Chapter 4: The Shadow

111 53 1

We've stopped hanging out together because we Diego's absence makes us sad, we've spent almost the whole summer alone, staring at our cellphones waiting for a message that never comes. Even my family have noticed I'm feeling down, I do little more than devour book after book and go with my mom and Tomás to the beach. Somebody else always comes along: my brother Rodrigo when he's not working, my uncle Sergio, friends of my mom.

"Judith, Diego just needs some time, you'll see. I'm sure he'll be back in touch with you all soon," my mom tells me.

"You really think so, Mom?" I ask.


While my mom tries to cheer me up, I watch my little brother Tomás on the shore. There's nothing he likes more than seawater. He splashes around and plays in the water like the happiest kid in the world. He throws a bucket into the waves, it washes back to the shore and he throws it again. For him, it's the best game in the world. He loves when the waves bring back his bucket, different and surprising every single time. I'm envious of him. Tomás doesn't worry about what the rest of us are doing, he seems immune to the sadness that wracks the rest of us. He lives in another world, a world that's difficult to access, that I've always dreamed of entering. I wish so hard that one day Tomás will speak to me, but the reality is that he never says a word. So often I wonder: What does he think of me? Maybe he would be surprised by what the rest of us go through, because there in his world, life's coordinates are different and only the present exists. Right now, for Tomás the only things that exists are the sea and the waves, the here and now. It should be a lesson for all of us. I'm here at the beach, but I'm not really here. My head is still away with Diego, going over the conversations we had: did I fail him, did I offend him somehow...

August arrives and Marina heads to her hometown with her mom and her partner.

She enjoys getting away from it all and being close to nature.

"You'll have to do without me for a month, but promise me you'll tell me straight away if Diego shows signs of life."

"Yes, Marina, we promise." "Go on, don't worry," I say.

"I'm scared something will happen and I won't be here to help."

"And what would you do, start another fight?" asks Fátima.

"At least I'd give them what they deserve."Fátima

"That might not be so helpful right now," says Fátima.

So Marina goes to her hometown. Now it's just me, Juan and Fátima left in the neighborhood, each of us in our own little world. It's mid-August and we meet up at mine, with my brother Rodrigo. Over an ice-cream, Fátima tells us that at the beginning of September she's going to Morocco for six months.

"Six months? What are you going to do about classes?" asks Juan.

"We've talked to school about it and I'll still be enrolled. They're going to send me work every week to do on my own," she explains.

"Do you really need to stay so long?" I ask sadly.

"You're right. I'm going to help out my mom. My grandma is really sick and my mom wants to take care of her. So I'll be looking after my little sister."

"Doesn't it scare you going away for so long?"

A menacing shadow hangs over Fátima's future: arranged marriage. She told us that in her family, when girls reach eighteen, it's still traditional for them to go to Morocco to celebrate a marriage arranged by the parents with somebody they know. Fátima confessed to us at one point that the tradition terrifies her. She's still not legally an adult, but the possibility of her being forced into marriage in Morocco and never coming back is real.

"No, because my dad wants me to come back to Spain. He already told my mom that he wants me back by February to help them here. If he comes over and stays with us, then the alarm bells will definitely be ringing. It'd mean they were organizing something serious."

"If something happens and you can't come back, we'll find a way to track you down," says Juan.

"I don't think you'd make it to my hometown, but I appreciate the support."

"Have you thought about what you'll do if they force you to get married?" I ask.

"You're right. The problem is, it's impossible to say no, I'd have to leave home. Some charities and even the local government have a program to help us get out and start a new life somewhere else."

"Damn, Fátima, I can't believe this. You're so brave. You say it all so calmly," says Rodrigo in admiration.

UnpopularWhere stories live. Discover now