Sunday 15 July 2018

Auburn Strands

by Edel Willliams

weak tea 

Her auburn strands were the first thing I noticed about her. That beautiful chestnut brown hair falling in waves around the prettiest face I had ever seen. She jaunted across the square and as I sat and sipped coffee in the early morning sun, my eyes tracked her every move from one side of the morning market to the other. At times she was provocative, cheeky even, using a huge smile, or a batting of her long-lashed eyes. But she got what she wanted, at a price she wanted and the stall owners, well, they got a bit of attention. As she walked away, they were left with a grin on their faces, outrageous thoughts in their heads and some coins in their hands. But when our eyes met, that was it for me. I held her gaze as she walked towards me. I could see her part her lips and her breasts rise and fall as her pace slowed and her breathing quickened. Her tongue moistened her ruby red lips as it danced across their surface. She stopped right in front of me and when I said hello and simply fell into her mesmerising eyes, she held her breath, the same way she did when I asked her to marry me a mere six months later. But the day she told me we were to be parents was the happiest day of my life. While I watched her belly swell, I thought my heart would explode with the love I felt for her.
     And now I couldn’t find her. The blast hit and I had been thrown out of our open doorway as I stood having a smoke and taking in the early morning sun. All I could do was try and focus on where I was as a cloud of dust, ash and rubble descended on me. I don’t know how long I lay motionless on the street. I sat up, encrusted in grit and pushed the loose debris off my body. A shower of grey powder fell from my hair and I wiped my hands across my eyes so that I could see better. But I couldn’t hear anything. It was almost as if someone had shut off the sounds of the world. I banged at my ears until I noticed a soft buzzing. But it whined louder and louder morphing into a piercing ringing that pulsated inside my head until I had to grip my ears in pain. I felt sick. My eyes closed involuntarily against the noise and as I leaned over to puke, I didn’t realise I’d vomited all over myself. But none of that mattered. I needed to find Maria. My Maria. While I crawled on my hands and knees towards the collapsed wreck of my front door, fighting my way through disgorging dust, smoke and debris the ringing stopped and the screaming started. Swollen voices full of agony, torment and urgent pleadings saturated the air. The noise was deafening. Turning my head slowly for the first time I realised my whole street and the streets beyond had been blown apart. But at this moment, I didn’t care how or why. As I crawled on my cut and bloodied hands, grabbing at lumps of concrete and hurling them behind me, I realised that the piercing scream I heard nearest me was my own petrified voice. I closed my mouth and continued to dig.
     I picked through the rubble for what seemed like hours. My hands were torn up and greased with my blood. My clothes smelled of puke and sweat and urine. Exhaustion caused me to feel faint and the world swam in front of me numerous times, but I resisted the urge to give in to the dizziness. I lifted up brick after brick, until pushing aside a splintered slab of wood, all that remained of my front door, I saw some chestnut curls and then a space. Panic  gripped me and I tore at the rubble and debris that lay between me and my Maria. Her hair was coal black and slick with blood. I pushed her head with my hand and called her name over and over. When I thought I heard her whimper, I screamed behind me for help and as had happened countless times in other places, the urgency of the call caused those digging to scurry over debris to help get to a survivor, - a possible survivor. ‘Maria Maria, amore mio, Maria wake up,’ I screamed over and over.
    But with every movement of my hand, every attempt I made to grab her head and turn her face towards me, reassure her, tell her I loved her, I was here, her head just sagged there, lifeless. Hands were placed on my shoulders and the helpers melted away or scurried off to help others. There was no helping my Maria. She was already gone. The wails of the old women shrouded in black who were already mourning the dead came closer, to include my Maria in their desperately lonely laments. It was at that moment that my heart ripped in two. I never realised I could feel such pain and still be alive. I lay down beside my wife, put my ear to her motionless head and prepared to die. Just as I did, there was a momentary break in the horrible wailings all around, enough silence so that I heard the weak cries of a newly born baby.

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