Wednesday, May 18, 2011

After 100 Flowers, The Refugees

I was looking for shelter, even thick undergrowth to hide in for a rest by light of dawn. Revealing light was too soon.

It was a chilly autumn wind in my shorts and t-shirt. I wished again that I'd taken the time to grab a bag before I fled. But when the agents came to collect for the earmarking, there was not time to lose.

I'd hoped for more safety than sleeping in a hollow of ground. If I could make it to the forest, I might be not worth the search. The agents wanted to round up the urban dissidents who were easy to find and compliant first. Too much trouble and I'd be left for another round. I rubbed the back of my neck where they would have my tattooed number placed.

A twig cracked and I knew how jumpy I was. I forced my breathing to come calm. Fear is a luxury. Level heads survive, I reminded myself. I paid attention to the shades of grey of the ground, careful to not stumble, and to notice any movement that was more than wind in thickets.

Finally I saw a door of a chalet-style shed at the crest of the next hill. I was glad for no streetlights. I was coming close to the next built-up area. The gravel road would soon turn back into thick housing and the thicker rate of monitoring cameras. I came up the steps to the house. I circled, checking windows. It was largely unfurnished. No light except what the moon brought it. I looped back to the 6' door and tried it. It was open. Abandoned? Or a forced resettlement?

I slipped inside, ducking my head to enter. There was something of a split level. To the right was a platform with a writing desk, a tablet on a post, suction cups holding the post on one end to the floor, on the other, to the wood support. The desk was bare and the chair a bend of plywood. They were tucked at the short wall beside the window.

There was half a flight down and as I went down the stairs, between the risers, I felt a little warmth. There was a baseboard heater under the stairs. Some quilts were stacked nearby. I unfolded a duvet to make a thin mattress and tucked my lanky legs, curled beside the heat.

There was a noise. I grabbed back my breath before it could make a startled gasp. I meant to rest but I must have slept. Light footsteps were moving above me. I listened. Waited. There were heels, not the scuff of soft-soles.

There was a scrape of chair. The person seemed to have settled at the desk. There was a long period of quiet. I wondered if she would ever check down here. How long would she stay. I scanned my memory of the stairs I came down. They were wood. Had they squeaked or popped as I went down them? Had they settled? I couldn't recall any sound.

Perhaps she slept. I strained to hear her breathing. I thought I heard her slow even breaths of sleep. I risked slipping the duvet off me, even regular breaths, smooth movement. I eased to my feet. The fabric had helped but the bare concrete had leached some of its cold into my bones.

I eased up the stairs to see who was there. As the top of my head came to the level of the floor, it began to prickle. The sensation spread down the spine as a heat flanged out across my back. I knew I had been seen, and reluctantly with a wince tightening the deep muscles of my face, I leaned forward, took one more step up and lifted my eyes to the waiting eyes. Thru the square spindles I saw her body, the nape bare of numbers. Knew that she felt the same heat across her back. I saw her tighten and turn with the same caught-caution, brace against consequence.

We met eyes, her green eyes in my brown eyes and we startled in recognition. She was myself. Plump, middle aged, in business dress. I was herself, sinewy black legs, dark hair on my arms raised. We were the Dissident. We knew it at once. We both moved to mid-floor, unsure and yet somehow steadied by there being two.

Do you have a refuge? she asked baldly speaking over me. In the same breath I spoke over her as I said, If I can get there, I have a place in the country.

We swallowed.

I have means, she said and opened her phone, looking back up at me, holding my eye.

Are you alone, she asked? I nodded.

There are others who need, she added.

As if one thought from our third eye, the faces we knew in common swam between us. Our other faces. A little girl, upturned nose, chestnut curls and a man, grey-haired, grey- and sombre-eyed. A few more stood in the distance, their faces more indistinct.

I don't know if I can get them all to agree to flight, I said. My memory flashed thru the conversations we'd had and would have again about weathering this by compliance, speculating on visas, the international reach of agents, the security of the pacific, of the far north.

Are they all us? she asked. The image of them wiggled as a heat wave. One remained. Neither of us were sure.

The trip couldn't be made often and the program of cameras and numbers were expanding. It is possible even my village had already been rounded into the conscription.