School For The Mediums
I couldn’t breathe. There was thick smoke stuffed like cotton down my throat.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
I could hear loud and powerful thumps, repeatedly pounding against the door.
“Hadiza!” Shrieking screams vibrated through my ear drums. “Hadiza, do you hear me?”
Heat. There was blistering heat all around me. It felt like I was cooking in an oven. There was a pool of sweat down puddled around my back, my skin sizzling. I tried to measure my uneven strained breaths, but it made it even harder.
I coughed hard, my lungs feeling like glass and rocks were going in instead of air. Everything around me was a hazy black, pitch tar black. All I could see was the wood of my door, and the smoke seeping through it.
“Hadiza!” The screams and banging were getting louder and desperate. “Hadiza!”
My dry eyes were stinging as if someone threw acid into them, and my nostrils were burning like I was inhaling fire.
It was hard to form words between painful coughs and gags. “…I’m here!” I shouted back with such intensity that my throat vibrated---ready to tear.
“Hadiza! Listen to me now, you need to get out of there! The fire is spreading, and I can’t pull the door open from my end. You need to pull it from your end.”
My head was throbbing, and my vision was blurred, but somehow, I stumbled to my feet.
Gulping thick air, on newborn feet, I fumbled to the door. Every step on the floor felt like I stepping on burning sands.
“Hadiza? Are you still there?”
“I’m…here!” I wheezed, my heart thundering.
“Listen the fire is spreading! You need to get out now!”
“Okay!” Disoriented, dizzy, and confused, I placed my hand on the door handle, and then the scream came naturally. The metal burned a deep gorging line into my skin.
“The door handle burned me!” I cried; tears streaming down my face. It was cool on my aching hot skin. But it couldn’t distract me from the stinging burn branded on my palm.
“Hey, hey! I know it’s hot, but the door is budged. I need you to pull it from your end now, Hadiza! Do you hear me?”
My hands trembled as I looked at the bluish-black skin. The agonizing pain was so commanding I felt my legs losing strength, and my knees ready to buckle.
“Hadiza! I’m not going anywhere until you get out! Get out, now!”
Sobbing and hyperventilating, I shakily put my hand on the handle, the heat searing it forced another shout from me. “It burns!”
“You can do it! Just open the door!”
Through screams and giving the last of my energy, I pried the doors open.
The moment I did, all I could see was the fire everywhere. The house was burning, and so was she.
“Hadiza.” On her feet, her legs, on her hands, on her hair. She looked like she was made of flames.
“Hadiza.” She reached for me, and when our hands touched, the fire crawled onto me. “Now, we’ll go together Hadiza---.”
I opened my eyes.
Sleeping is a lot like death when you think about it. And I think about it a lot, sleeping is a lot like being dead. When you close your eyes and fall from consciousness, for a couple of hours straight, you are ‘dead to the world’. You can’t move. You can’t think. You can’t do anything. You just stay there, eyes flickering around, breathing slowed, paralyzed. A prisoner to your own body, and comatose, basically.
Maybe the only real difference between sleeping and death is that death is permanent, an eternal sleep. You don’t wake from that like we can wake from a dream.
I heard footsteps coming from above me.
Exhaling shallow breaths, I curled my toes and moved my feet around under the blanket. The warmth was nice, but my body was still weary.
In a mixture of exhaustion and newfound energy, I stretched out my legs and gave my head a little crack.
With a yawn, I tried to wake up my sleepy mind. But after a few blinks, my vision was still blurry and the world was sideways. Not to mention my back. I slept on the floor laying on my side like Mom said not to.
Yawning again, I slowly sat upright, the fuzzy blanket I slept with falling off me. I felt the goosebumps start on my skin, the light tank top and shorts I was wearing no help to cool the conditioned temperature.
“Haah.” Another yawn automatically came while I rubbed my eyes and wiped the morning tears. With that, my drowsy sight was back to normal. Something which the bright rays of sunlight took advantage of.
“…Ugh.” I groaned with a squint.
I thought I had the blinders closed before I fell asleep watching TV last night.
I glanced at the wide slider patio doors. The vertical blinders were pushed to the side, and sunlight continued to shine brightly through the glass.
If I was sleepy before, now I was fully awake, and absolutely not prepared to take on the day.
Wincing, I turned my head from the yellow glow that flooded our living room. “Geez….” I sighed. The sting from the light was worse than having Mom pull the blankets off to wake up me for school.
“Hadiza.” A woman’s voice echoed a little distance behind me.
Just when you speak of the devil.
Moving slowly, I craned my head to the source.
Mom had one foot on the border in the kitchen and the other in the living room. She was dressed in her usual morning wear. Short shiny black hair pulled up into a tight ponytail, blue sleeping pajamas covered by a big oversized apron, and of course, can’t forget the spaceman astronaut slippers. She never forgets to wear the spaceman astronaut slippers.
“Did you fall asleep in the living room, again?” she asked me, placing her hands on her hips.
I pressed my lips together, taking a gander at my surroundings.
My blanket was on the floor, and the Komatsu futons were on the floor into a makeshift bed of pillows, and then there was the TV. Not so surprisingly, it was still on. Colorful images and pretty actors were moving on the screen, but there was no sound.
That’s when I noticed the TV remote peeking out from underneath my blanket. Obviously, during shifting positions in my sleep, I must have hit the mute button.
To anyone coming downstairs and making their way down the hall into our tiny connected kitchen and living room, yeah, it would look like I slept in the living room. But if you ask me?
“Not really,” I replied, rubbing a stiff neck.
“You didn’t sleep in the living room?” Mom asked again, giving me a questioning stare.
“Not really.” I shrugged and bent down to pick up my blanket.
With a sigh, Mom went to the kitchen and started to wash her hands. “If you keep sleeping on the floor like that you’re going to end up with a bad back. Besides, we didn’t move into this brand-new house with brand new beds, for it not to be used,” she said, in between taking things out from the fridge.
“Yeah, I hear you.” I stretched up a little on my toes.
She glanced back at me. “If you hear me don’t sleep on the floor again. Please, Hadiza,” she pleaded, saying the last bit with a singing emphasis.
“Said I hear you.” I walked down the hallway, tossing my blanket over my shoulder.
“You getting ready for school?” Her voice traveled to me.
“What time is it?” I slowly stepped up the stairs.
“Time for you to get ready for school, AND, enough time for you to eat the delicious breakfast I’m making!”
“But you have to hurry up!”
I was already at the top of the stairs, but Mom’s voice still carried. “Okay.”
“You don’t want to be late! Or, miss my breakfast!” she quickly added.
“I won’t.” With a sigh, I made my way to my room. But I had to stop just short of my door.
I couldn’t control my eyes. They moved slowly to the room next to mine.
There were only 3 bedrooms in the house. One for Mom and Dad, one for me….and? We had an empty room now. Dad said 2 bedrooms would have been fine. But Mom insisted.
‘We’ll just have a guest room’, she said. ‘It’ll be fine. Everything will be fine.’
The designated guest room door was cracked.
Staring into the crack, I could see a glimpse of the inside. The room was still pretty empty. A few boxes here and there, and the bed and the dresser set. It was a normal room. The walls were white, the floors were wooden.
The only good selling point about the small was the window. It was the biggest window in the house. And, at night you could see the stars as if that’s that was ---a dark blue landscape with the brightest twinkling whites glittering in the sky.
I took a step closer to the room.
For some reason, I always think about it. How right here---my hands softly landed on the door handle. Right here, this room would have been Aoko’s.
She would have been the first one to call claim to it.
Probably cheat me for it, too.
The shaking was starting in my hands, and my legs were starting to grow weak.
Did Mom know Aoko would have wanted this room? She did, didn’t she?
My mouth was drying up, my tongue like sandpaper as I swallowed.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
I closed my eyes, feeling the pounding of my heart.
Of course, Mom knew she would have wanted this room. Aoko would’ve liked to see the stars from the window.
She would have.
Clenching the doorknob, I pulled the guest door shut with a slam.
She really would have.