A chair, a table, a bed. Four white walls, and one door. Above, a single
light bulb hung from a cord, casting a soft, yellow glow on the stark
room. A small window with a pull down blind was on the opposite
wall, and through this, Aliyah could see into the concrete courtyard
encased by walls the colour of stormy skies. A small brown ball
bounced off one of these walls and into the hands of a boy, back and
forth, back and forth. Something to do, a way to pass the time.
Aliyah’s fingers skimmed along the rough rug that lay under her
body, the frayed edges prickling her skin. The weaved material
reminded her of the times before, how Umi had taught her to make
bowls and cups from reeds; her steady, protecting hands guiding the
reeds above and beneath each other like a patchwork. Unlike the boy,
Aliyah did not have a ball, instead she liked to think of how things
were before and imagine that each thought was a strong and solid
brick that she could pile up around her to create a protective
encasement that could fight off the fear. Sometimes she was so sure
she had heard Marlah’s giggling laughter or Abbi’s voice calling her
that she would turn, only to find another white wall. But there were
also things from before that Aliyah did not ever want to think about,
things that she tried to forget. The war. The control, the running,
the screams, the hiding, the pleading, the tears. The loss. But as hard
as she tried, even her bricks crumbled as these terrors would seep
back into her mind; consuming her as her eyes closed.
And Aliyah remembered.
Aliyah was shaken from her bed in the dead of night, ‘hush now,’
whispered Abbi, ‘gather only what you need, it is time to go.’ Down
the stairs, through the corridor, out the door and into the night they
fled. Even at night the streets were not quiet. Distant alarms sounded,
dogs barked, and the occasional pop sounded as they scampered
through the city. The pounding of Aliyah’s heart reminded her of
the pounding footsteps that at any minute could pursue them.
Her hand clamped down hard over her sister’s mouth. ‘Don’t
make a sound,’ she breathed into Marlah’s ear. From among the fruit
crates they heard the soldiers’ footsteps trace the truck and then, the
flap at the back of the truck lifted up. She felt Marlah stiffen in her
arms. There was shuffling and then the scrape of a crate across the
floor. Muttering. And then the flap was shut and the truck began to
roll forward again. Peeling her hand from Marlah’s face, Aliyah let
the unstoppable tears roll down her cheeks.
Isobelle Carmody Award
for Creative Writing