I sat on the bed and watched Sophie pack her backpack. Library books, crayons, headphones, coloring books, chewing gum, a necklace, and more essential items for the family vacation. Hoping. I watched silently as she bounced about her room, so full of excited energy that she glowed.

When the adults called, she hefted her pack over one small shoulder and grabbed me by my arm. “Coming! I have to get my teddy bear!” she called back. Hugged close, I could smell the fresh scent of the strawberry shampoo in her long black curls, feel the beating of her sweet heart. Relieved. It was time to go.

I sat in the backpack for the next few hours. My head poked out so I could still take it all in. Sophie was kind and considerate like that. Always looking out for me. Content. I was happy to be going along to the resort in Malaysia.

We were on the plane when she finally decided to hold me again. I was stuck sideways and under a seat at that point, but could still see her unbuckle her lap belt as the video flight attendant/overenthusiastic actor had instructed earlier. Hunching over, she pulled me from the backpack. “Come here, Liefje,” she said. I will never forget the smile on her face at that moment. Giving me a tight squeeze, she started to climb back into the big seat between her mother and brother. Loved. That’s how I felt.

The next moment I was tumbling. Unbearably cold wind. Choking smoke. I spun crazily. Someone’s shoe zipped past my head. What happened? Sophie? Afraid. I was falling.

I felt like I fell forever. That is how I ended up here in the branch of this diseased and dying tree. Wherever here is, it is not where I expected nor where I want to be. Without Sophie. Alone. In a war zone.

Later, two men wearing green clothes went past. One slapped the other on the back and said, “Nice shooting.” Appalled. I wept.

The Heart of Writing

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