The night air was still, not a cloud in the sky. He moved stealthily, taking cover in the long shadows created by the moon’s illumination on the various buildings on the homestead. Surely, everyone was asleep at this time, he thought.
Every few steps he would stop and listen. He would take no chances. How unfortunate it would be for him if anyone saw him. They’d probably mistake him for a thief and raise the alarm. Once others came, they would do their best to maim or kill him. For her, he would risk life and limb.
Her hut was just ahead. A heavy curtain was drawn where the door was supposed to be. After one last look around, he slipped inside. Once his eyes adjusted to the gloom he could make out her lumpy form curled up on her pallet on the floor. He moved quietly to her and knelt down.
“Serah,” he whispered, “wake up, my love.” He shook her gently.
When she opened her eyes she didn’t see him. All she saw was a hulking shadow and fear was a tangible taste on her tongue. A hand clamped down on her mouth before she could open it to scream.
“Shhh, don’t be afraid, my love. It’s me.”
She moved his hand away. “Loti, what are you doing here? Do you know what time it is? Oh no, did anyone see you?” Her voice, which had started out as a whisper, had risen steadily the more she got agitated.
“Please keep it down. Don’t worry, no one saw me.” Loti helped her sit up.
“I’ve decided to go to the city tonight, and I want you to go with me. I left my bundle of belongings just outside the gate, and I’m here to help you pack. If we hurry, we’ll be able to take the last bus to the city.” He looked around the small room. “Now,tell me what you need and where you keep it.”
She had to stand. She couldn’t keep still any longer.
“This is madness. You know that, right? ”
It was hard for her to keep calm and quiet. It was her pacing and the fact that she couldn’t keep her hands still that betrayed her inner turmoil.
He stood as well, and when she next went by him, he grabbed her by the shoulders and held her fast. “Serah, all I know is that we love each other and we deserve to be happy. Together. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Don’t you want that? ”
“You don’t understand,” she said in an agonized whisper. ” I-I…”
“What I don’t understand is why you seem not to want this. You should be as excited as I am, maybe even more so. You won’t have to get married to that man your father chose for you. I’m giving you a way out. ”
“I know, but-”
“When I see you in the village, I have to pretend to not know you. I have to go out at all hours of the night in order to see you. Don’t you see? In the city we can be free. They’ll be no one to divide us.”
He was getting pretty worked up. “I love you, and I’m tired of hiding it like some shameful secret. I thought you felt the same way.”
His hurt was evident in his voice and in his eyes.
“I can’t just disappear. People would talk and my family would be devastated. My father…”
“The city is very vast. Your father will not be able to find us. Trust me. ”
What she’d been about to say was that if she went with him, her father would blame her mother for not keeping a close enough eye on her and take it out on her two younger sisters. Whatever she suffered now would be ten times worse for them. She shuddered to think of what her father would do to them.
Loti mistook it for fear and pulled her close. “Don’t worry. Once we leave here, everything will be alright. ”
She couldn’t go. She realized that now. It almost physically hurt knowing that she would have to look Loti in the eye and tell him no, watch as the brightest star in her night walked away. Still, she couldn’t go. She would never have peace if she did, knowing the fate she would have condemned her sisters to. She would suffer alone.
She stepped back and looked him straight in the eye.
“I ca-n’t.” Her voice broke on the last word, a war raging inside her.
He must have seen the resolve in her eyes. She watched in horror as his shoulders slumped and the light in his eyes was extinguished.
“So, you would continue to live under your father’s thumb and marry a total stranger, yet you say no to the man you claim to love? I can see I’m not as important as I thought I was to you. ”
He turned and walked out without another word. She could barely see his shadow move through the sheen of her tears. He didn’t realize it, but he’d taken Serah’s heart with him.
His name was a mere breath of sound.