Leila dreamed of a world where her father didn’t hit her every night. She thought of the other kids at school, whose parents were there waiting for them at the end of the school day. In Leila’s dream, she had a mother and a father who loved her and were proud of her. Once, when Leila was very young and the hitting hadn’t begun yet, she asked her father where Mom was. All he said was ‘Gone’. Leila had never gone looking for her mother or searching for answers, but she thought of her incredibly often. Was she alive and out there in the world that Leila knew so little of? Did she think of Leila often? Did she know what Leila would endure after she left? Or was she really gone? Gone forever?
Something small and warm rolled down Leila’s cheek and she reached her hand up to wipe it away. Leila didn’t remember feeling the need to cry, but there it was. A small, salty tear running down her face of its own accord. I guess, Leila thought, we don’t always get to choose when we cry.
Next to the lounge chair was a small fire pit or stove thing. There was some slightly burnt wood in it and under it were some old newspapers. Leila reached for them and began tearing the paper into strips that would light easily. On top of the old papers was a small box of matches. It took a few tries and a few matches, but soon enough Leila had a small blaze going. She wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and stuck her hands out to warm them by the fire.
The warmth made her smile to herself. Up here, away from the tensed atmosphere that always hung around inside the tiny apartment, Leila could free herself. She had never really had any friends and so she had never had someone else to confide in. Leila kept mostly to herself and her books. Sometimes she was made fun of for it, but other people really didn’t bother her. They could think what they wanted and she could think what she wanted and the world would keep on spinning.
“One day,” Leila said to herself, “one day all of this will change. I’ll grow up and leave Dad. Maybe… maybe that’s why Mom isn’t here. Maybe she was lucky enough to get out.”
Leila fell asleep as she repeated promises to herself.