Short Story | ‘Little Princess’ by Debbie Lechtman, Illustration by Lakshmy Mathur
Amira. Her name is Amira. It rolls prettily off the tip of the tongue: Ah-MEER-ah.
Amira. In her native language, it means “princess.” Nobody ever laughed about the meaning of her name. It doesn’t matter that she is poor as a pauper. It doesn’t matter that she’s never owned a pair of shoes. It doesn’t matter, because she is a princess. Not in the literal sense, of course — there are very few princesses in this world, the kind that wear tiaras made of diamonds and gold. But Amira is as much a princess as someone that is not really a princess can be: her chestnut hair falls in perfect ringlets and her eyes are like broken glass.
Amira is stuck. Her kneecaps sting. Her skin is black with dust, and her hair is matted with debris. She tries to bat her eyelashes, once, twice, thrice. Her eyes prickle. There is something in her eye. It’s probably dirt.
She tries to pull her leg. She pulls, pulls, pulls. She wants so badly to free herself from this boulder. When the bomb went off, the entire wall collapsed on her body. Amira winces. She is only seven. She’s too small, too weak to escape this load.
It hurts. Everything hurts.
Maybe something is broken. A bone. She must’ve broken a bone.
Her head throbs.
She cries and cries but nobody listens. Around her, there is only emptiness. There is loss. There is pain.
For a moment, she is angry. She should’ve known. She should’ve listened to her father. “It’s dangerous out there on the streets now,” Baba had said with a sad smile. But Amira shrugged her shoulders, reckless like only a child can be.
Hours prior, she’d ignored Baba’s warning and skipped merrily on her way. When she’d spotted the worn suitcase on the ground, far away in one corner, abandoned and ominous, she’d thought to say something, to call it to someone’s attention.
And then she wondered, am I being silly? I am being silly, aren’t I? It’s just a silly old suitcase. Yes, it’s just a silly old suitcase, crafted from cow’s leather.
At first Amira was certain she’d heard a firecracker.
Then she was sure, so sure, that a junky car had backfired.
And later —
That is how she knew. It was a bomb, nothing else, and it exploded without mercy.
She hopes Baba won’t be angry with her. “I told you so,” he’ll say, and he’ll wag his index finger. Back and forth, back and forth.
She hopes somebody will listen to her cries. The pain is blinding her. Her vision is spotty, fragmented.
It is now that she thinks about her name the most, to distract herself. Amira. Ah-MEER-ah. Princess.
She wishes so badly, so, so badly, that she were a real princess, just like the princesses in the movies, the ones with the nice dresses and the crowns. Maybe someday she will be. And then, when she is a princess, her first rule of order will be this:
In her land, there will be no bombs.
Illustration by: Lakshmy Mathur