Petal in the moonlight
She scuffed her toes on the sandy ground, creating circles and ridges around her bare feet. The whisper of evening had long passed: the moon shone down gently, like the first rain of spring. She should have been asleep by now: but it was her special day. Her day to dream, to dance, to live.
She pulled her hair into a ponytail, and stood, pushing the stem of the desert rose into her hair. Her favorite color for her favorite day.
Smiling bashfully, she took a couple of steps forward, then turned to curtsey to her mother.
This was their ritual: the something that bound them together, through the rumble and rising of war, through the threat of death.
The chapped hands came together, a raspy applause by arthritic hands—love’s triumph over pain. The thin lips moved into a smile, as if it has forgotten what it was to be happy.
But today was to be a happy day. She was twelve.
She smiled back, and lifted her arms. Her feet moved to an inner music, her eyes half-closed, enchanted by something the evening air was telling her. The voice whispered on, the urge irrepressible.
Look at me… Everybody, look at me.
The ground gave way under her, submissive and smooth. She twirled, she twisted, she flew. The night was still: the lights were still: her mother was still. Everything has ceased to exist; for her. For her, and nothing else. It intoxicated her.
Her mind was filled with only one thing, the feeling pulsing through her limbs, the euphoria that enveloped her.
When she dared, she opened her eyes and met her mother’s. They were filled with so much joy, so much love for her that she wanted to cry.
Her eyes blurry, she dove even more into her dance, more to give her mother this speck of rainbow gold than to fulfil the hunger to move in herself. Tomorrow the sun would burn her back as she went about her chores. Her mother’s low voice would ride over the humid air soothingly, as flour and water submitted under her expert hands. Their arms would be sore through the night: but why think of that now? Why let anything smudge the present happiness?
Time itself fled. Joyous movement became all that mattered. She danced into the night, drunk with pleasure.
Then everything went wrong.
A shot rang out, deadly and crisp in its suddenness. Time stood still. She reeled from the impact, and fell face-forward, dust between her lips. Death was here.
But she was not dead.
Rough, enormous hands gripped her hips and slung her onto a shoulder. She could not close her eyes. She could not resist. She could not move.
The man beneath her turned around, walking away from the humble dirt-covered home she had spent all her life in.
Her heart stopped. She opened her mouth to scream but she could not, she clenched her hands, and found them senseless.
The body of her mother, her one friend lay sprawled on the rug she made herself, a crimson stain dripping from the hole in her forehead onto the sky-blue threads. The eyes were closed, her mouth open.
To say goodbye to me.
Her eyes moved away, as if knowing a young mind cannot bear such deep, dark sorrow. Such blatant murder. Such sudden death. Such ruthlessness.
The rose had fallen to the ground, one single red petal broken off, apart from the rest of the flower, illuminated by the moonlight. Lonely, forgotten: like one drop of blood on the brown sand.
A petal in the moonlight.
She stared at that crimson petal until the night swallowed up the corpse, the rose, the petal.
The barbs looked sharper than the knife her mother used to cut dinner with. Were they? She could barely remember the past, the happy past before her kidnapper took her here to be a slave to the carnal lust of the big boss.
She was a child of the harem.
They had given her the simple dress she now wore. The hem had once reached her ankles: now it was no lower than her knees. The simple rose patterns on the sack-like cloth were red and white: with a background of luscious brown. The colour of the sand.
The leering face scared her, even without its physical presence. Master had instilled terror into her young heart: horror that would never go away. The scar across his mouth and cheek rendered his face gruesome, like a living, mangled carcase. His thick fingers touched those places she intrinsically knew should never be touched, not at this young age, not like this. Her innocence had been stolen. Her body defiled. Her purity destroyed.
She was a child, and yet no longer a child.
She traced with her fingers the bruises and slits on her arms, wondering how the stretched, dry skin could still hold together over the bones. Hunger tore through her insides every night. Every morning a cup of dust and water was handed to her, at night a stripped bone.
She was a dog: she was less than a dog.
Her mouth was dry. Her eyes were dry. Her heart was breaking. But tears would not come. They could not come out of her heart. Something blocked them, something called fear.
They would whip her again if they saw her here, crouched by the side of her shack, her knees to her chest, her head in her arms. She bit her lips and looked up.
The moon looked down on her from his great height, so gently, so kindly. His glow was ethereal and soft. Only a crescent could be seen: only a slit curve existed to give her comfort. But it was there. It was there for her, for her only.
And for her mother who would never see this same moon again.
She dropped her eyes to the barbed fence all round her. In here was slavery: beyond it, freedom.
She could not run. The fence was too high.
She stood, and looked around to make sure that no glittering eyes were fixed on her, that she would not gratify the carnal thoughts of those who had destroyed her. No one would bother to walk so far, to a place so deserted, to watch a starved girl move her arms and feet. No one would bother her here.
Her body complained of the labour forced onto her from the first day: the heavy heavy buckets of water, the sleepless nights, the whip when she walked too slowly. She had borne it all silently, tearlessly, emotionlessly.
Now she was alone.
Never dance without a flower in your hair.
The tiny plant grew in the farthest corner of the confinement, embarrassed to be seen. The blossom pushed itself up bravely, defying the elements of its environment, thriving where others could not.
She knelt in front of the small plant, reaching out two fingers to stroke the petals. They were red. They were real. They were wondrous.
Her roughened hands disengaged the stem of the bloom from the rest of the plant, catching her breath with wonder as the moon light shone fully on the flower in her hands. Then she reached up, and nudged the rose into her tangled hair, like her mother always did for her.
This is for you, mother. This flower and this dance.
She stepped to the center of the square enclosure, froze for a moment before blowing a kiss to the heavens.
Then she danced, slowly, like the majestic swans, building speed as she went.
No one cared about her: no one cared that she could dance. None knew she could in these circumstances: without friends, without love and happiness. She did not know it herself.
But here she was, soaring through the skies, arms outstretched, her feet barely on the ground, spinning, whirling on to another world: a world where she was free, with the ones she loved.
Where she would be free from the torture and darkness of the place she was in now.
This is for you mother. Now. For you and for me.
She did not here the footfalls outside the barbed wire fence, neither did she noticed the pair of eyes gazing wonderingly at her. She was only experiencing the sweetest joy, purest happiness ever since she had been here, because now she could dance. She could move. She could love. She could be herself.
Finally the tears came. They fell, one by one trickling down her dry cheeks, then in floods. They blinded her, drenched her, and spurred her on. She danced, clinging on to this tiny, transient moment of life, the life withheld from her for so long.
Her mother was with her, holding her hand, dancing with her, smiling at her, and wrapping her arms around her.
She smiled back: only there was no mother.
She was alone.
She flung herself to the ground, forgetful of everything, of the need for silence, and wept. Her heart felt torn to pieces, like the flower crushed on the ground beside her. She heaved, she cried, she could not hold back.
All the loneliness and sorrow of the past years fell on her, an unforgiving, exacting burden. She submitted. There was no other way.
Two eyes saw what she did not see. Two hands did what she did not do.
The single petal, curved on one end and pointed at the other, lay a few feet away from the girl, between the fence and himself. He clipped apart the wires, and carefully squeezed himself inside the inhumane prison. On one knee, less than three feet away from the sobbing girl, he reached and touched the tissue thin petal, cradling it in his hand like an irreplaceable treasure. His eyes went over to the girl and back to the weightless object in his hands.
A petal in the moonlight.
The sand beneath her feet was one thing she would remember, the waves rolling to the shore on her right, the muted dancing music from the indoors borne over the slight breeze.
All that mattered was the here and now. Him and her, standing here, alone, united as groom and bride, standing in each other’s arms by the sea-shore. Nothing else could compare to this.
He was her saviour, the man who dared to snatch her out of the deadly fangs of sexual slavery. He was handsome, the cleft in his chin and the dimples on his face irresistible, especially in the moonlight.
A crown of roses was on her head, a cluster of fresh desert flowers on her chest. He said they matched her eyes, her pure white satin dress.
They both knew he meant more than that. So much more.
Wordlessly, he began to move, his arms still around her, their movements synchronized into one flawless dance. His eyes never left hers, building the magic moment by moment until it was more than she could bear.
He led her lovingly, like the moon leading the stars above them, his touch sending shivers of ecstasy into her.
Her eyes blurred, but her mouth widened into the largest smile she could ever give.
He leaned forward, brushing her tears away with his lips. She lifted her face toward his, and touched his lips with hers.
He returned the kiss: and thus interlocked, they rocked to the sound of the music that only the two of them could hear… the music of love.
She had a vision of her mother standing beside them, tears of joy running down her eyes, her arms wrapped tightly around her daughter and son-in-law. Then it was gone. Gone forever.
She held on to him as if he was the only thing on earth, the lifeline without which she would fall into the deepest misery and death no man could ever save her from.
He released her slowly, nestled her head against his shoulder, and stroked her hair—like my mother.
She opened her eyes, praying that doing so would not break the beauty, the fragile connection between the ethereal and the physical.
Something lay a few steps behind them. Something so small, so touching, so significant she held her breath.
Two tears rolled down her cheeks. She stared at it, unable to let go of it with her eyes.
A petal in the moonlight.