A Better Life

The following is a short story inspired by recent world events.

. . .

If we lived in a different world, one with no evil or malice, with good-will for mankind, then these things would be unthinkable. But that’s not where we live, and that’s not how things are. At least not yet. And so, there are times when we have to make some hard choices. Life-changing decisions that must be decided in a moment, and cannot be taken back. We only get one chance in this life. For now, this is all we have.

. . .

I’m not quite sure what we expected. But whatever it was, it wasn’t this.

. . .

The hope of fleeing the new leadership was not an idea unique to us. We knew that we did not have much of a chance, but we were determined to try. Not for us. No, not really. Of course, we would like to flee, but that was nothing compared to our angel. Our very own beloved one, to whom we hoped to gift the entire world, if we could. Our darling daughter. Our beloved. For her we would gladly forfeit our own lives.

. . .

We had arrived several days ago. We had arrived to a place we had been dozens of times before. But now, just shortly after the hostile take-over, we would never have recognized it. The airport had once been a bustling enterprise. Busy. Crowded. Organized disorganization. What we saw now was beyond any of that. Once a place of busy but orderly conduct, now it was only defined by chaos and fear.

All around us, we could see the devastation that had been caused in only a few short days. Families had been packing themselves into the airport – begging, borrowing, or stealing a way to secure themselves a seat on a flight out of the country. Smoke hung in the air. Some of it from bonfires that people lit to keep themselves warm throughout the night. Some of it due to the new regime asserting their authority by burning any sign that the old guard had ever existed. Asserting their authority, and letting us know that they were in charge, now and forever.

There were only a few soldiers left from the old guard, doing their best to protect the now very small area not yet ceded to the enemy forces. The last of the soldiers stood huddled in the center of the airport, attempting to look calm. But the anxiety in the eyes was all too plain. It was an anxiety, however, that was mixed with sadness. I wondered, was it the sadness of leaving their mission unfulfilled? They kept vigil, always looking to the outskirts of the airport, looking wearily for any sudden advances from the enemy. Their government had promised us a peaceful transition of power. They had promised that we would have months to find a path to a better life, if that’s what we chose. Now, months had turned into hours. And already, the idea of a peaceful transition only seemed like a distant memory – a broken promise, if it ever had been a promise to begin with.

We periodically heard gunshots in the distance. And there was always smoke visible on the outskirts of the airport. Were the gunshots meant to resonate the overwhelming victory from our new leadership? Or was it something much more sinister? Was their purpose to snuff out any cries of help from the remaining allies? It was hard to tell – and to be honest, I didn’t want to think about it.

. . .

We had found a somewhat calm and isolated spot to sit for a while. Travelling to the airport itself had been a harrowing journey. I would owe a lot of favors to friends and family. Hopefully, once we got out of here, I could somehow return their kindness.

By the time we had arrived, it was already dusk. We decided to sit still through the night. In the morning, I would begin my search for a way out of here. I would search for the one thing that everyone in our country wanted – an escape from this place of despair and hopelessness.

With the fire in front of us, I couldn’t help but feel a strange sense of calm. Perhaps it was because of my resolution to find a way out. One singular mission was in my mind, and there was a strange peace about that. There was no second-guessing anything. We were here now. There was only one thing left to do – to get as far away from this insurrection as possible, as fast as possible.

As I pondered our circumstances, my eyes began to wander. I saw many other families, many with children, many who looked just like us, all hoping for the same thing. And I felt unity. Husbands were doing their best to be good husbands. Fathers were doing their best to be good fathers. We were all in this together.

My gaze went to the soldiers, who kept watch atop the large plateau in the middle of the airport.

With my eyes on them, sifting through one after another, I could see many different things written on their faces. Some of them seemed to have emptied themselves of all emotion altogether. I suppose it’s what I would have done. After all, abandoning us to the new regime wouldn’t settle well with anyone, especially a soldier, who’s sworn duty is to protect the innocent and helpless of the world.

On many of their faces, though, I could see a deep sadness. They had spent many years with us, and now they were being told to leave. Some of their friends have died defending us. I’m sure they wanted revenge – or at the very least, they wanted to make sure their brothers’ and sisters’ sacrifices were not wasted. But now, they’re leaving. Whether the last twenty years was a success or a failure was not up to them. It would be a thing for diplomats to debate in large, well-decorated offices.

As my eyes swept past the men and women, I suddenly realized that it probably looked like I was staring. I quickly pivoted my head in the opposite direction, but the image of one man lasted in my mind’s eye for just a moment. And I realized. Was he looking at me?

I labored to look back at the man. I had already been staring too long. My head lifted, and I slowly raised my eyes back to him.

Yes. I was certain. He was looking at me.

Or was he?

I looked a little harder now. No, he wasn’t looking at me. He was looking right next to me.

He had been looking at our daughter.

. . .

Our darling daughter, the pride of our lives and our ultimate achievement.

Born twelve weeks premature, our daughter’s life was a struggle from the start. Her life began with needles, tubes, and incubators. Three months later, she was home, away from the pain she had experienced in her youngest days. As her parents, wanting to give her the best that life had to offer, we went about doing the only things we knew how. Since she had experienced pain and fear in her earliest days, we now wanted to offset the balance, and so we made it our goal to give her our fullest love and affection. Smiles were all she knew from us. We did all we could of to make her laugh. Not a single tear was shed without our knowledge and care. And when she cried, we cried.

From the day she was born, everything we did was for her. And now, it had come to a climax. For her, we needed to leave.

The night passed slowly by. I stood guard, watching for any danger. A sudden rush from the new guard to overwhelm the last few soldiers was a real possibility. I watched and waited, but no such attack happened. And eventually, the morning did come.

I had been holding our darling through the night. Finally, I noticed my wife waking. We both stood, and I gave our daughter to her.

“I’ll come back. I promise,” I told her, and I kissed her gently.

“I know you will,” she said confidently, but her face told a different story to me. She was scared for me. I was leaving the relative safety of the few remaining soldiers. But I had to go. If there was any hope of leaving, I had to find it. The final push from our newly installed leadership would happen soon. Far sooner than anyone dared to think.

I left my family in search of rescue.

. . .

Over the next several hours, I wandered the ruined, dirtied buildings. I would hear someone yelling about seats available on the next flight. And immediately, people would crowd the person, like a flood, leaving no room for anyone to even breathe. It was like that time after time. Someone whispered or shouted that they knew a way out, the people flooded in, and the flood washed away any evidence that hope of escape had ever existed. I never knew whether the ramblings were fake or real. Slowly and gradually, like waves hitting the shore, the revelation hit me. At first it was a voice that I hid away. But time after time, as fewer and fewer means of escape presented themselves, I was forced to accept it. There was no chance we were leaving.

. . .

Unsure of what we would do next, I stumbled shamefully back to my wife and daughter. I readied myself to tell her about how hopeless the situation really was.

But, when I was still a ways off, I saw her. Her face was a mess of mascara. She had been sobbing.

I ran to her.

“What’s wrong?”, I asked.

She tried to speak, but couldn’t. All she could do was point. I followed her hand, which led to that same soldier who had been looking at us the night before. He looked at me now – and he motioned towards our daughter.

“I think… I think they can take her,” she sobbed. “He said they can take her.”

My heart dropped.

“But they have to take her now. They’re leaving now.”

“We… we can’t. That’s… impossible,” I stammered. But even as I said it, I lived out all other scenarios. What else could we do? Return home with our daughter? Then what? We would wait and hope, as the grip of the new totalitarian government took more and more from us, until we had nothing left. Nothing left to give our beloved. And when that day came, we would look back on this moment with pain and despair.

We looked at each other, and cried. We knew it was our only choice.

. . .

All we could do was watch as he took her. But even then, the tears in our eyes made everything a blur. We wrapped our arms around each other.

The soldier gave us one last nod, and began to walk away, our child in his capable arms. She lost track of us in the crowd. But I kept looking at her. Sorrow and hope filled my heart equally, as though it had been split in two, each side being filled to the brim. I felt it explode inside my chest.

Just as we were about to lose sight of her, her eyes caught us once more. Maybe I just imagined it, but I could see a bright smile crossing her lips.

Her first smile.

. . .

My baby. You have been born once already, much before your time. Now you must be born again, into a new life, so completely different than the one we had planned for you. We had hopes of raising you in our ways. We had hopes of combing your hair every morning before school, talking to you about your day every night around the dinner table, and helping you with your homework. We had hopes of helping you decide who you should date, and who you should marry. I was already thinking of walking you down the aisle, and how sad I would be on that day. But the sorrow I feel now can’t even compare to the sorrow of losing you to another man on that day. Now, I am losing you to a man I have never met. But I know that this is our only hope. It’s your only hope of having a decent life. My baby, I love you. I always will.

Be brave, little one. For all of us. You are now born again, into a better life.

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