Santa stares at himself in the mirror, gathering his resolve. He feels strange, dressed as he is all in black. But these are strange times. His customary red suit hangs dry cleaned, ironed and smart in his cupboard which he has left open – a habit his wife hates. Santa shoots a slightly rueful look at the suit, turns back to his reflection and wonders for the umpteenth whether this is a good idea after all.
Then his gaze drops to a lengthy crumpled list on his dresser and, also for the umpteenth time, he realizes that it is. He picks up the list and sits down for a moment to scan it, his free hand automatically dipping into the packet of chocolate chip cookies he always keeps nearby. The rustling of the packet makes his wife stir in her sleep but he keeps munching, albeit a little guiltily. He knows he needs to keep the weight down, especially considering the taxing nature of tonight’s assignment, but he also needs energy. Sugar’s good for energy, he’s heard.
First on the list: Sri Lanka. Santa sits back in his chair, his brows drawing together as he tries to remember where that is. The reindeer always seem to know where they are going but he likes to have some idea as well. After so many years of doing what he does, he guesses he should know the world like the back of his hand. As loathe as he is to admit it, though, his memory isn’t as good as it used to be. He rummages around his person and finally unearths an ancient dog-eared world map from the depths of one of his pockets. Smoothing it out on his lap, he hunches over it, groping absently for his glasses while he squints in the dim light, trying to find the place. Continue reading Santa
A little boy stares through barbed wire, wondering which direction his home is. He reaches out to rest his fingers between the rusted knots of wire but his watchful mother calls out to him to be careful. At the same time, a soldier patrolling nearby walks briskly up to him and pushes him back. “Listen to your mother” the soldier tells him not unkindly in shaky Tamil. The boy looks up along yards of camouflage material and searches the soldier’s face. “I want to go home” he says miserably. “I don’t like it here”
The soldier’s expression softens. He looks around awkwardly to see if anyone is watching and then quickly bends towards the boy. “I want to go home too” he says softly and pats the boy’s cheek. He straightens and clears his throat. “Go and play” he orders gruffly and strides away, the dark skin of his neck and hands glinting like his gun against the afternoon sunlight.
* Continue reading Barbed wire
She just wanted to stop moving. They had been moving for so long. She rubbed her eyes tiredly, still sleepy after being grabbed from her bed and told to run without any warning. They hadn’t stopped moving since.
That was hours ago – she knows this because while she started off stumbling in pitch darkness, clutching her mother’s hand so that she wouldn’t fall, she could now dimly see her way as the night gave way to a grim, cloudy morning.
It was hot. Her dress stuck to her, wet with sweat and her bladder was getting uncomfortably full. She looked around at the crowd surrounding her family and desperately tried to stave off the feeling. No toilets here. There were scattered bushes she could have ducked behind, but she sensed now was not the time to stop moving, although she so badly wanted to. Besides, who knew what was behind those bushes, watching, waiting. She felt a mosquito bite into the flesh of her thigh and paused to slap it. She looked at her hand to flick off the dead insect and found it covered in blood. Hers. Continue reading The Choice
The couple in the next room fight all the time. Through paper-thin walls, my husband and I hear the shouting, the insults shot bullet-like back and forth. Invisible weaponry in a largely invisible war.
Usually we have the music on, or the TV, so we can drown it out. But it’s in the silence between songs or when the conversation drops during a movie that the fighting in the next room catches us off guard. A yell. A thud. The sound of a sobbing child. Piercing the solitude in our home, setting our teeth on edge, making us nervous for reasons we can’t quite explain.
At night when my husband switches off the TV and takes me in his arms, the sound of our quick breaths and long sighs fill my head, leaving room for nothing else. But later, when we lie in bed with nothing to distract us, we listen quietly as the shouting continues into the night. I can see worry lines deepen on my husband’s usually smooth forehead when he hears the little boy pleading with his parents to stop, the babyish voice heavy with tears. I jump involuntarily as the sharp sound rings out – a hand striking soft skin. The crying is silenced.
I reach to hold my husband but he turns away and I know he’ll be awake long after I fall asleep. I know he wants to interfere somehow to help the little one in the next room, but he never does. No one interfered for him.
* Continue reading The Next Room.
Worried little eyes peer out from behind thin fabric, reflecting fire.
A little child has her mother’s skirt pulled over her face, covering a mouth open with fascinated fear. The faded cloth smells of her mother and, though she doesn’t know it, ash. She wrinkles her nose at the unfamiliar odor but cannot tear her eyes away from the sight of her house being burnt down to the ground.
Fire. She knows what it is but has only seen it in the form of candle flames and, when those weren’t available, small bonfires. The first time she’d seen it she’d reached out curiously to touch the live orange. She’d only just barely reached it when her mother snatched her hand away. But that little touch stung and she had bawled lustily as her mother gently sucked on her fingertip, soothing the pain.
She had never gone near the cunning flames again. Continue reading Fire.