Life Unfolds In Moments

Photograph by Steve McCurry from The Iconic Photographs, courtesy of

The narrow alley was hot and dusty. It carried the smell of distant spices and the sour stench of humanity on its acrid wind.

But Dali didn’t care.

He had broken free of home and work.

He had run, weaving in and out between market stalls, hawkers, and brightly draped women selling fried foods and pineapples and mangoes, run until he was lost enough that no one would find him.

He was supposed to be collecting wood to sell along the street with little papery matchbooks.

Instead, he had escaped with the pictures that danced through his mind. He had escaped and now he needed to help the pictures escape.

On his travels through the bustling market, he had come upon a book and a pen. Now, having  found a shaded corner down an unknown passage, he sat on a ledge and pulled them out. Flipping past the first pages, pages that had been filled with foreign words, he found a clean sheet and began to draw.

The pictures spilled out of his mind filling the white with red ink.

A horn honked loudly, shattering the scene. The memory faded.

Dali looked up quickly, jarred back to reality from his dusty dreams.

Snow was falling softly but the downtown traffic cut through it, a staccato through white noise.

Dali inched forward, glancing in the rearview mirror at the woman who had honked. She was looking away now, her mind elsewhere. She nudged her large, black SUV forward, creeping across the space that Dali had just vacated.

Out of the corner of his eye, Dali saw a streak of colour moving between the snowflakes behind his car. He recognized a younger version of himself in that furtive movement.

The thud was so quiet it was almost swallowed by the blanketing effect of the weather and the crunching of tires. His breath catching, Dali threw his car into park and flung open his door, motioning at the woman behind him to stop.

He didn’t notice her look of confusion. He was looking for the child.

As he arrived at the narrow space between his back bumper and the SUV’s front bumper, he looked down. There, in the grey and black stained snow lay the small, skinny body of a boy. He was breathing, his eyes were open but the look in them was wild, scared.

“Are you ok?”

The boy nodded and took Dali’s outstretched hand, straightening his brightly coloured jacket with his other hand as he stood up.

Dali stayed with the boy while the police were called and was there to translate for them when they called the boy’s mother. One look at the boy and he decided to wait longer while they checked him for injuries, while they filed their report, while they waited for the mother to arrive.

She didn’t seem to be coming.

Afternoon was wearing on and the sky was darkening. For lack of anything better to say, Dali smiled at the boy and introduced himself. “I’m Dali.”

The boy frowned. “Dali? What kind of name is that?”

Dali chuckled. “Good question. That’s what they called me when I was a kid and it just stuck. Dali was a famous painter.”

“In India?”

“No. In Spain.”

“Oh. How long have you been in America?”

“Over twenty years now. A long time.”

“My mom, too. She never wanted to move here but her parents died and her brother brought her here. But that was a long time ago, too, before I was born.”

“I saw you, before the lady hit you, I saw you darting between cars. Where were you going?”

“Nowhere. Away.”

Dali nodded, remembering how he felt at that age when he was sneaking away to draw instead of selling firewood and matches.

A yellow leaf floated on the air, its brightness caught for a moment in the light from the street lamps overhead.

Dali watched as the boy’s eyes followed it. “I have to go,” he whispered, looking at Dali hopefully.

Dali nodded again and the boy’s eyes brightened. It was the light of hope Dali thought later as he stood on the street corner, still watching the place where the darkness of the alleyway had swallowed the boy.

As he waited for the mother to arrive, Dali thought about his life, about the boy and his mother and, through the clarity of retrospect, the obvious conclusion surfaced: things don’t always turn out as planned.

Word count: 741

Written for the Speakeasy #154 at Yeah Write. This week’s prompt was a short video and the line, “through the clarity of retrospect, the obvious conclusion surfaced: things don’t always turn out as planned,” which had to appear at the end of the submission. For full details of the challenge, please click on the badge above.




30 thoughts on “Life Unfolds In Moments

  1. Wow! I love this, Silverleaf: it is so elegant and beautifully written; your writing is spare and controlled throughout – and I got such a sense of atmosphere and mystery and wonder. Great post! xxx

    • I’m glad to know readers are curious! I had great plans for the mother but sadly the word count limited me. I tried to boil it down into the bit of explanation and family history the boy shared with Dali, but I know that didn’t really get to why she never came to get him. I had ideas just no space! What do you think? As for Dali, I was writing the first sentence and his name just came to me. Further on, the reason for his name came to me. It all just fell into place. Thank you for your kind words.

  2. Oh, Ali, you are too kind! What lovely things you say. You’ve put a huge smile on my face. I really like the adjectives you’ve used to describe my writing. Thank you thank you xx

  3. I was curious about the mother, too. I wondered if he was on his own. I could see the daydreaming in traffic… I’ve been there before (except I haven’t hit anyone!)

    • I love hearing about others’ ideas. I think she’s there but preoccupied and he just wants his freedom. Sometimes 750 words isn’t enough, but sometimes it let’s you create an air of mystery!

  4. I really enjoyed this! You painted such a vivid picture of the dusty market place, of the snowstorm, of all of it, with your beautiful words. I suppose he let him go because of his past desire to escape. But what was he going to tell the mother? Ha!

    • Thank you, Stacie, for the thoughtful and reflective comment. I’m glad I was able to communicate some of the many thoughts and feelings I imagined both Dali and the boy experiencing. There was a lot that I couldn’t fit in there but I tried to convey a sense of it. I can kind of imagine the conversation between Dali, with his largely positive outlook on his immigration story, and the mother, who’s experience was less so.

  5. You created such an incredible aura of mystery in your story.. loved it! I like how you used the last line and the media prompt! Enjoyed it!

    • Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. I love hearing from readers when I leave something open-ended. I admit I never thought about him going with Dali but that’s an interesting idea. I thought maybe down the line Dali would be a bit of a mentor or father figure. I’ll have to think about it.

  6. This is so wonderfully descriptive – I could picture everything so clearly. Love that you made a reference to the yellow leaf. And I love the sense of Dali and the boy being kindred spirits. Lovely take on the prompts! 🙂

    • Thanks Suzanne, I was waiting for someone to comment on the yellow leaf – the first time I watched the video I thought I had to work it in somehow. I’m glad you liked the story 🙂

  7. I liked the idea of Dali seeing a bit of himself in the little boy and that he understood the boy’s need to escape.I also liked the way you described the different sights and sounds of market-very colourful:-) The open end added the needed intrigue and left readers like me hankering for more-a good one here Silverleaf:-)

    • Thank you. I’m always interested to read what others pick up or understand about a piece. In my mind, Dali’s family expected him to be helping out – which in his case meant collecting firewood and selling it – and he was escaping that so he could draw, which was his real passion.

  8. I want to know more about Dali as well as about the boy and his mother. It’s a great piece on its own, but it definitely has room to grow into something larger. I loved the detail of the yellow leaf. Question, though – why did Dali need to translate? If the boy had been born in America, I’d expect he likely speaks English better than his mother. Or was Dali translating on the phone? Just curious.

    • Thanks for reading carefully and asking questions. I am thinking about expanding on this one, by adding pieces about both Dali and the boy/his mother.
      To answer your question, the police had to call the mother to let her know that her son had been in an accident, and Dali translated on the phone (then waited for her to arrive). The boy was born in America and speaks English, but the mother’s a bit isolated and her English isn’t as good, especially on the phone.

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