A twelve-year-old girl straggles her feet one after the other. The edges of tree branches cut through her skin, and sharp objects hidden beneath the fallen leaves pierce under her feet. She rolls down a hill three times, and each time, her face strikes itself against a stone or a half stone.
When the young girl reaches the city, she sees a high-rise building and enters through the back. Second, after second, she crawls up the staircase leaving traces of blood behind. Her knees crumble on the edges of each step. Tears dry on her face. She pushes her weak body against the metallic door because it is too heavy to open. It flings open to the other side.
The wind tosses abandoned beer cans on the floor. The girl drags her feet again across the floor. Breathless, she climbs the ledge of the roof. Tears run down her cheeks, and she places her palms on her chest. She lets her tongue taste the air. Then she looks down the high-rise building to see cars and people racing the bright streets.
After a lingering moment of looking downward, she takes a deep breath and releases her hands weakly to her sides. Her short black hair waves to the night wind. On the ledge, bloodless and weightless, the cool breeze blows the pleats of her gown back and forth. The moonlight reflects a portion of itself on the girl’s bloody butterflies and the dirty marks on it. Lines of dry tears and scars paint themselves on her face while thick blood leaks from it.
The girl wallows for a while in the gaze of the sky. A sad sly smile sketches her face. She rocks her body, spreads her hands apart in the air, closes her eyes, and dives to her death. But a steady hand grabs her ankle before she hits the ground. The stranger’s chest rests on the ledge while one of his hands grabs it. He smacks his lips as he pulls the girl upward and back to the rooftop, using his strength. One of his knees leans on to the wall for support. With the girl’s eyes still closed, and her hands swinging downward. She inhales deeply before falling unconscious.
On one knee, the man who looks over fifty years old in distressed jeans, loose tees and black leather drawstring jacket brings and drops the girl’s body on the floor. He changes his stance to a sitting position with his knees flexed and palms resting on the dusty granite floor behind his back. He sighs deeply and strokes his almost bald head. Then he gazes momentarily at the dark moonlit sky before getting up to his feet and dusts off his jeans. For a little while, he looks at the young girl’s unmoving body before approaching it.
She looks dead from where he stands. So, he checks her body for a pulse and carries her from the dusty floor. He cups the back of her head onto his right shoulder. And holds onto her body with his hands around her knees and walks back into the building.
Gray cotton shaped clouds stretch themselves across the sky. Its hue soft and dark at the same time. A girl in denim short and flowered button-down shirt has her neck bound with a loose portion of a rope that holds an old wooden bridge to the structures of two rock mountain cliffs. Below is a brownish-green stream filled with different colored small rocks that have smooth surfaces, algae, and tiny green plants. One of her palms grips the body of the rope around her neck. While the other grabs a horizontal ledge of the bridge for support. Her right leg is stuck in a broken part of the bridge while the other leg swings mid-air. With a wheezy and wobbly voice, she screams for help.
She looks towards the right of the mountain top and sees a group of children around the same age as herself. They are laughing and talking. Two of the children kick tiny stones, lifting dust along with them. Pressing her palm down on the bridge while channeling her body weight for a few seconds, she calls out to the children in soft whispers, but they continue to walk towards the thin fog in front of them.
Taking deep breaths, her hands pull the rope around her neck. She calls out for help again. This time a little louder than before. She hears the faint sound of footsteps approaching her body near the right end of the bridge. It is getting closer. She sees a mahogany work boot, swallowed up by muddy soil with loose fringe shoelaces standing next to her. The girl grabs the body of the stranger’s boot. In between breaths, she asks the person to help untie the rope around her neck.
The stranger shakes her hands off his boot to get down on one knee. He places one hand on his bent knee and reaches out for the girl with his other caramel-colored hairy hand. His palm is as hard as a rock. The man pulls her up to let her sit on the bridge with the rope still around her neck. She coughs consecutively then lifts her head to see her savior. The first thing she sees is a gaunt face, which at an instant, she recognizes as the face of a monster–her father. The look on his face is stern, and his smile is cunning.
Upon seeing her father, she cowers, burying her face in her palms. She looks away from him and drags her bottom backward on the body of the bridge to create a distance between them. Beads of sweat run down the back of her neck, and the drip drip drop sound of morning dew can be heard for a moment. When she is inches away, she tries to steal glances of him; instead, their eyes meet and lock. He stares at her with a sneer then gets up, taking one long stride after the other and crosses over to where his daughter sits. The man chuckles softly before squatting beside his daughter, whose left cheek rests on her shoulder. He caresses her right hand, working his way to her face and brushes her hair aside.
The girl’s cracked lips break apart, and her eyes teary. Her father’s touch makes her shiver, but she does nothing. He dwindles his lips to the tiniest bit and pulls her face closer to his own. She holds onto the rope around her neck but still finds it difficult to breath. She tries to remove herself from her father’s grasp, but he presses down her right palm on the bridge with his knee. Relentless, she continues to fight her way out of his hold. This very act of forcefulness yanks her backward, causing the other strings of rope to be set free.
In a poorly lit room with Rod-pocket curtains, the young girl who hurled herself off the rooftop clenches the duvet between her thighs. On the duvet are marks of bloodstains spread across. They are dotted and mapped. On the top of a mini cupboard near the bed is a bowl of clean water with a cream hand towel in it. Tears crawl out from both edges of her eyes. Her small, fragile body curls and stretches as she moves from one end to the other of the bed like she battles an unseen force. And as though in a trance, her lips utter words that cannot be heard by the walls. Scars line themselves in different positions on her chestnut shaped face. She uncovers her eyes halfway through with teardrops hanging on her long black lashes. In a blur, she sees her savior’s figure on a wooden chair in front of the bed. She mutters some meaningless words in a disoriented and frantic state, closes her eyes back, opens it again with more clarity, and jerks off the bed. Her breath is shaky. So, she wraps her body with the duvet and shies away to a corner, where she sits on the hardwood and studies it with her knees folded up beneath her chin. Blood oozes out of the bandaged wounds on her knees and thighs and smears the long white round neck t-shirt she has on. While black stains are painted under her chewed fingernails.
She peeks with a palpitating heart and fluttering stomach at the man whose arms are folded on his chest. He observes her frightened movement with his mouth slowly curving into a crescent. Lines are etched around his mouth and eyes. He rubs his mouth and gapes at the damaged skin and tainted t-shirt of the young girl who seems to be hollowed out. He rests on his thighs and rubs his jeans, then stretches his legs outward, then asks in a soft yet interrogative tone, “Child what happened to you?”
The girl sits still with her finger stuck on the floor. She holds his gaze without a single word, aware only of her breath, of the air going into her body. A visceral memory returns; she remembers the cold taste of the breeze, the night she was up on the ledge of a roof.
Bibiana Ossai is the winner of the Equinox Journal 2019 Poetry Contest and a recipient of the Marilyn Boutwell Creative Writing Award from Long Island University’s Humanities Department. Her works appear in The River, The Book Smuggler’s Den, Refractions (iō literary online journal), and The Republic Journal. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing degree from LIU Brooklyn.
Daniel Kent Foley is a Navajo visual artist and writer based in Central Ohio. He works mostly in mixed media and photography, experimenting with processes and layering them to create odd subjects in strange environments that exist somewhere between representation and total abstraction. He aims to provoke critical thinking by presenting forms that vaguely echo reality in compositions that defy it; suggesting a narrative but allowing the audience to arrive at it themselves and in their own way.