Essay and illustration by Meg Axworthy, aged 12, Year 8 at The New School Rome.
My legs dangled over the edge, my hands gripped the thick windswept grass, arms shaking fiercely like pale leaves in a storm, barely hanging on. The sky above frowned, gathered its thick eyebrows and began to pour out its worries like a small toddler who’d cut their knee. Its plaintive cries boomed in my ears and its electric fingers dipped into the sea and shot light over the night, then disappeared again. The tears soaked me through and my thin shirt clung to me like a hundred snails crawling all over my skin. I looked down. The screaming sea bellowed at the pointy teeth of the rocks, barely visible in the turmoil the ocean was creating, joining the sky in their disastrous tantrum. The cliff began to crumble at the edges, softened by the outraged wind and spray charging up from the chaos far below. I scrambled backwards into the clumps of trees behind me, which were shivering and trembling as much as me in mournful submission to the storm.
Maybe it wasn’t a good idea after all. Maybe I was wrong like Queenie always said. Maybe I was useless. Maybe I was idiotic. Maybe I should just give in and crawl back to the village and beg for forgiveness. But that would be giving in. That would be letting all the things she’d made people say about me wash over me, taking all I loved and cherished. Leaving only the merciless memories like a hurricane sweeping everything up and leaving a pile of destruction in its wake. That would be letting go and forgetting all the glorious words I had been told before coming here. That would be breaking my only promise.
But that didn’t matter in the presence of death, what did, other than the will to survive? I could feel everything around me scurrying to safety, as far away from here and now as possible. Even the ground seemed to shrink and crumble into itself. The wind bawled and whipped back my hair, pulling me back towards the precipice. I grabbed the trunk of the shivering birch, its rough bark seemed deceptively strong and comforting. Three red ants battled their way across the hills and mountains of bark until they finally reached their hole, promising safety and warmth, relief evident on their tiny bodies as they scuttled inside. If only a hole as guaranteed of such happiness would open up for me now. As if there was such an easy option as simply disappearing into another world and leaving everything behind. As if the past didn’t chase determinedly as a bloodhound with a scent of an injured animal. But a very promising hole was just materialising.
A sudden gust of wind hit me as hard as a sledge hammer and sent me tumbling backwards. I stumbled and tried to steady myself but my feet found no solid ground. I flung my arms up to save myself, scrabbled for anything to grip onto but anything other than sheer stone was far out of reach. And so slowly I began to slide down the cliff face, gathering speed as I went.
The edges ripped at my clothes and tore my skin, the sides scratched and grazed me, the bumps tossed me from pain spiked rock to pain spiked rock like a makeshift ball in a cruel game of catch. The world was closing around me, the pain dimmed, the world seeped out like an opened dam, everything became less real, less light, less dark. A glass pane has separated me from the world, I was simply a curious spectator. I watched as they fell, limp as a rag doll, watched as they tucked their head in their knees and rolled. I watched as new cuts opened up, as their skin became painted with blood. I watched as they barely missed the cliffs pointed shark teeth. I watched as they hit the water.
I gasped for air. The glass pane had shattered and the pain flooded over me, tried to drown me. A cacophony of noise roared in my ears a load as an ocean storm. I kicked and floundered, desperate for air. I pushed upwards and finally broke the surface. The waves immediately dashed me down, furious that I had survived. I spluttered back up , took a deep breath only to be shoved back down again. The sea slammed angrily me against something hard. My head throbbed, my arms ached and my will was fading.I closed my eyes.
I let go.
The New School Rome, Via della Camilluccia 669, tel. 063294269, www.newschoolrome.com.
WANTED IN ROME JUNIOR: For young writers and artists
Wanted in Rome is accepting creative contributions from students in all international schools in Rome. Articles on topics related to either the student’s life in Rome or their school projects can be submitted by their class teachers. The work should be no more than 1,000 words and all contributions should contain the name, age and school of the student. We also accept illustrations. Any class teachers who would like to propose a project please contact email@example.com.