Saturday, 28 September 2013


Humidity hung thick in the air, beads of sweat dripping from my forehead. I blew the hair from my face and pulled it all back into a ponytail as I watched them crowd together, clapping their hands in time to the music. There were about 40 children living at the orphanage. Some were just babies, eyes like crystals, glistening in the everyday light of the sun. Others were a bit older; they had grown up there, all together, right at the heart of Kenya.  Smiles lit up on their faces as a dozen of them charged my way, throwing their slender arms around me in a loving embrace. Laughs exploded from the huddle as the desert dirt coated us, like magic fairy dust. I could only hope that all their wishes would come true. We gathered everybody into a circle and the beat began, first the African drums, and later the feet stomping and the clapping. Strong vocals all came together as they sang in unison, dancing to the rhythm. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before; the beat reflected their souls, their spirits. I joined in, looking round at each child in particular. Each one of them was so beautiful, so unique. The shirts I had brought them hung loose on their slim figures, but the vibrant colours only added to their beauty. Giggles escaped them as they thought of new beats, working together to add to the song. They were family.  I glanced behind me at the orphanage, nothing more than a shed in the middle of a bare desert; their beds non-existent, their bathrooms buckets. We’d long hidden the gifts I’d flown over with me, protecting them from the scorching heat. I sighed as I thought about the water bottles, the snacks, the school supplies, it was nothing. It meant absolutely nothing to me. Everyday things, so plain, so simple. Definitely not life-changing. Little did I know. I looked back at the children still singing at the top of their lungs, their talent shining like the teardrop that fell from my eye as I admired their joy, how grateful they were to be alive and well. I sung with them, inspired by their smiles, the twinkles in their eyes, their ability to carry on with next to nothing left. Their hope had stolen my breath away, and all I could do was dance with them, thinking of nothing but the beauty of the music, the simple, stunning, admirable music. 

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Sunday, 22 September 2013


“Mia,” Dad’s voice streamed into my ears as I turned the volume up a few notches, wanting nothing more than to block out the sound. “Mia!” His voice was louder this time, the impatience growing. I ignored it once more. “AMELIA!” I had no choice. I hit the pause button and made my way down the stairs, exaggerated heart balloons being shoved into my face the second I stepped into the room. “Hold these dear, now, what do you say?”
“Happy Birthday Emma.” My tone was blank, matching the expression on my face. I could feel Dad’s gaze poring through me, hints of anger flashing in his eyes. I forced my lips into a fake smile and handed her the balloons.
“Happy Birthday Em,” he leaned forwards, planting a sickening kiss onto her lips. “Now come on, open it.” Her evil eyes lit up as she ripped open the wrapping paper. I’d wanted to scribble “Wicked Step-mum” on the front, but I had quickly decided against it, for Dad’s sake. Not that I had forgiven him for marrying her. Not that I would ever forgive him. I watched her nimble fingers lift the lid and felt my heart tear as the gem reflected the morning sunlight that poured through the window.
“They’re beautiful,” she said. She held up the box, as if purposely trying to hurt me, using the delicate sapphire earrings to stab a hole into my heart. A single tear fell from my eyes as I held onto the memory of her, her glowing rosy cheeks and her auburn curls falling into her face just as mine do now. My mother.
“Don’t look Mia,” her palms felt warm against my skin as she covered my eyes, gently pushing me along as she led me through the house. It was the night before my graduation, just over a month before the incident. Her breath heated the back of my neck, almost protecting me, keeping me safe. “Just a few more steps... now open your eyes.”
I gasped as all my breath got stolen away from me, my eyes mirroring the dazzle of the ocean blue jewels as I admired the earrings. I turned to her. She beamed, her eyes filling with tears. “I’m so proud of you darling.” Her arms wrapped around me, shielding me from all the harm in the world. Nothing could ever compare to that moment.
I wrapped my arms around her, wanting to treasure the moment, desperate not to let go. My tears soaked the frosted white sheets of the hospital bed. Her skin was intensely pale, she blended into her surroundings. All the rosiness had left her cheeks. Her hair lay flat on the pillow. The only part of her remaining was the twinkle in her eye as I told her about my day, reciting my test results, mumbling the words through my sobs.

“I’m so proud of you darling.” The words stung.  

Sunday, 15 September 2013


It was the shadow I saw first, nothing more than a trick of the light in my eyes. My feet carried me forwards, careful to dodge any unexpected twigs hidden in the soggy mud. The river raged, currents almost competing to be the first to hit the rocks with great force, droplets of water forming a mist to match the icy fog of the winter night air. Just a single dim lamp lit up the ancient wooden bridge, its wood ready to split at any given moment. That was when I saw her. More than just a shadow, a girl, just a teenager, standing tall on the side of the bridge. I froze, watching her tremble, as if every bone in her body was trying to say something, screaming, desperate to be heard. I watched the wind carry her long auburn curls, fighting to bring her back to the ground, back to safety. She was about to jump. Countless ideas rattled my brain, my tongue stiff, not bringing the words to life. I stepped forward, careful not to scare her. The twig snapped, and that was the first time I saw her face, pale, shaken, beautiful.
Just jump, just do it. I stood on the side of the bridge, not daring to look down at the wild river rapids below. My brain raced, thoughts unclear, hazy, memories too painful to remember. I’d been planning this for months, tonight was the night. Nobody would know, nobody would care. Goosebumps formed on my bare arms as I faced the winter chill, imagining the shock of the frozen water, like a release. That was when I heard it, the twig, the faint crack of wood, a harsh contrast to any other noise. I jumped, heart stopping when I saw his face. He flinched as our eyes met, a look of painful longing growing in his eyes.

“Wow.” The rasp in his voice felt welcoming, almost kind. I stared back at him, still, unable to move, unable to think. “You’re beautiful.” He stepped closer, holding out his hand. I watched his every movement closely, positive that he was faking it. He wasn’t really being kind. Not to me. It didn’t happen. His gaze pored through me, what would’ve have been intimidating if it didn’t feel so gentle. I stared into his eyes, the smile curling onto his lips. His eyes twinkled in the dim forest light. My whole body shook at this point, thoughts jumbled, emotions wrecked. I reached forward, his hand meeting mine. I stood there for a lingering second before collapsing into his arms, drenching his woollen sweater with my own pity tears. He held me tight, like no one had ever held me before. My mind replayed the two words he’d uttered. You’re beautiful. How I had longed for those words to be said to me, just once when I was wearing my most special navy dress or when I had spent hours perfecting my hair. Just once. It had never happened. Good things didn’t happen to people like me. Kindness was a distant dream that I could only hope to come true. 

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Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The accident

My eyes flashed over the stairs, the proud picture stabbing a wound into my heart. My mind registered the words as I tried to avoid remembering. I failed. Tears pricked my eyes as I blinked away the painful memory of the accident. It was all a blur, everything happening so quickly. All I saw was the light, the intensity like nothing I had ever seen before. My vision blurred as I forced my eyes open, white walls, white sheets, white monitors beeping around me. My mother cried out as she watched my arm twitch, rubbing her drowsy eyes, the restraint of it all overwhelming. I knew nothing, remembered nothing. Only later did I learn that it was the alcohol, the dizziness controlling his every muscle. He swerved too early, missed the light, charging on forwards, music blaring, completely unaware of his surroundings. He left soon after the crash, too soon after in fact. I never saw him. And now, here I was, eight months later, scars snaking their way up my every body part, secret wounds hiding under bits of old clothing. I wheeled up to the stairs, sighing deeply, avoiding eye contact as I felt stares seep through me. Businessmen, young teenagers, naive mothers, chatting away furiously until they reached the bottom of the unbearably steep stairs, conversations dying away, along with every last bit of hope I had in me. They looked, they judged, and yet they really knew nothing. Nothing about me, nothing about my life. I held my breath, terrified to let it out, knowing that countless tears would flow out with it. Nothing had been the same since the accident. Nothing would be the same ever again. 

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Tuesday, 3 September 2013

You make me happy

“You make me happy,” his breath brushed my ear as he whispered the words, his tone soft, gentle. Brandon had spent the day at my house, charming compliments escaping his mouth every couple of minutes. He’d picked out the movie himself, a romantic comedy, plenty of excuses for me to feel his silky lips on my own. “You really do, Zoe, you make me happy.” My body tingling, I forced a limp smile curling myself up, shielding my face behind my arms, not wanting him to see the teardrops that had begun to form in my pale green eyes. Countless memories drifted into my mind as I replayed the words. I could hear his voice so clearly in my head, the raspy sound like music, an acoustic ballad, a beautiful melody. I pictured the thousands of crinkles that grew by his eyes when he smiled, the twinkle in them reflecting the light, the joy spilling out from inside of him. I remembered him saying those exact words. He’d tell me almost every weekend over our Sunday roast dinners. The whole family would drive over; getting ourselves lost every time, without fail. We would be starved by the time we squished into the one bedroom bungalow in the middle of nowhere. Mouth-watering aromas wafted into my nose as I’d see the feast laid out on the table, the excitement of tradition exploding inside of me. Grandma made everything except for the gravy. That was Granddad’s speciality.
“You add a hint of orange,” he’d whisper, just for my ears to hear. He never gave his secret away to anybody else. I’d help him mix in the rest of the powder, spilling it all over the countertop, a brown mist of dust coating my face as I choked from laughter. That’s when he’d say it. The exact words. “You make me happy.”

I refused to wear black. He wouldn’t have liked it. He’d look down in shame, shaking his head, disappointed. I couldn’t stand that. Orange was his favourite. There was no question about it. I stood out like a sickening raisin cookie in a tub of delicious chocolate chip, everyone stared. I couldn’t meet their eyes, the tears blurring my vision. I spoke to no one that day, choking on the words I could have said. I held the paper firmly in my hand, protecting it from the harsh gusts of wind winding through the forest. He loved windy days. When the service came to an end, I couldn’t stop the tears from drowning the soil as I crouched by the grave, reaching out slowly and tucking the note under a rock. “You make me happy,” it read.