Secret by Fatmah AlQadfan

They met in secret and spoke in whispers, but when they fell in love it was quick and violent – a whirlwind romance, some people would say. Others describe it as a classic case of boy meets girl behind the Torres store, under the old avocado tree. 

The avocado tree is the holder of all secrets, of all murmured promises and breathless exchanges between modest young girls, barely sixteen, and muscular but green suitors. Boys who know nothing but the muddy streets of San Pedro and the price of every beer have the nerve to stand tall and pledge eternal love to someone’s daughter. Some boys speak with excitement, bouncing on the balls of their feet, wanting desperately to communicate their passion with a kiss (at least a kiss). Some boys take deep breaths and run their hands along the dark, rough bark. They describe a decadent life with gadgets and meats and an endless supply of expensive wine. They can envision the cool dark bottles but they never think about respect or warmth or affection. What is affection? A mere word uttered by husbandless teachers expecting their class to read poetry.

Day after day, year in and year out, boys and girls meet under the avocado tree and spin plush dreams, so different from their dreary life in San Pedro.

The first time she set off to meet him, her feet felt like the heavy tires that she used to roll in when she was a little girl. Even the air smelled rubbery. Her eyes watered and she wanted to vomit. The afternoon sun didn’t want to bear witness to this secret rendezvous; it silently slid behind the clouds and hid away from the scandal. She ducked into the alley between the Torres food store and the sinister butcher’s shop. A powerful whiff of animal carcasses hit her face like a fist, then pushed its way down her throat and made her gag. The dirt under her foot was a deep brick red and she thought it was because the blood seeped from under the butcher’s door and soaked the side street.

The alley was narrow and as if that was not enough, the two small buildings started closing in on her. They were going to squash her, so she picked up her pace and pushed on. She had to see him. Years later, she would recall that fateful afternoon, remembering the toes of her scuffed black shoes against the crimson earth and the unbearable stench of death. Yet she could never remember why she wanted to see him, why she needed to see him. What made her put one foot in front of the other when she was supposed to be at home minding her siblings?

“You are always thinking,” Diana says sharply. She crams years of criticism and reproach in just a few words. “What are you thinking?” A little softer this time, as she folds ratty t-shirts next to her older sister.

“Nothing.”

“What?” Impatience creeps into Diana’s voice again. “Come on. The kids?”

“Yeah. No. The avocado tree and time… Back then, you know?” she just shrugs. How does she articulate her thoughts to her sister?

But she doesn’t have to look for words because Diana knows. They all lived fairytales under that tree, they were all promised silk dresses and gold but look at them now, washing threadbare garments at a common laundry room.

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