The River of Paper Swans is a short story written by Haniya Usmani and shared with The Ugly Writers for the month of July
The River of Paper Swans
Just a few days ago Hao Nguyen lay cuddled under the silk sheets in the warmth of her bed. She was all set for the next day. First-hand books lay huddled in her satchel. Her shoes all shiny, buffed were set on the shoe rack and her uniform hung low on the back of the chair. Everything was picture-perfect for her first day at school. But as sleep surrounded her, the bombs dropped somewhere far in her country, now making a swift turn for her small town.
It was around one in the night when the siren went off. An unusual siren she’d never heard off. Its echoes were sharp and piercing making her temporarily deaf. As she clung to her father. Hao’s mother carrying her brother in her arms rushed forward screaming and swearing loudly just like her father. Knocking out people in front of them, the little family ran into the nearest underground bomb shelter-a shelter which could only hold an average of twenty people.
A muffled cry escaped Hao’s lips as her small family clung together silently praying to God, ignoring the frantic bashing on the shelter door and screams of the people left behind. Then it all became dead grave silent as they heard a roaring engine up above their heads. And that was it- bombs fell from the sky as raindrops but with greater force. Hao shivered under the yellow dim light as she heard the bombs drop and violently shake every nook and cranny of the small town. Everything was blurred and fazed, as she felt the presence of death lingering over the small town.
Minutes turned into hours and it was nearly dawn when the few families stepped outside into the open. The sky was almost red with a hint of orange, making it look like a bowl of boiling tomato soup. The atmosphere was heavy and stiff as bodies lay on the surface- all bloodied and ripped apart. A pungent smell was dawdling around them as the few surviving families stood there examining what had been left behind.
The next thing Hao remembered was sitting in a buckled seat in a commercial airplane. She was gazing out of the window as a rapid stream of tears flowed down her face. God had pressed a restart button for her life, on the evening her parents had set her up for adoption. Now she was flying across seas of water and sand all the way to Alaska to meet her new family.
It snowed in Alaska as she stepped out of her cab. All weary and tired. Not a bit of excitement was visible instead her face portrayed the murky hoary clouds similar to those in the sky. She was welcomed grandly to her new household. Her new parents made sure she had a warm bath and a cup of the classic hot choco. Both these deeds less bothered her. At the moment she was wondering about the family-the true blood she had left behind.
Days passed by and the weariness still had a subtle effect on her. The couple tried their best to keep Hao content but their efforts were to no avail. Constant efforts were made by everyone to keep her spirits up but the consistent regret of leaving them made her feel vacant. There were times Hao would keep up the entire night wondering if they all were dead and alive. There was no answer to her mind-boggling questions, her parents were on the other side of the planet-under the same sky but miles apart.
Something had to be done to keep her from losing herself into the ultimate void of darkness. Hence the couple came up with quite an unusual tradition “Floating Paper Swans”. Yes, this might sound crazy but that is exactly what they came up with. The whole thought consisted of writing short letters on paper and folding them into swans. Later onwards at the end of every week, they would go by the riverbank and let the swans float away. Half-heartedly hoping they would reach, but in some way, it would lessen the ache and longing.
So every Sunday Hao along with her foster family would go to the riverbank and tenderly lay down the bundle of paper swans they had in the basket. Hao knew her message may not be delivered to her parents, it seemed quite impossible so, but the hope that one might somehow manage to float it way to Vietnam kept her blissful.
Please support Haniya Usmani by reading her previous work: