Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Africa (03/05/09)
TITLE: A Lesson In Differences
By Sara Harricharan
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They were alike in age and height, yet worlds apart. Her heart ached as she stored away their expressions for later thought. The beautiful, dark features of Aisha showed her heritage of African roots, the opposite to the pale white face and silken hair of her Egyptian counterpart, Jiliena.
“Yes, Madame Clarrisa?” They spoke at the same time.
“Jila?” She touched the left armrest of her wheelchair.
The girl immediately dropped to her knees, reaching for a soft, wrinkled hand. “Madame? What is wrong?”
A coughing fit erupted.
“Madame!” Aisha exclaimed. “Should I bring you something?”
The dry cough sputtered a few more beats. “I am fine, Aisha, thank you.” She winced. “I thought now was a good time for a…lesson.”
“On what?” Aisha sat up eagerly. “Geography? Social studies?”
Jila turned away.
“No. On life.” Both girls stared in surprise, but her eyes had moved far beyond them, fixed on some unseen point in the land before her. Another breath of ancient air blew past. “Tell me. What do you see?”
Aisha smirked. “A lot of dust, I guess. Wide open spaces. Blue skies. A few animals in the distance.”
Jila’s face scrunched in thought. “What am I looking for, Madame?”
Aisha’s smirk was erased, her face flushing, a change noted by their mentor. “A wise question, Jila, quite interesting, Aisha.” The familiar wince surfaced. “I want to know what you truly see in this slice of Africa.”
Aisha chewed her fingernail for a moment. “There’s a lot of things to describe Africa. It’s quite large, and it’s like the rest, you know, it has strengths and weaknesses, wealth and poverty. The people are as strong as they believe they are and there is beauty within it.”
Jila hesitated, but the wrinkled hand gently squeezed hers. “It depends on what you’re looking for. You see whatever you want to see, wherever you are. It doesn’t matter what others think.”
“Thank you, Jila.” The smile blossomed several petals wider. “And what differences? What do you see from this balcony?”
“Seclusion?” Aisha tried.
“Explain, please.” Her mentor requested.
“Like that lonely tree over there, it’s spread out as much as it can, yet it’s still small.”
“Stunted?” A hint of mockery glinted in Jila’s pale eyes.
“Not quite.” Madame Clarissa interrupted. “It has been given all the space needed, but it lacks…community and support. Just like us when without a friend to share things with. When things are kept solely within oneself, it can eat away at the inner heart. The soul is the first to suffer damage and then the person is never the same again. They are like that tree, and even though a band-aid may be used as a patch, it is only a bridge between two sides of a very deep cut.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Aisha snapped, angrily.
“Aisha!” Jila exclaimed, horrified. “That’s no way to speak to Madame!”
“And I suppose all your polite little phrases are better-!”
Madame Clarissa’s hands flashed out, clapping over each mouth. “This is enough! I have given you numerous chances to reconcile your differences, of which, the only one I can note between you is your own preconceived notions! The two young women who agreed to accompany me on this adventure across Africa, would know better than to let their personal differences interfere with their usually sound judgment.” The hands returned to her lap. “You have been at this since the first week.” Her voice was stone cold. “Have you learned nothing from our travels? Have your mothers…my dearest friends…taught you nothing of common sense?” She turned away. “Leave me. Let me only hear of an apology between you two from the lips of a witness.”
Shame stained the faces of both girls as their words tumbled over each other, but nothing said softened the expression upon the elegant face. Every wrinkle tightened into a mask, her lips remaining tightly pressed together as the two girls slunk away.
A tear escaped. There is so much I want to teach you girls…so much! Yet you are like these countries we visit. So beautiful, special…and so different that their differences are the foundations of every war. Dear Lord, please…help me reach them, I fear I am failing you…
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