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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Crime and Punishment (not about the book) (07/21/11)

TITLE: Bright Sleep
By Marita Thelander


I am Dalmar.

My hooyo weeps and cradles my head close to her in an effort to protect me from dust and flies. I almost feel my breath not return to my lungs before she pulls me away to look into my face. She has Nadifa, my baby sister, strapped to her back. I’m in her lap. She rocks for comfort…for all three of us.

My head is much larger in proportion to the rest of my body. My ribs can be counted from ten feet away. My eyes are caked with dust and flies lay their larvae in the crusted coating. I haven’t seen Nadifa to know how she is doing.

A man stands over us and a woman crouches near my hooyo and asks her to tell them why we are here, how we came through the desert.

They are clean.

Hooyo tells them she walked all day and almost through the nights before we would stop for rest. There is no food in Somalia anymore. War, hate, and famine have stripped our homeland of life. We follow the stream of our neighbors and kinsmen in search of food, water, and comfort.

I slept most of the time. Sometimes I would see brightness in my sleep. Hooyo would cry out: Dalmar! Dalmar! The brightness turned dark before I forced my eyes open. The peace of bright sleeping was disturbed by the hunger in dark awakening.

Dust enveloped us. My hooyo shows the clean people how she covered us with her scarf to protect us. She trudged through the dust, one step in front of the other, determined to keep us alive.

The woman leaves and when she returns she has food and water. She helps Hooyo to remove Nadifa from her back but it is too late. Her lifeless body is unwrapped to show us that she is gone. Hooyo groans and the woman reaches out to comfort her.

I try to sit up and look at Nadifa. I wonder if she sees bright sleep now. They take her away and Hooyo’s embrace pulls me in to her boney bosom.

I am examined and my hooyo is told that food and water alone may not save me.

“Why…Why?” Hooyo cries long into the night. Her sounds of mourning fill the dark air. I wonder why she struggles so much to live when dying would be easier.


“Every day, innocent refugees converge on the Somalia-Kenya border. Resolute and unwavering, they strive to live, yet they have nothing to live for. Their drive to survive is astounding. Their stories are powerful displays of courage,” Monte pauses to compose himself.

He glances towards a mother and son crouched over a measly bowl of rice. The photographer zooms in to capture the hollow cheeks and large brown eyes of the boy.

“Just yesterday, this mother literally walked out of a dust cloud clutching her son to her chest and carrying her infant on her back. The relief workers unwound the baby for examination only to discover her shriveled and dead from malnutrition, her body still warm.”


I bury my face into my hooyo. Where is the peace of bright sleep?


“Our rapists and murderers live better than these,” Monte sweeps his hand back towards the mother and son. “What are we going to do about this? What can we do about this? We beg our governments to assist the people of Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. We can no longer look away from the suffering. Their prison has no walls, gates, or bars. Their cell is a vast dried up land.”

Emotion overwhelms Monte and he signals the cameraman to cut. “That’s enough right there.”

“It’s powerful stuff, Monte. I think you’re doing something big here.”



I feel the warmth of a hand on my head and a man cries and speaks to us with his eyes closed. I don’t understand him.

I close my eyes and a warm blanket of comfort rests on me. A strong desire for bright sleep pulls at me. I am an innocent victim of war. My only crime? I was born. My punishment? I’m still alive.


“I know you can’t understand me,” Monte looks deep into the dark brown eyes of the little boy. “But you have a purpose. Your life will sound the alarm to gather help for others yet to be born. You will bring water to the wasteland.”


Ahh, bright sleep. I have escaped prison. I am innocent.

Author’s note:
Hooyo is the Somali word for mother.

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This article has been read 712 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Laury Hubrich 07/28/11
This is such a sad story as told through the little boy. Masterfully written but played out everyday in real life. Gut-wrenchingly real. Too, too real.
Catrina Bradley 07/28/11
I'm out of breath and my chest is heavy after finishing this masterpiece. This is a winner.
Verna Cole Mitchell 07/29/11
You have written an extraordinarily touching story, squeezing the reader's heart. That's profound writing.
Noel Mitaxa 07/31/11
Brilliant characterisation that lets the message out loud and clear; and right into the heart of this reader. Powerfully expressed.
Loren T. Lowery08/03/11
Inspired writing, touched and led by the Holy Spirit. If profound means to change, then this writing/story will profoundly change those who read it.
Beth LaBuff 08/04/11
This is a heart-rending story, so eloquently and expertly worded and formatted. I'm so glad you were awarded an EC for this.
Lillian Rhoades 08/04/11
Way to go...Congratulations!!
Carol Penhorwood 08/05/11
I can't begin to tell you how this moved me. To me that is a sign of great writing. But to know that it is truth boggles the mind. Thank you for writing this.
Author Unknown08/07/11
well-captured, and it felt like it was really told through that boy's voice.

the only hint of critique (and it could be I read it wrong) is that I thought the child was a girl until the end. but that's a very minor thing- and could largely be my misreading.

powerful. definitely pulled at my heart, as I watch the numbers of children dead from starvation climb in the headlines.