“Now we’re trapped,” Mi said.
Jahan smiled, confused. “We’re free.”
They shook their head. “Never to leave the city again? If the war gave us one thing, it was the ability to leave.”
Smile gone, Jahan looked long suffering. As if Mi forced him in a corner. “We’re safe now. Don’t tell me you wanted it to go on.”
“I don’t want to see more blood.”
Mi spoke the truth, but avoided outright telling him they wanted the war to end. The soldiers recovered and then returned to their practice. Practice within the practice grounds. Practice on the ground.
“I’m not my grandfather. I’m never going to be. He was wonderful, wasn’t he? I never knew. I wish I had known him better while he was alive. It isn’t making up for it, but I will have to get to know him better now, with what there is left of him. You miss him, don’t you? You must, I guess. I won’t ignore what’s here. Still, you have to understand. I’m not him. I will not be doing all of the same things as him. Some of those traditions are not me. Can we try together? I want to know him better and you can show me. If I learn about it, even if I don’t continue it… it won’t be lost. Not between the two of us.”
The cottage did nothing to reply that Salma could tell. Then again, that meant nothing. The cottage did many thing that meant something Salma hadn’t been able to interpret. Partially her fault. Just as much the fault of a grieving cottage.
Hope is the salve of the soul
Escaping the injury of despair
And as we reach forward, a whole
Love as a remedy blossoms there
The skies had turned dark and Salma remembered her hunger. Without much energy, she returned to the kitchen. She looked at what she had and decided upon a simple meal of soup, as she already had a can. She found the pot and while she opened the can up, she realized the stove was already warming. Pouring in her meal, she watched it closely for some time, smelling as the food prepared itself. She added in a few things, stirring all the while.
The cupboard wouldn’t open, not allowing her a bowl. Before Salma could become upset, she looked up to the table in the other room. Everything had already been set up. Bowl, spoon, napkin.
Salma blinked back her tears. Did the cottage miss him? she asked aloud of the abode around her.
Serving herself with what had been set out for her, Salma ate her dinner in the place where her grandfather must have taken most all of his meals. The cottage took care of the stove, putting the fire in the fireplace instead to warm the chilling air. The fire was weak until Salma went to feed a bit more fuel to it. Settling back in her seat, she finished the bread she had dipped into her soup. A simple meal, but the best one she had had in weeks.
A full month after Mi had fully recovered, the doctor let them go back home on bed rest. Mi didn’t understand why no one else saw it. Perhaps they are all too busy celebrating their victory. Mi wished they could join. No more blood drying on brown. Their uniform came home with them, on display in their room. Still mocking them.
Jahan came to visit them. “You will be celebrated for your sacrifice. Fo’s agreed to let you come to the ceremony with the rest of us. We’ll just be careful.”
Mi couldn’t believe that the entire world thought they were still injured. Perhaps Mi was the problem. Yet they could stand and walk without trouble. Why did everyone act as though Mi were crippled? Costing them the rest of the war.
Until this moment, she wouldn’t have been able to describe any of these dancers at any point in her life, not even the day after the night her grandfather held them before her. Salma had been here an entire month and she wouldn’t have been able to describe these people. For they were people, captured in motion, sought out by her grandfather and immortalized within renditions of their own bodies. An entire month and she hadn’t looked into her grandfather’s things?
That was untrue, she had looked into some of it. Yet she felt as though she had missed all of the important things. She had spent that time glancing up at the marks on the ceiling, not even guessing what they really were, half the time on her back because lack of sleep or because of a door slammed in her face. The books on the shelf had meant nothing, not during the amount of times she had had to put them back.
Enlightenment through a process of knowledge
The next time she walked by the shelf, two of the volumes had been pushed forward to stick out. She pulled them out to look them over later.
The dancer figurines had openings in the bottom, where small curls of yellowed paper were stashed. She carefully pried each of them out with her fingernails, slowly flattening them to see what they were. Autographs, she decided, seeing only a single signature on each. Studying the figurines once more, Salma was struck by the fact these were models of real dancers, not simply renditions of anything generic. Every single one had an autograph inside. Salma didn’t recognize any of the names, any of the faces.
But she did remember these figures, up on a shelf higher than her eyes when she was little. Reaching up in order to play with them, her mother would scold her and bat her hands away. Later in the day, her grandfather brought one down for her to look at. He didn’t let her hold it, though he let her put her tiny hands all over it. Her hands were clean, she remembered, someone had made her wash up before. Her small fingers reached into each crevasse, taking delight in the texture and the colours more than anything about what those two things had come together to create.
“You could at least listen to the doctor, if not to anyone else who cares about you.” Fo sat down at the table, near the book.
Mi almost wondered what the book is about, but recognized their mind trying anything to not focus on Fo.
Mi’s hand clenched the rough fabric of their sheet. “I want to go home.”
Fo exhaled. “You’d be home sooner if you did as you were told.”
Mi stared out the window. The wood jammed into the frame wasn’t the same in any other room. To keep Mi in, their family decided to take more measures as the doctor hadn’t bothered. Why did the hospital have to be that shade of brown?
The rustling of paper told Mi that Fo wanted to read to them again. Mi wouldn’t listen. Even if they wanted to, Mi couldn’t focus on it. Fo worried too much, over nothing. The world conspired against them.
When Jahan entered later to tell the both of them the war has ended, Mi felt the world laugh at them.
Eventually Salma found the answer in a closet. Plane models, wound up to propel themselves along the track built into the ceiling. One of them came with a similar magnet, where she could push it along the ceiling with the repulsion. Salma set all of them up above, finding where each of them fit and staring in wonder.
Then, without her having to do anything, the planes began to move. The cottage pushed them along. Salma watched, enthralled in the mini display.
He must have liked aeroplanes, her grandfather. No one had told her. It was amazing and such a shame she had never known.
There was a collection by Bulawaye on the smaller shelf, the books all a part of the same collection, completely level to each other. They were in various level of wear, obviously not all bought at the same time. Similar covers, but spines so varied she wondered if they were really bought at such different times or if her grandfather liked some more than others.