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By the Morning Brightness

            It was in the middle of February and I had my window closed. But when I entered my room after taking a nice hot shower downstairs, I felt my body shivered. The air inside my room was incomprehensibly chilly. I had my black wool long sleeve shirt and newly bought grey jumper on yet it was still freezing cold inside. Previously, I could never understand why most books used ‘biting’ as an adjective for cold but now I know why. There were times when I thought my skin had literally nipped off and the injuries stung me from the inside. There were times when I almost broke into tears after jumped out from the shower realising I had to let the water run for a few minutes before it heated up. There were times when I almost gone mad after hours of trying to put myself to sleep, wrapping my body with two thick blankets around me yet my body was still shaking uncontrollably. I had cold days before but they were nothing to compare with the ones I endured that February. I went straight to the heater underneath the small window bay and placed my poor hands on it. It was warm and it felt so nice under my cold fingers. They had been cold for days and I was afraid that they might get frostbite. A few days ago, a girl came knocking on my door. She asked for my student number and I gave her my student card. I was worried she might jolt in surprise at the touch of my hand when she reached for it.

            “So, how do you find it here so far? You alright?” She asked while giving back my card after scribbling something on her clipboard. She smiled, waiting for my reply. I wanted to tell her the truth but apparently, the nerves that connect my brain and my mouth were, too, frozen due to the estranged wintry weather.

            “I’m great. Thanks,” I said instead.

            “Glad to hear that. Alright then, this is for you and I wish you a pleasant stay.”

             She turned back and giddied to the hall where she took the stairs to greet the other residents. I stood there on the threshold with a bar of Mars in my hand and wondering if these all were real, if I were standing there only to wake up to realise that everything was simply a dream. It was not a dream. It was real. I had to keep reminding myself of that for a few weeks before I got used to the idea. Eventually, my fingers got used to it too and then it was all just a memory.

            I sat on my bed and looked out the window. The sky was a vast impenetrable bluish-grey, blanketed the city in infinity and constantly tricked me to think it would be pouring soon. Sometimes it did fall but most of the time it did not. It simply stretched in its initial state until twilight greeted, the time of the day of which I did not even aware that it had come at all during this moody winter. The sun, I found, seemed quite distant in this country. Oftentimes it hid behind the puffy, greedy clouds looming above and only peeped out once in a while appearing to be merely fulfilling its life purpose as the sun. But then, as it did, it gave out its mightiest effort to serve whomever and whatever lived down below on earth. It never grumbled and it never did ask for anything in return.

            I checked my phone and saw there were numerous notifications and reminders from my email and social network accounts. There were three news updates and eight perpetual conversations in the new instant messaging application that was on my phone. One of the messages was from my mother, I noticed. It was sent around one o’clock in morning, local time. Obviously, she was still oblivious about the time difference.

             Salam, my dear.

             How are you?

             Are you ready for Bath this weekend?

             Take a lot of pictures. I want to see them all.

             And also I want you in them.

             I sighed. I never liked taking pictures of myself much more putting them up for sharing. I felt I would be too exposed, too vulnerable if I did. Women, I thought, should always know how to cover themselves up. And by that, I did not mean I have the same perspectives as the radicals or the typical group of people whom often view women as subordinates and generally forced to do things they never desire. And neither do I believe by readily flaunting their sexuality, wearing revealing clothes or talking loudly in purpose is considered as confidence. A woman should never allow herself to be easily objectified and freely assessed by men. And what kind of self-reliance is there when one simply runs around, letting the current takes her away without knowing where it actually carries her to and why. No authenticity and self-respect would exist if one exuded a low sense of self-worth. Independent is what I liked it to be called, though, to some it may be referred as a “bitch”. Well, I guess, sometimes being a “bitch” is all a woman has got to hold on to.

            Aggravated, I replied, What’s up with you and pictures, mom?

            I stashed my phone in the back pocket of my jeans, grabbed my bag pack and head out for my morning class. A sudden pang of cold wind came from the unknown electrified me to the bones as I stood in the small, square car park in front of the flat which surrounded by many more of the similar dreary, red-bricked, three storeys building as the one I lived in. I saw speckles of white dust showering from the sky. The morning was still blue as the sun was yet to up from its slumber but I still could clearly see them dancing in the air as they fell to the ground. Snow! I stretched my arm, wishing to catch one with my hand. One fell in my palm and for the first time, before it melted away, I realised how beautiful this one little crystallised flake was. But then another slapped of the frigid wind brought me back to the bitter and bleak reality.

            I continued towards the gate and I swore my heartbeats grew faster every step I took. My heart wrenched as my mind reminded me of home. I kept hearing everyone around me went on about going places could broaden your horizons, in which statement I had let myself be completely absorbed with, but at that moment all I could think of was how daunting it was to be out in this foreign country all by myself. My pace slowed down. The building I was heading toward stood magnificently tall in supreme dignity right ahead of me. I looked up and felt the weight of its view casted down on me, oppressing my shoulder and hampering my confidence. I felt even lonelier. Despite the burdens loading on my back, somehow, I could find some strength to drag my feet forward and attend the lecture that was given in an unintelligible accent.

            “Salam Alaykum, Hana!”

            I turned around and saw Sadia was walking up towards me elegantly, as if the sidewalk was Paris fashion runways. “How are you doing today?”

            “Alaykum Salam. Just fine,” I lied.

            “That doesn’t sound convincing. Is there anything you want to share with me?”

             I hesitated, not sure what to reply. I took a long breath in before emitting the feelings that had been buckling up in my chest ever since I arrived here.

            “Nothing. It’s just that there’re too many works piling up on my tables. I need to read James Joyce’s short stories for my next seminar, find additional readings for my presentation on Victorian to Modern era and write 3000-freaking-words essay on Jackie Kay’s Trumpet and Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn in relation to Migration and Diaspora that is due next week and I haven’t started anything yet,” I exploded.

             Seething in frustration, I continued without taking a minute to breathe, “The teachers are speaking in an alien language. The wind is brutal to me and I haven’t seen the sun for days! Sometimes I wonder what the hell I’ve got myself in to. I don’t even know if I could make it out of this alive.”

             I kicked a small stone in front of me in exasperation but my boot got caught up by an uneven pavement and had me stumbled like a drunken man. Fortunately, I managed to find my footing again and I walked straight up like nothing had ever happened. Sadia doubled up with laughter. She chortled up so hard that there were even tears coming out from her eyes. Annoyed, I left her behind as she continued clapping her hands like a retarded seal.

            “Hana,” she called, catching me up. While wiping her cheeks, she called my name again. This time, my name sounded so mellifluous in that indistinct French accent of hers. It was like listening to a lovely mellow melody. “You’re so silly. Do you know how you lucky are?”

            “What?” I replied wryly while staring down at her. Her hazel eyes glistened. Her red lips stretched into an angelic smile with an adorable dimple carved on her left cheek. Her face beamed in a sweet and soft disposition. Her dusty pink hijab and fancy knitted cream-coloured scarf around her neck perfectly personified her gracefulness and finesse. She shook her head and chuckled softly as I frowned in confusion.

            “You’ve been so caught up by your own self-detrimental thoughts that you forgot to see the other side of the coin,” said Sadia breezily. “There’ve always been two sides of the world and what matters the most is the part we choose to take and act on as what Sirius Black would put it.”

            I raised one eyebrow. She linked her arm with mine. “Do you know how many people who’d sacrifice everything they own for the opportunity we have now? Do you know there’re many Muslims out there who are dying to even go to school? I know some people back in my hometown who’d die to have the privilege to go to school much more that provides both Islamic and Western education like you have back in your home. So don’t sweat yourself with tiny things. Don’t think about what might go wrong instead think about what might go right. Plus, if you kick a stone in anger, you’re only going to hurt yourself or perhaps you already know that.”

            She let go off my arm and skipped towards our Korean friends who were waiting for us in front of the main gate. From the distance, I could hear both of the Koreans trying to speak in French and Sadia in Korean but only to end up with more hysteric laughter from all three of them.

           My phone vibrated and I quickly searched my back pocket. I unlocked the screen and my mother’s number came up. I tapped on the number and our previous conversation reappeared along with her new ones.

            Nothing… I just like pictures, sweetheart.

            It could have been me 30 years ago.

            As I was looking down at my phone, overwhelmed with remorse and shame, I felt something pleasant trickled my skin. I looked up and saw that the sombre dark clouds now were parting, giving ways to the sun to shine its warm morning rays down on earth. It felt so nice. I chuckled at my own childishness. Immediately I jogged towards the other three and joined them with their never-ending glee.

– Short Story, NobleGuidance

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