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.
Text copyright (c) 2005 by Nestegg Productions LLC.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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