The only feeling left in my body exists in my legs and feet. I've been running for what seems like an eternity, and I'm still going to be late. The sun is rising higher in the sky while it sends its rays to beat down on my face. But I must journey on, otherwise I will be brutally punished. My scholars aren't as lenient with the girls. I consider for a moment how they lack leniency even for the boys, and I quicken my pace. 'The ears of a boy are only on his back', I think. I must remind myself of this to keep my legs moving.
I run past smaller children who are young enough to not be burdened with an education. I spare a small glance as one of the little girls reaches up for her mother. I have to turn my head away to stop the tears. I haven't seen my mother in years. The last time I remember seeing her was the day she sent me away. Of course, it was for the best. She sent me away to learn. I'm to become a basket weaver. Inside, I sigh at the thought. I had always hoped of something that involved more...travel, perhaps? I don't know. Just something more. I round a corner, and I'm panting now. It's rare that a girl receives an education at all, let alone one that would teach her a trade. I should be thankful. I should be grateful. I should be there by now! 'The ears of a boy are only on his back', I remember. Finally, I see the familiar building. As I run towards the door, a massive pain hits my cheek. My sight goes blurry as I fall to the ground. The sun is hotter than ever, and I squint up at my attacker. It is my scholar.
"You are late, Habibah!", he yells as the rest of the students gather around him, most of the boys laughing or pointing in my direction. I look for help to the other two girls, but I know they will suffer the same punishment if they object. I open my mouth to apologize for my tardiness, but before I can utter a word, my scholar swiftly kicks me in the stomach. 'The ears of a boy are only on his back', I think.
"The ears of a boy are only on his back - he hears only when he is beaten!", my scholar yells with glee before I receive another kick, and everything fades to light.
The sound of cheering is deafening. I look around at the thousands of people in the stands. Their angry and excited faces blend together into one solid wall of hate. I cling tighter to my mother, and she pulls me behind her. My father is standing in front of us both, trying his hardest to remain calm. Suddenly, all attention is directed to Emperor Decius, and he nods his head. The crowd begins to yell and cheer even louder than before as a door is opened. I hear my mother cry out and begin a prayer to the Holy Father.
Out of the shadows, a beast of massive proportions enters the Colosseum. The jeers and shouts are growing stronger. As the lion takes in its surroundings, it lays its dark eyes on my father. A thundering roar escapes the creature, and it charges for us. My mother gasps and picks me up from the ground before she turns to run. She covers my eyes as she runs, but I can still hear my father's pleas for mercy for his family as the lion rips him apart. His cries go unheard by the crowd. My mother turns around, having found no escape. She looks up at the faces of those in the seats, and then at Emperor Decius himself.
"Please!", she screams as loudly as possible, "My son - he's only a child! Take me instead! I beg of you!"
But all that can be heard is the shouting of the insatiable, blood thirsty crowd. They all point and laugh at our misfortune, some pretending to tear us apart as if they were the lion. The beast finishes what is left of my father, and sets its eyes on the next target. My mother notices this, and sets me down. She then kneels in front of me, her hands clasped tightly in prayer.
"Almighty Father and Son of the Blessed Virgin, protect my child! Please, I -"
My mother does not finish. The lion lunges at her, catching her by the throat. I feel myself back away instinctively. Once again, the cheering of the crowd invades my ears, but all I can focus on is my mother's lifeless eyes. The lion angrily tears at her flesh, lapping up the blood that is pooling around her. The sound of joints and tendons snapping rings throughout the colosseum. I suddenly realize that I am crying and sputtering.I briefly wonder how long I have been doing this.
"Mama!", I scream, reaching for her. The lion looks up, and catches my eye. The beast's own orbs seem to be too dark to decipher, but for a small moment, I think I detect a hint of sadness and desperation. But it is gone quickly, and I am sent to meet my Heavenly Father.
I can hear my heart beating loudly, and I pray that I am the only one who can hear it. My little brother, Alvino, is huddled close to me, his hand clutching my arm. We are hiding under a table in our home. I blocked the doors with every chair I could find in hopes that the soldiers wouldn't find us. It has been many years since King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issued a decree stating that any non-Christian person must convert or be put to death. Being a Muslim, I was immediately afraid. However, my parents, little brother, and I were planning on leaving the country, our religious views intact. We thought that it would be another two years before the soldiers reached our small village. We were naive enough to believe those lies, and now our home was under siege. Mother and Father have already been slain, but I cannot bear to tell Alvino. His cries would not only break my heart, but they would lead the soldiers straight to our door.
"Aintzane, where are Mama and Papa?", Alvino whispers. I quickly cover his mouth with my hand, signaling him to be quiet. I hear footsteps outside our home. They are right behind the front door. I hold my breath, praying that whoever is there will go away. 'Go away', I think, 'Just go away'. There is a silence that seems to stretch on for hours. Suddenly, I hear a loud banging on the door. Alvino jumps in surprise, and holds on tighter to my arm.
The banging gets louder, and eventually, the door gives into the hacking of the soldiers' swords. They burst into our home, and immediately spot us under the table. As the soldiers rush towards us, Alvino screams and hugs my arm, pleading for them to go away. The soldiers reach us quickly and pull us out from under the table. One soldier holds my arms as another grabs Alvino by the throat. I scream for him, and kick the shins of the soldier holding me. He lets go of one of my arms, but quickly recovers.
"You'll pay for that, girl!", he growls. My eyes widen as Alvino is dragged out of the house. I hear him yelling my name before a mangled scream silences the air. Time stops, and I feel the color drain from my face. Before I can scream, a piercing pain in my stomach steals my voice and my attention. I look down to see my dress stained red. My eyes follow the sword as the soldier draws it out of my stomach. I fall to the floor. I see the feet of the soldiers leaving my house, and my sight begins to darken. I manage to whimper one last time before I am taken away into a bright light.
"One hundred and ninety-five!"
There is a pause among the crowd. I look around at the sea of faces, all of them pale compared to my own. An ocean of eyes, and all of them staring at me. Standing up on this block, I am all alone. I'm alone in this town and in the world. Alone in life. I knew at a young age what my life meant to the slave owners. My mother and father taught me the ways of the world, and what my future would look like. Picking cotton, cleaning the slave owner's house, watching their children, or making their food. That's all we meant to them. But I can't help but wonder - what's my real worth? If given the chance, could I do the same things that they do? Could I be a teacher or a historian? Perhaps an actress? Or maybe a shop owner? Could I? I'm only fifteen, I'd have a lot of time to work at it. I mean, really, what is my worth?
"Two hundred dollars!"
"Sold, to the lady and gentleman in the back!"
I let out a small sigh. Now I know.
I'm so cold. The blankets here are useless - they couldn't even keep a flea warm, let alone a boy. I have to sleep on my shoes instead of a pillow. I honestly don't know what will become of me. I haven't seen any members of my family since we were forced to come here. I remember it clearly because it was my fourteenth birthday. Instead of a cake and candles, there were men in suits and crowds of frightened people. And the trains. I'll never forget the trains. They packed us on them as if we were cattle going in for slaughter. Sometimes I wonder if it would have been better if I had known then what I know now. Maybe I could something, anything to warn all the innocent people.
I start to cough violently. I know I've grown ill. My face is pale and I've been losing energy. I know I'm going to die here. There's not much else someone can do in a situation like this. But I shouldn't think like that. There's still a chance I could make it out, there's always a chance. I just ned some rest...just some sleep. Slowly, ever so slowly, I drift off to the light.
I'm resting in this make-shift hospital while only a few doctors tend to all of the patients. I heard a nurse talking about how there's not enough medication to go around. I know this should worry me, but all I can do is feel relief. Relief that maybe all of this pain will eventually go away, and that maybe I'll see my family again. But perhaps the government will find a cure to this debilitating disease, and everything will be okay. Maybe the world will realize that we, the children, are their greatest asset, and that we need to be protected. Maybe.
I turn on my side with great effort. I can sort of see out of the window now. The sun is shining brightly, and the sky is a royal blue. How is it possible that such beauty can be among such ugliness? How is it at all possible? I let my mind drift away while I close my eyes. Suddenly, I don't see illness or disease. There is no harshness, violence, hate, or discrimination. There is only love and happiness, and blue skies for miles. I can vaguely feel a smile spread across my face before my dream becomes a reality.