A VILLAGE SUMMER
by BAYA LAIMECHE (United States)
Issue 1.2 September 2019
She spoke with her hands, weaving stories out of air and breathing life into them with her words. I watched her in fascination as she sparkled, a kaleidoscope of color and emotion, drawing me in with the magnificence of her beauty. My aunt had visited my dreams growing up: I remembered her soft hands working at the loom of storytelling, pausing to caress my face before continuing to spin me a brilliant textile of all her favorite memories. When I was a motherless eleven year old living in our small village, she arrived at our door with her two toddlers, taking me under her wing. That summer, I sat on the kitchen floor sweating over geometry while she crouched by the stove. We strolled through markets hand in hand, chatting about clothes, shoes, and children. At night, we pulled our mattresses into the cool courtyard that smelled like rain and jasmine, and quietly shared our dreams and wishes under the starry Algerian sky. As time wore on, I learned many things about the woman I had dreamed about as a child. She had an aptitude for dominoes and plucking chickens, and had an impeccable fashion sense. Though she seemed perfect to me, she was a bit of an oddity to the other village women, a college degree under her belt alongside diapers and toy cars. One night I dared to ask her why she had gone to college. She sighed and smiled at me, her hands moving fluidly as she told me her story.
Though she loved school, the concept of being the first child—and daughter—to attend college terrified her. Before she reached high school, however, her older sister, my other aunt and namesake, passed the college entrance exam on her first try. Smart, headstrong, and beautiful, her sister had always been the one to transcend boundaries and cultural norms, and it came to nobody's surprise when she thrived in her college career. Until one day, my elder aunt, the career girl, the family's pride and joy, suddenly died in a train accident. My aunt's eyes shone with tears, but she gave a soft, halfhearted laugh. "I saw a bit of her in myself then—her stubbornness and strong will became mine, and I knew what I had to do." She decided that she would continue her sister's legacy, and it took five years and four attempts before she passed the entrance exam. Although her father pressed her to get married as soon as possible, she staved him off, putting her heart and soul into her degree. She graduated with honors, fulfilling the vow she had made after her sister's death, and finally settled down.
She smiled at me. "I am glad every day that I did what I did. And it broke my heart to lose my sister—none of my dreams had ever imagined that she would die so very young. But I planned, and God planned, and surely He is the best of the planners. And now, you will go to college in America someday. And my boys will grow up and go to college, too. And I hope that they will be inspired by me as I was inspired by your amto." Her hands stopped in mid-air and she caught my chin in her palms. "You are so very much like her, you know." My eyes pricked. I had never met the crowning jewel of the family—her death was a short six months before my own birth. But as I smiled back into the soft young face lined by years of alternating stress and laughter, I saw a glimmer of the woman after whom I was named, buried deep within the crevices of her youngest sister's soul.
As the summer drew to an end, I shoved my clothes back into their deep purple suitcase and slept on a bed of jasmine flowers that floated down into the courtyard. I finally won a game of dominoes against my aunt, although I remained terrified of dead chickens. When my father roughly pulled me away from her at the airport, I began to cry, and I only calmed down when we reached our gate. I sat on the plane and gazed out the window at the glimmering skyline, where the stars met the lampposts that illuminated the streets of Algiers. It could have been the lights of the city, but as I watched the buildings fade into darkness, I saw a familiar sparkle in my own eyes flash by, a reflection of the women that inspired me to be, above all else, strong, kind, and bright.
Baya Laimeche, 16, is a high school senior from Arizona. Her Algerian roots, American upbringing, and Muslim faith are the largest influences in her writing and are reflected in all her works.