By: Danie Reynolds
“Why do I have to go?” I practically scream the words, immeasurably frustrated by the fact that my mother can’t see my side of the argument.
“Because I said so!” She yells back.
This time I really do scream, then I run up the stairs, the wood boards creaking underneath my stomping feet.
I swing the door to my room open, being sure to slam it shut behind me. I pummel the pillows on my bed, then rip off the blankets, flinging them to the floor. I’m about to kick over my bookshelf when something glints silver out of the corner of my eye.
I lower my foot, and walk over to my bedside table. It’s a hand mirror.
I pick it up, and stare at my reflection. My cheeks are red with fury, and my shoulders heave with angry breaths. My blonde hair sticks out everywhere, no doubt because of the hands I’ve been running through it for hours. I look...crazy.
I press a cool hand to my face and sit down on the straw mattress of my bed. What have I done? Mother will make me go to the festival, and then I might be gone forever. I might never come back to this old mud-brown house, to the farm and the animals and my family. I can’t imagine someone who would willingly be sent away from a paradise like this. Because that’s what this place is. My paradise. My escape from the world, from the war, from the famine and disease that strikes away at the land.
But mother doesn't see it that way. She sees my leaving as one less mouth to feed. She sees it as maybe, just maybe, the chance that I might win the contest and pull our family out from the poverty we reside in.
How could she? How can she not see that a stupid...beauty pageant doesn't matter at a time like this? How could she just send her youngest daughter away like that?
How could she?
I drop the hand mirror onto the mattress, and its bronze-colored back shines up at me.
I trace my hands over the picture designed into the metal. A rose, simple yet stunning. Designs are hidden around it, but gorgeous if you look closer. Mother said it reminded her of me when she bought it.
My jaw clenches, and I turn away. I will go to the festival. I will dance, and I will sing, and I will be as graceful as a lady of the court. Because if all goes well, that’s what I will become. A lady of the court, maybe even one day in the king’s court himself. It’s almost amusing that the royals think holding this festival will appease the citizens. That if we are allowed one person from the villages to become a lady, we will feel represented. Like that would stop a rebellion.
Fools. All of them.
I don’t make eye contact with my mother when I enter for dinner that night. It’s soup, again. Thin watery liquid with a few peas floating around in it, and, if you’re lucky, maybe even a small bite of chicken.
Father doesn't say anything at my arrival, just continues eating, as if he knows we’re both on the edge of exploding, and hopes that if he says nothing, we will too.
That doesn't last long. “Kyia.” She folds her napkin in her lap, like the wealthy would do. Mother likes to keep up the pretense that we are not nearly as poor as we truly are. “Kyia,” She continues. “I know that it may seem...unfair, but try to understand that I am doing this for your own good.”
I inhale deeply. “My own good, mother?” I say cooly. “I was under the impression that you were simply hoping I would be selected as this year’s winner, and that we would receive the money necessary to buy you all of the pretty little trinkets that you salivate over at the market.”
Anger flashes through mother’s eyes, and father sends me a warning with his, desperately telling me to give in, to end the fight. But I won’t, and he knows that.
“I. Will. Not. Go.” I accentuate each word, and I meet mother’s eyes as her face hardens. Her mouth presses together. Her entire body tenses with the rage that’s intended for me.
“If you will not go, then I will send them to retrieve you. You are going tomorrow, and I suggest you get your ungrateful self upstairs and pack!” She throws her napkin onto the table and exits the room.
Father stares at me, his gaze sympathetic, but also stern.
I push back my chair from the table, and upstairs to my room, waiting until the door is shut firmly behind me before I allow myself to cry.
When I start, it’s several minutes before it ends. I’m sobbing, and I lean against the door for support, sinking down to the floor. The tears wet my cheeks, dripping down and doing the same to my shirt.
“I don’t want to leave,” I cry, almost hoping that someone will respond. “I can’t leave.”
I draw in a shuddering breath, and hug my hands around myself, curling in on my body.
That night, I cry myself to sleep.
When I wake up, I’m in my bed, and a small brown satchel rests at my feet. When I open it, I see a few of my nicer dresses tucked inside, and a small wheel of cheese with a loaf of almost stale bread.
So it is happening, I think to myself as I dress, picking up the traveling outfit my mother undoubtedly picked out. It’s the most uncomfortable dress I own, but the soft blue warms my sun-tanned skin, and apparently brings out the blue in my eyes as well.
It’s scratchy, but I put it on and take one last look around my room. The room I’ve lived in for nearly sixteen years now. I lift my hand in farewell, hoping that I won’t win the contests, and that I’ll be able to return soon.
Father hugs me goodbye, and mother does as well, although I don’t hug her back. She doesn't seem to notice though, and smiles widely. “I just know you’re going to win.” She says, clasping her hands together, and I think I see tears welling up in her eyes.
Tears are forming in my eyes too, though for different reasons.
“I love you, sweetheart.” Dad hugs me one last time.
“I love you too, dad.” My voice cracks on the last word. “Goodbye.” Then I turn, and climb onto the brown horse that dad holds the reins of.
Then I set off, riding towards either my last hope, or my doom.