The Northern Arabian Gulf
There was a point right at the break of dawn when darkness parted swiftly, much like a curtain drawn open making way for the coming day. On a typical morning, this was welcoming, a sign of a new journey to look forward to, but for Abby, today could very well be the last day of the rest of her life. She knew it, she felt it deep in her bones, but she also had hope.
As she watched the bright orange and yellow reflection at the edge of the water, she wondered if maybe today would be different—maybe today she had a chance, maybe today she’d finally make it. She’d come this far against all the odds, so she needed to hang on just a little longer. She rested her head against the stiff side of the rubber dinghy and shivered under the dark abaya, damp and sticky from her sweat. It was so humid, the air thick and heavy, that she struggled to breathe as she stared at the miles and miles of open water, still with nothing in sight. She probed her tongue gently to the side of her chapped, swollen lips. She was so thirsty she’d do anything for a cup of cool water. It was painful, horrible, being so thirsty, because that was all she could think of. Staring at miles of open water only tempted her. How long could she go without water before her body started breaking down? The dew clinging to the side of the dinghy glittered like a handful of diamonds, and, like a starved woman, she licked it with her tongue and gagged from the saltiness. She dropped her head to the side again.
She was so tired. She’d lived in fear for so long that it had become her constant companion, keeping her on her toes, awake in an instant, as if her soul knew it wasn’t safe to sleep. As always, she felt it slice out of nowhere, the buzz that ripped through her, keeping her body and mind on the edge of sanity. She couldn’t rest, even though she needed to. Abby peeked over the side, her eyes burning into the shadows, and she squinted, wondering if she was seeing things. Was he coming for her? Was that a boat on the horizon? She swiped her palms hard across her eyes and looked again, and for a minute she stopped breathing, moving, but she couldn’t still the thudding of her heart. It had a mind of its own and pounded the walls of her chest so hard she thought her ribs would crack. She waited and blinked again.
“It’s just water. Come on, get a grip.” It hurt to speak, but she needed to believe it. Those brave words weren’t convincing her at all, though, because it was only a matter of time—and time was not on her side—until he found her. She knew he’d search to the ends of the earth to find her. He never let go of what was his, ever.
Abby had no idea where she was, as she was floating with no paddle. Being at the complete mercy of the waves meant just one more thing she had no control of. Each minute the sun rose higher, she could feel the heat climb. Out here it was so intense, rising as though someone had switched on a furnace, slowly building until it scraped her lungs as she struggled for each breath from air that was so thick and humid that she’d swear a knife would have trouble slicing through it. Out of nowhere, a sharp gust of wind blew from the northwest, rocking the dinghy up and over the waves, and for a moment the breeze was unexpected and welcome. Then the dinghy bounced faster, higher, moving through the water and crashing down as the water slapped the sides, awakening her again to the reminder that she wasn’t safe. Any minute, he could appear on the horizon, and there was nowhere to hide. Maybe that was why she didn’t think as she dropped down and curled onto her side. A burning jab poked her ribs, shooting shards of fire through her, and she bit on her lip, drawing blood as she fought not to scream. “Don’t move, stay still and you’ll be fine,” she whispered to herself and panted out huffs of air. Even though there was no one to hear her breathing, she was still afraid.
The skill she had survived on, always being on guard, wouldn’t let her stay still, so she peeked up again, her shoulders taut and wound so tightly her head was starting to throb. She couldn’t think about tomorrow, only now, this moment, because her future wasn’t anything tangible—it was a speck of ashes that could disintegrate in an instant. She stroked her dry, chapped hands over her rounded belly and blinked back tears. Their future right now wasn’t looking like a mother and child’s should. It should have been a magical time when Abby dreamed of holding her tiny baby, whispering her love while planning their future. But what possible future could her child have?
If it was a boy, maybe. For a girl, there was no hope. Not here. Not now. “One day at a time, Abby.” She stripped off the dark abaya and took in the pale blue cotton of her loose dress. The front was splattered with blood, and she couldn’t remember if it was hers. If it wasn’t… she might very well come to wish she were dead. Her body seemed to follow her mind, as it started shaking and couldn’t stop. It had too much adrenaline, and she recognized that her fight or flight instinct had been all that was keeping her running for so long now. As she stared up at the blue sky, she wondered about the inevitable and whether she’d have the strength to jump in the water when the time came. Could she do it, allow the weight of the abaya to pull her under? Drowning herself would be better than the alternative, if she had the courage to do it, to end her life and her baby’s, too.
“How will I ever survive this?” She ran her tongue over the swell of her bottom lip. It was split, and she tasted dried blood. “Ugh.” She touched it with her fingers, and, pulling them back, she stared at the fresh blood. She pressed her fist to her mouth. “Shh,” she whispered, but she was so tired she didn’t think she could stay awake much longer. She had to stay awake, though, and keep watch, even though she didn’t have a clue what she’d do if she spotted his boat. Her eyes ached, and she’d swear sand coated the whites of her eyes. When she shut them, the back of her lids scraped her eyes like broken glass. Closing them seemed almost worse, but her lids were becoming so heavy it hurt to keep them open, so she gave herself a minute, and then another, until warmth and a bright light surrounded her, and for one moment she felt peace. She breathed softly again, and again, until there was nothing more.
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