When Night Falls Once More

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105

FINALIST
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We walked across the mountains in the silence of the night. Took our shoes off so that we did not make the twigs crack under our feet. My feet were bleeding and I bit my lip as I gripped my mother’s hand, her eyes still pinned, over her shoulder, to a tiny point somewhere behind us. She told me not to cry, as she dangled from her free hand a suitcase full of rags, tied up with old pieces of string. Her red scarf had blown away up into the sky and we crouched down for a few minutes against the earth, smelling the perfume of its past springs mingle with the clouds before continuing on our way.

Our skirts swept the gray dust from the uncertain path over the peaks and the wild wind dried my tears before they could even run down my face. I could see the raw nerve of anxiety beating on my mother’s drawn features and a few brown strands of hair stuck to her cheeks with the effort of walking. But I wanted to believe. To dream that the end of the scrub promised a happy ending. I was wrong.

Here the people draw away as we pass and mutter behind our backs. We are too dark, our skin liked the sun too much to melt into the landscape. Our feet trudge through bitter channels, furrows of life that emerge from the mud. Everything is like wood riddled with worms, or a sheet of metal warped by cold and misery. My mother says that we carry our riches in our hearts, that that is where she has stored away all the happy times so that no one can take them from us. I miss everything. The smell of the hay and the sound of the vines crackling, the rough coats and warm breath of our animals now left to their own devices.

When night comes in the middle of the huts and the chairs are pulled out to form a makeshift square, candles are lit and voices mingle, that is when I close my eyes and forget.

I carry my homeland in my blood and I have sea-salt carved into my palms. The poetry of its shapes lies on the iris of my eye. The memory of the wind running over my skin. My foreigner’s gaze is placed like a standard in that hostile environment and if there is nothing left of the poppies but the mantilla at the center, it is because I plucked their petals before I left. They fly and swirl to the sound of the Fado, when the women release the tears they have held back to melt into the song of memories.

I carry the hope and caress the desire of my people, when the time comes, to scatter their ashes over there, a little further to the south. My land will see me again, it retains my proud expression, the wish to get back my mother’s scarf and give it back its perfume. It takes my hopes and the promise of the sun into the clouds.

My breath blows far away from those stones to which I belong, and I dream of erasing the pain contained in this simple word: exile.

When night falls once more, my heart remembers and it stops beating to cry for its roots.

Translated by Wendy Cross

105

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