To The Boy Who Dreams
When you were a sniveling baby wrapped in clothes, Mother would whisper stories of Sinbad the Sailor, her breath tufts of white heat against the star flecked sky. Your pale gold eyes woulds shine and your small mouth would occasionally open in a wide O. It was in those moments that I could pretend the flimsy cotton cloth covering our legs was one of our mother’s embroidered blankets. I could close my eyes and forget we were in an attic somewhere, just waiting to be moved. I could almost believe we still had a home.
I sometimes wonder if my life began and ended with you.
You loved to tell stories...I wonder if you remember them now. Or have you made new ones, ones where we are not there? You used to whisper dozens of stories in a night. They were told in snatching whispers while Father argued with immigration officials, your tranquil voice drawing children to gather around us.
Your stories were never realistic. Why should we tell real stories when fantasies are so much more fun? We were royalty one day, peasants the next. You incorporated the Draugr and Hera into adventures with Sinbad. We journeyed across lands that were near copies of the land outside our little attics. At the end of your stories, we returned to a home. It could be a palace with smiling people, or a small cottage in the woods. It would always be there and you liked to say we never needed another adventure because we had each other.
I could see the dream in your eyes when you whispered that part.
Sometimes, when Father is drunk on guilt, he’ll say you made up stories because you were too weak to handle what had happened to us.
You don’t remember Tehran. If you did, you would never forget the white mountains rising behind Tehran’s short skyline. You would have twisted your head whenever the faint, savory whiff of a khoresh stew passed by. You would speak of the sharp smell of snow mingling with fire when Mother brought you up to the mountains every few months. If you remembered, you would dream of fire. In all truth, you were in Tehran all for a year before flaming missiles speared their limpid sky.
In the five years we traveled, our bodies became lean with muscle. Circles ringed by mother’s caramel skin and gray started to creep into our father’s hair. There were nights when we had nothing to eat and we had to ask for shelter in mosques. Some were kind enough to take us in, yet there were some who eyed us with suspicion as they spoke polite excuses. We wandered the cobbled streets at night, four strangers haunting neighborhoods like ghosts.
I remember in Greece, a golden haired man leading a struggling you away from the sagging olive trees of a local mosque. You cried out my name. There was a confused note in your voice, too young to know what was right and wrong. Your bare feet stumbled against the pale grass, legs tripping over themselves as the man steadily dragged you with a firm hand.
I don’t know what happened next. I suppose I forget to save myself. All I know is that you were suddenly crying in my arms and the golden man wasn’t moving. We walked away, remember? I thank my stars we left the next day.
You started telling stories that summer.
We landed in Sweden next. Do you remember the small mosque dwarfed by towering brick buildings? Do you remember the copper roof and the pretty paintings on the walls? Remember waking to prayer? Our apartment smelled like sandalwood incense and there was just enough light to see the dust motes float in the air above us.
At night, Father would carefully lead your toddler feet in the stomping steps of the Dabke. As the nights grew colder, we felt the chill seep into our bones. So we danced, as the heating broke. We laughed and Father would sing a beautiful wailing song of the marshes. We collapsed hours later into our bed, our mingled breaths and racing heartbeats drowning out the howl of Swedish wind.
Father found his job shortly after, and he bought that small house with all the nooks and crannies you liked. Remember the small orchard behind it? Sometimes, I lifted you up to pick a cold apple. You laughed and learned to climb trees there. Every spring, you left an apple blossom by mother’s bedside table as she slept. I’m sure she could hear you sneaking around the squealing floorboards, a little agent on his top secret mission.
I didn’t realize you were unhappy until the day you stopped eating.
Mother coaxed you out of your blankets with soup that was reheated for the third time. I sat next to you, holding your small hand. Your eyes were blank orbs of topaz. You were empty and silent. When you finished, Mother left, and you lay down on the bed. I hugged you and told you story after story, until the sun set. I resorted to the strange, foreign tales I read in school.
I thought you were happy. But maybe that was just what I wanted to believe. I wanted so desperately to make this work. I hadn’t had friends, my education was so fragmented that I could barely pass the tests. I wanted to pretend I wasn’t a collection of broken parts held by a fraying thread. I...I was so alone.
If you saw yourself, it would scare you. The last time I saw you, your body was thin and brittle, skin so pale. There were clear plastic tubes running from your nose to machines. You were not the first. They call it Resignation Syndrome, when children lose consciousness and withdraw from the horrors of the world. You were next to three other children. Two girls and a boy.
I fear what I will find, when I place this letter beside you.
Father cries when he sees you. His tears fall into your hair, trail down to your cheeks. I once prayed and cried that you would open your eyes. I called to Allah like Mother. How was this fair? But you didn’t open your eyes. You were dreaming, as you are now. It
is hard to wake up without your face buried in my stomach and your mischievous laugh echoing through the halls. It is difficult to think that I have survived and you have not.
Written by Tiffany Yeung
-> Best Submission- Illusion Delusion- April 2020