Stories For Liberation: Running and Running and Running

(Painting/"Running and Running and Running"/Gwynne Duncan)

This story of sorrow and compassion from a young woman in high school reminds us of the need for children to stay with their parents during the long and arduous journey to safety. We invite the readers of this series to join our writing circle and teacher training institute. Contact us at Herstory to learn more.

“Running and running and running”

Sometimes we live out dreams that we never dreamt, and we have to take steps down roads we never imagined. My first night of that dream turned nightmare was of fright, insecurity, and rage. I went through many things, like getting in and out of cars, hiding in the bushes, and running and running and running in the middle of the darkness, not caring who or what had been in the way, tripping everyone, trying to catch others.

There was a 5-year-old boy glued to his mother’s hand, running behind her as she pretended for his little steps to keep up with the pace. Throughout that very long, and at the same time short, night when bit by bit things calmed down — in a stroller and with lots of people around — the boy asked his mom in a voice so sweet and innocent, that please, they go home, that he’s hungry and wants to sleep in his bed. His mother feigned tranquility telling him they were almost there.

“Don’t cry, my love,” she told him.

Finally, the first part of the little one’s trajectory ended. The little one and his mother would rest for a couple of hours. But for me, the night continued. In the end, we walked a few blocks to take another bus full of common passengers willing to spend the night there.

Half-ready and with my face against the window, again my tears rolled slowly down my cheeks, one after another falling on my sad and heavy chest. I pretended that nothing was happening inside me, staring out the window at the stars while the bus rolled out, but my heart was killing itself inside. My heart and my thoughts were hurting each other.

Without realizing it, I fell asleep. My sad eyes opened, my face still pressed against the window. I woke up when the bus was making a stop where rain was falling and people rushing with their bags were running home, while others were waiting for another bus with a different destination.

I didn’t know where I was, even less where I was going. And the truth is, I didn’t care where I was going or about what more was coming, I was simply moving aimlessly, following whom I could. Only God could say what came next.

The bus came to a stop, with all its passengers with different destinations, and us just standing there, waiting for someone to pick us up, not knowing who or from where. While we waited, I leaned against a column in the small plaza and saw a gorgeous sunrise with a beaming sun, accompanied by the birds’ beautiful song. I looked around with my mind blank, thinking nothing, feeling everything.

Suddenly someone tapped my back, turned around, and started walking. I followed him. We walked a couple of blocks and went into a house; they just told us to go to the second floor. We went upstairs and there were mattresses on the floor, a couple of damaged and dirty hammocks. In one of the mattresses, were two guys, and on another was a young woman. They were sleeping.

I put my backpack on the floor next to one of the hammocks, headed to the bathroom and stood still for a moment at the door. I looked inside, and the floor was trashed, there was no running water, and the walls were cracked and discolored. I went in the bathroom. There was a small mirror. I got closer and saw my face very tired, my eyes red, and my hair a mess. I washed my face, headed to a hammock, lied down, and without thinking, fell asleep.

After a while, and despite being soundly asleep, I could feel there were people moving around and talking. I opened my eyes, and there was a woman and her two sons who had just arrived. I fell asleep again. A little while later, they came up to say breakfast was ready. I saw the clock, it was barely six in the morning.

Even though I hadn’t eaten everything the day before, I didn’t desire even a bite. I went downstairs because they said “if you don’t come down when called, you have to wait until the next meal.” I had to obey. I wasn’t in my house anymore, waking up when I wanted and eating what I wanted. So in the end, I went downstairs.

I felt so alone, in a strange place, surrounded by strangers. While I waited my turn to get food, I felt uncomfortable. I looked around me, everything was strange, everyone was in line waiting their turn to get food. When I got my food I sat at the table. The woman and her two sons, and my mother’s cousin — with whom I barely spoke — were sitting at the same table, with the other two guys and young woman on the other side. All of them were looking at their food, bringing it to their mouths with great effort, in a profound silence, looking at nothing and no one at all. It was as if they were enslaved to their food, and it seemed I was the only one looking around without touching the plate.

I looked down like everyone else. At that moment, I only wanted to know what my family was doing. I asked myself, “Have they woken up yet? Do they miss me? Do my other relatives know already?”

When I saw that everyone was almost done, I hurried up because I didn’t want to be left alone. Shortly after, we left, one by one, first to wash the plate we’d used, and then back upstairs.

The backpack I carried, I didn’t know what was in it. I hadn’t a clue, and I didn’t want to open it. I lied back in the hammock waiting for time to pass. After much waiting, I got curious about what was accompanying me on this long trip. I opened pocket by pocket: in one of the small pockets was a phone, I turned it on and there were lots of messages from my cousin asking if I was okay and where I was. I answered her right away. My doubts cleared; they did miss me!

In that same backpack pocket was a small black bag with my birth certificate. In the main compartment were my clothes. I started checking it all and didn’t like anything that was there; I had two pairs of pants with me: the ones I had on and the ones in the backpack. There were three shirts, three pairs of socks, and four sets of underwear, which I had yet to use. As for everything else, I didn’t know why they were there. Under my breath I muttered, “What?!” I put my hand on my face and repeated, “What?!”

Really angry, I texted my cousin asking her what was I going to do with all these things. She answered, “Honey, but you didn’t even want to see what was packed. You said you didn’t care.”

“I never asked to come. I shouldn’t have brought anything at all,” I wrote back angrily.

Later I thought, “I’m a fool, I’m far away, and I still keep fighting.” I sent her another message saying, “I’m sorry, don’t pay attention to me, I’m just mad. You all know how I am. Sorry.”

I tried to calm down, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the things I carried with me. “Oh, my God,” I repeatedly constantly.

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