kept going until it calmed down, slowly coming to an end as it formed a smoldering fireplace with a heap of wood that was crackling under the touch of the flames as they licked the wood that forced them to break under their own weight. And that was when it stopped.

I sat still for just a bit to listen to the dead silence in my grandma’s little house. I still didn’t hear a peep from behind the bedroom door. Not even the radio was on in the kitchen, something that I thought was built into the apartment walls permanently. And then I’d do it all again.

Magic was what it hid within. A magic that made me believe until my father killed it by telling me how it really worked. Hollow was what it was on the inside, home to millions of pebbles or kernels or beads – no one really knew – that would trickle down the tube when flipped hitting hundreds of horizontal rods or pins to make a noise similar to the numbing sound of rain. After that, the rattlesnake never returned and the thunderstorms never formed in the hallway nor did the fireplace appear anytime soon.

But, there it leaned, against a corner of the hallway, one wall bare, the other coated in the Guatemalan tapestry of Amama’s apartment; the rainstick.

••••

The things I carried depended on my age. At 5 I started by carrying snuffy around: my worn out stuffed animal I dragged my entire life by one of its four old paws, as well as Duplo blocks, chupetes, my brother’s baby toys and colorful crayons I would use to draw abstract pictures with. Before then I never carried anything long enough to remember apart from my stringy bangs that were left behind for a good reason. At 6 I carried ziplock bags everywhere I’d go. Ziplocks with those sticky cheerios, or salty pretzels or even fresh apple slices my parents would prepare for me to bring to school and munch up. Ziplocks was all I knew of at that age.

7 years old was when I started carrying a dangerous amount of Silly Bands on both arms: those colorful rubber bands that were all unique shapes and colors that choked my arms leaving red marks I simply ignored. Silly Bands were what we traded as kids in the playground during recess time and the more you had, the cooler you were. Then I was 8, and I started carrying my mom’s habit of wandering around the house aimlessly with a toothbrush in my mouth as a behavioral inheritance, while my dad just stood in front of the mirror complaining how pointless it is to do so. 9 years went by too fast to remember, apart from a few cookie cutters and playdoh. 10 years was when I carried both hands up in the air exposing all the little fingers on my hands to prove I had finally made it to double digits.

And when I finally got my Apple iPod Touch I knew I was 11, old enough to carry addictive childhood apps like Temple Run and Dumb Ways to Die that I would play with my school friends in fifth grade. Before I knew it, I was 12 and I carried a large appetite everywhere I went. I carried the age of a teenager at 13, but felt nothing different than twelve. At 14 I started carrying my name proudly telling everyone that I’d never wish to change it. And 15 is the age I carry to this day knowing nothing better than to wait and see what’ll carry next.  

The Things I’ve Lost

The Things I’ve Lost

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My baby grey eyes: that I was born with, quickly replaced by a hazel brown that was more of a balance between my dad’s blue and mom’s dark brown. The pancake house tokens: in our little Dutch town Uden, where eating off the kid’s menu rewarded you plastic grey coins, five per pancake, that you could trade in for a prize like a large rainbow slinky or a light-up boomerang that had an invisible guarantee of breaking after three throws. My habit of putting carrot sticks in my water to try and give it a slight flavor: a habit I learned from Zoe Goldman, my second-grade best friend, but that I stopped doing after she moved back to the states, just like the habit of eating Nutella-Butter Sandwiches. Unimportant arguments sparked by fusses with my brothers who always seemed to team up against me and shoot me down with twice as much power no matter how firmly I stood. Silly catwalks with Carmen, a close friend of mine who had beautiful curly blond hair I wished of having, a daughter of two Spanish fashion designers who took care of me as if I were their fourth child.

A flip-flop: in a small sandpit near a playground called Mama África that we used to visit ever of so often when I was building castles but then realized one of my shoes was gone. The flip-flop I had lost after having searched for half an hour straight with my friend in one of the smallest sand pits I had ever played in that had just magically swallowed my shoe and hid it so well I decided to leave with only one. My dad’s favorite frisbee (the blue one): after having thrown it as hard as I possibly could only to find itself in one of the most inconveniently tall trees in the area, impossible to climb. The silly bet I made with my Nepali friend Rivan Kayastha to see who could be the first one to climb that water tank tower, before I lost and gave him two gummy bears and a sour patch from my party bag. Quincy Jackson’s lucky marble in the gutters on a rainy day after Mr. Man’s music class where I knew he had regretted giving us those loud recorders to take home.

All my 20 baby teeth, starting with my front ones and going down the row; from when I pulled them out myself to swallowing one by accident. And then the longest nights that followed of waiting for el Ratoncito Perez to sneak into my room and trade my baby tooth for five euros – ten if I was lucky. Red heart-shaped sunglasses bedazzled with plastic gems that I only ever wore once for a picture before losing it in a family friend’s house. Every single game of chess against my brother, or dad, or uncle or even my mom’s cousin, Angel. A pinky toenail when I was running around my Rwandan yard and I banged it insanely hard on a corner of our porch while playing tag in the dark with my friends, all barefoot, by the way. The times when all we would do was catch grasshoppers: during recess and give them dumb names like Bouncy or Jumpy.

The belief that Sinterklaas was real and would come to our house to gift us sacks of presents every eve on December 5th, conveniently when family members or guests were visiting with suspiciously large suitcases. My voice at 10: when I stayed up the entire night for the first time in my life, singing along to songs loudly and gulping down candy as if it were caffeine, hoping the sugar rush would help us battle the sleep. My love for Shrek, the movies: as I would watch them over and over again at the age of 5 for an entire year as if I hadn’t seen it twenty times before. An anklet: all the way from the heart of Guatemala from when my mom bought them for her own friends that she never ended up giving them to when she was about my age.

The chance to apologize to my brother when I made him cry not so long ago just because I was in a bad mood myself and knew nothing better than to blame him for it. My love for the Phineas and Ferb soundtracks that I would dance to violently as a little girl, on our African balcony that was coated in those two red, fuzzy mats we had bought at Ikea the summer before. The sleepovers at Octavie Drevon’s French house that had walls that smelled like tobacco and where we played Fireboy and Watergirl for hours off end on her old Windows computer she probably still has. My mind when I thought my youngest brother disappeared in a fair in England that seemed to have more people than attractions after having let go of his hand by accident, but luckily finding him after only five minutes.

The thought that my mom lived an ordinary life: 1987, when she graduated from the only Experimental School run by nuns in Guatemala at the time, 1991, when she marched down the spanish streets, when she fought for her own rights as a woman, 1996, when her dad died of a heart attack while she was on holiday in Bolivia, 1998, when she made her way onto the front cover of a newspaper titled FIRST 9 BASQUE STUDENTS SENT OFF INTO THE WORLD ABROAD, 1999, when she found my dad in the middle of Haiti.

The thought that my dad lived an ordinary life: 1982 at the age of 17, when he decided to hitch hike alone around France, not knowing a single word in French, in order to learn their language, 1984 the year he underwent heavy back surgery after breaking a disk from his spinal cord only at the age of 19 as a result of his passion for volleyball, 1987, when he bought a ticket from China to Germany with his last 200 dollars to board the Trans Siberian Express in hopes of getting home safely, 1990, when he crossed the desert with one of his old girlfriends in a Peugeot 504, only to have it break down in the middle of nowhere where he by coincidence found another dutch couple and met Pepe, his closest friend to this day.

The thought I lived an ordinary life: way before I ventured out into poor communities that made up the Rwandan suburbs and I met little boys and girls like me that had to walk a dangerous amount of hours a day just to collect water in gericans. Boys and girls that didn’t go to school because they had to care for their baby siblings or help their parents. The thought of us being so different, until I realized that after all, we both had goats and chickens to look after at home.

Happening Truth / Story Truth

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A short story based on “The Man I Killed” from the Things they carried.


 

Midnight Fantasies

 

Like a majestic queen, she glided into her room with her head cocked upwards as if there were something on the ceiling apart from the ordinary leakage stains she wishes she could get rid of. Despite the risky heels supporting her figure, she manages to balance her entire body with a grace many ice skaters aspire to have. She takes two long steps and two short ones followed by another long one and then two short again. Her pace is like a dance as if she twirled around the room to a song no one could hear. Her hair was pulled up in a suffocating bun, restraining even the slightest strands of hair to peak up from the neat hairstyle, giving her an image of tidiness and formality. Smooth spotless skin, several shades darker than my own, made her lively eyes and vibrant smile stand out even more.

She had been one of many daughters, maybe, with another older brother and a younger one somewhere in between. Yet she never talked about them. Being one of the many children in a family meant competition. Nothing was truly yours until you bought it yourself. That’s why she secretly saved up money to buy what she’s wished for so long. It was the same smile she had worn as a girl the day she finally broke her piggy bank to realize she had saved enough money to buy herself her favorite band’s CD, at $14.99 only. Money she had earned through household chores, selling homemade brownies and washing her neighbor’s navy blue car once or twice. That unmistakable smile that sprung to life when she finally turned in the wrinkled bills and a few stray coins along with them in order to purchase the CD from the sketchy man in the corner store her mom warned her about. Maybe it was that same smile that she still wore to this day.

Silver hoops hung from her pierced earlobes that seemed weightless and elegant dangling on both sides of her face, giving her an impressive sense of symmetry. She wore risky, forest-green high heels that seemed as if they’d smell like pine trees and that matched her green top exposing both bare shoulders. Her head was still cocked upwards as if there were something apart from those leakage stains on the ceiling that looked like coffee stains she was so familiar with. Around her neck, a thin chain necklace shone brightly when the light caught it exactly at an angle, flaring its golden color against her smooth brown skin.

She had gotten the necklace from her best friend in New York twenty years ago as a lucky charm for their futures apart. She used to call her every Sunday morning while having breakfast just to catch up on things and talk about whatever seemed to be on their minds. But one day, her friend vanished off the face of the earth. Texts never reached her phone, calls were always missed and all her accounts ceased working. For fifteen years now she has been looking for her, through family members and friends, yet no one seems to know where she could possibly be. But every time she touches her golden chain necklace she feels as though her friend is looking for her too, somewhere. It was as if serendipity was playing a game on them as if they were trying to find their way back to each other but following two parallel paths that would never cross. The necklace was all she had left and all that kept her going.

She danced around the hexagonal tables positioned in her room, lined with plastic-metal blue chairs around them, with each a white lantern suspended from the ceiling that emitted a soft yellow glow. Around the furniture she glided, like a majestic queen or swan until she found her way to her lofty, black wheelie chair. You knew she was coming by the unmistakable sound of her heels clicking on the tile floor. She flicked up her MacBook air to kick off her day at work by reading the morning announcements aloud. She rubbed her hands together patiently as if soothing herself or warming them up for something. The same hands that had a secret talent of composing fascinating works of art with the medium of the English Language.

She carried around a crimson-red notebook. It was with her at all times. When one was filled, she’d replace it with another one: the same crimson-red color as the one before. It was midnight fantasies that she wrote in these, fantasies that only ever came to her after the clock struck 12. In them, she’d write about dreams and fictive stories about herself in alternate universes where “what ifs” were all she needed to mold the storylines for her imagination. Some were about her years as a little girl, the memories she had kept, others about her daughters and sons and about how much she’d wish for them to never leave her side. She lived in these fantasies, a world to all to herself. A world she’d never share with another. These midnight fantasies were what kept her up all night and were the ones to blame for the tired eyes she’d waken with a bit of makeup the next morning.

“Have a marvelous Monday, boys and girls,” she spoke with a clear crisp voice as light as feathers. Her hair was pulled up in a bun, restraining the smallest hairs from peeking up, giving her an image of tidiness and formality she met as a teacher. Her smooth spotless skin that covered her face, made her lively eyes, fogged up by all her dreams, and vibrant smile stand out even more. Her manicured fingers scurried over the keyboard before looking to dismiss us with a wink and a matching smile that bared her white teeth, blinding almost, in such a mellow room with lanterns that emitted a soft yellow glow.

She was a spitting image of her mother who had the same bold teeth and structured face, the defined cheekbones and arched eyebrows. The only physical characteristic she had inherited from her father was his hair, luscious black, easily tangled. Oh, and his humor, of course. His laughter. His jokes. She carried his clever way of mixing words and forming puns just to make others chuckle. She carried her mother’s manners: the nodding, the precise grammar, the agreeing politely – all of it. But she also carried her mother’s habit of misplacing things and losing them just to find them in the last place she’d think possible long after she needed them.

She remained seated in her lofty black wheelie chair, taking all the pressure off her risky high heels, that she somehow managed to balance her entire body on, and onto the spring in her spinning seat. Her suffocating bun pulled her hair back tightly as if there were a string at the end of it that tugged her upwards, like a puppet or something. Maybe that’s the reason why her head was always slightly cocked upwards. She rubbed her hands together again, taking a break from the keyboard, as if she needed to think twice or as if hesitating about something she wrote.

Despite her presence at school and the hundreds of students buzzing around her workspace at all times, she sometimes longs to be left alone. Longs of having time to herself, time to write more midnight fantasies. Her body might be at the desk checking emails and grading papers independently, but I knew her mind was secretly in another world, somewhere far away from where she currently sat.

 

 


 

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Tisha Meadows

Amama

Want to hear me read my memoir? – click here for the audiobook

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Lunar

“Maybe you’ll become an astronaut, algún día,” Amama insisted, stroking my cheek lightly with her delicate, aged fingers. Her loving eyes dug deep into mine, reflecting what once was a vibrant, youthful child but is now nothing but an exhausted and worn skeleton of who she used to be. Who she wishes to still be. Only when she smiles could one see the child in her glow again.

We were talking about my birthmark; the one on my face. My grandmother traced it with her soft fingertips, luring my eyes into hers.

“You’ll fly up in a rocket ship and be the first mujer to set foot on la luna.” Her soothing rhythmic words filled my ears, my eyes, mouth, throat, heart. She had a harp instead of lungs that produced notes too pure for ears to take in. I lay there beside her on the couch, nothing but a six-year-old girl who lived by a beautiful basque name, a language older than the pyramids, more ancient than the Colosseum, almost as antique as the stars in the sky. Basque, a near-extinct language we have to preserve, Amama says, a language we should adopt as our own secret one, she keeps telling me. My eyes listened, but my ears were too distracted by her melodious voice.

Like a red smudge from the corner of my eye down to my lip, my birthmark covers some of my right cheek. “Mancha,” I used to insist, “Stain,” as if I could just wipe it off with a wet towel. “Mancha roja.” But Amama would always correct me: “Lunar, Amaia, lunar precioso.”

“You’ll be la primera to discover the dark side of la luna, la primera who dares to do so.” she continued. Her finger became warm on my cheek, but a pleasant kind of warm. A warmth that I knew radiated from within her frail body.

Like a river that cascades down my face, my birthmark flows from the tear gland of my eye, downwards, to end up feeding my mouth like a tributary. It forms a red moon that curves down my cheekbone and that’s where all these fantasies came from; the red moon.

We were lying on the red couch she’s had for too long with peculiar stains that no one could explain. The t.v. was on but only for the sake of replacing the emptiness of the streets during the hour of la siesta. Amama would pick up the hesitation in my childish eyes. “Pero, te lo digo, Amaia, you have some sort of a connection with the moon.”

I believed her then, that I would go up into the great unknown and make her proud someday. I believed her when she said I would be able to talk with extraterrestrial beings because of the moon on my face. I still believed her when she said I would discover something phenomenal as a groundbreaking scientist someday, a scientist by the beautiful Basque name of my own, but the older I grew, the more these fantasies faded.

“Believe me, yo soy tú Amama y Amamas saben todo.”

 

Atrapasueños

Ever since I was little, I had trouble sleeping at night. I hated closing my eyes, afraid to sacrifice myself to the monsters that would chase me and tease me by pulling my long hair or poking me with their elongated, twisted fingers; the same monsters that came up from under my bed and out of my closet after the lights died out and my parents kissed me goodnight.

Unable to sleep, I would slip into my parent’s room, after only ten minutes of struggling with the scary beasts that conquered my imagination, hugging my blanket tightly and dragging it along the floor like a rag.

“No puedo dormir – I can’t sleep,” I would often whimper, standing at the foot of my parents’ king-size bed hoping that they’d protect me from my own thoughts and embrace me like they so often did. ∞

∞ “Mira Amaia,” Amama one day told me. It was one of those Sunday mornings where everyone would just ignore the early sunshine knocking at the door and roll over as if it would go away. It was the plague of the laziness that Sundays cast on the entire family, except for my dad, of course, whom I was convinced was the one who shooed the moon away and reminded the sun to rise in the mornings.

Amama shuffled to the breakfast table, revealing a stunning tangle of threads and leather and feathers and beads that formed something magical called un atrapasueños. Even its name sounded like something found in fairy tales.

“Esto,” she beckoned at the dreamcatcher with her eyes, “Esto es un atrapasueños.” Tempting to touch it, my fingers fiddled with the fine feathers as I continued listening to what my grandmother wanted to tell me. The circular frame was crafted with fragile fingers that were skilled at braiding and intertwining threads. The brown leather that bound the strings and wood together had small imperfections that only critics would be able to pick out.

“Y es algo mágico – And it’s something magical,” she would explain.

Aita, was at the table as well, partially ignoring us, still too early for him to interact with others. I could tell he had been up for hours, despite the fact that it was only seven thirty in the morning. He wore his flimsy glasses that clung to his large nose. The same glasses that he only ever wore when reading a good book or watching a nerve-racking soccer game on television. Glasses that I thought made him look older, but he’d claim older wasn’t the right word, but wiser. It would make him look wiser.

My brothers and mother were still lost in the world of dreams when Amama continued talking about el atrapasueños.

“Viene all the way from el País Vasco,” she stated, pleased to see I was already astonished by this gift.

“If you hang this above your bed, right where your head rests on your pillow, it will collect all those bad dreams of yours and only allow the good ones to get to you,” she spoke in a Latin-derived language I had learned through listening and repeating.

“De verdad?” I would more or less whisper to myself, questioning my wise grandmother’s words. My eyes drew the weblike threading in my head, tracing it with my eyes, over and over again, as if it were a labyrinth with no escape. The plastic beads matched the white thread and brown leather, adorning the gift with a glossy texture alongside the plush feathers. Gingerly, I brought it to my room, laying it on the neatly-made covers I was bound to sleep in that night. ∞

 ∞  Nightfall took its time, but when it finally arrived with its familiar pale moon and sparkly stars, I hung el atrapasueños carefully above my bed, just as Amama explained. Clad in my space-themed PJs with planets and green aliens, I got into bed all by myself, waiting for my parents to come in and switch off the lights. So they did, and as they kissed me goodnight, I closed my eyes like I did every night but this time allowed the darkness to envelop me without straining myself against it. Knowing the magic of el atrapasueños would shield me, I allowed the darkness to lull me to sleep and tuck me in. At last finding peace with what scared me most, I was finally able to sleep without my childish fears coming to life. ∞

∞ Even to this day, you can still find the same atrapasueños hung above my bed with its stunning tangle of threads and leather and feathers and beads, just the way I got it seven years ago from Amama.

 

El Puente

It was one of those summer nights where darkness came too late without an excuse, three hours behind the agreed schedule. The moon was still nowhere to be seen, as if this night forgot to bring it along. The black curtain that was drawn over the sky grew glistening stars, sprinkling the night with glitter that illuminated the dark space it was enclosed by. Down on the earth below, the colors grew dull and blunt as the light vanished with the disappearing sun. In no time, the street lights flickered on emitting a warm yellowness onto the stone cold floors.

The river below bathed in blurry colors that danced to the rhythm of the current, back and forth back and forth like a group of folks dancing Jauziak. Yellow dots floated on the surface, mimicking the glow of streetlights on the sidewalk above. Like fireworks, the colors blended and fused together which made the water take form and come alive as if there was a massive fish, playing in the waves. The coarse stone blocks fought back the playful waves that attempted to climb them as they stood firmly, supervising the river below.

There we were, grandmother and granddaughter, embracing each other with our interlocked arms like two penguins that cuddled for heat. Despite the livelihood of the city around us at this time of night, only the streets echoed the faraway voices of young couples at bars or coworkers inviting each other over for another glass. Before us, a sleepy bridge stretched into the grainy sky, unbothered to even acknowledge us, knowing we were anything but a threat. The suspended cables split the background in fragments like a kaleidoscope, but lacking the figurative color. We were walking across one of the countless bridges found in Bilbao, for the sake of satisfying our sense of savoring the sweet summer air. One of the countless bridges that provided passage for the civilians that needed to cross over a timid river that sliced the landscape in two.

The howling wind licked our faces, leaving droplets of dew from the damp air that lingered around our hometown all year round. With our sweaters hugging our waists, we kept embracing each other, until Amama’s voice interrupted the night’s song.

“No quiero ser vieja, Amaia, I don’t wanna be old,” she sighs. She stopped in her path, finally stilling her worn out legs after a lifetime of non-stop moving. Her eyes glistened, cuddled by her wrinkled skin on her face that stretches out when she smiles. Her mouth was pulled in an awkward grimace that made me wonder whether she was smiling or in pain.

I tried slipping my hand out of hers, but she held on firmly, unwilling to let me go, as if I would just run away or something absurd like that. I could hear the sorrow in her wasted voice as she pronounced those unsteady words that crumbled off her thin lips but penetrated my wobbly heart. The wind kept howling as we stood there, grandmother and granddaughter, but this time facing each other like opponents in a boxing ring.

Unsure how to respond, I just took in the sadness that transmitted through her tight grip, hoping it would ease some of hers. Unable to control my reaction I knew nothing better than to allow my eyes to swell up and form pools of water that blurred my vision of her sorry face. I still don’t know to this day where these tears came from, but all I knew is that I couldn’t bare to see my bright-spirited grandmother’s face intoxicated by misery, a true kind of misery.

Realizing that she’d opened up just a little too much to her naive granddaughter, her gaze apologized instantaneously, hiding her grief behind another mask. She frantically cut off the heartache flowing through our connected fingers and pulled me in for a tight hug. She blinked away a tear or two but none followed after those, settling in the back of her eyes for another day. There we were, grandmother and granddaughter, embracing each other once more on one of the countless bridges found in our hometown, suspended above the timid river that sliced the landscape in two.

 

Para Siempre

“Can I tell you something,” Amama will say out of nowhere while folding clothes or reading a book or even finishing a crossword puzzle. Her dainty glasses would balance on the edge of her pointy nose, praying not to fall off and shatter into millions of pieces.

“Claro,” I’ll respond.

“You know I love you, right? Te quiero más que cualquier cosa en el planeta.” She’ll pause whatever she’s doing, whether it’s the dishes that she’s cleaning or my brushing my luscious hair, she’ll just look up at me with her pleasant smile. She says it often as if it just would come to her mind and she needed to remind me, just in case I would forget.

I’ll just grin, bearing my pearly white teeth in response, once wonky, but now corrected by metal wires and cables, and let out a sigh, “Si, of course I know that, Amama.”

“Bien. Because I’ll love you para siempre.”

Native Hounds and Termite Mounds

Want to hear me read my memoir? – click here for the audiobook

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A Toyota Land Cruiser was the way we drove around the rutted roads, with potholes punctured into the unpaved paths that belonged to the Land of a Thousand Hills. With a V8 gasoline engine and the 32 valves, the motor hummed, gnarled, growled at the passers-bys as it consumed the road underneath it. Kilometer upon kilometer of uneven roads, terrible weather and at either dusk or dawn, our Toyota Land Cruiser persistently moved forward, confident to get to its next destination.

Riding it was like taming a wild horse, passengers always clinging onto the back of the leather-covered seats, afraid to be thrown off. Their nails dug deep into the grey coating which left scratch marks, as if we kept a vicious dog in the back. Anxious of being eaten alive by the monster of a car we had, they would always restrain their bodies and buckle down, even though we were missing a seat belt somewhere in the back. Our Toyota Land Cruiser never liked newcomers. At first sight, the bulky car would intimidate anyone in the right mind, but beneath the layers of paint and metal scrap, our Toyota was nothing but a playful cub.

Nothing but a child myself, I got along with our Toyota. I liked being tossed around in the boot, permitting myself to move with the vehicle. It gave me bruises, scars and even punched out my tooth once, but it made me feel free and wild for the first time. Like a lullaby, the constant twitching and wriggling of our Toyota would rock me to sleep as though soothing a baby.

Like a loyal companion, trustworthy dog, our Toyota Land Cruiser lived up to its name. Despite making a weird rattling noise that came somewhere below the engine, and the manual gearbox hissing violently every time my dad forced it into fourth gear, this wild beast we were all so fond of stayed intact and never disappointed us.

Once, a long time ago, our Toyota Land Cruiser had guided us to Akagera, a national park situated somewhere in Rwanda, the heart of África, right where my heart was at that point. Without a GPS, we miraculously drove the mischievous car into kilometers of unknown roads, some paved by hand, others barely even considered a road. With my dad’s foot never leaving the pedal, the car eagerly urged forward as we clung onto the beast, unfolding dusty, abused maps that were designed to lose people who settled to used them.

Every time we were confronted with an unexpected intersection, Ama would bury her long, Spanish-inherited nose, that she was always self-conscious about as a teen, into the map, studying it thoroughly. The stuffy smell of the untouched map teased our noses, tickling our senses, almost like payback for not having used it in an eternity. Impatiently, our Toyota would be jerked to a halt, but only briefly before it would fight back against my dad’s grasp. Somehow my dad would manage to keep it under control, though.

After three minutes of obnoxious yapping that came from three childish mouths in the back row, Ama would sigh, tuck the map away and hope we would somehow find our way to Mutumba Hills, our destination. Taking a wild guess, the car seemed to take hold of the steering wheel as it stuck to a random side, as though it knew exactly where to go.

After an hour of swatting horseflies, asking if we were there yet, and listening to rustic music from our age-old iPod (The Beach Boys and Earth, Wind & Fire on repeat) our Toyota came to a halt. I remember lifting myself up on the rim of the window with the little strength I had and peering curiously for the first time into the framed painting that replaced the window on my side of the car. A yellow-tinged tapestry was weaved together with the pale, glossy blue sky that seemed to never end. The same kind of blue that I then realized filled my dad’s eyes, a perfect match. No wonder, though, because this is where he belonged, after all.

The humming of the satisfied engine died out without a complaint, and our Toyota was finally able to rest, our little cub worn out of the four-hour car ride, ready for a nap. The exhausted pup let us unload ourselves and our heavy belongings without even a grunt. Before it could start snoring, my dad pat it proudly on the muzzle, hard as rock but as sensible as skin, to thank it. I could’ve sworn he murmured something under his breath, a few words of gratitude, speaking to the car in a harsh language it wouldn’t understand in the first place.

I tugged open the handle at my door, which responded with a simple click. I hopped off of the elevated frame with a pair of inconvenient green crocs clinging to my feet, begging not to touch the filthy soil underneath me. Like a magnet, the scenery attracted me as I tiptoed towards it, succumbing to its strong pull. Overwhelmed by all the colors and shapes, I stood there as if someone pressed mute on me, hands draped alongside my body, mouth open in awe, threatening to swallow one of those nasty horseflies. My eyes widened, wishing they could open up even wider, to take in the picturesque landscape that unfolded beyond me.

The infinite hills grew in every direction, covered in a patchy quilt of dry green puffs and dabs that ranged in every size and form possible. Leaves, trees, bushes, shrubs were braided together to form a rough rim that contrasted the unharmed blue sky, afraid of one day becoming contaminated and sick like its cousins in the cities. The innocent white clouds sailed lazily, avoiding the hills below, only to cast a passive shadow on whatever was going on beneath them, not that they bothered to care anyways.

Here and there the tallest trees poked the sleepiest, low-lying clouds to remind them not to fall asleep, to go back up where they belonged, or else they’d fall down to the earth and threaten to never wake back up again. Rivers carved through valleys, slicing through hills like a knife. A waterfall emerged from behind a mountain, cascading downwards, causing white foam to form at its feet. Even from here, it felt like I could hear the fuzzy, numbing noise of water clashing onto rocks.

Even though my feet were still planted firmly on the floor, my gaze traveled farther than I thought it would dare. Down through the slopes and basins, it flew, into the shimmering lake where it met wading elephants and hippos, and back up into the trees where it swang alongside monkeys. I felt my gaze escaping my body as if it were a spirit that could finally roam around freely without the burden of dragging a body along. It took my heart and soul along with it but didn’t get any further, for I pulled it back quickly before it might realize it wouldn’t want to ever come back again.

Peeling my eyes off the view, I spun around eagerly, ready to explore our temporary home.

“Niet te ver weg lopen, Amaia! – Don’t wander off too far!” my dad called behind me, his voice lighter than ever. His eyes were also bluer than I remembered, compared to the foggy grey eyes he wore to work every day.

“Zal ik niet! – I won’t!” I squeaked.

I skipped along the vast open area, allowing the tops of the lofty grass to nibble my fingertips as I dashed by. My stringy hair fluttered as I sprinted along, creating a brown cape that allowed me to take off. There were no fences or anything enclosing us, protecting us from the wildlife of this Sub-Saharan country; protecting us from the native hounds that would prowl around in search of their next meal, unable to distinguish a gazelle from a lost little girl, and unafraid to devour whichever. Wildflowers flourished between grassy spots and termite hills stretched to the skies, some taller than myself.

Aita once told me about the little critters that inhabited these muddy mounds. Termites. Those pesky, wood-eating bugs that know nothing better than to devour your chairs or tables… or so I thought.

He told me the distances these little fellas would travel just to chop up bits of wood to then carry them all the way back home. They didn’t eat that wood, they just chopped it up. He told me how these little guys were farmers, just like people, and how they planted and fed fungus inside these muddy chimineas they had build all by themselves. The interior was filled with hollow chambers, strategically build to allow fumes to escape out the gaping hole in the top. He told me how ramps and passageways allowed these termites to access rooms where the fungi plantations produced a sweet sugary substance they would then slurp up as a supplement.

Never had I thought that such an ugly mound of mud would be able to disguise such intricacy within.

Making sure not to stray too far from our base, I headed back to the gazebo that stood next to our car, with a thatched roof that became home to bats and birds during the breeding season. Kepa, my youngest brother, was still sound asleep, a 6-year old cozied up on a cushion in the back of the car. Unai, my second youngest brother, had already pulled out his Hot Wheels, building ramps in the dirt, right smack in the middle of the path, unbothered to move.

Hammered into the soil was a timid sign with shy letters that spelled out the name of our campsite: Mutumba Hills. It labeled the imaginary path, lined with only larger rocks on the sides to give some sense of direction. The campsite was what seemed like an elevated plateau home to chatty birds that created a soundtrack that perfectly matched the scenery.

Mutumba Hills, words that sound too good to be true. Suspended on a fancy sign above a full-star hotel golf course, it would be an embarrassment of a name, a waste of one, for sure, knowing that it would only disappoint guests of not fulfilling what beauty its title promised. Only here in Akagera does it take its rightful place, its name reflecting the breath-taking landscape and display it has set out for its guests to dream about.

Mutumba Hills, the place where I first used my pocket knife and where I first sliced my finger open with it as well. I remember bawling my eyes out, cradled by my dad’s secure arms who kept murmuring words I ignored, but I also remember proudly showing everyone the scar that stretched from one side of my palm to the other and up into my thumb. I remember joking with Aita, about how I got into a fight with a lion or wrestled with a crocodile or some bizarre tale we would trick others into believing. We would always wink and giggle at each other, knowing it was our little secret.

Mutumba Hills, where I first learned to make a fire with nothing but dried grass, twigs, and one match. The same place I deciphered the starry sky, long after my bedtime, with Aita as he told me stories of the Little and Big Dipper, Orion’s Belt, the Milky Way. Where I build mansions out of leaves for the little ants, or braided grass to form flimsy rope.

Mutumba Hills, I was then convinced, was my home away from home.

The sun finally made its descent as it began to crawl behind the abundance of hills and tucked itself under the cozy blankets of tall grass and savannah trees. Taking the light with it, the sky absorbed any colors it had left as the clouds blushed pink in response. Patches of magentas and lilacs merged with rustic yellows to form a canvas prone to be stolen by a greedy artist one day. The wind prickled our goosebumps, hinting at the chilly nights upon this hill as the sun sunk lower and lower, making space for its sister, the moon.

I could see the warm yellow and orange lights echoed on the tough, abrazed skin of our Toyota Land Cruiser, never again to return to the authentic white coat it once wore. The yellows, became olives and emeralds while the oranges became magentas and mauves as they bent around the still-shiny skin of our dusty car, forming flames and streams of color, that flickered and danced on the glossy coating. From under the hood, I could hear our car humming, purring like a pleased cat near a cozy fireplace. Even though its eyes were shut, lights off, I knew it was secretly peaking at the most gorgeous sunset I had ever witnessed right there on Mutumba Hills.

A Long Way Gone – Reading Response #4

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At the very end of the book, Ishmael wraps up his entire experience of being a child soldier with an underlying comparison of his life and a tale that one of his friend’s grandfather had told him and all the other kids in the village. The story goes as follows:

 

“‘There was a hunter who went into the bush to kill a monkey. He had looked for only a few minutes when he saw a monkey sitting comfortably in the branch of a low tree. The monkey didn’t pay him any attention, not even when his footsteps on the dried leaves rose and fell as he neared. When he was close enough and behind a tree where he could clearly see the monkey, he raised his rifle and aimed. Just when he was about to pull the trigger, the monkey spoke: ‘If you shoot me, your mother will die, and if you don’t, your father will die.’ The monkey resumed its position, chewing its food, and every so often scratched its head or the side of its belly.”

 

Then the storyteller would confront the kids with a question: “What would you do if you were the hunter?”

 

Ishmael talks about how the kids tried to be clever and come up with some sort of a way so they could avoid harming anyone as if the story were a trick question, but the storyteller would reject any of the alternative answers they would come up with. When it was his turn to respond, Ishmael said he needed to think about it, but that wasn’t a worthy answer either.

 

Looking back at the same story, Ishmael finally was able to decide whether or not to shoot the monkey. He came to the conclusion that “if I were the hunter, I would shoot the monkey so that it would no longer have the chance to put other hunters in the same predicament.”

 

This final part of the book shows just how much of an effect the war has had on Ishmael’s life. After having fought first hand on the field and having experienced inhumane things no one should ever have to experience, Ishmael has decided that he would rather put his family and himself in danger or at risk, just to save the lives of many other hunters who would’ve confronted the same situation. Ishmael would prefer suffering once, himself, rather than having a lot more victims suffer the same consequence.