Día de Cristóbal Colón
Akanksha Sinha

Behind closed lids and soaked lashes the phosphenes wove into intricate crimson spirals. The waves pressed upon her eyes, and with each swell the spirals rose and set quickly, east to west—two pulsating autumnal suns. She shivered. As she lifted her head above the surface, the salt seemed to cling to each crevice in her skin, burying itself comfortably in her warmth. A deep, trembling breath rattled through her body. The salt upon the blues and purples on her abdomen, on her thighs, on her wrists, burned—but righteously, as though sucking out the sin, purging her body of blame. She knew that by the time she tiptoed back into her shack and the wind had carried the sea off her skin, she would once again feel the heavy, quiet oppression, commanding her lips from parting and forcing her to relive that night in silence. But for now, for just this moment, submerged in her sea, she could feel pure and clean.

It had been the same for a week now. Having mechanically worked, eaten, spoken through the day, she would ultimately crawl onto the soft straw bed and will herself to sleep. The uneasy slumber would inevitably descend into her recurring nightmare. Rugged brown fingers would slither tightly around her throat and her wrist. Her head and spine would slam against the stone. Bruises would spring across like azure fireflies on a bronze night sky. His dark body would hold her prisoner, and his teeth would be bared in that triumphant, leering grin. The invasion never crept up on her—it pounced upon her flesh in his every touch. And when she cried out from the sudden pain, the tightening grip, the piercing agony in her abdomen, the rupturing of her spirit, the voice that came out would seem to echo tenfold. Distinctly, she would hear thousands screaming for mercy in harmony, yet all strumming through her singular vocal cords. As this absurd wailing sinfonietta hit its crescendo, she would abruptly find herself lying all alone on the white sands, staring up at the swaying leaves of the palm trees.

While this sight was far from unfamiliar, something about the palms would send her into palpitating anxiety. She’d lift her head slowly. Her eyes would trace a strange line running from tree to tree, encircling her. To her confusion, she would discover thick ropes winding around the palms, and as she swept her fingertips across the toughened barks, the trees would quake violently, straining against the ropes, yearning to break free. Panicked, she would run to the knots to pull them open, but her usually deft, nimble fingers would stumble on these foreign entanglements. Each effort to undo them would wind them tighter. The trees would groan and shudder and heave until a resounding crack whipped out at the night sky—a thousand palm roots tearing out of the ground with ominous finality. Before she could see them collapse upon the sand, her eyes would snap open and she would jerk out of bed, gasping for breath and drenched in layers upon layers of sweat. The humid air would bear down on her chest. As her lungs struggled she would sprint out, tripping over each bump in the ground until she had plunged into the freezing ocean. There, under the ripples and the silvery moon, she would finally breathe.

Once she had calmed herself sufficiently and washed the memory of his touch from her mind, she’d wrap her goosebumped arms across her breasts and begin the short trail home. Efforts to unravel the meanings of the phantasm remained futile. Of course she understood the beginning—it was too soon for her to forget, too easy for her mind to replay, too terrifying to be consumed by anything else. But the bound palms, the alien knots, the disastrous upheaval all escaped her. She’d lie back in bed puzzling at its significance, and drift into fitful sleep until the sun rose blearily once again. Now, having felt her breathing return to a normal pace, she lifted herself slowly out of the ocean and back on to the beach, aching to lie in her bed and praying for a merciful, restful night.

When morning came, she woke to the bustling din of the island’s daily life. The grinding sound of stone on stone rumbled from the spice grounds over the whole village, infusing the saltine air with fresh fragrances. She could hear the women yapping away energetically as they took down and collected the strips of fish that had been hung out to be cured. They were muscled arms and toned shoulders, sheens of bedazzling perspiration, and trailing braids that swung with every animated gesture. Tiny, pattering feet carried swarms of giggling children from one nook of the island to the next. The sun stretched its weakened autumn arms out to envelope them all in a bright, chilly embrace. She had woken late and the men had perhaps already left on their fishing boats, bare chestnut skin glowing golden on the shimmering sea, lean arms confidently propelling the nets over swathes of crystalline water. He with his roughened fingers and triumphant grin was probably amongst them, every aspect of his life continuing without change.

She knew she ought to step outside and meld into the community toiling beyond her walls. And she had, this whole week, pretending that her mind wasn’t submerged in an irrepressible flashback at every given second. But on this day, something was holding her back, binding her limbs to her bed and imploring her to stay within, to take in the home she lived in and remember every detail as though she may never see it again. A fluttering anxiety had encased her heart. She lay back down, blinking sluggishly, watching the sun change its colors upon her walls, and seeing the shadows lengthen until they cloaked her home in a foreboding night, heavy with a future.

If she had left home that afternoon, she would’ve seen the fishermen returning with the day’s catch. She would’ve seen them rushing, distressed, off the boats, bringing news of terrifying crafts several hundred feet tall, monstrosities that dwarfed their innocent kayaks, speeding towards the island with impossible velocity. She would’ve seen the women forget to haul the fish and begin curing, choosing instead to hunch their shoulders in fear, millions of questions darting like small, blue chromis in and out of their mouths. She would’ve seen him, with his oppressing brown hands and repressing sinewy figure, wide-eyed in worry and confusion. She would’ve seen them all come together as the light faded, realizing that they could do nothing but sit tight, wait, and pray.

Instead, she drifted once more into her nightmare. Once more, a thousand screams burst from her lips, and searing anguish wrecked her bones. Once more, she trailed her hands upon the strong, fortified barks and strained against the strange knots. Once more, the roots cracked with finality and she woke on a bed drenched in sweat and apprehension. She bolted out to find her sea, and leapt into its dark waters. The night obscured the horizons. The ocean reached out with forlorn fingers, gently pulling her hair into its tide, braiding it meticulously as though she were its only child, its precious child, its beautiful, doomed, soon-to-die child. She climbed out and treaded quietly back home. Her toes sank softly into the sand.

Suddenly, she heard the grinding, screeching sound of ships drawing up to the shore. Outlandish voices cried out, “¡Vámanos! ¡Vámanos, ahora, ahora, ahora! ¡En este momento, hombres! ¡Rápido, rápido!” Before she could even turn back in surprise, these new sounds had snaked into her throat to choke her, as though her tongue had been conquered, subdued, tightly jailed behind her teeth. Surging out of the vessels were excited men, alien-like with their pearly white skin and sharpened swords. “Somos los conquistadores, y sois los conquistados,” the apparent leader cried out with glee, and yet their words washed over her, hollow and binding. Purposeful and practiced they lunged in unison, a cardinal-amber devourer greedy for prey. She barely had time to breathe before they crossed the seashore.

Smooth white fingers slithered tightly around her throat and her wrist. Her head and spine slammed down on the beach. Bruises unfurled and painted her into a red and yellow banner. His white body, wrapped in many skins, held her prisoner, and his teeth were bared in that triumphant, dominating grin. The invasion didn’t creep up on her—it pounced upon her, upon her sea, upon her island. A guttural, rooted scream escaped her lips as steel plunged fatally into her abdomen. Within a moment, she was lying all alone on the white sands, staring up at the swaying leaves of the palm trees, blinking life out of her eyes.

Fluttering in and out of consciousness, she could faintly make out the sounds emanating from her village. The swishing of the steel tyrannized the night. A thousand voices howled for mercy, but the words seemed to have lost their meaning. All they were now were harmonies with no history and soon, no future. The island seemed to be grasped in a tightening grip, the very air being sucked out of the sky, pulling the towering palms upwards with it. Her lungs struggled for oxygen, and she attempted in vain to move her stiff body towards her sea. The wailing rose higher and higher, a tsunami wave crashing over the entire island with devastating unanimity.

As the whimpering orchestra hit its crescendo, sanguine streams rushed out of her body, barreling forcefully towards the ocean in search for purity and cleansing. They were red tributaries running eagerly into the sea, infusing it eternally with a language to be forgotten, a people to be massacred, a spirit to be irreparably torn apart. As the night faded, a thousand such rivulets fed the sea from part of the island that touched the sea.

The air echoed with celebrations in a foreign tongue. The island now belonged to hands that glowed pale and silver, and not to the bronze, copper, gold, that had jeweled it from the beginning of time. She closed her eyes a last time, and saw the flitting autumnal suns until death blanketed her in dark nothingness.

The haunted night was silent. The haunted night was crimson. The haunted night would bring a never-before-seen sun.

The haunted night was heavy with a future.