Like a low hiss, the room around me sizzled. The heat intensified as the time ticked on. It was like I was in an oven, the temperature gradually being turned up. I kicked off my blanket to relieve some of the heat, but I feared if I touched my skin, it would melt off in my hand and in my eyes that watered each time I struggled to open them. I took a deep breath and rolled off my bed, hitting the ground with a loud thud.
Over the sounds of flames that roared nearby, I could hear them, my sisters, crying out for me. Clawing the ground, my nails dug into the carpet as I tried to drag myself forward. My body was weak, my muscles shaking out of fear or exhaustion I wasn’t sure, but I had to get to them. No matter what it took. I followed their cries, my eyes still swollen shut from the heat. I listened, trying to drown out the noise of the fire that roared right outside my door. I focused on my sister’s voices. Then the sounds changed. Gunshots, screams from outside that made my skin crawl even more. We were under attack. Our time had finally come.
Civil war is one of those things that often gets overlooked in history. The people who suffered glossed over and forgotten like it never happened. As I struggled to breath, and my home burned to the ground. This war, the struggle for peace in El Salvador was real. It’s as real as my love for Talli and Lola, my sisters who brighten up everyone’s day. Who are young, innocent, and not fully plagued by the war that looms around us. That’s all changed. As they screamed for help and struggle to stay alive.
I kept myself low to the ground and finally made it to the door to exit my bedroom. Placing my hand against the wood, I could feel the warmth from the other side. I couldn’t get to them. Not this way.
“I’m coming Talli and Lola. I’m coming,” I creaked out. The words burned my throat, but the small comfort I hoped it brought them was worth the pain. I was their big sister, their self-professed protector. But in this moment, I didn’t know how I was going to save them when I couldn’t even save myself.
Pushing my negative thoughts aside, I crawled back to the other side of my room. I managed to pry my eyes open, the smoke stinging them and sending water streaming down my cheeks. If I could get out my window, I could go around, get to their window and pull them out. That was my only focus. My reason for moving forward. Them.
The window creaked and I threw myself out, my arm cracking under the pressure and force in which I landed. I stood up nursing my newly broken arm. I blinked excessively to clear some of the smoke from my eyes. When they finally adjusted, I saw it, the chaos that was my village.
Screaming women, children, men, all running for their lives from the flames of their homes. Massive orange hues danced in the dark of the night, lighting up the sky. Any other occasion we’d relish in the beauty of the flames, how they accentuated the stars in the sky. Tonight, they grabbed hold of our homes, of those we loved and took them all away. All in the name of war. A stupid war that already had taken so many lives.
Dragging my tired body, I ran in the opposite direction of everyone else. They all ran away from the flames; I ran toward them. For Talli. For Lola.
I heard their cries before I even made it to their window. My house wasn’t big, but the fire made me slow, and the pain that radiated over my body was unlike anything I’d ever felt in my 12 years on this earth.
I worked hard from the moment I could, trying to help my parents support our family. I was used to physical pain. But the pain in my heart was unbearable. What if I couldn’t save them? I tried to fight the tears once I made it to their window and saw their faces pressed up against it begging me to save them. We kept their window locked, not to keep them in, but to keep out the very people who started this fire out. To protect them. The fire had always been burning, waiting for its hold to take over my family. Our time had come.
I scrambled to find something to break it, but my God the smoke, the heat, it was unbearable. There was no use. I couldn’t see, the smoke had surrounded almost the entire village. There was no way out. I could have run, left them there alone and saved myself. But what is a girl without any sisters? She’s nothing. These little girls are everything. They are life and hope and innocence. Without them, there’s none of that. Just a life of a solitude and work. No more smiles and giggles. Death. Loneliness. I’d die without my sisters. But as I stood here with no way to save them, I knew I’d die with them. Placing my hand against the glass, I stood there, feeling the heat intensify.
“It’s okay. I’m here. I won’t leave you.” My voice was weak, and I wasn’t sure if they could even hear me, but I kept talking, hoping that they could. “It’s going to be okay. Mama and Papa will come for us. Just wait.”
“It’s so hot Desiree. I can’t breathe.” Talli let out a cry as Lola dropped to the ground. I was helpless. Stuck out here to watch my sisters die.
My parents always wanted a better life for us, they worked non-stop, often picking up graveyard shifts at the local factory while we slept. We had almost saved up enough money for us all to move to the United States. None of that mattered anymore.
As if my thoughts were in sync with time, a loud burst of flames shot through the house and busted through the window, propelling me backwards. There wasn’t pain, or tears, as I drifted away. Just dark, coldness. There was no bliss. No white light. No Talli or Lola to greet me. There was only screaming. Endless screaming. Coming from deep within.