My breathing is labored. I can barely see my hands, only my nail polish stands out from the brown gold sand I’m laying on. Buried in. I feel my braids untwinning, knotting, mixing into the sand. My hands blend into the sand, only the very tips glow an almost electric pink. I needed to have electric pink fingernails this week. He said so.
“It makes your eyes so blue,” He cooed, rubbing a hand across my cheek. Gently. “That color with the pink one piece, I think.”
I nodded. I kept my head down. I breathed in the scent of his cologne, counting the seconds until I left.
My head is throbbing. I taste salt on the air. Or on my lips. It’s difficult to tell the difference. Two more deep breaths and I sit up.
The water is lower now than when I struggled ashore. My body aches. It burns from dozens of tiny scratches covered in salt and sand and my head spins as a sit up. I watch the water, ten feet away from me now, washing up and down the beach. Rushing in, white foam almost reaching my toes. Rushing out with tiny bubbles popping from beneath. The rushing in my head must be blood, I realize, as the rate does not match the waves.
I rub my legs. For all the sun is setting, it does not get cold. Not here. Not in the middle of the world. It gets cold here, once a year. For two week. Most women look forward to those weeks. The week of weddings, the week of rest. The week my life ended.
“Chantal. You will be married. I will not hear of anything else. Either you will be married or we will cut your braids and you will leave,” my mother said. My father did not speak to me. He did not look at me. He did not come to the women’s side of the house unless absolutely necessary. If I was not careful he would come. If he heard my mother upset he would appear from behind from behind the blue haze that acted as a doorway between the two sections of the house and I would be in true trouble.
I look at my legs. I remember deep ocean. Blue and blue green swirling and frothing white at the tips. My legs remind me of the ocean. The bruises were fresh; the centers the deep purple black of ocean storms. The sun is setting. Orange and gold, red and purple line to the horizon. I rub my hand along my side, up my ribs. The bruises aren’t so bad. Bruises echoing the sunset. There are places my skin still shows, gold brown like the sand. Then orange, where old bruises fade. Plenty of red. Those may just fade. And purple. Purple bite marks on my breast. Purple bite marks on my ribs. Purple hand marks from being grabbed as I dove for the edge of the boat on my shoulder. I feel my hair loose on my back. I shiver as it skims the skin there. I look at my arms. Gold. Not a bruise or mark from mid arm down. I feel my face. No soreness. I guess there isn’t a single mark on my face. Just salt, and unbraided hair partially covering my face.
The air is cooler. Breathable. Not like trying to breath-in steam over dinner, like midday air. I don’t know where I am. After my attempt to jump, he was not please. I bite my tongue and force down the bile that surges and burns my throat. I can’t think of that right now. I feel myself shaking, but I can’t force myself to move.
I struggle to my knees, then my feet. My pink toe nails are still pink. My feet are bruised. Even standing on the sand, soft and cool from the water, screams pain up my legs. There is a village behind me. In front of my as I turn.
I can see the lights. Steady. Magical or electrical I can’t tell. Not fire. I think over my options. Walk toward the village. It may be like my own. I may be chased away for my near nakedness. For my being alone. For my bruises which mark me as wicked.
For my unbraided hair.
It may be like his. If it is, it is better I die.
I turn back toward the ocean. I could walk back into the ocean. Swim until I’m exhausted. Close my eyes. Breath.
I turn back. She failed to kill me once. I hope this village is like my own. I may be chased out, but they will not abuse me or kill me. Probably. And I will be able to keep moving. Some may even take pity on me and give me their cast of clothes. So I will not be so naked.
Looking back I now know I has been lost for a time longer than I expected. I had drifted and floated for days. How I did not drown is still a mystery. How my bruises stayed so bright is also a mystery to me. As I walked into the village that night I was gaped at and cooed over. I did not trust the eyes on me. I walked through the town toward a fountain, like I would have in my old town, and drank from it. A woman, old and bent grabbed me, pulled me away from the water and into a dark doorway. She thrust two hands out, a motion to stay, and ran into the dark room.
She came back holding a glass. Cold. And it shocked me. She motioned for me to drink it. It was clear and had no smell, but I was past caring. I drank it. The water made my teeth ache and my throat cold. I stared at the woman in shock. I had never had cold water. She motioned for me to follow her. And I did. What else did I have to lose.