I am very proud to share this short story with my friends, family, and the world. Not many people have seen or read my work, as I’ve kept it to myself for the majority of my life. Not out of shame or any other specific reason, but I suppose I’m just not much of a bragger. And perhaps I had a little bit of fear to put myself out there back then. But, now that I’m far more brave, and actively working towards publication, I thought… what better way to introduce people to what I can do? This short story is titled Awakening, and it is the very first short story I ever submitted to any competition, back in 2006. And amazingly – it won 1st place! (publication credit goes to the Transcona Literacy Center, Winnipeg, MB).
This story also made the short list for the 2019 Eden Mills Writers Festival short story competition (a slightly updated version of it). So that’s pretty neat too.
This is a non-fiction story, taken directly from my real life experience. So, you will all get to know me a little better through reading it. It is different in style than the stories that I tend to write now… as I have really grown as a writer through the years, and my preferences and abilities have changed. As do we all. 🙂
I hope you will enjoy it. Please let me know, as I would love to hear your feedback!
Without further ado, I present to you: AWAKENING, by Rachael Clarke.
It was a cool evening, which continually surprised me. The evenings in Guatemala were a direct contrast to the intense dry heat of the typically sunny day there. The light breeze nipped at my knuckles and fingertips as I pulled out a cigarette and lit the end in a quick blaze of sparked flame. Sitting down on the narrow sidewalk lining the slim cobblestone street of my casa, I took in my surroundings just as I took my breath. Deeply.
The night was clear and the stars twinkled above teasingly. Despite the dim illumination cast down by a few street lamps, the area was still surprisingly vibrant. Each casa was decorated in a different color, their values running into one another abruptly like a continuous rainbow down the entire street.
The stained glass windows were aglow with life, further adding to the ambiance. And as the sounds emanating from within escaped, wafting through the air playfully, a smile came to my lips. Laughter and music. One of the greatest things about this country was its rich sense of fun. All the people seem to have such a passion for life! A ‘go for it’, no-holds-barred kind of attitude. It was quite amazing to experience.
I heard the door creak behind me and out came my roommate Sheena, a quirky young woman with whom I’d shared this home for nearly 3 months now.
A few people casually muttered “buenas noches” as they passed, and I found it funny that the atmosphere of this town was beginning to feel second nature to me. Familiar.
My friend and I chatted idly to each other about how our days had been, our different encounters, and how horrible our Spanish still was after all this time… not paying much attention to the man at our left pacing anxiously.
We were just beginning a discussion about how amazing our host family was when our attention was suddenly drawn by a heated voice. The deep and guttural shouting reverberated off the concrete walls encasing the street, cutting through the air, distinctly sharp to the ear. Looking to my left, I saw the same man who’d been pacing just a moment before, now enraged. His attention was focused on the doorway just one casa down from where we sat. I followed his eye line, curious and especially shocked by the display. Sheena and I exchanged a glance of bewilderment.
The man was waving his arms and clapping his hands together in fury, still roaring in Spanish. He pulled the belt out from his pant-loops and struck it against his thigh threateningly. Slap! A thick leather belt. Growling, he shook his finger at the entryway… who or what dwelled within still unknown.
I was concerned. Yikes, I thought. What the heck is going on? What’s the…
Just then a young woman appeared through the doorway, adorned in the beautifully crafted traditional dress of Guatemalan women, a colorful skirt and decorative square-neck blouse. Her palms were faced upward and elbows cocked in question. She spoke to the man. An older woman followed behind her, similarly dressed, stepping out meekly. I assumed this was the mother of the younger female… or perhaps a sister. I couldn’t say for sure.
My thoughts were all at once cut short when I saw the man wind up and bring that leather strap down upon the youngest woman’s back. The loud cracking sound it made had me cringing. I was not prepared at all to see that. The breath caught in my throat as I saw him throw his hand back in the air, preparing for another blow. Thwack! I twitched in reaction. Thwack!
I couldn’t move. I was frozen, my head spinning. I can’t believe I’m seeing this! I should say something shouldn’t I? This can’t go on! What do I do?
Unbelievably the poor young lady simply shrunk down, her shoulders slumping and her head bowing in submission. I never heard a single peep come from her mouth as he hit her. And he hit so hard… He practically snarled each time wound up, his face red and twisting in sheer rage. His slicked black hair began shaking loose from its carefully groomed place. This man looked so clean cut, dressed in nice slacks, a dress shirt and a dark leather jacket. I never would have guessed he would be abusive. A woman-beater.
Appearances truly are deceiving…
My hands instinctively flew to my mouth, covering it tightly, hands stiff and white knuckled. My sole focus was zeroed in on the events unfolding before my eyes. Nothing else mattered around me. I could not tear my eyes away. I wouldn’t dare to for fear I’d miss something vital. I had to take in every detail for the police report.
But, wait—there would be no police report…
The revelation came to me on a whisper, but hit me like a ton of bricks.
My split-second aggression surprised me. Suddenly I felt like a jaguar waiting for its moment to strike. The police couldn’t…or more appropriately wouldn’t do anything about this! The police are corrupt and there aren’t any laws governing domestic violence in Guatemala! These women have no protection against abuse! This man, by social acceptance, had the right to do whatever he wanted to his property—his women.
That’s it, I have to do something, I thought. My entire body tensed, jaw clenched… poised and ready to vault into action. I watched as the man now struck the older lady repeatedly, heavily beating on her back. Giving each one their turn… And she too, just like her younger companion, bowed down in compliance! Not a sound. Not even a tear.
I couldn’t understand it! Fight back woman! Don’t let him hurt you like that! How often did they get beaten like this? I was absolutely livid and could feel my limbs begin to quiver. My eyes wide with emotion, the turmoil within me was at the brink and just about boiling over. That’s it Asshole! If only my Spanish were better. He may not even understand. I began to move, my mouth opening to shout, “Stop it now!”
But no sound escaped my lips…
I was still sitting there, watching in silence. Why?
My body halted, frozen in mid-action. Not even in mid-action, because my butt hadn’t even left the sidewalk! It was more like I’d had a sudden spasm of some kind, and my grand intentions burned down in flames with my trepidation.
Meanwhile red flags began waving furiously all through my brain. A tiny voice was telling me to wait, warning me not to intervene. This is a foreign country and you are just a student here. The guy could have a gun. You don’t know how he’ll react. He could attack you—then what? How will you stop him anyway? What can you really do to help? You’re a woman up against a man with a weapon in his hand. This could cause trouble for your host family… I was bombarded all at once by worries and questions. I felt so torn inside.
As my mind churned feverishly, the three slowly made their way down the street to the corner. I watched him thrash each of them once more between the shoulder blades before he finally lowered his arm to his side. Stuffing the belt into his pocket, he quickly smoothed his hair back and gave a brief glance around him. He then disappeared around the corner. He’d looked right at us—plain as day! He didn’t give a rats-ass whether we were there or not! Nobody around seemed to. There were at least five other people down the street who’d witnessed the entire incident and nobody had made a move…nobody even said a word!
The women followed their abuser subserviently around the corner. Following him like a slave would follow the master, forced against their will to obey a self-appointed possessor. Did they know any different? I wondered. Was this just normal life to them? Were they aware that they deserved better—and so much more—than that? I felt so sorry and utterly disgusted by the treatment they received. The world would never be fair would it…
In the split-second of a moment before they vanished from view, it was then that the youngest woman slanted her head toward us. I could feel our gazes connect as vivid as a pinch to the arm… her face solemn. And then they were gone. Fading into the night…uncertain and unaware of what else laid in store for them.
My heart cracked a little.
No—not just a little. My heart cracked wide open.
Her eyes had searched me, as if bearing into my soul. And Lord knows what she discovered there… I’m scared to imagine. I really wish I could tell her story, but unfortunately I can only relay my side of the experience. And beyond those brown irises existed a certain hollowness, and even the slightest hint of shame. I could see that she’d been embarrassed by the situation. But, the part that ripped me open was that I saw bewilderment there… questions lingering in the depths. Questions…
Wondering why the rich and empowered white women didn’t help them…
I know I can’t even begin to describe all of this accurately, but in a word I’d say I saw disappointment, and I believe it changed my heart that day.
I can still see her eyes in my mind. They gnaw at me, haunt me… reminding me of how powerless I felt that evening. I often replay it in my head… wondering what I could’ve done differently. What if I had tried to play the hero? Might he have stopped? Would I be still be alive today? Would my actions have made the slightest difference in those people’s lives? Probably not… but what if they had? And it’s that exact query that drives me. I do not ever want to be that helpless again. Such a disadvantage against the odds triggered something deep inside me. I believe that the purpose for my life had been lying dormant within, awaiting its awakening. And God put it very clearly in my path.
If it had not been for that experience, I wouldn’t currently be striving to become a member of the police force. If not for those two women I would not be taking this stance against injustice. I want to help people. I really want to make a difference.
If not for those brown eyes I would not be who I am today… I only wish they could know the impact they made on this “rich and empowered” white woman’s life.
If only I could have been capable at the time to do the same for them.
Written by Rachael Clarke ©
Originally Published by Transcona Literacy Centre, Winnipeg, MB. The 1st Place Winning entry in the “So You Think You Can Write” short story contest – 2006