The cracks have widened since my last visit. I step over the stubborn weeds rising from dark earth admiring their audacity. I find myself wishing I had brought my secateurs to trim the limp rose bushes along the path; but that would not go well for me and Sefida would bear the brunt of it. I knock timidly on the screen door. She bustles me through the house, past the room where he lies, snoring, into the brightly lit kitchen. There is to be a celebration. A fairy-floss-veiled Persian cake takes pride of place on the table festively laid with colourful plates. The money for the English classes ran out weeks ago, but I still edited her job applications and bore witness to her determination. Now, we are friends who know too much about each other's lives to remain professionally neutral. Instead, we maintain a voiceless pact to tread lightly on each other's fragility. I need to be gone before the others arrive. In their persecution-hazed world I am a government spy instilling Western propaganda into those who must show subservience. Here, she says. I baked a special one for you. A perfect mini version of the fairy floss cake sits regally inside a bejewelled tin. She closes the lid carefully as I hold onto my gift, and clasps her hands around mine. We stand for a moment in our strange embrace gazing into each other's eyes, reading the future. I must go now; on the veranda she whispers her news— she has a job. Just cleaning. It's a start. We promise to stay in touch, but, I suspect we won't; We are standing, cliffs apart Ready to stretch our wings, and fly on to new horizons.
Contextual Essay: This poem, written in 2021, depicts a story that happened almost a decade earlier. The images are still clear in my mind as I remember my last meeting with Sefida and the impact her warmth and understanding had on me at the time. While I helped her to adjust to a new life, she helped me to imagine possibilities for my own.
Julia Kaylock is a widely published poet who also occasionally writes prose. She is also an editor and publisher at litoriapress.com. Julia co-edited (with Denise O’Hagan) anthologies of poetry Messages from the Embers: from devastation to hope (Black Quill Press, 2020) and Poetry for the Planet: an anthology of imagined futures (Litoria Press, 2021). Her memoir in verse, Child of the Clouds was published in September 2021 (Litoria Press). Julia has worked as a career coach, counsellor, adult educator, journalist and feature writer. These days, assisting other writers to tell their stories is an honour and a privilege.