Nadia ran along side the river with tears streaming down her cheek. She ran until the road lights faded and she was standing in the dark. Catching her breath and catching her tears with the back of her hand Nadia wondered what to do. What was there to do, to think, to understand? Nothing made sense in this moment.
“Excuse me.” A voice called out to her walking forward. It was an elderly woman, walking with a cane, desperately trying to keep up with the crying girl. “But I think I can help you.”
Nadia looked at her confused. Her hijab was coming undone and her clothes were dirty. The woman continued to speak, thoroughly noticing her confusion.
“You managed to find the darkest place in New York City, thats impressive.” She said calmly.
Nadia knew english because this was her second time moving to New York from Syria. The first time was for fun, her family’s business was doing well and her father wanted to establish more connections, seize the opportunity. This time, it was out of necessity. Her father made arrangements for her to come and be safe after their town was bombed. He assured her he would be joining her shortly after, but he never made it. Nobody but her made it.
“Everything is gone.” She said, figuring and old woman is probably safe to open up to.
“Not everything, you’re still here.”
“But the ones I loved are gone.”
“Are you one you love?”
It was a strange question she had never been asked before or considered. “How could you ask me about myself, when they’re all gone? How disrespectful!”
“How arrogant for you to believe that you are someone who needs others to be loved?” She asked.
“You’re insane.” Nadia says and begins to storm away. The city was to much, America’s freedom was like a death grip and she had no one to talk to that knew her struggle.
“78341” The woman called out.
“What?” Nadia asked turing around.
“78341 is the number,” She says lifting up her arm, “they gave me after murdering and burning my entire family. The number that would be on my skin even after I escaped to New York City.”
Nadia stood still. She couldn’t argue with someone who had been there too. “I can’t just forget them, say my life matters more and run along and be successful.”
“Do you find honor in dying to yourself?”
“No thats not what I meant.”
“Then what do you mean?”
Nadia jumbles her thoughts and tries to come out clear. “How could I live, when they can’t?”
“That is a horrible pressure to put on someone. Your life, wether you like it or not is motivated by the love you have inside, not your loss.”
“Are you saying I have no love?”
“I’m saying you’re hiding from it. Because you feel guilty.”
“Because I’m hurting and -”
“Ah-ha say no more, thats what I was trying to get you to say. Now come here.” The old woman reaches out her tattooed arm. “Come on.” She says coaxing Nadia, who shyly reaches back. They stood at the edge of the river and looked into the darkness.
“Now I want you to scream, from the bottom of your feet up, until their is nothing left.” She commands.
“I’ve never screamed a day in my life.” Nadia says shocked. “I can’t scream.”
“And that’s exactly why you need to. Now scream. If you hold this inside you’ll get wrinkles and a bad stomach, go.”
Nadia fixed her eyes on the black voids. Fear closed her throat and tricked her mind into being voiceless.
“I can’t do it, I don’t want to.”
“You want to hang on to this? You think it means you love them? Do you think it means your connection will be stronger? This will weaken every piece of you if you keep it inside. Scream, and the walls you built inside will tumble down and you will be free.”
Nadia stopped at the word free. Okay, she thought, here goes nothing. Nadia clenched her fists, closed her eyes and screamed so loudly and so inhuman it scared her almost. Falling to her knees, she didn’t stop until every piece of it was gone. Like washing dirty white linens, all the filth came out in the river. When she was finished, she felt lighter, and like she didn’t need to cry. Her hostility dropped and she turned to the old woman.
“How did you learn to do that?” Nadia asked.
“When you suffer, and you also want to live, you find a way to combine the two.” The old woman smiled at Nadia and she smiled back. The old woman reached for her hand and Nadia took it. That night they walked along side the river in silence that spoke a million words. They ate dinner at a diner and laughed about pieces of their life they treasured and then they never saw each other again.
And that is how guardian angels work.