by Erika Byrne-Ludwig

Image result for net eye nose piese burkha

A tree reflection in the pond. Girls sitting on a bench hemming the water. Eating their lunch. Suzie was there too in her school uniform. She was watching the ripples stirring the water. Ducks and insects adding their own spins. Actually, Suzie's head was in the water, in thoughts, for refreshment. Just like ducks were. And they emerge all smooth with feathers combed back. Out again. Now she felt cooler. The tree above was colouring her wet cheeks. A young tree, being peeled off its leaves by its own rustling and breathing.

A leaf fell on the surface of the pond. It danced slowly in a lazy ring. Another one joined it. And the two swirled aimlessly, in a ring, turning, before being swallowed and churned. Suzie felt like dipping a stick in the water to stop all movement, to disrupt its course. Moments should be stalled sometimes, she thought, to give them a chance to live longer, to indulge a while before moving to the next step. Right now she would have liked the minute to last an hour, but lunch was nearly over. The girls walked back to the schoolgrounds in their bulky shoes hiding polished nails.

Across the school the brick building showed its age. Suzie walked towards it. There was a latrine fragrance mixed with bleached vapours and the mingled scents of perfumed bodies and grassy breaths. Behind the door she crouched and rested her elbows on her bare thighs. The cubicle was comfortable, intimately known, like a small sphere of her home, only more frequented, more scented. Misshapen hearts reeking of ink smudged the venerable walls which perspired and wetted themselves. Her own heart bled on the door — red arrows pointing to "S'' loves "D'' and "D'' loves "S''. Like the walls, it had aged. She shrugged at her spontaneity then. She was much more reserved now, more secretive. After all she was now ten. And the letter "D'' should be removed and replaced.

Her trickle absorbed her. She listened to its pristine tune, flowing thinly but merrily, frothing in the tiny dam below, trickling and gradually stopping. She thought of the leaves falling into the pond with a paper sound. Another drop fell, another leaf. Like an afterthought. Suzie heard it. It had a feel, a texture of its very own, a plonk that also had a meaning of its own.

Her mind had slowly prepared itself for the anguish, the still puzzling unknown, the annoying inevitability. She knew what was happening to her the moment the red leaf had fallen into the pond. She had felt it for a while now. Her body was changing. What am I going to do? she wondered. Her question withered slowly on its way to the ceiling. She filled her cheeks with air and blew it out in a kind of sigh.

The schoolchildren were playing, releasing sweat and sparks. Suzie sat on a bench knee against knee, ankle against ankle. She saw a stained winter ahead of her. Mum, she whispered. Her lips still apart, she asked her mother a silent question. She was going through another milestone. Her mother had kept a diary. All her growing up episodes were written down with accompanying photos and illustrations: first smile, first crawl, first everything. She would have to add another important one. The small sandy dunes on her forehead that had formed and withstood her reflection now waved and disappeared under a smile.

Back in the classroom the pupils were to complete their composition. Theme of the week: "Tolerance of various cultures and religions.'' Suzie looked up, pen in the air, her eyes fixed on a horizon of their own imagination. She recalled her mother's words. That she could get herself a new outfit of her choice and organise a party to celebrate the event.

That's what she would do. An idea just hopped into her head. The invitations to her friends would read: "Come dressed up in a religious or cultural costume.'' Her own choice of disguise stood already in front of her on a clothes hanger. She touched its falling cascades, its simple yet enigmatic style, its intriguing presence. She would buy herself a burqa.

With Azmina, her Muslim friend, she went shopping. Suzie was after a navy blue burqa with a beige skull cap and an embroidered grille. She had once seen a photo of an Afghani young girl. She had looked at her eyes through the mesh and wondered whether they were darker than hers. Whether they reflected the same thoughts as her own. Or whether they were more secretive. Suzie imagined them to be captivating because of her exotic way of life in a far-off country.

An hour before dinner, she went into her bedroom to get dressed, to show her costume to her parents. She stood in front of the mirror and watched herself morph into a Muslim-looking young girl with added colour and shine. She slipped into her burqa, into her flat red shoes with bows, put on a red bead anklet, a red bead bracelet. Her nails had already been polished in red. Red was going to be the colour of her beads and her froufrous on that day. Now the last accessory. She placed a red fascinator on top of her head with a hair pin through the cap.

Suzie was vaguely aware of the clash between the dress and her own personal extras but it was going to be a party. Her party. One of fun with a mix of solemnity and frivolity. She was ready to model her new self and parade in front of her parents.

One last time she pirouetted in front of the mirror, amused at her impersonation, at the different Suzie she had become. The mirror reflected a picture of a phantom in navy blue, its hidden features an aura of mystery. Under the cascades of material, her shoulders looked rounder: she had grown, she had matured. She felt more than ten.

Her parents were waiting for her. She listened, her ear to the door. They were silent. Unsettlingly silent. Under the burqa her heart was becoming animated like a bud suddenly opening in the sun.

She turned the handle. In doing so she saw her red nail polish. It reminded her of all her other red frills and of all the red leaves that were falling every day. She opened the door wide, her red fascinator pointing up high on top of her head. Her red shoes standing still under the garment, she watched her parents' eyes through the embroidered grille.