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To Alexia, who many a time will remind me to bring my phone with me wherever I go.

Š Copyright 2013 Aurelia Dochnal

Š Cover art design by Aurelia Dochnal

I love swimming. I learned how to swim at five, and have been swimming for my whole life since then. Swimming is so simple: you finish one lap, you start another. No mistakes, no chances taken, no arguments (especially not with yourself). Just your mind and the water. “Well, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, honestly,” I nattered to my friend, Kat, as we were coming back from a swimming session, just before sunset. That was the worst lesson ever and my legs are killing me I thought to myself silently. “Um... you didn’t look like you enjoyed it much,” Kat replied, a frown plastered onto her face. She was probably referring to how I burst into tears because my arms felt like they were falling off. I sighed. We left the pool behind us and stopped by the busy road, while I made up a story about flying in a private jet. The air was humid and my skin was itchy; the sky looked like it was about to rain. “Yeah, right. See you Thursday!” Kat called, waved, and strolled to the right. I waved back, unenthusiastically. I heard the sound of traffic hurtling past, and the force whipped my sopping wet hair against my face. Droplets came raining down on my plaid shirt. My nose twitched at the smell of engine exhaust escaping the cars, trucks and motorcycles. Something told me I should cross the street, but instead I hung back, wasting five minutes as I stood by the empty road. I cursed myself for not listening to the little voice, and crossed the street in a huff, almost getting run over in the process. A while later I got to my front gate, when I remembered I had forgotten my phone and our front door bell didn’t work, so I had no way to get in. Whenever this happened, I usually got lucky and someone was outside and saw me. Otherwise, I had to wait two or three minutes till a neighbor would open the gate. This time no one was outside as the weather was bad, but I just sighed and laid my bags beside me, preparing for the expected wait. I sat down, against my better judgement. My bottom was now soaked through. Five minutes passed. I looked at my watch, and peered in through the gaps between the metal bars. Nothing moved. Oh god, I thought. This isn’t good. Sweaty and itchy all over, you can imagine how infuriated I felt. Don’t forget the fact that there was almost no breathable air around there; the humidity was killing me. After a good ten minutes of sitting on the cold, wet ground, I called out, “I’m home!” a couple of times. No one heard. After inspecting the gate, I found myself trying to squeeze in through the gaps, and clamber over it, the cold, sharp gate posts cutting my hands. I did not call out to my neighbours or ring their doorbells, afraid of being shunned. A feeling urged me to ask for help, but I was stubborn. My ears and nose felt like they were getting frostbite. I had to face it, however drearily; I was locked out of my house. I looked around a couple of times for an idea, but all I could see were evergreen hedges and clumps of shivering trees. Tired and rather cross by this point, I decided to walk to school (about twenty minutes away) and use the phone there. Grimacing, I threw my heavy bag over my shoulder, shrugged my backpack onto my back, and made my way down the sidewalk. Suddenly, I realized it might be easier if I left my bags on the other side of the gate. Nah, I thought. It’ll take too long. My shoulders hurt. I had to keep switching arms that were holding my bag, and twenty minutes later I arrived at the school gates, my upper arm pulsating, purple. As I was strolling in through the main entrance, (clutching my arm while trying to look like nothing was wrong) I spied the receptionist and asked if I could use the phone. My mom wasn’t answering her cell phone, and I couldn’t remember our house number since I once promised myself I’d never need to use it anyway and never got around to memorizing it. I thanked the receptionist, not sure whether to ask for advice or not. I know better than her anyway, I thought. I left the school and marched back home, on the verge of tears. Breathing deeply and blinking manically I tried not to cry. Rest assured that I failed, and weeping, I arrived before my gate.

I took a deep breath, and my lamentations slowly started to cease. I looked around, taking everything in, and that’s when I got an idea. Next door to us there was a small farm who kept their gate open 24/7, so I crawled in, feeling stealthy. Not only stealthy, I was also scared almost to death, fantasizing about what I would do if I was caught. Sneakily, I crept nearer and nearer to the fence that bordered our house. It was a rather tall balustrade that looked quite easy to climb. The musty smell of damp wood clouded my thoughts. The grass was long and tickly and made me giggle, but I was also worried about bugs and ticks: I probably looked a sight. On my face a horrified expression scanning the area and the grass, my legs lifting high like a stork’s, and giggling in spite of myself. This is stupid. I can’t do it anyway. I’d rather just sit in a heap on the ground. I actually did climb up to the top of the fence, but as I looked down I imagined the spider webs and bugs that I would meet on the way down. I managed to convince myself that I couldn’t do it. I climbed back down and sprinted to my front gate, my eyes watering against the wind. I waited three more minutes, when the little voice inside of my head told me “Yell.” And for once, I listened. I yelled and howled like a wolf at the full moon, and my efforts were soon rewarded. Janina, a concerned neighbour, left her house to see what the racket was all about. Quickly, I told her about my adventure and would she please open the gate for me? She would. I raced to the end of the street, calling a “Thank you!” to her over my shoulder. The front door was open, so I flung off my shoes and dashed upstairs to my room. The light was red, but it was 8:28 am and I had to get to school. I heard cars and motorcycles zooming past, but it didn’t matter right now. Don’t cross, something told me. Remember what Mom told you. It’s not safe. I adjusted my backpack straps, batting away the voice like a pesky fly, and stepped into the street, moving fast. My phone slithered out from my cold, sweaty hands, and dropped in the middle of the busy road. Like a gazelle being chased, I looked around, swiftly bent down, and picked it up. I stepped forward, the sidewalk only a couple of meters away. It happened in a couple of seconds: a motorbike came zooming by, centimeters from taking off my nose. I felt a stinging pain in my foot as the bike’s wheel made contact with my big toe. I told you not to cross, the voice said triumphantly. How many times have I experienced this? Trust your conscience. Over-thinking things just won’t do, and yet I over-think again and again and again. The little things too: crossing the street, jumping off the fence, asking for help... they all somehow or other affect me. Not listening to my conscience often puts me in a situation that threatens even my life. After the “locked out” incident, I trust myself more and more, and say more and more about my thoughts, my feelings. Your conscience is a part of you- a part bigger than one will ever understand. However, it’s the big and the little things that make us who we are and what we will ever be.

About the Author

Aurelia Dochnal is a criminal defence attorney, part-time award-winning author and poet and one of the most illustrious and government-wanted activists in the world. At twelve, she organized a petition against Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp at her school which got over fifty signatures. She continues to work with refugees, mistreated animals and orphans. She combats unjust treatment of suspected criminals, corrupt governments and judges and malnutrition, battles the conflict in Syria and is a personal friend of Edward Snowden. This is her fourth memoir. She has written three books and sixteen major poetry pieces. She enjoys running, horse riding, reading, and studying, but hates bell peppers. Aurelia lives in Warsaw, Poland, with her family and Chihuahua.

This is stupid. I can’t do it anyway. I’d rather just sit in a heap on the ground.

I need to learn to trust myself. Otherwise, who knows how long I’ll have to wait before someone finds out I am here? No more kidding myself. Time for action..

Aureliad memoir