I open my eyes and I see brown everywhere. Brown mud, brown trees, brown plants, and brown people.
I look down at my hands and see blue mittens caked with dry mud. I look at my feet and see brown, leather combat boots. My eyes trail up to see a white piece of cloth that has stains of mud on it. But then I realize that it is not just a cloth, it’s a dress. My dress.
I shake my head and look up. I gasp and instinctively pop up into a crouching position. My eyes scan the area, watching as men walked back and forth on the mud. I peek through the dry weeds around me, eyeing their guns hooked around their shoulders, placed comfortably in their hands. Too comfortably.
I need to get away from here. I need to get away from…those things.
Slowly, I push myself off and crawl away, until I am deep into the forest. I stand up shakily, not used to standing up. I inhale and exhale, until I control the conflicting storm of emotions threatening to overwhelm me.
I need to find a place of shelter, maybe even a gracious home. I almost laugh out loud. No one, no one, will do that. This isn’t a time of trust and kindness. It is a time of war, when everyone is wary of everyone else; even old friends are considered strangers. Much less a foreigner girl all by herself, with her face covered in dirt and her dress torn.
Yeah…no. Not gonna happen. I sigh and continue walking. Alone, in the middle of nowhere.
It is getting dark, though I can’t tell the time.
Just a little bit further. Then rest. I sigh. Rest.
Suddenly, I stop abruptly and gasp, my eyes widening.
A house stands in the middle of a pocket, surrounded by trees, bushes, and growth. And I hear voices and laughter coming from the inside. I hear children, so I decide that it should be safe enough if there were parents. And, I had experienced this before, so I learned to be quick and agile enough if I had to run. Turning to the right where a stagnant creek stilled, I bend down and wash my face as best I could. I wash my hands and legs, scrubbing with my palms. I comb my hair with my hands and smooth it down with water. I fix my tattered dress, trying to look as presentable as possible.
By the time I am done, it has become very dark out, but the voices still ring inside the house and lights are just as bright. Taking a deep breath, I walk up the door and knock. No answer, and the voices keep going. I knock again, louder. Everything becomes quiet, as if time has stopped. Then slow footsteps start toward the door. I see the blinds open from my right, as another person peeks through the window. I look to my right and find myself staring into the eyes of a boy a little older than me. He looks at me, his eyes widening.
My head whips around when the door in front of me opens. Light streams through, and I squint trying to make sense of whoever was in front of me. It is a man with blond hair, with strands of grey. His eyes are wide, and they dart around, trying to see if anyone else except for me is standing there. He seems stunned that I am standing in front of him, by myself. His mouth opens, but nothing comes out. Before he decides to close the door in my face, I try my best to persuade him to let me in.
“I-I’m sorry, sir.” I started saying. “I’m sorry for intruding in your space.” I glance to the window, then back up at him. “Or…or your family, I mean. I heard voices and I saw a cozy-looking house. It is a very nice house, sir.” He gives me a weird look and I blush, but I force myself to keep talking. “Never mind, about that, sir. What I meant was to ask if you would be so kind as to-to let me stay. Just for one night. One night, sir. I have nowhere else to go, and it’s just me.”
He frowns, but I hurriedly cut him off. “Oh, and you don’t have to worry about me. I just need a place to sleep. No…no food or anything. Sir, you don’t even need to give me a room, much less a mattress. Or even a sleeping bag. I can sleep on the floor. And…and if you don’t want me in the house…I understand, sir. This isn’t exactly a time where you can just accept stranger into you house. I understand. But, if you don’t want me in your house, I would just like your permission to settle by your house for the night. Just one night, sir.” I inhale, taking deep breaths, trying to settle my burning doubts and frantic heartbeat.
I look up at him with pleading eyes, and he frowns again. My confidence drops and I slowly look down. But before I can retreat, I am stunned by his words.
“No, no. You shouldn’t sleep in here for one night.”
I looked at him, wide-eyed. “…E-excuse me….sir?”
He looks at me, his eyes soft and full of sympathy. “I’m sorry. That was my mistake. I believe I wasn’t being clear. You can stay here as long as you want. Me and my family will never turn down strangers for the good of God. No matter the time, the place, or the person.” He smiles and opens the door wider, stepping aside so that the entrance was open to me.
I look at him in surprise. Nothing like this has ever happened to me. “Um…um, thank you, sir. Are you sure?”
He laughs and smiles at me. He sweeps his hand up, beckoning me to step into his house. I smile weakly, still unsure if he is being serious.
“Thank you, sir.”
He laughs again and rolls his eyes at me. “Ugh, please. You make me sound old.” He laughed once more, and I started to wonder if he ever didn’t laugh or if he was every not happy.
“Call me Uncle Noah. My names Noah, but I didn’t know if you were comfortable saying just my name, seeing as your used to saying ‘sir’ all the time. And ‘Dad,’ I think would only make you uncomfortable, too. No more ‘sirs,’ please. If only my kids were as polite as you. You’ll meet them soon, don’t worry.” He winks at me and beckons me in once more.
I step inside, taking a sudden interest in the wood floors. I twirl a strand of my hair around my finger, inhaling the scents of wood, dust, and bread.
That’s when I notice that we’ve both stopped. I look up, blushing, embarrassed about my mistake. In front of me are two girls – twins – about 4 or 5, with beautiful, wavy, blond hair, and freckles. They both hold hands and hide behind the legs of their mother. She has medium-length brown hair that is also wavy, pinned back, but she is about the same height as me. I look away, smiling, when I find myself looking at the boy who had been looking out the window when I arrived. He is tall, about a head taller than me, and his brown hair is ruffled and hangs all over the place. I smile faintly at him but look down, playing with my fingers.
I look up when I hear a caring, calm voice. The mother looks at me, expectantly with worry in her eyes. “Dear, what’s your name?”
I look at her, straight in her eyes, forcing my voice to be confident – like how my mother taught me. But I feel my voice wavering at the end, as I think of my own mother. “Elaina, miss. Elaina Willow.”