Coming and Going
“Aaaaah!” screamed Raquel.
“Just keep pushing Raquel!” shouted the physician.
“Just a bit more dear,” said Raquel’s husband, Matthew. Raquel pushed with all the strength she had in her body.
“That’s it!” encouraged the doctor, delivering her baby gently into the world.
Raquel felt relief spread across her body. She looked up and her husband brought their baby over to her.
He wiped the baby’s face with a rag and said tearily, “It’s a girl!”
“She’s beautiful,” said Raquel. Gazing at her face, she said, “Let’s call her Petra, after my grandmother.”
“Hmmmm. A fine name,” stated the physician who was quickly preparing to leave.
“Are you leaving so soon doctor? I was hoping to treat you to some ale,” said Mathew.
“Many thanks Matthew my boy, but your neighbors are also having a baby tonight, have you forgotten?”
“Of course!” exclaimed Matthew. “Don’t let us delay you any longer.” The doctor quickly rushed out of their house. Matthew looked over at Raquel and his baby daughter. “They’re sure to be the best of friends, these two babies.”
“Indeed,” remarked his wife.
Five years passed and the parents aged as did their children. Petra grew faster than their neighbor’s son, Naji. She was taller and had long, flowing hair. Naji sported curly locks that barely touched his shoulders.
“Naji!” wailed Petra. “Give it back!”
“You’ll have to catch me!” retorted Naji, holding a wooden doll in his hand while running towards the corn fields. The crops had borne a good yield this year. The fields were aglow with golden, bulging ears from one end to the other. Petra’s mother stood in the field, picking corn carefully from the plants, being sure not to damage them. Naji raced towards the field, “Come on Petra! You’ll never catch me at that speed!” He started throwing the doll in the air as he ran to incense Petra. Not looking where he was running, he smashed right into Raquel, knocking over her basket of corn and snapping one corn plant in two. The doll flew from his hand and onto the grass.
Raquel stood glaring at the two children. Petra was huffing and puffing from running, and Naji lay on the ground looking sorry. At the same time, everyone turned to stare at the felled plant. It had collapsed from the base, so the whole thing lay on the ground, its corn scattered like it was wounded from a battle. They all knew that these fields belonged to a wealthy landowner and that Raquel worked for a small wage here weekly. The owner was meticulous, and would check on his crops regularly. Any damage to plants was deducted from Raquel’s wage, which was measly to begin with. Petra felt so worried for her mother; she wished that she could somehow repair the plant, make it stand up and rise from its pitiful place on the ground.
Raquel opened her mouth to scold them for what they’d just done, but she stopped short and watched a shoot of green sprout up from the ground nearby. It sprang up to about waist height and began to grow leaves. It was definitely a corn plant. Raquel glared at Naji, who appeared not to have noticed and was staring off into the masses of corn, probably looking for squirrels. Looking at Petra, Raquel saw that she was gazing directly at it. Raquel’s body began to shake. Shivers coursed up and down her.
“Petra is definitely the source,” she thought. “I have to make sure she never does it again.”
Trying to take Petra’s attention off what had just happened she said firmly, “Come with me children!”
“Ahhh! Don’t hit me ma’am! I won’t do it again, I promise!” Naji wailed.
“Naji, return to your home immediately!” yelled Raquel.
Naji was surprised; he’d expected at least a reprimanding. He stood up slowly, brushed his clothes off, and started making his way home.
“It doesn’t matter,” Naji thought, “She wasn’t thinking about scolding me anyway. She was thinking about that plant that just grew.”
Raquel was at a loss. She couldn’t think clearly. Her mind filled with stories she’d heard and images of things she’d seen since she was young. Children being taken away from their parents for various reasons, parents grieving and crying as the ‘Appeasers’ arrived. Their children vanished, never to be seen again. But it wasn’t them being taken away that was worrying her, it was why. Even though the Protezans had explained it to be a serious plague that couldn’t be cured, and that the children were removed for the safety of the villagers, she knew the real reasons for their removal. They’d all started to display certain abilities that weren’t normal; things that regular children couldn’t do. What Petra had just done back in the field, making the plant suddenly grow, she had to make sure that no one found out about it, and more importantly, make certain she never, ever tried to do it again.
Four years passed, four years of living in terror. Raquel and her husband continually tried to prevent Petra from doing anything that would arouse suspicion. The Protezans, who were the governing body of their land, named Lu, and who represented the emperor, had clearly stated that if anyone began to show strange symptoms of the ‘plague’, they were to be immediately reported. She heard stories of families not reporting and being dragged off with their children because they were said to be ‘infected’. However much she tried, events always occurred.
At Petra’s school, they were learning about tending the fields when she had suddenly moved a small mound of dirt without even touching it. Fortunately, the teacher reasoned that the dirt must have been loose. On another occasion, they’d been outdoors at the market and a flower vendor had offered Petra a bloom. Fearing something might happen; Raquel had rushed her off, only to see another flower sprout from the ground in front of them. She pretended not to notice and hurriedly pulled Petra along. If anyone else had seen it, she wasn’t sure what they’d do.
One particular time when she thought they were done for, Raquel was picking the maize crops and Petra was peering off into the distance. Some men had gathered and were digging holes to plant cotton nearby. Suddenly a hole, the size of half a person’s body, excavated itself out of the earth. The men stared over in amazement, and Raquel had run over screaming madly that she’d seen a mole in the vicinity. The men looked doubtful, but carried on their labor nonetheless.
Raquel’s husband was a page for the Protezans, so he was often out of town running messages and various errands. When he did come back, he told Raquel how their neighbors, Naji’s parents, had confided in him that their son was also showing bizarre abilities. He could often tell what they were thinking, and would even blatantly inform his classmates that they were lying if they told white lies. It was as though he could read their thoughts or something.
In a way, Raquel was relieved that her daughter wasn’t the only one, yet more frightened as she knew that if there were two of them, further suspicion would be shed on their town.
At ten years old, things started to get worse for Petra. Returning home from her morning classes at the small local school, she started to put her things away. Raquel looked over at her. She was turning into quite a beauty. Her dark, brown hair hung below her waist. She’d started to like dresses and Matthew had brought back some cloth from a nearby town. Raquel had sewn her a long dress that she wore almost every day. It looked a bit worn now, but she was still radiant in it. She was tall for her age, and thin. Raquel always tried to fatten her up, but no matter what she ate she didn’t gain weight. Petra turned to face her mother. She was about to ask what was for lunch, when Raquel dropped the pan she’d been holding. It fell on the floor, clanking and echoing in the small room. Petra fixed her eyes on her mother, who in turn didn’t break her gaze.
“Your…eyes…” her mother stammered.
“My apologies mother! I meant nothing of it!”
“No! Your eyes! Go look at your eyes!” she screamed. Petra thought it was the strangest thing she’d ever heard, but she took a mirror out of a drawer. Staring at her familiar reflection, she briefly stopped breathing. Her usually pale green eyes had become a bright and deep hazelnut brown color.
“Wh…Wh…What’s this?” she stuttered. “M…My eyes have…changed…color. Why, mother?” Her mother looked down at the floor.
Speaking into her hair she said very quietly, “We need to have a talk.”
Petra swallowed as she sat down in the chair her father had carved for her when she was five. Though small, it was still comfortable. However, on that day, she felt like it would crack under the heavy weight she was carrying. Tears streamed from her mom’s eyes as she spoke.
“Petra, I’ve tried so hard all these years to protect you from others. But now…” Raquel sobbed and Petra started to feel frantic.
“Mother, what is it? Tell me! What have I done wrong?”
“You haven’t done anything wrong. You have a special ability, Petra. You have surely noticed. You can make plants grow and move earth and dirt around. Most people can’t do those kinds of things. But you can. Before, I asked you to hide it and you’ve done well. I know it’s been hard for you. But now, your eyes have changed color. Not just from green to brown. It’s such a bright and noticeable color! It’ll be so difficult to hide this from others…” She trailed off, her mind racing back and forth, thinking about what she could do.
“What’s wrong with that mother? If I do possess this ability, what of it?”
“There are people who work for the emperor who go by the name of the ‘Appeasers’. If they get wind of this, they’ll take you away as well. People don’t talk about it, but anyone who starts to display abilities like yours, eventually disappears. They say it’s a plague, but it isn’t. It’s just a special, remarkable gift that’s been given you. I can’t let them take you away!”
And so, from that day on, she wore a cloak wherever she went. She left school, and just helped her mother out in the fields and kept her head covered during the day. Sometimes, she wanted to pull it off and let the sun drench her with sunlight, run and dance through the fields, or play with Naji. However, she kept the hood on and lived a concealed existence for three years.
That day, like any other, she was walking through the streets to go to the market with Raquel.
“Wait, there’s Naji’s mother,” Petra thought when she saw the familiar face. “Funny, do all mothers wear an anxious face all the time? She looks just like my mother, her face etched by the concerns of time. Who is that behind her? He’s also wearing a hooded cloak. Could it be Naji? But why is he donning a hood? Mother’s talking to Naji’s mother now. I’ll just try to get a closer peek to make sure.”
Naji’s hood lifted up briefly, and Petra looked straight into his eyes. “Those aren’t the eyes I know well,” she thought. “He’d had light blue eyes before.” The eyes peering at her now from inside the hood were a shocking purple.
“Strange,” she mused, “I’m surprised, but I also feel they’re so beautiful. It’s such a shame to hide those eyes behind that screen. Hold on, that means Naji must be like me…he has powers too! Otherwise, why would his eyes have changed color like mine? Also, I’ve heard mother and father talking about how his parents say he seems to be able to read people’s thoughts.”
Suddenly Naji’s hand grabbed hers.
“You’re right, Petra,” she heard resound in her mind.
His hand shook. She saw tears dropping from inside the hood, falling like discarded jewels to the ground. Then, he let go. Naji’s mother turned to leave, pulling Naji’s hand. He turned and said to her, “Come to my dwelling, at midnight, tonight…” Naji’s mother was out of earshot. They walked away.
That night Petra snuck out of the house at midnight. She enjoyed the nights. She didn’t need to cover her head, so the stars could shine down on her hair and comfort her face. Naji was waiting outside his house with a large travelling sack in his hand. His hood also wasn’t covering his head and his eyes shone like lightning bolts in the dark. Petra could guess what he was planning even as she approached him. It was something she’d been considering as well.
“Let’s go, Petra.”
“Go where, Naji?”
“Anywhere but here! To find a cure for this condition of ours! To find some way to return to our old selves and be accepted again into this town! Staying here is like torture! Bowing our heads every day, scared to see anyone but our parents’ faces. How can we live like this? How can our parents live like this? Living in fear all the time, unable to show their children to others, unable to have friends, living a life in hiding! If we leave, we can spare them that suffering and perhaps, find a way out for ourselves as well.”
She knew she’d agree even before he finished. It truly was the only way for them.
“Do you really think we’ll be able to find a cure for our condition?” she asked.
“Either way, we can’t stay here any longer. People are starting to ask questions. Why don’t we go to school anymore? Why don’t we ever see your son? Either way, if it’s a cure or our death, it’s a better solution than staying here any longer.”
“I’ll get my things,” said Petra.
That night, it started to rain. Petra’s father always used to say that the Great Spirit gave everything life when it rained, but that night it felt like he or she was crying. Petra was crying. She couldn’t stop the tears from flowing as she left a note that couldn’t express her feelings properly. She told her parents not to follow them because it would probably endanger them even further. It felt like tearing off her limbs, leaving them behind, yet the pain was internal. She had to sever them quickly. One step at a time, her feet splashing rain, she walked, toward an uncertain future.