At first the ship swung slowly. It didn't go very far in either direction.
But gradually, the boat went faster and swung farther. Each swing took our seats
higher, and when the boat reached the top of its swing, it seemed to pause. For
an instant I felt weightless. Then, when it swung the other way, I felt as if I
was falling fast. My heart came into my throat, and my throat dropped down into
my stomach. It was scary but exhilarating, and I was loving that feeling of
speed and of the wind in my hair.
But then at the peak of the ride, just as the boat reversed direction and our
seats began to fall, the machinery sent off some kind of spark. And when that
spark flashed in my eyes, it triggered something. I dropped through a trapdoor
into some other reality. Suddenly, I wasn't in America on a carnival ride. I was
on the ground, looking up into the sky and the sun. I had fallen out of that day
and into a moment ten years in the past. Above me what I saw was that ring of
faces, the people who had gathered around to gawk at me after the land mine went
off-it was as real to me as the clouds overhead.
So I started screaming, right there on the Gondola ride, just like I did on
that terrible day. "Why don't you help me? Why are you all just looking at me
like that? Help me, someone help me!"
It was that scene, exactly. I tried to get up, as I had that day. I wanted to
be whole again. I scrambled to get away from the horror of what had
happened-except that I was not really on the ground in Afghanistan. I was at a
carnival in Wheaton, Illinois, on the Gondola, struggling to get out of my seat
on a ride that was going a hundred miles an hour, back and forth, up and down.
Thank God Alyce was there by my side, as she has been by my side so often in
these last few years. Thank God she knew at once what I was about to do, and she
flung her arms around me and kept me in my place and shook me and called into my
ear, "Wake up, Farah! Wake up!"
I came back to consciousness. The ride was still going, and I knew vaguely
where I was, but only through the fog of a terror that I couldn't blink away. I
yelled, "Stop the ride, stop the ride!"
But of course they didn't stop the ride. They never stop the ride.
I screamed, but my screams attracted no attention. Everyone was screaming.
They expect people to scream on carnival rides. I was doing nothing newsworthy.
If I had managed to get out of my seat and over the restraining bar, yes, then
someone would have noticed. If I had managed to jump from the Gondola ride at
the peak of its motion, yes, I would have made the news: ONE-LEGGED AFGHAN GIRL
JUMPS FROM CARNIVAL RIDE. But it didn't happen because Alyce was there to save
my life--but then, Alyce has done that in a lot of ways, big and small, since we
met two years ago.
The ride finally slowed down, and the world around me changed from a blur of
motion to a field of happy crowds enjoying a summer day. I said, "Oh my
goodness, what happened?" I looked around and said, "Oh my goodness! I'm not in
Afghanistan. It's not that day. I'm in America." Nothing was broken, I was told.
The machine was supposed to make sparks.
Even now, I wonder what triggered my flashback at that carnival. Was it the
heart-swelling sensation of falling? Was it the light that flashed in my eyes
and then morphed into the sunlight of that awful day, the sunlight that shone
through that ring of horrified faces? I wish I knew so I could get ready for the
next time or avoid tripping another switch that turns some ordinary moment into
a horrible waking dream.
Nowadays I don't dream about my leg very much. It's not like those first few
weeks or even months after it was amputated, when I used to dream that I was
riding a bicycle or running around in our yard in Kabul or just walking.
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