Ripples on the Pond

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Ripples 3

 

Cover reveal for my anthology of flash fiction and short stories to be published later this year.

Cover design by my author friend, historial fiction writer, Angela Elliott.

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Conventional vs. Traditional

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Flash Fiction on ScribblersBIG-PHARMA

This is my effort  for this week’s flash fiction thread on Scribblers with the prompt “take over, take-over, or takeover”. Isabelle and Hans are characters from a previous tale, though the subject matter is a difficult one to fit into 1000 words. I managed to stay under. Unplugged!

Flash Fiction on Scribblers

 

The Worldwide Alliance of Holistic Medicine was a secret society whose leading members included experts on traditional herbal therapy, doctors, academicians, and practitioners from  different countries. Receiving grants from the supporters of alternative medicine and homeopathy, the Alliance had formed Terra Plc, twenty years ago. A Hong Kong based company, that launched its operations trading commodities from China.

Established as reputable company in South East Asia, Terra had begun its discreet acquisition scheme on Dewey Pharmaceuticals stocks to carry out the mission of the Alliance to defeat Big Pharma and its followers in the health industry. Starting with small subsidiaries in Asia and South America, Terra invested in the shares of the associates indirectly linked to the parent holding,  Dewey, whose global operation map was more intricate than a spider’s web.

This coincided with the untimely deaths of some herbal practitioners in the US and Europe, who had found cures for illnesses conventional medicine failed to heal. Although the involvement of Big Pharma was never proved, the unexpected demise of these healers rose questions and led to conspiracy theories.

The initial acquisitions in the lowest branches of its organization chart went unnoticed by Dewey,  as it continued to invade the global market with its American, European, and Asian partners. However, a decade later, the second biggest player in the pharmaceutical scene had serious concerns.

 

Hans-Ludwig Schiller, the President of Dewey, tapped his fingers on his mahogany desk, his gaze shifting from the company report lying before him to the view of Lake Geneva through the open window. He picked up the phone and called, Isabelle, his CEO and mistress. “Drop whatever you’re doing and come to my office immediately.”

Isabelle stepped in, dressed in a cream and pale pink tweed Chanel suit. Her blonde hair pulled into a tight chignon accentuated her violet eyes lined with dark kohl.  He motioned her to the chair in front of the desk and slid the report towards her. “I want you to find out who’s behind these acquisitions. You’re the only person I can trust. Do whatever you must, employ all necessary methods. Bribery, bullying, using your femininity and creativity. Keep me up to date and don’t discuss this with anyone else. Delegate all other work to your deputies and say you’re working on a private project for me. I need results fast.”

Isabelle picked up the report and flicked through its pages. Looking into Hans’ steel-blue eyes behind the frameless spectacles, she said, “They’re copying our methods. The buyers seem like independent companies, but I’m sure there is a single entity behind it. They’re probably using a shareholding network to follow their plans.”

“Exactly my thoughts. The holistic lobby might be behind this. They receive considerable grants from various offshore trusts which are difficult to trace. You need spies to investigate this.”

“I’ll find the right people, Hans. We have contacts.”

“Get on with it then, before we lose the rest of the company.”

Isabelle rose and walked around the desk. She placed her hand on Hans’ shoulder and kissed him softly on the cheek. Running her hand over his silver cropped hair, she spoke in a confident voice. “Trust me.” She turned around and left the room.

Isabelle decided to work from her house facing the lake. On her computer screen, she scrolled down the list of market investigators. The name Weber & Weber rang a bell. She looked through their website, tapped their number on her mobile, and insisted on an urgent appointment with Franz Weber she had contracted before. Sworn to secrecy, these international market detectives boasted of the latest technology and contacts to carry out the required work.

Later that afternoon, sitting opposite Franz, Isabelle filled him in on the details. “I want the results very fast. Money is not an issue. I’ll pay whatever it takes to have the information on at least a few companies who bought these shares. You can carry on with the rest after giving me some solid leads.”

Franz  clasped his hands together, debating the pressures of timing. “Madame Duncan, you do realize such investigations require a great deal of meticulous work.  I don’t wish to make false promises and mislead you. ”

“Do your best, Mr Weber. You’ll be reimbursed for all extra services.”

As soon as Isabelle received the required intelligence, she flew to locations where the listed companies were located. Equipped with a variety of wigs, coloured contact lenses,  and a wardrobe to hide her identity, Isabelle visited each establishment under false pretences to extract information from the executives. Loyal associates of the Alliance did not leak vital information, nor did they respond to Isabelle’s seductive charms. Some of them had unfortunate car accidents, some died of food poisoning, yet the Alliance resisted against the lethal threats.

As data poured in from  Franz, she changed countries and persevered in her mission, talking to Hans daily. A year later, Hans called her back. “Enough, Isabelle. Get back here and let’s work on a different plan.”

Seated at the executive office in Lausanne, Hans and Isabelle schemed on an immediate solution, when a tall, young man barged through the door, the security officers at his tail.

“I’m Robert Langford from the Alliance of Holistic Medicine. With the recent acquisitions, we now hold the majority of Dewey shares. An extraordinary board meeting will be held this afternoon and the entire organization will change.”

Hans waved away the security officers and extended his hand to Robert. “Pleased to meet you, Mr Langford. Please have a seat and let’s talk. This is Isabelle Duncan, my CEO.”

Robert shook hands with Isabelle and sat down. “What are your plans, Mr Schiller?”

“Please call me Hans. After the board meeting, Isabelle and I will be taking that long-awaited vacation in the Pacific.”

“Hold on to your stocks, Hans. This company will be a pioneer in the world of holistic medicine, forming a bridge between the conventional and traditional methods for wellness.”

Tragedy

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Tragedy tears_-_cropped_1

 

I open my Facebook page and begin to type on a purple background that matches my mood.

“Not feeling well. I have a summer cold that hasn’t gone away since last Wednesday. Now it’s further complicated by tendonitis or bursitis on my right wrist. Sry cant use apostrophes. My hand hurts, my nose is clocked blocked. I keep sneezing. Why do disasters come all at the same time?”

The coloured background changes to plain white as the wording is too long. I give up and post it, indulging in my misfortunes on the last days of August.

Replies pour in from friends who commiserate with me. “So sorry. Put ice on your wrist, use a muscle rub, take pain killers, rest it.”

Unable to comment on each post, I like their replies and use emojis to show my appreciation. Then a post appears from a group writer, with 3000 friends, against my 330. I never know why I’ve accepted his friend request. He never likes any of my posts and always brags about himself, stating his political and philosophical opinions as though he’s the tower of wisdom.

“What are you whining on about when there’s so much real tragedy in the world? Hurricane Harvey and Houston, Myanmar and ethnic cleansing, earthquakes, fascism, hunger, climate change, Florence approaching Earth? Shut up and don’t crowd my notifications with stupid posts. End.”

Tears well in my eyes, as my wrist throbs, the pain shooting up the arm towards my shoulder. Under normal circumstances, I’d write a response, but it’s too much trouble to spend the effort and go into a pointless argument with such a pompous scum. Maybe just as well – he doesn’t deserve a reply. Not even bothering to post an angry emoji, I unfriend the self-righteous bloke and log off. My real friends can call me if they want to hear my voice.

The word tragedy echoes in my mind as I ponder why some people behave in such abominable ways on the Internet. Does the virtual atmosphere give them more power than they have in real life? Are they insignificant, mediocre characters who aspire to be heroes and take centre stage in a make believe world?

Tragedies come in all sizes and shapes. From the Greek plays to Shakespeare, and contemporary stories. Murder, incest, complexes, unrequited love, loss, war, death, terrorism, natural disasters to environmental and health issues. From the personal to the global, we live under the threats of internal and external factors as our bodies suffer from their physical and psychological side-effects.

Millions of functions inside our outer shell are taken for granted until something goes wrong, and we’re unable to perform simple tasks. The left hand fails to replace the agility of the right hand, or the opposite, as we’re not ambidextrous. My personal tragedy is how I’m going to cope with the, hopefully, temporary dysfunction of my right hand when using utensils, opening and locking doors, washing my hair, and driving the car have become challenges. Maybe tragedy is an exaggerated word and should be replaced with misfortune, hardship, or trial to make the situation more realistic. Engrossed in the difficulties of my circumstances, accompanied by excruciating pain, how can I concentrate on the real tragedies in the world? I need to heal myself, before I attempt to heal or commiserate with others.

I don’t wish to be remembered as a moaning, self-centred person, yet we forget when we make a public post on social sites, the repercussions go beyond our intentions, presenting some of the virtual beasts with the opportunity to criticize and humiliate us.

Rule: Don’t share private matters on public sites and be sparse with stating your opinions.

Reminder: Get that terrace door fixed before you damage your wrist permanently.

Delayed Plans

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Eclipse Jackson, Wyoming

 

 

Leila read on the web, “Sometimes it’s perfectly okay and absolutely necessary to shut down, kick back, and do nothing.” The message boosted her ego, but she knew it was an excuse, not a solution to her condition of apathy. Why had she ended up this way? How had she lost her joie de vivre? Why was she so paralyzed to carry out her plans, from daily chores to meaningful pursuits she once believed were the purpose of her life? The conversations with her alter ego, more demanding than those with a school principle, led nowhere. She sat frozen, as time sped, not willing to clean the flat, organize her home, take care of her hair or body. Each day, she delayed these tasks until tomorrow, yet when tomorrow became today, she postponed her plans until the next day. This had been going for a while. The heat, the humidity, combined with the occasional threats of earthquakes in the Southern Aegean did not help, either. A series of excuses, symptoms – not causes.

 

Faced with the question, “When were you last happy?” on an internet questionnaire, Leila stopped to reflect. She couldn’t remember. This is pathetic, she thought, and tried to recall a moment of bliss. She was not an ungrateful person, she loved her home. Each night she went to sleep with the thought, and woke up feeling safe in her comfort zone. Scanning through her memories, she finally found a happy moment. The boat trip along the Bosphorus in Istanbul. The plankton explosion, the turquoise sea, on a warm and sunny day in June. That was two months ago, which reminded her that the suitcase from the trip still lay on the divan in the spare bedroom, to be dealt with tomorrow.

 

Life passed her by, despite her conscience disturbing her from time to time, and urging her to do something – anything.  I need help, she thought and reached for the phone to call an old friend. One she didn’t have to pretend to and say she’s fine. Joy answered, in her soft-spoken voice.

 

“I was thinking of you. Glad you called. How are you?”

“I’m not well. It’s like I’m having commitment issues. I can’t get anything done. Days go by and I lack the enthusiasm.”

“You’re depressed. Are you taking anything?”

“You know I don’t take any pills, just my vitamins. I’d rather have a drink.”

“A drink or drinks?”

“Drinks, some, but that’s not the issue. I can’t understand why. It’s hot and humid, uncomfortable, and the political situation is very frightening. It’s like someone, something has turned off the light. I’m late for everything. I’ll be late for my own funeral.”

“The political situation is dismal everywhere. We’re not the only ones. Look at the US and Europe. UK, Brexit, North Korea, the threat of nuclear war.”

“There were days when I was so busy I didn’t have time to stop and read or watch the news. Now, it’s compulsory. Something bad is happening all the time and it’s pulled me into an abyss I can’t see a way out of.”

“Don’t read it or watch it. Stay away for a while. You won’t miss a thing. What will happen will happen. Remember that film, Stranger than Fiction, when the guy was told to sit still, not to do anything? He squatted on his settee until a bulldozer wrecked the front of his flat.”

“Yeah, I remember. Great film. Maybe that’s the answer.”

“Baby steps.”

“Right.”

 

Leila switched off the phone and feeling marginally better, thought tomorrow is a new day before she went to sleep. I’ll be more productive. One step at a time and I’ll do the chores and manage the more meaningful plans…

 

The anticipated solar eclipse over North America reminded her of the total eclipse over Turkey back in 1999 and the subsequent earthquake. A memory which haunted her every time the earth rocked beneath her feet. The after-shocks of the Bodrum earthquake in July heightened her fear. Her favourite astrologer said the eclipse is the beginning of a new age, The Age of Aquarius. All the troubles in the world could be explained by the resistance to let go of the old order, an attachment to the past, a denial of change by some humans. The sun is the light, the moon is the past. Let go and enter the new era.

 

For the next few days, Leila found the incentive to carry out delayed plans from personal to practical, indicating her intent to the universe. She cleaned the house, dyed her hair, sat at the computer writing and editing her work, and felt good about her small achievements.

 

The eclipse took place and she was relieved nothing bad happened. Leila carried on, taking baby steps to realize her plans.

 

Sitting at the computer one evening that week, immersed in her work, she heard a distant noise that magnified. The house shook, the furniture rattled and the walls moved back and forth. She froze. Then, forced herself to rise, grab her handbag and the phone. Staggering to the kitchen, designated as her safe area, she found her pills and stuck them in her bag.

 

She gripped the edge of the table with both hands, waiting for the reverberating roar to end. The lights flickered. The earthquake-proof walls creaked and began to crumble down. Curled into a foetus position under the table, the floor tiles pulsated against her body. Thoughts flashed in her mind, as the flat plunged into darkness. Is this how my life ends? No. This is the end of what used to be and the start of a new beginning. I shall rise.

 

Photo Credit : Eclipse over Jackson, Wyoming

http://www.boredpanda.com/jackson-wy-1138am-8-21-17/

Virginia Creeper

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Happy to see my story published on Spelk Fiction today.

Spelk

by Sebnem Sanders

Ivy fascinated Ivan. English, with prominent white or yellow-green veins. Boston, with a reddish bronze colour in the spring, and bright, deep green during summer, turning to shades of scarlet, purple or orange in autumn. Yet, the Virginia Creeper was his vestal virgin, with five separate leaves joined at the centre. Just like a human hand, as described in its Latin name, Parthenocissus quinquefolia. Parthenocissus meaning “virgin ivy”. Why virgin, Ivan didn’t know, but he liked the connotation.

Ivan was a loner who never got married or had any lasting relationships. After his retirement, without a partner or close friends, he spent all his time gardening. A lifetime passion and hobby became a way of life for him. Despite his lack of formal education in horticulture, he was a natural with green fingers. The two-storey stone house he had bought in the countryside boasted a greenhouse…

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Sunset Café

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 Sunset Cafe 2

 

 

Like the flickering sunrays at the end of the day, Emily was at the sunset of her life. The golden ball of light would soon sink into the sea, and disappear temporarily, until its rise the next morning. That was a ninety-nine percent probability. She had witnessed this certainty throughout her life of eighty-five years. The one percent she put aside as a possibility for things that might happen otherwise. Just in case.

Yet, her life, as an aged mortal, offered her no guarantees that enabled her to witness the dawn tomorrow morning. That was a fact. Besides, as an old person, her beauty had faded away while the eternal splendour of the sunrise and the sunset remained. People did not possess the rejuvenating powers of the elements of nature, which made them preserve their appeal, at least for the duration of a human lifetime on Earth. Their bodies and organs deformed, though their souls remained young.

A dismal picture. Decay and die. When exactly the decaying process began, she couldn’t put a finger on. Maybe it starts at birth, or after puberty? Who knows? We only begin to see its visual signs in mid-life, during our forties and the fifties, and it’s downhill from there.

Emily was not a religious person, but thanked her stars for still being in command of her body and mind. Her movements, thoughts and decisions still under her control, she had wanted to go to the seaside café to watch, perhaps, her final sunset.

At the Retirement Home she had moved into five years ago, relenting to her granddaughter’s will, watching sunsets and sunrises was not an option due to the location of the building and its small grounds. From her home, at the top of the hill in the village, she had seen a myriad of memorable episodes of the same scenes, with different variations of light, cloud and wind, making each one unique.

On this glorious day in April, she had risen at first daylight with the wish to see the sunset that day. Her transport arranged by the staff at the Home, she settled into her reserved scenic seat at The Sunset Café. Her handbag and the just-in-case cane next to her, she ordered a glass of Merlot to enjoy the show.

Memories of long gone beloveds on her mind, she sipped her drink as the colours in the sky changed from golden to pink and coral. The orange sun turned into a crimson hue, and sank into the sea.

Emily lit a cigarette and inhaled. Thinking about her long lost daughter and husband, tears welled in her eyes. The loss of a child is the hardest to bear in life. I could have gone, she could have stayed. Life is unfair. Still, believing Bill was up there somewhere with her, gave her some consolation. At least, she’s not alone. My darling, you wouldn’t be able to cope with it. She fought a losing battle with the illness.

Emily’s mobile rang. She fumbled in her handbag, found the phone and pressed the key. “Hello.”

“Nana, how are you?”

“I’m fine, sweetheart. Just watching the sunset, maybe for the last time?”

“Oh, Nana, why the last time? Don’t make me sad.”

“Sorry, Natalie, I didn’t mean to upset you. Just memories.”

“I know, dearest. Listen, I’m coming to pick you up next Friday to stay with us over the weekend.”

“Ah, you’re planning a birthday party?”

“Yes, and without you, I’d be sad. Say, you’ll come.”

“Of course, I’ll come. But I’m hoping you’ll accept a cash gift from me. No nice shops around here to find something special for your fortieth, and I might buy the wrong thing.”

“Thank you, darling Nana. We’ll go shopping together, if you like.”

“I’ll enjoy that, sweetheart.”

“See you, Nana.”

Emily put the phone in her bag and sipped the remainder of her wine. The pinkish brush strokes against the pale blue sky seemed to promise a few more sunsets and sunrises in her life.

 

 

 

Photo credit:

The view from Lapad Bay © raspu / Moment Open / Getty Images

 

 

Dust, Smoke and Love

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Smoke art Mehmet-Ozgur_1600_600

 

Memories gathered dust among the cigarette fumes. The smoke had always surrounded them in times of love and pain. A silent witness to the affair, it rose in spiralled clouds that vanished into the atmosphere, the hint of its existence trailing behind in scent. Consumed yet lingering, like the hurt in her heart.

 

She sat on the open deck of the channel ferry, as the scenery passed before her eyes. Her thoughts eclipsing the images, life seemed to evolve without her participation. Sunsets and sunrises, the moon and the stars no longer evoked feelings of wonder. Their charm exhausted, their meaning lost.  A meandering melancholy had stolen the colours and transported her into a scene from a black and white art film with little conversation and tedious gazes shot in slow-motion.

 

In a state of detachment, she continued to stare into the distance, as the ferry approached the terminal. A scurry of muffled footsteps and snippets of conversation sneaked into her reverie. Silhouettes passed her by and disappeared, until new figures emerged and left at intervals.

 

Cruising back and forth across the channel, the vessel made its scheduled trips, as she sat unmoved through the motion. Daylight turned into night, electric beams lit up the distant hills like a shower of fireflies.

 

A ferry conductor’s voice broke her thoughts. “Lady, this is the last stop for the night. You must get off.” The pixels of his face materializing before her, she tried to command her paralyzed legs to get up and move. Holding onto the barrier, she stood and staggered to the stairs. The abyss frightened her. One step at a time, shaky limbs proceeded towards the set destination. Reaching the bottom platform, she paused and took a deep breath.

The conductor following her asked, “Are you on drugs?”

“If memories are drugs, that’s what I’m on.”

“You lost someone.”

“You could say that, but not to death.”

“Ah, to someone else? That’s even sadder.”

“Is it?”

“You seem like a ghost in the land of the living. That’s bad.”

 

She resumed her steps and froze when she came to the portable bridge connecting the ferry to the quay. Images of falling into the gap and of being squashed between the vessel and the concrete rushed to her mind. Cold sweat broke out on her forehead.

“Here, let me help,” the man said. He held her hand until she landed safely ashore.

“Thank you,” she said, her voice quivering.

“Stop and think,” he said, and smiled. “Fear of death means you want to continue living.”

“Yes.”

“Live it up, then, instead of ignoring it.”

“I’ll try.”

“There are no buses at this hour, you must take a taxi.”

“Thank you for your help. Good night.”

 

Her steps now more confident, she ambled to the taxi rank and took a cab.

 

Home she thought, and the sanctuary of her bed. She needed a rest from the memories. Tomorrow would be a new day, when, perhaps, she would allow them to gather more dust while she followed the cigarette smoke to new destinations.

 

 

Photo credit:

Smoke Works, Cutting Edge by Mehmet Özgür,  Mehmet Ozgur

Jeanne Moreau and Sam Shephard

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Sam Shephard

Jeanne Moreau

 

On my Instagram page, Jeanne Moreau and Sam Shephard gaze at each other. Her sad news came before his, on this last day of July 2017. She is talking on the phone, with a pensive look on her face, staring into the distance. He is watching her closely, to incorporate her character in one of his new plays. In the photos, hers in black and white, his in colour, she is younger than him. He was 73 when he died, last Thursday. She was 89, the same age as my departed mother.

I remember the black and white movies of my youth, mainly French and Italian, of the New Wave. She was the unpredictable protagonist, smoking Gauloises, in the dark stories. Her eyes and lips acted the part when she let them take over, instead of speaking.  A mysterious beauty whose acting talent has been endorsed in cinema and on stage over the years.

Sam Shephard, a soft spoken man, whose talent is deeper than his image in the movies. A Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, one who, as the New York Times says, captured the darker side of the American family life. A member of the Off Broadway movement. A  man who has crossed the borders.

Sam looks at Jeanne and studies her, remembering the many characters she’s played. He’s thinking about a new screenplay. She’s the protagonist, wild, sensuous, intriguing and mesmerizing.

Jeanne feels she’s being watched. She recognizes the man, the playwright, the director, the actor. She likes challenges, she likes change. “If he offers me a part, I’ll take it. But I’m too old,” she sighs.

Sam smiles. “The part is for an old lady, but a mischievous one.”

Mummy’s Torchlight

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Mummy's Torchlight IX

Cover by David J. Meyers

 

 

Here’s the link and the blurb to a short story I posted on Wattpad and submitted to OMP, One Million Project, for their Thriller Anthology.  (2,700 words) 

 

Toby waited for Mummy, but she never came back. Uncle Jim and Aunt Doris told him she was in Heaven. Why did Mummy go there without him? Why couldn’t he go to see her?
He kept Mummy’s torchlight safe, to guide him through the darkness, knowing she’d watch over him.

 

Mummy’s Torchlight

 

https://www.wattpad.com/447960743-mummy%27s-torchlight

 

Floods of Hope

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sel

 

At the top of the hill, I pause for a rest and contemplate the scene around me, disheartened and perplexed. I cringe. Weary of the battles lost in the name of integrity, I yearn for some breathing room from the oppression we, The Others, are being subjected to.

 

Ever since the day he came into our lives, I knew he would not leave. All the beliefs and values I was brought up with would crumble and wither under his merciless feet. He moved ever so discreetly, building his strength. Fooling the foolish followers, he cast his web. Insidiously, undetected by the naked eye. Over time, the tyrant’s network grew, while the rich became richer with his encouragement. He bought them, sold them, rewarded his loyal subjects with treasures that belonged to the land.

 

One morning we woke up to find all that we had was gone. He became ruthless, greedy and revelled in his power. No one could disagree with him. If they did, they rotted in jail with sentences from the courts of justice that became his domain. A one man show, one man’s law, against The Others that dared to fight for their rights. Lies, controversy, megalomania in the disguise of religion ruled the land. The Others wept and protested, hissing at the imperial powers who created this monster for their sinister purposes.

 

Darkness fell on the country with nightmares in real time. Human rights and ideals crushed under the corruption. This was no purgatory, but hell itself. The Others, buried beneath the rubble before their deaths, floods of tears and blood poured into the rivers that ran to the seas surrounding the country. As the waters rose, the lands sank, drowning the oppressors together with the oppressed.

 

 

A lonely flag sways in the wind atop a green hill, still resisting the mayhem. Will this ever end? Only time will tell. The Others are weak and have run out of weapons and ammunition. Can this silenced opposition be pregnant with a hope of change? This is not a tale from a distant past. History repeats itself. How long do dictators last?

 

Maybe when the waters subside, there will be a different land. Cleansed and purified from the hostile residues of hypocrisy and fraud. I pray for a miracle, a miracle of justice. They’re hard to come by these days, but I have to believe in something to survive this turmoil.

 

 

NB. I wrote this story about a year ago. The floods in Istanbul today reminded me of it.