Joy was nowhere to be found. Everywhere she looked, she saw only people in rags, crying, complaining about everything. It wasn’t their fault, really, she thought to herself, there wasn’t enough food or water to go around. She had lost count of how many days it has been since they have been stranded here. Death had been the only constant companion, arriving to claim someone every other day. She had lost count of the ones taken as well. She wondered if they might actually be at peace like all the religious books said. She hoped that they were, at least their misery has ended.
She walked to the edge of the clearing. Most of them were huddled in the centre, around the hastily concocted fireplace, relying on the dying embers and each other for warmth. She sat down by herself under one of the trees that lined the path to nowhere. She rested her back against its dense roots and looked back to where the others were. She wondered how many of them would survive this place. She wondered if she would. She wondered if any efforts were being made to find them. She leaned back and closed her eyes. She was hungry, cold and exhausted. She thought back to the day she left home, to the simple luxuries that she had taken for granted, like a soft bed and a hot shower, to the man she had met the night before who had seemed nice, to her parents who must surely be crazy with worry … It all seemed rather remote to her, almost as if they were images from another person’s life, which she seemed to be observing with mildly interested detachment. She sighed and turned her head to her side, as if the mild shake would dislodge these thoughts from her mind. All they would do was depress her further.
Her stomach growled, signalling the healthy appetite of a young woman. There was nothing to do about it. What food remained had been rationed and she had already had her share for the day. She decided to ignore her stomach. That had been her motto for the past few days, to blatantly ignore the things she can do nothing about, those phantoms that lurked above her head, above all of their heads, hunger, fear and death. She concentrated on her breathing, mimicking the breathing exercises she had seen in passing while switching channels on the television. She was drifting on that semi conscious bliss between sleep and wake when she was rudely interrupted by a light object falling on her face and then picking its way down her clothes. She startled awake and sat up, annoyed. She looked down to her lap and saw a tiny flower, yellow with a smattering of red freckles on its petals, still carrying the green vestige of its bud, delicate filaments poking through proudly almost like it was baring its teeth in a smile. A slow smile appeared on her face as she stared at the offending object. It widened and grew. She felt a relief that she hadn’t felt in days. It felt almost like a pleasant memory, of bright, warm, normal things. Amongst all this horror and death and ruin, in the midst of sadness and despair, here it was, one simple bloom, a tiny ray of light, a glimmer of hope, a testament to the fact that there is still life to be lived and beauty to be enjoyed. She felt as if a weight had lifted off of her shoulders.