Cactus

by Di Jayawickrema

The cactus is blooming, my husband says. My eyes are shut, the insides of my eyelids are orange in the light streaming through. I’ve come to believe orange is the color of vast, unbroken love. I’m the safest I’ve ever been. We live in DC, in a little house with a patio where I sit, eyes closed, the sun warm on my face, in a city being buried under the weight of transplants like us. My husband strokes my arm once before he leaves for work: a light touch to say I needn’t open my eyes. His grandmother fled Germany just in time. I don’t work this morning. During the war in Sri Lanka, my mother went to work every morning pretending she was taking a stroll. She wore her everyday clothes, carrying a market bag, slipped down a side street so an unmarked van could ferry her to a government job always under threat of bombing. Every night, I waited by the gate for the van to bring her home. Years later, she would tell me she’d never forget those rides; the smell of bodies burning in the streets (I never asked whose bodies). In the Negev, my husband’s mother hid in a barrel during shelling. In Sri Lanka, I practiced hiding under the desk every morning after class prayers, but the bombs never dropped on me. Now here we are. Cactus blooming, eyes closed, my husband leaving with a soft touch in the morning. We both know he’ll be back in the evening. If I open my eyes, I’ll think of who this city that isn’t my city isn’t safe for. On whose cities our mothers and our mothers’ mothers built our lives, so I keep my eyes shut. This is the safety love won us.

Author's Note

I’ve always been afraid, especially of conflict. I’m Sinhalese Buddhist and my husband is Jewish Israeli. We are both from the ethno-religious groups in power in the lands where our families still live. In a future where I’m braver, I will name the people our people harm/ed. Here and now, my writing is still catching up to my politics, and my politics are catching up to me.

Di Jayawickrema is a Sri Lankan New Yorker currently living in Washington, DC. She teaches creative writing to youth and organizes for migrant justice. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in wildness, Jellyfish Review, Pithead Chapel, Entropy, Burning House Press, and elsewhere. She is a reader at The Offing. Find her on Twitter @onpapercuts.

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