Author: Christine H. Chen

When the sun sets, we trudge out of our homes and queue in line like soldiers under a darkening sky. We tie a scarf over our eyes and wait for our Chief to lead the way. We grasp onto each other’s right shoulder, and off we amble as quietly as our thinning soles could tread on grass, the occasional shrill of an owl piercing the silence. We smell the night, the fear in our brows, we hear our hearts’ throbbing each time one of us steps on a twig, cracking like glass breaking. Only a Chief knows the location in case an Enforcer catches one of us. We lay our trust in each other and grope our way into the bunker.

Once locked inside, our blindfold removed, we rub our blurry eyes and gasp at the hidden treasure no matter how many times we’ve been here already.

The library.

Rows and rows of forbidden tales, forgotten chronicles, obliterated histories. We break out in clusters, rush through the alleys, throw ourselves at the shelves like famished wolves, and embrace our exiled authors, cursed poets, and tortured artists, we devour their words, drink each phrase like gulping down a good aged wine, we caress the covers, trace our fingers on the spine like a lost lover, we bury our nose inside the pages, inhaling their disappearing scent, we dance to the rhythms of verbs and nouns, we thirst and hunger until the clanking of ventilators dwindled.

We climb back out to twilight, imbued with poetic quotes, our hearts thumping with lines and rhymes, to a world of banished words and hushed voices and disappearing truths, grasping at the last shreds of freedom.