This story is by Cathy Smades and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Based on a true story.
Ayda pushed her black hair back as she pulled out the wispy cloth from her multi-colored satchel. She unwound its length and popped it out in front of her. It’s billowed shape hovered over her as she smoothed it around her. Enclosed like a vulnerable shell she took refuge beneath its form. All around her people bustled but enveloped in her shadowy cover she faded into the obscurity around her as the sun began its descent. Invisible within until she emerged from its colorless imprint.
She waited for accompaniment so she could journey home after the long day of teaching. She poked into her tote looking for something to do when a translucent slice of paper fell to the ground. She read the boldface print. It said- TOMORROW NIGHT I WILL TELL YOUR FATHER ABOUT YOU AND HIM.
Her happy thoughts screeched to a stop like a racing motorbike cut off by a knot of unseen traffic. Scanning the crowd around her she desperately searched her mind for the author of the note. How could they know about him when she had taken great efforts to hide their association? She knew if her parents found out she might be killed or cast away from her community. She knew her friend Dolores had done the same thing and her family had thrown her out into the streets without a single dinar. Ayda had never seen Delores again. Never had Ayda told anyone of their secret relationship and she could not understand how it was known. She turned the note over and over in her hands then she shakily shoved it into a zippered pocket within her tote.
Her brother Bijan arrived right after she had secreted the note. In her haste she dropped her bag and some of the contents fell out. Panicked she flailed after it but he picked the items up calling her clumsy and led her home. His peppered questions bounced off her as she pushed them away with her monotone replies. Burrowing into her mind she felt the mounting terror of a caged animal that was taunted with a splintered stick. Jagged thoughts coiled as she walked through the maelstrom occurring in her mind. Somehow in this moment was when she resolved to live these last few hours as well as she could.
Inhaling sharply she pulled a pleasant expression from her heart to present to her family. She skittered through the kitchen and avoided her mother’s glance and bolted into her room where she commanded her mind to calm down. She had a day to act normal before everything changed and she would enjoy every part of it. Her family was her greatest treasure besides the secret one she loved. Affirming her love for them would be her final task. Soon disgrace would color everything and they would be ashamed of her but until then she wanted them to know how much they had mattered. There were many things to take care of and arrange in the next few hours and she did not want to miss one detail.
Ayda put on a golden dress and wrapped her long hair around her head. She placed orange flowers in her hair and went to the dinner table. Her father gushed over her as he always did when she wore that dress. She knew the pleasure would be short lived but it felt sweet within her chest. Handing her mother and sister her favorite bracelets she exclaimed they were now theirs. She also brought in some small carved animals and gave them to Bijan. Smiling with delight he hastily crammed them into his pocket.
“Sister, you know I always want them!” The whole family cheerfully giggled at his new possessions.
Father gazed at his cherished daughter and asked why she was giving away her things.
“Not giving away but sharing them with all those I love,” she said and quickly looked away.
“We are blessed child by your love and we are proud to call you our own,” Father then replied. Soon she feared that would not be true.
After many long hugs Ayda went to her bed with many memories she would long ponder. Making a long list of tasks for the new day she finally drifted into a fitful sleep hounded by dreams of alligators pursuing her through a impenetrable swamp.
She woke very early the next morning. Tired and anxious she brooded over the things she needed to do before the evening. She could not face the imagined scene where her father horrified, and ashamed, would send her away. Focusing on those she loved was how she was going to get through the day. After Bijan left her at school she went into the courtyard where she had some private time with her secret love. She told him about what had happened and shared her innermost fears. He assured her he would not leave her and he would help her in the next few days. She knew she could not let him go no matter what happened to her as she rushed towards her classroom.
As she looked from face to face she thought about what she loved about each child that day. She decided she would pray for each one not knowing if she would be allowed to see them tomorrow or if she would be alive. They had become an integral part of her and thoughts of losing them caused her eye to tear from time to time. The children kept asking her if she was alright and she would draw them close and rub their tiny heads. She encouraged each one and firmly expressed her admiration for their work and participation throughout the day. When they left to go home all were happy and full from the love they had all shared.
Ayda wandered around the classroom touching the desks and blackboard with the end of her fingers. Softly straightening the books and papers she gazed at them all. Lost in her musings she wasn’t ready when her brother came to the door.
“Wake up Ayda, I want to go home”, he complained. Slowly she put on her veil and moved towards the doorway.
“Hurry up, you are barely moving “ Bijan muttered after her. They ambled back to the house with Bijan prompting her to get along but she kept lingering . She wanted to remember every detail of that walk forever.
“Come on Ayda, father wishes to speak to us. She immediately stopped in the street and did not think she could go on. Dread clouded her mind and eyes and she was finding it hard to see in front of her. She could hear her mother calling her name and she resolved to face what was coming although her angst was coiled inside her throat. When she walked through the front door unexpected courage struck her and its confidence propelled her into the living room where her family was all sitting.
She sat down in the puffy family chair across from her father and looked into his warm brown eyes. She saw how kindly he looked at her so she knew he had not yet been told. She kept glancing at the door anticipating a knock from the author of the note informing her family and ending their happy home.
“Ayda we need to talk to you about the note. We are sorry if it frightened you and that was not our intent. Your sister heard you speak his name one night in your sleep and we needed to find out if you knew him too. Ayda, we all know him and love him too. This has been our secret too. We knew you worked at the school so we were afraid to let you know in case the governors should find out about us. There are many of us but we are cautious until we are assured that you were one of us too,” her father hurriedly explained.
“Father, mother, my sister and dear brother, are you saying you know him too?” Ayda almost shouted she was so shocked by her father’s confession.
“Yes, we are all believers in Jesus. We have waited for you. Dolores told you about him but she was sent away before she could tell us if you had come to know him. She is safe and serving him far from here. We are hoping to follow someday where we can all safely live. That will be challenging but we can all do that together now”.
Ayda felt tears burst out her eyes as she erupted in joyous laughter. Gaily hugging each one she felt comforted and relieved of her burden. She remembered the words she heard from him earlier that day how he would keep her and help her. He must have been happy to know how her day would end. What she believed to be the worst day of her life had instead become one of the best.