She dropped the last stone in the water and watched it create ripples in the clear blue lake. Looking at her distorted reflection, she tried to recognise herself, but she couldn’t see the same girl she saw in the mirror of her bedroom the last time — long, wavy, auburn tresses, a pink round face with rosier cheeks, eyes as blue and sparkly as the ocean and a smile as vibrant as the golden sun.
She could only see a pale skinny face with prominent cheekbones. Her mouth was dry with thirst and her eyes had lost their shine.
Tomorrow would complete a whole year in search of her family whom she had lost as a result of a horrible mistake. Of all the careless mistakes she had made, this one was the only one that she regretted deeply.
While she shuffled around in the pocket of her mother’s coat that she wore, she felt a drop of water splatter on her nose. Though she felt disappointed for not having found any more stones to throw in the lake, a small smile broke on her face as a few more drops of water splattered on her head and coat. She wasn’t used to smiling widely anymore. She turned to look at the water again and wiped away tears from her face, heaving a sigh.
She scrambled onto her feet and moved away from the lake to find shelter before it grew dark. The grey clouds were moving closer and closer, hiding away the sun behind them. With each step, leaves crunched and twigs snapped. She hardly cared. Her bare feet were bruised, but it didn’t hurt.
This morning she had got a deep gash after her left foot became stuck in a branch when she tried to climb an apple tree. The gash ran all the way from the tip of her big toe, right across the length of her foot and ended near her ankle. She didn’t have anything to stop the bleeding so she let the ground turn scarlet until the bleeding ceased on its own.
She told herself it didn’t hurt, but as she limped along, the cold wind bit at it, causing her to wince and fall on top of a heap of leaves, giving in to her suffering. She examined her foot and hoped it wouldn’t get infected before she found aid. She wished she had a first aid kit with her, or a simple cloth to at least tie around the wound.
She remembered running around with her doctor’s set when she was a little girl, pretending to cater to her injured patients. It made her laugh to think about how obsessed she was with the thought of becoming a doctor, when she couldn’t even cater to herself at this moment.
The wind blew through her auburn hair, spraying rain drops all over her face. She looked overhead and noticed the last few rays of the sun peeking out from behind the thick clouds that hung low. She knew the importance of finding somewhere to take refuge soon, but her foot didn’t allow her to get up. She looked down at it once more before choosing the harder option and standing up.
As much as rainy days made her happy, she wished the storm she had been carrying for the past year would end. She no longer wondered if her family was still looking for her, but the urge to find them grew with each passing day.
Every time she picked apples from the trees in the public park, she wished she had her mother serving food at the dining table where they always dined. Each time she laid her head against the side of the dumpster, she wished she had her father to say goodnight and turn off the lights of her room. Every time she crossed the busy roads, she wished she was in her brother’s car whizzing around the city, just having a good time.
Good time … it was a distant memory now. Every now and then she read articles in the local newspaper that told stories of lost children returning after years to their family, but there didn’t seem to be any hope in her own case.
Months after being kidnapped, she had managed to escape her kidnappers and had knocked on the door of her house, but a stranger had opened the door. Without saying a word to the old man who had walked out and inquired who she was, she had turned away and ran as fast as she could.
She had thought of all the possibilities and tried to imagine why her family would have moved away so soon. Pictures of her mother lying lifeless in her bed flashed through her mind and haunted her for days. She had been devastated thinking about it and cried endlessly, as she walked aimlessly through the streets of her city. She was homeless.
The rain got heavier and in no time she was soaked from head to toe. She wrapped her mother’s brown coat tighter around herself as she took small and careful steps over the puddles on the cobbled pavement. It was growing dark fast, but she couldn’t see any place where she could take shelter. Nobody would let her in, she was sure.
She took a turn and leaned against the glass door of a bakery. The heavenly smell of cinnamon wafted through the air. Her taste buds tingled and her stomach growled. All she had eaten today was an apple and a few breadcrumbs that had been left out for cats in front of a house. She usually went there expecting something or the other to be thrown out.
Although she assumed that the people living there were good, she never dared to ring the bell and ask for help. Having been misled by strangers last year, she never dared talk to anyone she didn’t know.
Tempted to go inside, she thought a hundred times before turning to open the door. She knew she wouldn’t be allowed to eat anything for free, but maybe looking at some delicious food could be enough to satisfy her. She hesitantly turned and reached for the door handle, but her hand stopped midway as she spotted something peculiar — a face so familiar, she immediately recognised it. Her heart stopped and she hoped she wasn’t dreaming.
She turned around to look at the tall heavily built man standing on the other side of the road. The man took off his spectacles and squinted, his mouth slowly opening with shock. Both seemed to be frozen in time. Then the clock resumed when a single word uttered from him confirmed the reality. It was almost a whisper, but the wind carried his voice to her ears. The voice she longed to hear.
Published in Dawn, Young World, November 9th, 2019