Her eyelids fluttered open. She had heard someone calling,
‘Let down your hair,’ even asleep she knew that was stupid. She had shaved her head when her brother and father had been killed.
She had thought she was asleep, but she couldn’t be. The sun was shining into the room, the bars on the window leaving slanting shadows on the floor.
Rapunzel sat up, suddenly very awake, her wakefulness driven by shock. Bars? There were bars on the window? Why?
Then she slumped back into the simple cot, and her eyes took in the bare room. It was painted that ugly greenish colour that health professionals deemed was soothing for patients. She thought it looked like snot, or vomit.
She remembered then.
The noise of the shots, the flashing lights, her world collapsing.
That day, that fateful day, she had lost her father and her brother. They had been praying in the mosque, she had been in the little rented house next door. Tears coursed down her cheeks in rivulets.
They had survived the war, where they had lost her mother to a stray bullet. They said they didn’t target women but Ravi didn’t believe that.
The broken family carried on, her father was the Imam and bowed to Allah’s choices.
Ravi turned over in her cot and began beating the cold wall with her fists, at first with a desperateness like a poor creature buried alive, trying to get out, then it subsided to a rhythm, soothing in its regularity. She added her head to the percussive song her body was singing, bang, bang, with her head, bang, bang, with her fists, and the tears kept coming.
People in green were in her room, they were hauling her away from the wall, there was a sharp prick in her arm.
‘Rapunzel, let down your hair,’ the words made their way through the muzziness.
She woke slowly out of the drugged sleep they had imposed upon her. A moment, maybe two of calm, and then her heart constricted, she remembered, and her breath caught in her throat.
Murdered. Murdered in the mosque, she was going to die now too, because she couldn’t breathe. She clutched her chest as she rolled out of her cot to the floor. Her feet drummed briefly on the tiles, but there was too much of her soft side exposed, her belly and her chest, she curled instead around herself, her vital organs, and her breaking heart.
She felt fury coursing through her now. Who was that? And why were they persecuting her with that stupid name?
Nothing but anger could have roused her, she burned with fury, she strode to the window and clutched the bars. She was about to scream at the insolent b——-d, and even in her despair, she wouldn’t use that word, not out loud at least, but she thought it, she wanted that b——-d to,
‘go away!’ she croaked.
She remembered now, she hadn’t spoken since that day, her throat had contracted and let no words come out.
Now, now she spoke. And her first words were words of anger, she should feel ashamed, but the anger that had propelled her to the window had remained, coiled burning fury in her belly.
She looked out of the high window in her rage, but there was no one there. She was at least five storeys up, and the only thing that faced her was the very top of a tree.
In the tree sat a beautiful bird, it had hypnotic eyes.
‘Ravi,’ it said in her brother’s voice, she loosened her hold on the bars in surprise.
‘Ahmad?’ she asked in her broken voice.
‘I have come to help you,’ the bird said.
‘But you called me Rapunzel,’ the young woman retorted, she heard her words from a distance, as if someone else was speaking, but no, she wasn’t speaking, she was sleeping, she was sure.
‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.’
The maid awoke in her tower room, she had been placed there to teach her to love her old husband, dragging her from her home, her hearth, and her betrothed. The Lord of this land chose whatever peasant girl he wanted.
He had fallen for her beauty and her long long hair. They had locked her in this tower, but she still had her eating knife at her belt. She had hacked off all her hair in rage, and left it in a dark pool on the floor.
‘Let down your hair!’
She leapt off her pallet of straw on the floor and waved her hand between the bars. She understood at last.
Rapunzel silently set to work, twining the beautiful strands into a long hair rope.
Ravi had torn the bedding into strips and silently twined them together.
She would escape.
She brought her rope of torn sheets to the window and secured them to the bars, how would she get through them?
Her beloved climbed the rope of hair and reached her room, he had brought a sledgehammer tied about his waist.
She pulled with all her might, and the bars not securing her rope loosened in the ageing concrete, Ravi fell on the floor, splintered cement all about.
The bird stood on the dusty sill.
‘You can do this Ravi,’ he said.
‘Just hand over hand, if you fall, I am here to catch you.’
Rapunzel squeezed out the window and not without fear. With some slipping and sliding, she landed safely. Her beloved held her and they stole silently away.
But Ravi dangled some feet from the ground.
She would have to drop.
She felt fear, and she was glad. If she felt fear, then she no longer wanted to die. Praise be to Allah.
She looked up to the top of the little tree, a sparrow flew off with a tiny cry.
Ravi fell to the ground in her tattered pyjamas and stayed where she had fallen for a moment, she was so grateful to God, and to her brother. She was in some physical pain, yes, but he had roused her from her miserable madness, with their old game.
He used to tease her because of her long hair, she remembered now that he had called her Rapunzel, and lovingly mocked her for her fondness of western fairy-tales.
She rolled under a nearby bush. She had to escape from this place, she would just walk away in a minute, but she was so tired, and how could she go on without her family?
She would just close her eyes for a moment, she was so tired.
And that’s where they found her, her body had gone cold, her eyes were staring at the nearby tree, and there was a faint smile on her face.
Ravi was running to her brother, she reached him and grabbed his hand.
‘That took you awhile,’ he said, and he smiled.
‘I’d forgotten our secret speech,’ and she skipped as she had as a child.
‘We will be ok here,’ she said. ‘I always wanted to live in a fairy tale.’
Melissa Miles was born in the US, but resides in NZ. She has had many professional iterations, acting, teaching, film-making, but she is now focusing on her writing, and caring for her aging menagerie.