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Daylight crawled through the branches and onto the grass. Marcus opened his eyes but he didn’t sit up. He was too tired to move. He stared at Fatima as the light fell over her. He hadn’t gotten a chance to look at her so closely. She had a soft face that resembled the one of a child, but with bags under her eyes that aged her terribly. Her skin seemed to be covered by a soft layer of fog. Her eyes were fixed in the trees of the forest.
“You lied to me.” Marcus muttered.
Fatima looked down, “About what?”
“You said you could only grow flowers, but you controlled the waves last night.”
She shook her head and looked back at the trees, “I said I couldn’t do much more than grow flowers. Either way, I didn’t move the waves.”
He tried to push himself up but the weight was too much for him, “Then who was it?”
“The forest.” She replied, “I told you, it protects me because I protect it. It helped me last night because I’ve spent my life helping it.” She stood up and offered Marcus a hand, “Come on, we still have a long way to go.”
Marcus grabbed her hand and pulled himself to his feet. His knees collapsed. He grabbed onto the bark of a tree as he tried to keep his legs steady. “You didn’t sleep.” Fatima mentioned.
“You didn’t either and you seem fine.” He pushed himself off the bark and managed to keep his balance.
“I haven’t slept since the child started crying. I’m used to it.” She grabbed his hand and breathed out. The root crawled out of her skin and onto Marcus. He was beginning to get used to its pain. The colors hit his eyes like needles. He rubbed them as a pounding started in his head. “Will you be alright?” Fatima asked.
“Yes, I’m fine.” He muttered, “Let’s go.” Fatima nodded and began walking.
She didn’t walk as quickly as she was used to, for Marcus tugged on the root every couple of steps. He could not take more than two steps without fumbling with his own feet. He tried to keep his eyes closed, but the roots grabbed onto his ankles the instant he closed his eyelids. The sound of the crying child grew stronger. He could not ignore it anymore. Every noise pierced into his head.
The floor grew steep. “Perhaps we should stop.” Fatima turned around.
“No, it’s ok. Let’s keep going.” Marcus rubbed his eyes.
“We’re about to go up a hill.” Fatima stated, “Are you sure you don’t want to rest?”
“The sooner we get to the child, the sooner both of us get to rest.” Fatima nodded and kept walking.
Every step got harder. Rocks blocked the path and slid down the steep hill the moment Marcus pressed his foot on them. He grabbed onto any branch he could and held Fatima’s hand tightly. He looked down. He wasn’t sure if it was his state, the root, or his inexperience with the forest that made the side of the hill look like a tall bright green wall underneath him. He rubbed his eyes once more.
A rock slid under his shoes and he lost his breath. He grabbed Fatima´s hand but his grasp slipped and in that instant, the root broke. His heart raced as his body hit the floor and fell down the hill.
Branches and roots dug into his skin as he rolled down. He grasped on to anything he could reach for but it snapped in his hands. He could feel his heart about to rip through his chest. Everything stung like fire. He didn’t notice when the sharp rock hit him in the head and knocked him out.
Marcus awoke with a sharp pain on his chest. He wasn’t sure if it was from all the work his lungs did or from something that had stabbed itself into his torso. Something wet fell on his forehead. He opened his eyes and touched it. Leaves covered the liquid. He took one off and pressed his fingers against it. Sharp pain shot across his forehead. He brought down his fingers and observed the dark red color.
“Don’t take them off.” A voice said, “They’re good for you.”
Marcus lifted his head and turned around. A young girl sat next to a tree as she weaved dry branches into a braid. She hummed a tuneless melody that she seemed to be making up in the moment. Red marks were painted across her forehead, under her long brown hair. Marcus tried to push himself upright but a sharp headache stopped him. “You took an awful long fall.” The girl bended the braided branches and placed them at the brim of a basket. She continued braiding it into the basket.
“What are you?” Marcus asked.
The girl stopped braiding and looked down at herself, confused. “Hope.” She replied.
“Hope.” Marcus repeated. He thought that perhaps finding “hope” in the middle of the forest weaving a basket might be the strangest thing he had seen.
The girl nodded, “What’s your name?”
“Marcus.” He replied. A thought occurred to him. Fatima was nowhere to be seen. “Have you seen a small woman with black hair and big eyes around here?”
“You mean Fatima?”
Marcus tried to nod but the movement made his head hurt. “Yes,” he said.
Hope shook her head as she grabbed a branch from the floor and peeled it, “I don’t like her. She doesn’t let me make friends.”
Marcus shivered. “Why?” He asked. Hope shrugged. He thought there had to be a reason Fatima kept this girl solitary. But the longer he looked at the girl, the less frightened he was. Her fingers were meticulous and quick with the weaving. Her sight was fixed on her every movement. She looked concentrated and even sweet while she weaved. He thought that perhaps Fatima had been wrong about her.
He waited for the headache to stop. He sat up and watched in silence as Hope weaved. She grabbed some branches and began a new basket. “You can do it too, if you want.” Hope said without taking her eyes off the branches.
“I don’t know how,” He shook his head.
“It’s easy,” she smiled. She weaved a small circle and handed it to Marcus, “All you do is braid it, like a little girl’s hair.”
Marcus let a soft laugh escape his lips, “I’ve never done that.”
“Oh well, here’s your chance.” Hope grabbed more branches and began her own basket.
Marcus looked at the small circle, puzzled. He grabbed a single strand of the branch and braided it through the others. He thought it was odd how it felt like soft hair, just like Hope had said, like braiding a child’s hair. He continued to weave through the branches. At first, his movements were slow, but as he gained speed, his mind went blank.
Marcus forgot where he was. He didn’t look at the sky to see how late it was getting. He didn’t bother thinking about finding Fatima to continue his journey. He didn’t think about Hope who looked over at him from time to time to check on his progress before returning to her own weaving.
He began to forget the face of his wife he had seen the night before and the face of his daughter that he had been fighting to see again. He forgot the funerals, the pain, the nights of praying for a miracle that never happened. He began to forget his name.
The branches cut onto his fingers. They left wounds on his hands. Blood fell onto the weaved basket and began to fill it like a glass. He didn’t feel the pain. He had forgotten how to. He simply kept weaving. He could swear he heard the laughter of a little girl as he weaved, and he was sure that it wasn’t real laughter but he liked hearing it. Weaving until his fingers bled, it made him feel content.
He heard a whisper in his ear but could not make out the words. He didn’t care to listen to it. The whisper was there again, stronger. He felt wind on his hands as it pushed them off the basket, but he ignored it and kept weaving. He started to make out words from the wind but the words had no meaning to him.
“Make him stop.”
“Why? He is so happy.”
“He’s going to die of hunger if he doesn’t stop.”
“He’s going to die of pain if someone else stops him.”
“Then what do I do?”
“Nothing. Only he can decide to stop, but look at him. He’s so happy. Let him be.”
Marcus didn’t linger in trying to find sense out of the meaningless words. He focused on his hands as they weaved over and over in the same pattern.
He felt a pinch on his wrist and the color of his basket grew bright. He felt the air push on his chest. He heard a whisper again, but it wasn’t a word. It was a sound. It took him a moment to recognize the sound. It seemed unfamiliar at first, but the memory hit him like a knife on his chest. It was the sound of the crying child.
He dropped the basket and looked up.
All the lost memories hit him at once. The pain of every single one felt fresh again. They stabbed into his body like needles and froze him in place. He screamed as his headache grew stronger until he could not think. He snapped the root that had grown onto his arm and pulled on his hair. Tears ran down his cheek. He couldn’t move. Everything burned. Everything was cold. Everything ached. Everything was numb. He felt every type pain possible in an instant.
Then it was gone.
He felt to his side and gasped for air. His heart was racing. The moon was once again lighting up the sky. He didn’t realize how late it was. He tried to push himself off the ground but his fingers burned. He looked up. Fatima and Hope stood beside him. Fatima knelt down and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “Let’s go, sir.” He grabbed onto Fatima as she pulled him upright.
“He was happy, Fatima. Why did you have to ruin it?” Hope cried. Fatima ignored her as she walked Marcus back into the forest.
“Marcus, you can return if you want.” Hope called. Marcus stumbled over his own feet as he turned around to see Hope. “It’s nice, isn’t it? The nothing.” She smiled. He kept his eyes on her smile until it disappeared and there was nothing but darkness.
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