I ran home from school and it was still the same. The creaky fence was half open. White paint chips sat in piles at my feet like weird summer snow. The lawn was still brown like an ancient threadbare rug hanging outside to dry. Or an ancient dog lying outside to die.
When I went inside I said to my jidu, “It’s still the same.”
“And why should it be different,” he asked, stooped over a cup of tea at the table. I told him that I overheard the grownups whispering at school. Little blasts of sound, like gunshots. A new era. A wall. Forced expulsion, denial of entry. I didn’t understand and had to write it down so I’d remember to ask. I also heard the world turning upside down.
This I got. Immediately I saw in my mind’s eye clouds rolling on the ground and grass floating above, and people walking on their heads and houses lying on their roofs. But when I left school everything looked like it did before. The sun was still baking everything in a right-side-up world.
“Rima habibti,” my jidu said, “sometimes things look one way on the outside and another way on the inside. This is something you feel, not see.” His eyes darkened and I saw a story buried in them I couldn’t make out, that circled back deep into time.
At school, there was a map of the world. It was open and pretty like a puzzle. It had sort-of-real blue water and very fake-looking land in all sorts of pastel colors, like pieces of candy that look equally delicious so you can’t choose. Sometimes I’d forget I was in class as I jumped right into it, hopping over rivers and leaping through deserts and summiting the highest mountains with the ease of a cougar. Every country on this map felt like home.
The last time they told me and my friend to go back to where you come from lousy dirty brown breads it felt like I fell right off the map and slam dunked to the bottom of the Arabian Sea. When I got home crying, my jidu asked what was wrong. I asked him where is home, really, because maybe it wasn’t where I thought it was, and that’s when he spoke for the first time about the homeland with a sad look in his blurry eyes. But he also said never forget that home is where the heart is. He stuck his bony finger in my chest. Here.
In the science room at school, there was a picture of the human heart. Its shape was similar to Africa but, other than that, it looked nothing like the map of the world. It was a dark bloody red mess full of sickly blue and purple lines running through it like a traffic jam of claustrophobic tunnels about to explode. When I saw the map of the world I felt like a feather or a gazelle or a lion that could conquer anything. When I saw the map of the heart I became seized with terror that this oozy alien is why we’re alive.
Around the land masses on the map of the world there is water. Heavenly light water that can carry you away to anywhere. Around the pulpy heart there is a cage made of solid bone.
It’s hard to feel it, but we’re made mostly of water, and the heart sitting in its cage is the true map of our world. It is the central station of our tears, laughter, pain, fear and anger, and it is much harder to read than the map of countries. When things are fine we don’t notice the heart. Then it beats a mile a minute before you even know why, and then you are running and running until you are stopped because the world did turn upside down and you are forced to go to strange places you’ve never seen on any map.
That central station explodes with fear and almost collapses with confusion.
The heart can be a scary place to visit, habibti, my jidu told me that hot afternoon I came home from school crying. But it is your treasure chest. There are many jewels inside and they belong to no one but you. That is why it sits in a cage, so the treasures can be protected. And here is the beauty: you are the treasure and you are also the guard. The cage cannot tell the difference between enemies and friends. Only you can. You need to take this job very seriously, as you are the one who decides what gets inside.
No matter how hard it gets, Rima, do not let the wall around your heart get too thick or too high. Outside in the world, you will find terrible things. Walls will be built, places closed off, there will be injustices you cannot even imagine. But all those things, they are made by human hands and they can be destroyed just as easily as they were made. What is inside your heart is forever, and no one can change its borders and no one can take its treasures away from you.
Just as I was wondering about that, he said, “Do you know what your greatest treasure is, habibti? It is your power to love. Guard it with everything you have.”
The map of the world is changing now. But I stand guard in front of the one territory that belongs to me. I am a warrior goddess who does not forget what I’ve been taught: that to protect the treasures of our messy hearts is to change the map of the world. It might take a long time, but this is our legacy.
I will not let the wall get any higher. I will not forget that the blood running through my veins and the oceans on the map of the world are one. I will work, no… fight… for love every day until the walls are torn down.
Tammy T. Stone is a Canadian writer currently living in Japan. Her short stories have been published in orion headless, Broken City Magazine, Cunjure, Dairy River, Grace Notes Magazine and SNReview. She has been a featured writer and columnist for elephant journal and The Tattooed Buddha, writing about wellness, spirituality and the arts. Her poetry has been widely published and anthologized, and her first poetry collection, Formation: Along the Ganges and Back Again, was published in 2015. She published a second poetry collection, Little Poems for Big Seasons, in 2016.