Surrender to the Wind*

source: cfr.org, Joe Penney/Reuters

The wind is wailing. At home, that always meant the weather was changing. It was exciting because the land would be refreshed, we would be refreshed.

Here, the wind signifies nothing. It never stops. It wails through the spaces between the tents in the camp, this place that all of us now call home, as though it’s accusing us of being in its way. Sometimes, it blows a few tents down, scattering the last remnants of their occupants’ lives.

I try not to think about all of this during the day. Life goes on and there is much to be done; water gathering, cooking, looking after the younger ones. But it hits me at night, stinging my eyes like grains of sand in the wind. Even worse, I know that the militia could come for us at any time. They live among us, our attackers, and we, like fish trapped in an ocean rock pool, are easy prey for them as they move freely between the shadows.

I know I should stay put, especially at night, but I can’t keep lying here, listening and waiting. I need to know what’s going on beyond these flimsy walls. I need to know whether anyone is out there.

The wind and the slap-slap-slapping of the faded tarps drown out the sounds of my footsteps as I cross the packed earthen floor. I peek through the tent opening, looking up and down our narrow row. It is one of thousands that criss-cross the sea of matching tents. The moon is full, so it should be easier to see, but it glows red through the clouds of sand kicked up by the wind.

Our row is empty. I watch for a while, expecting a hooded figure to appear at any moment, its machete or rifle flashing in the moonlight. I think about lying back down but something – the moon, perhaps – tugs at me, drawing me out into the windy night.

I pick my way along the row, pausing whenever I think I hear something, or when a new row joins mine. I’m so busy listening and watching and imagining shadows into being that I don’t notice I’ve turned down a path I’ve never taken before.

It’s not until a few minutes later that I find myself, improbably, at the end. The end of the unfamiliar row, the end of the camp, the end of the wall of tents where the wind howls unhindered as though it was the end of the earth.

My breath catches in my throat. At the front of the camp, the only other part of the perimeter I’ve been to, there is always a flurry of activity; aid workers, registration desks, food being handed out, people gathering. But that is miles away.

Here, there is nothing. The red, dry, dustiness spreads out before me, from the tips of my toes to as far as I can see. There are no trees, no huts, no roads, not even a footprint. Just the red moon, hanging low over the western edge of the sky – on its way to America – and the first golden light of morning leaking over the eastern horizon. And me, at the edge.

I stretch out my foot and press it down into the earth, leaving a single footprint.

I don’t think I can find my way home, so I sit down and wait for the sun to rise.

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* Title is a quote from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

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19 thoughts on “Surrender to the Wind*

  1. What a glorious and poetic ending. I love the continued presence of the wind and sand and red, and this metaphor made me clap: “like fish trapped in an ocean rock pool.”

    • Thank you, Jenn! I have been writing and re-writing this for about a week based on an idea I first jotted down months ago. I swapped and changed a lot throughout the process but really wanted to keep that line. I’m so glad to hear it made you clap!

  2. The wind is wailing. The personification is so justified as in a refugee camp there are no hopes and cheer. and the wind seems to wail. clever use of alliteration.

  3. This is everything I love about your writing. The way you mix sparse prose with richer passages means the reader isn’t overwhelmed by either and can just live in the moment you craft so lyrically.

    • I worked and worked on this story to the point that I wasn’t sure if I was really happy with it or if I had over-tinkered with it. You know exactly how to make a writer feel understood and appreciated and…thank you.

  4. The hooded figure is so inhuman it doesn’t even have a gender. Creepy. An imminent attack and the potential of being turned in at any moment by neighbors. Scary. The narrator putting his/her footprint in the sand on the edge of the community. Hopeful.

    • Thank you, Nate! I love that you’ve pulled these pieces out. I was particularly concerned with presenting a realistic picture of these various emotions – especially the fear/loss and hope.

  5. Gorgeous, Silver, as always. Despite the bleakness and uncertainty, the narrator finds an improbable path (maybe out?) and leaves a lone footprint. But he/she doesn’t go beyond this spot, waiting for sunlight instead — leaving the reader to wonder, where is home–the tent or somewhere beyond? A favorite clause: the wind wailing “as though it’s accusing us of being in its way.” Really well done. (And Song of Solomon is one of my favorite books.)

    • Thank you so much, Meg! It is so, so rewarding for me to hear how you read this and the questions it prompted in you. I love that you spent some time considering and then putting into words the various thoughts it left you with. And the clause you identified was one I was quite proud of, too 🙂

  6. This could also work perfectly in a dystopian setting (had I knot seen the picture, that’s what I would have thought). I totally agree with what Rowan said, although I’d’ve been hard pressed to come out with the right words myself! Very well done!

    • Thank you, Stacie! And what an interesting point; I didn’t think about the dystopian-ness (Ha! Speaking of good words!) of it but now that you mention it, I really like that possibility.

  7. I loved how many senses this tapped into but without ever feeling heavy-handed with description. I could see it all really clearly and especially after this one perfect line — “Here, the wind signifies nothing” — I was totally drawn in.

    • Thank you so much, Emily. That is especially high praise coming from someone who manipulates words and crafts stories the way you do! I’m glad to hear that line spoke to you and drew you in.

  8. This moved in me so many directions. I felt longing and exhaustion and wonder and fear and hope. Really beautiful. Every line is perfectly crafted and placed exactly where it needs to be.

    • Thank you so much, Ashley! I really cared about this character and her story so I’m thrilled to hear that my treatment of the vision I had worked for people.

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