By: Katrina Ray-Saulis
He lifts her from the floor of the classroom. Her left arm is a raw shade of meaty red. Her eyes stolid. He doesn’t hear the screaming parents and teachers or see the other damaged and destroyed children that surround his daughter. He doesn’t feel the shards of glass piercing his pant legs and burying themselves deeply in his knees. He sees only the bits of his little girl's flesh lying in the rubble like discarded clothing she has outgrown. He hears her small breath. Her faint heartbeat flutters, keeping him alive.
She whined when he put her hair up this morning. He wrapped lavender bands around her curls in two small bunches on the top of her head. Her brown eyes winced. He was rougher on her hair than usual. He was thinking about bombs in backpacks and lurking under buses. About the border and the refugee camps beyond it. He was debating escape. But still she smiled afterward, wrapped her small arms around his neck before walking into the school, her brown hair bouncing.
He picks up one of her lavender hair bands from a puddle of blood on the floor and wipes a piece of glass from it. He puts it into his pocket, balancing her on his other arm.
She asked not to go to school. She always wanted to go to school, but today she asked to stay home with him. She asked if she could help him repair the front door and look for a job instead of learning to read. Her eyes were large as she said, “Just for today, papa? Can I stay with you just for today?”
Perhaps she knew.
Now her pieces, her flesh, is melting off of her arm. Victim to a chemical brewed in some far away lab by scientists who couldn't estimate what would come of their life's work.
He leaves the school amid sirens and screams. He ignores the calls of neighbors and government officials. He doesn't return home for any keepsake. He needs only this little girl. He takes disinfectant and bandages from a man in a medic jacket. He cleans her, dresses her wounds, on the sidewalk. When she wakes, her eyes full of fear, he tells her not to be scared, as they begin their pilgrimage. Whispers and bribes move them closer to safety.
The closer he gets to the border the tighter he grips her young body. He has to cross with her or not cross at all. There is a van, a truck, a worn pair of boots. He is focused on her face, every sign of life from it keeps him moving. Day becomes night in his blurred vision. At some point he wraps her in a blanket, but he doesn't know where it came from. He remembers the first blanket he swaddled her in, her infant cry hoarse and thick. Her mother dead in giving her life. He vowed to make that life worth the loss of her. Branches snag at his bare arms but he is silent as he crosses the border. The camp is a few miles further still. He feels as though he's being pulled there, the weight of her in his arms his momentum.
When he reaches it he knows it as though he has been there before, but it is only familiar from the images in his head. The things he imagined around drinks in dark rooms. Stories whispered among neighbors. Neighbors whose warnings he refused to acknowledge.
Refugees and volunteers mingle around the building, the only distinction between the two is the look of loss in their eyes.
He leaves behind his home, his country. What is left of it. He leaves behind his wife’s remains, now dust beneath a pile of dirt and bricks. He walks toward a metropolis of white tents. Dirty children scrape corn out of metal bowls.
A woman steps toward him. Her home is intact. It is somewhere else, on a different continent. But she is here, holding out her hand to help him. She carries the weight of destruction on her shoulders, too. He imagines what she would have been like as a child. He knows her country is one where little girl's hair ties fall on clean pavement.