She tossed the last of her shirts into the faded lavender suitcase, then collapsed on the dusty floor, sighing. She gazed around the room for the last time. It had been stripped bare of every single object Ciela possessed and now seemed strange and unfamiliar, as though it belonged in a different house.
She could still picture it exactly the way it used to be. Nestled comfortably under the alcove was a narrow bed, the plush covers askew. Curtains that Ciela had designed herself caressed the window, incandescent with the light of a summer morning. The peridot carpet was frequently peppered with random objects—a stray hair elastic or a purple fluorescent pen. A towering cupboard leaned against the corner, an army of haphazardly arranged items perched on top. She didn’t like using a bookcase— it was a jail cell for all those wonderful stories—so all of her books were categorized into ever-changing piles against the wall. But best of all was the ceiling, a complex yet beautiful replica of the inky nighttime sky, stars scattered across its expanse. Ciela had memorized every single constellation by heart.
But that bedroom now seemed miles away, and Ciela forced it to the back of her mind. That was from her old life. A life she would never be able to get back.
Faintly, she heard a tap at the door.
After a few seconds of silence, there was a deep sigh and the unoiled door creaked open.
“Hi, sweetie.” Ciela’s dad’s voice was deep and resonant, and always calmed her. But now she could hear traces of sadness buried somewhere inside it. His face looked different from the one Ciela knew; his mouth was a thin, white line stretched across his face; his eyes were somber and humorless; the lines on his forehead seemed to have deepened.
He said the words as though they caused him pain. “It’s time to go.”
Ciela sat up. She reached out and touched the walls that held so many memories. Goodbye, her mind whispered to her bedroom. Then she came to her feet and, without a second glance, stalked out the open door.
Ciela didn’t say anything, but her father saw it all in his daughter’s eyes, and it stung.
How could you do this to me?
* * *
The weathered SUV veered into a narrow driveway, gravel crunching below its chunky wheels.
The house was small and rectangular, its cream paint job chipped and curling in places. It sat squatly, its foundation succumbing to grass that sprouted as far as the eye could see. Gangly trees clustered in the front yard, their slender arms spread wide, marking their territory. Some branches stretched so far out that their leaves brushed the house, green against pale cream. Don’t come in, they seemed to say. Behind the house was a wood so densely packed with trees that it looked like a sea of dusky green. There was something unwelcoming about the house that Ciela couldn’t quite place. Maybe it was the fact that the windows weren’t glowing. Maybe it was the absence of the battered basketball hoop in the driveway, or the bicycles that weren’t propped against the garage door.
It wasn’t home.
Ciela’s intense gray eyes scanned the place where she was going to live. Suddenly, she felt a wave of nausea wash over her. The tight interior of the car brought out her claustrophobia, and staring at the house didn’t help.
With a shaky hand, she opened the heavy door and stepped outside.
Her dad rolled down the misted window. “Ciela, you OK?” He looked concerned, his face more lined than usual.
“I’m fine,” she muttered. She heard her dad beginning to lift some suitcases and bags from the car.
A cool breeze ruffled her black hair and tickled her scrawny arms. It rippled through the grass, each blade bending in turn. The knot in Ciela’s stomach loosened a little as she stood in the knee-deep grass, her fingers gently skimming the emerald expanse.
But then Ciela’s gaze drifted back to the house, and her stomach clenched again. She took one step towards it, another, then halted in her tracks. She could feel a sudden silence, her dad’s eyes boring into the back of her head. Ciela’s nose was an inch away from the peeling paint of the door and her knees were quaking slightly. She stared through the grimy door window, but all she saw was a narrow hallway smothered in darkness. Could this really be the place where she was going to live? Her bones felt hollow.
Before she even had time to think, she ran.
She only just heard her father’s shout before the wind began to roar through her ears.
Ciela’s head was spinning as green shapes streaked by. She didn’t know exactly where she was going, just away. The air was damp, with the scent of plants lingering in it, and she felt its humid hands wrap around her skin. She had plunged into foliage; dappled shadows played on the earth around her. Ciela’s sandals slapped against the moss-blanketed ground, her hair whipping behind her in a tangled river. She gasped, black spots dancing in front of her eyes. Her heart raced and thundered with every step, her mind swirled in a hurricane of confusion, but Ciela did not stop. She ran until her throat was clenched into a fist, until a sharp stitch had formed at her side, until all the energy was drained from her body.
Finally, exhausted and out of breath, Ciela’s legs buckled beneath her. She scooted up against a choppy brown mass that must have been a tree trunk, rested her head against it, and allowed herself a moment of peace.
* * *
Ciela’s eyes snapped open.
She was in the heart of a glade, lustrous light pouring from the fragments of robin’s-egg sky that were fringed in broad, diamond-shaped leaves. Between ribbons of grass, tiny flowers bloomed, their vibrant pink dripping with sunlight. Gangly, narrow trees bordered the clearing, their legs embedded in the rich soil. She could hear the scrabble of squirrels and woodpeckers, the rustle of rabbits bounding through the greenery. There were green stains on Ciela’s white leggings, but she ignored them. She lay down in the dewy grass, drinking in the atmosphere.
Suddenly, a blue haze darted before her eyes, then another and another. Ciela looked at the network of leaves above her, but the blue shapes continued to interfere.
Then the most beautiful sound she had ever heard echoed in the trees.
It reverberated throughout the clearing, and all the movements in the forest came to a halt.
The harmony sent shivers up Ciela’s spine, building up a sensation she had never experienced before. The tune couldn’t really be described in words; it evoked a never-ending mix of emotions, both blissful and melancholy.
Ciela’s eyes swiveled upwards, where she saw flocks of sapphire-feathered birds settling in trees, circling overhead, their speckled wings spread regally. Their arched beaks were raised to the sky, tiny voices blending harmoniously and creating a magical symphony. Blue jays.
Their jet-black eyes seemed to contain a deep knowledge, almost human.
And while they sang, words formed in place of the notes. Words that Ciela found familiar.
Into the woods with grasses of green,
There—on a rock, a gazelle preens,
Yes, detached from her homeland
Of brooks ever so clean,
Yet her infant skips in the rocks
by her side,
Young mind animated and eyes oh-so-wide,
So, although this may be trying,
Home is mem’ries and love between.
Then she realized. Memories were what she had. Of happiness. Of love. Those memories would stay with her forever, no matter where she lived.
The corners of her mouth twitched hesitantly as she listened to the blue jays’ song.