I held the baby a little tighter as I followed the rocky path along the shoreline. My eyes refused to adjust to the darkness and the moon provided little guidance. The baby slept, peacefully buried in my bosom, oblivious to the life altering journey before us. I prayed she wouldn’t wake until we were far enough away to avoid the long limbs of danger that sat in wait, ready to snake their way to us and reel us back.
Many had taken this very path before me in the prior months. Once the elders began talking in whispers at the park over a game of dominoes and an afternoon coffee, they imparted their take on the new regime in hushed tones. The shifts were slow at first, subtle enough to be overlooked by those who still believed they were for the good of the people. Men with lines on their faces, etchings of lives fully lived, encouraged the younger ones to leave while they still could but youth thrives in the face of change and laughs at the staunchness of the experienced. They held their post.
My heel caught in the uneven terrain and I stumbled to one knee. The baby shifted and I shuddered at the possibility she would cry out. We had been traveling for days. My feet were covered in blisters but I couldn’t stop to rest or re-wrap my feet for fear of the soldiers we called “Dupes” who seemed to be entranced by the new leader and his ideologies. It was becoming more difficult to tell them apart, but to me their eyes always gave them away. The few times I had allowed myself to make eye contact, I was taken aback by the repulsive feeling that came over me. Their mannerisms were the same, their dress similar to ours, but something was definitely off-putting about them.
These weren’t strangers surreptitiously weaving themselves into our society, ultimately invading our capital. These were the same people who came to our house every Thursday evening for a friendly game of cards. These were the grocers, the bakers, the police officers and even the teachers who made up our community. When my parents woke me from a deep sleep a few nights ago and told me of the plan they had set in motion, the plan that would take my daughter and I away from everything we’ve ever known, I refused to agree to it. How was I supposed to walk away from the life we had created, the familiarity of a routine instilled in me since I was my daughter’s age? More importantly, how was I to do that alone?
It took two days of my mother’s words pulsating in my mind, “The most courageous thing you can do is to love. Your love for your child will see you through the most strenuous of times.” It was those same words I cloaked myself with as though clad in the armor of a thousand warriors as I stepped into the night and made my way to the city of Glossop. There, a covert group of insurgents had set up an escape route for those fleeing the capital. The plan could be carried out only once a month and in the dead of night. The date was communicated via the network the elders had established and was subject to change if conditions weren’t ideal. Defectors would be given passage on a small vessel provided by local fishermen and taken west to a safe harbor where they would be met by those that escaped before them, given food, shelter, and a new identity.
As I made my way to the designated spot I could think only of what I left behind and all I would be stripped of in order to provide my daughter with the future I had always dreamed of for her. As though sensing my trepidation, she began to stir and I gently placed her mouth on my breast. It wasn’t time for her feeding but it would keep her quiet as we neared the end of our journey. I had rehearsed the directions with my father until he was confident I had memorized them. We had chosen not to use a map or written instructions in the event I was stopped and questioned.
I approached the opening in the trees and saw the embers of a fire that had recently been snuffed out. I knew this to be the sign that I was to wait until I heard the cry of a wolf, followed by the sound of Aeolian chimes.
When seconds turned into minutes, I could feel the disquietude creeping into my gut until I heard the soft whooshing of water as a small boat approached the shoreline. A man stepped out and I had to restrain myself from running to him as I waited for him to motion me to come to him. He held my hand as I stepped into the boat and offered to hold the baby as I boarded. I reluctantly handed her to him and stepped into the boat.
As I turned back to him, I saw movement in the trees. There was something familiar about the man that stepped out and walked over to us. As the moon lit up a sliver of his face I instantly recognized my father. He quickly took the baby from the fisherman and with tears in his eyes said, “I’m sorry it has to be this way, but the government learned of your escape and promised not to kill you in exchange for the baby. They will raise her to believe in their philosophy. She will be one of them. Take comfort in knowing she is too young to remember this day. It was either you or her. This way you both live.”
The boat started to drift and as I sobbed, I once again heard my mother’s words, “The most courageous thing you can do is to love.”
This post was written as part of the YeahWrite Super Challenge and was selected to move on to Round Two. Writers were given the prompt Truth/Abandon a City neither of which could be used in the piece. Word limit was 1,000 and completed piece had to be submitted within 48 hours.