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REFUGEE By Silva Zanoyan Merjanian Outside, desert air licks tents with an icy tongue, creeping under pegs unto the sand floor, where she waits morning, legs squeezed, trembling tight. Her mother's warm breath with a hint of onion and lentil smell brushes on her face, calms tremor of awake nightmares, her sister's knees dig into the small of her back. She tucks her cold feet under her aunt's ample buttocks, finds comfort and safety in the call of unwashed bodies, familiar, earthy, sweat of family in deep disturbed sleep on worn beige mattresses pressed side by side. A limb resting on her distended bladder feels heavy, she knows she has to hold it in, till light leaks from between clouds bearing down, birthing morning relief over a tense night battling more than one winter's wrath. It is not safe to walk at night to the one makeshift bathroom outside her father had said, not even holding mother's hand. She remembers the stars as they faded one by one with each thrust, when strange men tore into her that night, their moans mocking whimpers escaping through large fingers pressing on her mouth. She feels the sting first, between her bruised thighs, before the wet warmth soaks through her pink pajamas, darkening with yellow and red princess patterns into the coarse mattress, where her siblings lie entangled in fading dreams of home. She couldn't hold, she is after all only eight years old. -- Silva Zanoyan Merjanian is a 1980 graduate of Haigazian College in Beirut Lebanon and lives in Orange County, CA. She has raised two sons and has begun writing poetry only recently.