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On May 30th, KBI hosted our first ever live event, “Mapping Futures”, a night packed full of events, workshops, and a live recording of Life Outside The Box. Riding off the momentum of such a fantastic event, it seems only fitting that our two live painters from “Mapping Futures” should grace the Artist Spotlight section to keep the good vibes going.

Author photo.jpg

Mikaela Brewer

Writer, Advocate 

Mikaela Brewer is a multidisciplinary writer, poet, speaker, researcher, and mental health advocate & activist.

"The Writer's Room" is s space dedicated to showcasing short stories and fiction, and the work of emerging  young writers. Interested in sending us your work? Submit your work for consideration to Abbigale Kernya at:  


A short story series exploring key issues in our national and global news cycles. There are footnotes and hyperlinks for anyone who would like to delve more deeply into the topics discussed. Mass media frequently offers dehumanizing language and headlines that sell, numbing us into apathy rather than compelling us to take a deeper look into stories. Though all models of the world—including these short stories—are inherently reductionistic, storytelling via fiction can carry us somewhere, change our minds, remind us of who we are, humble us, and carve a space to see our collective, intertwined connection in a way that moves us toward liberation-focused action. 


Please note: The following short story discusses many forms of violence such as abuse, ethnic cleansing, displacement, murder and attempted murder, genocide, bombing, starvation, and annexing territory. We wish to disclose this in case these topics activate you in a harmful way. However, please consider that there is a crucial difference between being activated outside of our window of tolerance and feeling uncomfortable. Discomfort is a gateway to feeling, compassion, understanding, and connecting. If it is safe for you to do so, we encourage you to lean into discomfort as you read this story.


While reading, here is a link to supportive Body Sensations, Feelings, and Needs Lists (compiled by Meenadchi in October 2020 @ 


Editor's note: this story was originally written and researched during the month of February 2024. Due to the continually evolving nature of the war, some of the statistical information presented will differ from the most current news and escalating violence in Gaza.



“The land, memories, and location of each tree that people lost in their villages were ever present in the refugee mind and memory. As if by still practicing agriculture, they told themselves that they were still here — that although they lost the land, it wasn’t lost completely.”
– Asmaa Abu Mezied, in “Lost Identity: The Tale of Peasantry and Nature” (Light in Gaza) 


Mike slammed the car door at the back of The Olive Groves’ freshly re-striped parking lot—a grid of neatly dividing lines. He was meeting his parents for an early supper at the front end of his February reading week, which had pulled him away from the poems he hoped to finish throughout the week.

In his first year of business school at Queens University, Mike complemented the structured rigour of classes, lectures, and meetings with the crafting of poems—a collection of all he couldn’t bring to life with bland, beige business jargon and terminology. 

He usually had no difficulty finding something to say in verse. Now was no different, although, what he wanted to verbalize felt unsayable—in verse, song, or plain language. Everything about living felt off and repetitive, not unlike the movie Groundhog Day. Just a few weeks prior, the groundhog himself hadn’t seen his shadow—it was a miserable, cloudy day where the weather reflected climbing dis-ease. But what increased Mike’s dis-ease was that he couldn’t see how an early spring could arrive. 

There hadn’t been sun since December, including this late afternoon. The air was soupy with exhaust, cold fog, and the sharpness of something burning that shouldn’t have been, likely due to the city’s house fire the night before. Mike’s mouth was tasteless and dry, mimicking the moment right before you throw up. The car keys were now warm in his hand, coated with a thin film of sweat from being trapped in his palm. He’d looked hard enough since October 7th and he could no longer look away. 

It had been nearly five months. Mike had read. Nearly 30,000 murders and 70,000 injured in Gaza. More than 70,000 housing structures destroyed. No fully functioning hospitals—11 partially, 3 minimally, 22 completely unfunctional. 200,000 cases of respiratory infections. 500,000 cases of communicable disease, such as meningitis and diarrhea. (7)

He’d had so many questions, and sitting with the responses involved deep learning, nuancing, and unlearning, especially through a talk that his friend gave (8) (alongside a few helpful Instagram posts about where there is & isn’t a balance between Palestine & Israel, such as with power, control, and financial & military resources; the need for a perfect victim; and the importance of ‘yes, and…’ in holding multiple truths at once) and an FAQ page by an organization he’d long followed.

These, among many other sources of information Mike had engaged with and shared with friends, made him think more intentionally about (9):

  • Whether Israel has a right to defend itself (no country has a right to ethnically cleanse, force removal, threaten violence, murder and attempt murder, perform genocide, bomb, starve a population, illegally annex territory, and break many other international humanitarian laws in the name of defending itself).

  • The idea that if Hamas puts down their weapons and declares peace will there be true peace—versus if Israel were to put down their weapons and declare peace the Jews would be exterminated (true peace needs justice; ending the occupation and apartheid).

  • Whether Hamas is the enemy (how has Israel been the enemy? How have Israel’s direct, intentional actions created Hamas)?

  • Whether the current escalation and bombings are solely about hostages (no, they aren’t. This is 75+ years in the making).

  • Whether Free Palestine means being Pro-Hamas or antisemitic (no, it doesn’t)

  • How Zionist, Jew, and Israeli don’t mean the same thing and how Palestinian and Hamas don’t mean the same thing (among many other comparisons).

  • Whether Israel is an apartheid state (yes, it is—among much else, Palestinians are considered native aliens and have lesser rights, even with an Israeli passport, and are forced to travel through inhumane checkpoints, register their cars differently, travel along separate roads, and show ID to go to work or visit family & friends nearby

There was so much more. And Mike was about to walk into his parents’ favourite restaurant—an American chain called The Olive Groves, featuring imported olive trees. Imported (or stolen) from where? It wasn’t public information and the question wouldn’t leave him. 

With each purchase at the restaurant, you were given a few postcards—the photo on which was Jerusalem—and asked to write a thank you card to Earth. The postcards were then tucked into the tree branches by staff and presumably recycled later. And although not a malicious sentiment on part of the restaurant or the unusually thick cluster of people here, it made Mike’s blood boil. Could there be violence without evil? Well, perhaps this idea of ‘doing something that doesn’t really do anything except make you feel better about yourself’ would fall into this category.

The hardest part, perhaps, was that this used to be and maybe still was Mike’s favourite restaurant. Memories of love laminated the walls, and what to do about that—how to hold it—he wasn’t quite sure.

“Is everything okay?” A kind voice abrasively broke Mike’s thoughts. He realized he was still standing next to his unlocked car, fists clenched, and minutes into a staring contest with The Olive Groves. He noticed his poor parking job, tires turned across the gleaming lines of the spot. Don’t step on the cracks, or you’ll break your mother’s back! Rang in a singsong voice through his mind. Were cracks the same as lines meant to divide, control, and relegate? Perhaps a crack is first a line?

“Um, yes,” Mike mumbled, flicking his hands and rolling his head across the back of his shoulders. “I was very deep in thought. Thanks for waking me up!” 

“No problem. Take your time, hon.” The voice had come from an elderly woman, pushing a cart of vegetables, milk, eggs, and brown bread from the next-door grocery store. She smiled gently, with a slight worry-tinged unease.

Mike smiled back, locked the car, and started across the rich tar parking lot, stomping hard on every white and yellow line to see if it might at least crease the paint.



One ungentle footstep in front of the other, Mike restlessly approached the building’s concrete staircase. His heart rate rose and his chest and jaw tightened. He stopped halfway to the door, trying to shake away the inability to relax. He had been too queasy for sleep the night before. Breathe. Mike wasn’t nervous to see his parents. He was deeply uncomfortable with the juxtaposition of everything all at once. 


Mike took the final few steps toward the front door. The brick was the colour of hay, flecked with taupe, and an ornate brass door handle awaited. There was so much sweat on his palms that when he dropped his keys in his pocket, the dampness soaked through the back of his jeans. When he gripped the door handles, nearly as tall as he was, Mike’s hand slipped down its trunk. 


The comforting smell of wood, fruit, and flowers filled his nasal cavity and puffed up his cheeks. The wallpaper was his favourite part—hand-painted with textured, oily oranges, lemons, pink tulips, grapefruit, pomegranate, and hibiscus. 


Mike spotted his parents immediately. They sat in their usual corner booth, next to one another on one of the fabric-covered benches that looked like a peeled tangerine repurposed as a fitted bedsheet. He walked toward them, beginning to peel off his jacket. 


“Mike!” One of his fathers, Richard, closest to the aisle, stood and hugged him tight. Mike’s coat half-slipped down his shoulders. 


Arnold skidded across the booth seat and offered to hang up Mike’s jacket as he finished taking it off.


“Thank you. It’s really good to see you both.” Mike managed a weary smile.


“You’re all flushed. Is everything okay?” Richard questioned eagerly, but both he and Arnold looked concerned. Mike’s gaze fell on Richard pressing his teabag into the side of his mug, which he claimed released more flavour. The hibiscus leaked what looked like curdling blood clouds into the boiling water. 


“Uh, I’m so excited to see you that I sprinted across the parking lot! I’m out of breath!”


Richard and Arnold peered at Mike with raised brows. Mike knew they didn’t believe him. 


“Would you excuse me for a minute? I just need the restroom.” Mike ignored the worried stares that followed him. He stumbled along the aisle between rows of booths and tables into a one-person washroom, locked the door, and nearly fell head-first into the sink. His hands caught the edges of the pale pink ceramic, accented with citrus fruit stickers. 


Mike panicked. 


Maybe the comfort of this restaurant carried violence in its ability to distract. He didn’t know what to do with his moral outrage, and if he did anything drastic he’d be smothered like grease—as mentally unstable or ill. He’d seen Aaron Bushnell (and a woman before him back in early December), an active duty U.S. airman, self-immolate in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington D.C., only to be met at gunpoint. A U.S. Secret Service agent responded “We don’t need a gun right now we need a fire extinguisher.” (10)


“My name is Aaron Bushnell, I am an active-duty member of the United States Air Force and I will no longer be complicit in genocide. I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, it’s not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal.” (11)


The words echoed as if calling to him. Mike felt disconnected from intuition on the next right thing to do, desperately longing for a way to extinguish the fire in his own body, heart, mind, and soul. 


The wallpaper continued in this room, and the same smells were amplified because of the hand soap and lotion mounted to the wall. Someone had left the water trickling from the faucet, which Mike turned off. The amber light cast an oscillating moody hue, and, in the middle of the washroom, was the pride and joy of The Olive Groves. Mike had always wondered why it was planted here, of all places. 


Amid the largest and grandest washroom in the world (apparently) stood a sturdy, thick olive tree, hundreds of years old. Its trunk and the bottom half of its fruiting limbs branched up into a mirrored glassed dome, the frame of which looked like a wire cage. The top half of the tree breached a slim opening in the windowed canopy, which had been washed to sparkle like crystal. 


Mike turned toward the tree, and reaching out to touch it, collapsed. He let himself feel and break down, heaving and crying and perilously reaching his arms around the trunk in as broad a hug as he could. Wet snow began to mist through the opening in the dome, cooling his hot cheeks, which he pressed into the weave of the wood until the grain imprinted on his skin.


After a few moments, Mike sat up, crossed his legs, and tucked his hands into his lap like two spoons in a bowl so empty it was hungry itself. Bowing, he pressed his forehead into one of the exposed roots, letting his tears fall onto them.


Closing his eyes, he whispered in fragments, “I don’t know what to do. I know my restlessness isn’t a moral failure or anything I can fix alone. I know feeling this is the catalyst to freeing everyone. I know I shouldn’t judge myself on how well I tolerate and manage despair, but it feels like me against these ‘symptoms.’ I can’t figure out how to both fight and live this life I can’t immediately change—a lifestyle fighting against the fight I want to fight. It hurts my heart. And I feel, within myself, that there is something I still need to discover. What’s missing?” (12)


Everything swirled.

Children: 1/10 didn’t reach their first birthday; more than 10 per day lose one or both legs; and 100% aren’t able to access education. 

Damaged and destroyed educational facilities, bakeries, heritage sites, places of worship, ambulances, and WASH facilities. Journalists. Medical staff. UN staff. 92% of murders are civilians.(14)

Extrajudicial executions. Judicial killings. 

Over one million, nearly half of Gaza’s population, cornered into Rafah, a supposedly safe zone that has been bombed relentlessly. Hardly any food, access to medical care, safety, or place to sleep. (15)


Blocked humanitarian aid leading to acute levels of starvation. (16)

And then Mike heard a deep, earthy groan. He looked up, startled. When he made eye contact with the tree, he slid back. Instead of grooves, there was writing—sentences creating the grain and grooves of the bark, following the pattern of a black-and-white checkered keffiyeh. Had the tree looked like this before and he hadn’t noticed?

The writing included names—the names of poets and writers who had died in Gaza (17):  Heba Abu Nada, Omar Abu Shaweesh, Refaat Alareer, Abdul Karim Hashash, Inas al-Saqa, Jihad Al-Masri, Yusuf Dawas, Shahadah Al-Buhbahan, Nour al-Din Hajjaj, Mustafa Al-Sawwaf, Abdullah Al-Aqad, Said Al-Dahshan, Saleem Al-Naffar, and so many, many others.

And there were words—their words, some in English and some in Arabic—alongside the names and words of Palestinian youth poets (17). Mike traced his fingers along the sentences, names, poems, and phrases. They were warm and pulsing, like arteries and veins.

Mike pulled a pen and small notebook from his back pocket and began writing.



Before parting with the olive tree, Mike thought about his fathers and some words he’d read from Van Gogh’s archive of letters to his brother, “Someone has a great fire in his soul […] and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney.” Mike wondered if, as this was true for Richard and Arnold seeing Mike, it was also true in reverse.

Richard and Arnold were back in their usual spots, but their hands and fingers were clasped together like a ball of brown and beige yarn. They were clearly discussing Mike with compassionate, loving concern.


“Hey,” Mike paused, clearing his throat and allowing space for his dads to finish their thoughts. They both turned to face Mike with worried, pleated smiles. “Could I talk to you about something?”

Both Richard and Arnold brightened.

“Of course, love,” Arnold offered, gesturing to the other side of the booth and sliding a frosted glass of water across the table toward Mike.

“First, do we need to do deep breaths and create a little pocket of safety?” Richard asked, cracking his knuckles. He took this very seriously, which Mike had always loved. 

“I just cried my eyes out in the washroom, so I feel a bit better,” Mike responded appreciatively. He wasn’t quite sure how this would be received, but he leapt into vulnerability as best as he could. 

Arnold and Richard looked at each other knowingly. 

“Oh honey,” Arnold reached across the table with an open palm for Mike’s hand. Mike took it.

“We did the same damn thing not ten minutes before you got here.” Richard shared, eyes glossy.

 “In the washroom?”

They both nodded.

“Did you see? In the tree?”

They smiled, painfully, and nodded again. 

Mike gulped down the lump in his throat and took a deep breath. 

“I have an idea.”

Arnold and Richard shifted in their seats, indicating that they were ready to listen. 

“I know we’re supposed to write postcards to the Earth, but I wondered if we might write something else. Maybe a postcard to our government representatives? (19)  And I want to see if I can find the owner, too, to pitch making a permanent switch here. It’s a start, at the very least.”

Richard and Arnold both beamed. They were in eager agreement. 



The Olive Groves, as usual, supplied the markers and postcards during the meal. Embedded within a call for a permanent, lasting ceasefire, Mike began writing a poem, one that began the width of the full postcard and, with each line, narrowed and squeezed by shrinking margins.


He opened with a fragment of a poem he’d read recently:


“I foolishly thought of many poems— / Without names / And lines without borders / And letters waiting for a home / Somewhere far not here, not in my four walls, not / in my gated university…”


– Haidamteu Zeme Newme, A Mausoleum of Our Everydays/Nai nsang negu herouki (20)


To be considered “undiscovered” is always colonial, whether talking about ourselves, land, or other life. “Discover yourself” (demanded) cannot mean that you must discover yourself 

as if you’ve yet to be found outside of body and earth—where all of us, 

somewhere in the world, are both on a land and of a land, (21)

and when these do not match

sometimes it’s our choice

yet so often it is not. 

And here is what 

happens when

it is 



“Certain kinds of trauma visited on peoples are so deep, so cruel, that unlike money, unlike vengeance, even unlike justice, or rights, or the goodwill of others, only writers can translate such trauma and turn sorrow into meaning, sharpening the moral imagination. A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.” (22)

“Knives might eat
what remains of my ribs,
machines might smash
what remains of stones,
but life is coming,
for that is its way,
creating life even for us.” (23)

“One of my dreams is for my books and my writings to travel the world, for my pen to have wings so that no unstamped passport or visa rejection can hold it back.” (24)

“I didn’t want to go and see the damaged farmland. I really wasn’t curious to see my memories burned into ashes. The last time I was there I had sat beneath olive trees with my friends eating za’atar, bread, and olive oil.  We drank tea, roasted corn, and picked fruit. I can still taste those flavors and smell the air. But now, three rocket holes plagued these memories. They had left dark grey sand and the scorched remains of trunks and branches from trees that used to bear the fruit of olives, oranges, clementines, loquat, guavas, lemons and pomegranates. I put my hands on my heart to catch it from falling, and I felt the three holes there in my heart.” (25)

“If I must die,
you must live
to tell my story


If I must die
let it bring hope
let it be a tale” (26)

“Do not die. Beneath this glow
some wanderers go on


O little light in me, don’t die,
even if all the galaxies of the world
close in.” (27)


“I grant the father refuge,
the little ones’ father who holds the house upright
when it tilts after the bombs.
He implores the moment of death:
“Have mercy. Spare me a little while.
For their sake, I’ve learned to love my life.
Grant them a death
as beautiful as they are.” (28)




While writing, Mike felt the urge to run out the door and leave the restaurant behind. But he remembered an episode he’d listened to on the Know Better Do Better Podcast (29) where the host, Marie, shared that disapproval by seeking distance isn’t the best approach, ultimately leaving the work to those who can’t run or who can’t choose distance. Running can include rude responses, remaining silent because someone/somewhere should know better, and slicing someone/somewhere out of your life instead of initiating conversation. It’s ineffective to place people or places beneath you to feel superior or more aligned with a cause. Mike knew he needed to meet The Olive Groves where it was at, wherever that was, with enduring patience and courage. As Marie said, choosing to walk with the burden of conflict, frustration, and misunderstanding (in whatever capacity you’re able to at any given time) is allyship. 

Mike kissed the postcard and, equipped with a wink and a smile from Arnold and Richard respectively, walked to the front of the restaurant and asked to speak with the staff and manager. 

Free Palestine.


(7) Hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel | Flash Update #121 | United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - occupied Palestinian territory 

(8)  Israel and Palestine 101 - with Michael T. McRay

(9)  FAQ Gaza

(10) Slow Factory Instagram Post
(11)  Slow Factory Instagram Post
(12)  Inspired by Cassandra Lam’s Newsletter, Collective Rest, on Feb 19, 2024

(13)  Children are bearing the brunt of the horrors in Gaza. How can this go on? - ABC News
(14)  Hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel | Flash Update #117 | United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - occupied Palestinian territory
(15)  UN relief chief warns military operations in Rafah could lead to a slaughter in Gaza and put a fragile humanitarian operation at death’s door | OCHA

(16) Gaza residents surviving off animal feed and rice as food dwindles
(17)  These are the poets and writers who have been killed in Gaza. (note: a/o December 2023)
(18) Poems Archives - We Are Not Numbers

(19) Inspired by “Postcards for Palestine” (an event hosted by Cassandra Lam & Kim Saira)

(20)  A Mausoleum of Our Everydays/Nai nsang negu herouki

(21)  Cassandra Lam’s Instagram reel & Can’t Catch Me Now by Zach Matari

(22) Peril by Toni Morrison, from The Soul of Self Regard, Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations.

(23)  Life by Saleem Al-Naffar
(24  Nour al-Din Hajjaj
(25)  Who will pay for the 20 years we lost by Yusuf Dawas

(26)  If I Must Die by Refaat Alareer
(27)  Not Just Passing by Hiba Abu Nada
(28)  I Grant You Refuge by Hiba Abu Nada
(29) Episode 73 with Marie Beecham


Petitions & Donations:



Please note: The following story discusses many forms of violence via conflict, armed forces, slavery, and sexual abuse. We wish to disclose this in case these topics activate you in a harmful way. However, please consider that there is a crucial difference between being activated outside of our window of tolerance and feeling uncomfortable. Discomfort is a gateway to feeling, compassion, understanding, and connecting. If it is safe for you to do so, we encourage you to lean into discomfort as you read this story.

Crunching up plantain chips, Nevaeh shivered under a fierce June sun, which could only have been a new ghost. During her walk home from the last day of eighth grade, she wondered why she still believed these tidbits her Auntie Ana had taught her: that her name being ‘heaven’ spelled backwards would eventually mean something and that sudden shivers meant a new ghost had passed through your body. Perhaps it was because she missed this version of Ana, or because she didn’t want to think about the fact that ‘new ghost’ also meant new death.  


Nevaeh stopped kicking small stones spilling onto the sidewalk from garden borders because she’d started sweating through her shirt. Before she’d seen it blinking in a concrete crease, she’d paused to wipe the grease and sparkly peach blush from the nose bridge of her lemon plastic glasses. Scraping her thick black curls into a bun, damp armpits now exposed to the neighbours bent plucking weeds, she stopped, eyes fixed: cobalt blue, like a blue raspberry candy.


Nevaeh bent to pick it up with her snack-sticky fingers; a barbed chunk of cobalt glass carved into an owl’s eye. She shivered again. 




“Hey, Ana?” Nevaeh called, closing the front door of her house behind her. She caught her reflection in the foyer window—the heat had turned her light brown skin to earthenware clay.


“In the living room Nev,” Ana answered with a blandness that blunted Nevaeh’s enthusiasm. 


“Is this cobalt? I found it on the sidewalk.” 


Ana’s head snapped up. She was sitting cross-legged on the terracotta couch sorting mail, in a lime pantsuit that looked like a highlighter streak against her paler-than-usual skin. Ana stashed letters, bills, and garbage (pizza ads) between makeshift finger-filing-cabinet dividers, sticky tabbed by hot-pink painted nails. She peered at the glass in Nevaeh’s hand with cold contempt as if she’d finally found the perfect place for her rage.


“Yes. And I don’t want it in my house.”


“Oh, okay. But it’s so beautiful. I just thought I might make us friendship bracelets or something?”


“Better you than whoever owned the bottle it broke off of,” Ana mumbled curtly. She’d gone back to flipping papers and slicing sealed envelopes.


“I don’t understand.”


Ana sighed, but not with irritation. “I know, Nev. I’m so sorry. Sit. Could I tell you something?” 


Nevaeh sat in a soft teal armchair across from her aunt, eager. Ana hadn’t offered a story in weeks.


In a kind but steely voice, Ana began. “About 70% of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which used to be called Zaire. It’s very valuable, Nev.” Ana paused, bracing herself for the uneasy and upsetting venture of explaining an expanding genocide to children, and worse, why it continues so easily. “Now, about four thousand years ago, cobalt was also forged in Mesopotamia for Egyptian pottery but vanished around 1250 BC after the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt at the end of the Late Bronze Age. It reappeared in Chinese porcelain after another thousand years, and then, fuelled a Victorian obsession. It was stolen then, and pillaged now with violence, slavery, sexual assault and rape. Children are forced to work to extract it from the land because the world has learned that cobalt is quite good at storing energy and stabilizing conductors, especially for laptops and smartphones. Rampant corrupt power within and from neighbouring countries has poisoned DRC. Since 1996, six million people have died in a silent holocaust—what some people call The African World War.”


Both Ana and Nevaeh were silent for a moment. Nevaeh’s birthday was next week, and she suddenly felt ashamed of what she’d asked for.


“I don’t want the new blue iPhone anymore.” A swell of tears threatened to waterfall down her cheeks.


Ana smiled tenderly. “Come here, love.”


Nevaeh snuggled into Ana’s open arms. “You’re fourteen. It’s not your fault that there are things you don’t know. We’re all ignorant of something. But, if when we know better we choose to do better, then that’s the true staple of our character.” Ana paused, allowing a laugh. “You need some gel.” She ran her fingertips across Nevaeh’s humidity-frizzed hair. 


Nevaeh giggled, freeing her tears. She understood that carrying the knowledge of these things could bring the immense sadness, silence, rage, and anger that she saw in her aunt, to which Ana seemed to have a perfect response.


Ana wiped away Nevaeh’s tears with her thumbs. “There’s much more to tell and learn, but later, after you go find something fun to do—dance, call Sarah next door, or do those colour-by-numbers you love.”


Nevaeh nodded. Ana smiled and reached over to play a record on the turntable. 


“I’ll do something, too.” 




Perched on the edge of her bed, Nevaeh fiddled with the cobalt glass. She couldn’t focus, wishing to protest feeling distant from others’ pain. But she wasn’t sure where to start—was diving into the deep end of the internet and front-crawling through social media accounts the best place? She shivered again, glancing over at her open window—the air was colder outside their townhome than in. 


Nevaeh felt conflicted. The piece of glass was about the size of her thumbprint, breathtakingly coloured and carved, and its owl eye nearly narrowed at her. She’d just learned about owls in ecology at school, and the miracle through which they’re able to see with sound. She pulled a notebook from her backpack, cloaked in iron-on-patches, slouching on the bed next to her.


Owl Vision:

  • Can see ultraviolet light

  • Has a visual system one hundred times more light-sensitive than a pigeon

  • Tubular eyes

    • Take in more daylight + have more cells to process photons than the eyes of birds with sharper daytime vision 

    • 90% rods vs. cones that are sensitive to movement and tuned to low light (why they’re able to hunt in the dark)

  • Ears

    • One of the most sensitive auditory systems in nature

    • Specific auditory brain cells respond only when a sound is coming from a specific direction (geolocation by sound not satellite)

    • With their ears, owls see the world in 2D

  • The hearing nerve branches off to the sight center of the brain: auditory input is processed by the visual system. Owls can see with sound.


Nevaeh ran her fingers over the underlined ink. Is this the answer? Could we learn to see one another with our ears, if we listen? She shivered again. I wonder. 


Setting down her notebook, Nevaeh slowly held the glass chunk up to her ear and listened. She didn’t hear anything. Too easy. Think. 


And then, almost as if instinctually, she stood and walked toward the mirror mounted to her dresser. She looked hard, brow furrowed in concentration, and held the glass to her ear once more. 


The glass glitched, as if an old television were shutting off, and then, in the mirror, there was a city block layered and merged with Nevaeh’s bedroom. Nevaeh was stunned speechless, until she saw a young girl, perhaps the same age, hiding behind a battle-tested brick building. 


“Hello?” Nevaeh called, but the girl didn’t hear her. She brought the glass to her mouth and called again. 


The girl’s head snapped in Nevaeh’s direction. She looked puzzled as she stood and wandered nearer, glancing over her shoulder as she did. 


“What is this? Magic?” She whispered to herself.


“You can see me?”


“Yes, in the window of this shop. How? Are you in America? How are you understanding me?”


“I don’t know. I’m in Canada. Are you speaking English?” 


“No, and I assume you’re not speaking Swahili.”


Nevaeh shook her head, no. Something was translating for them. 


The two girls stared at each other for a moment, cautiously curious of one another. Though young and beautiful, Nevaeh could see that the girl was weathered. Beneath the dirt caked to her body, she wore a lilac blouse, matching hair bows, and jeans with the zipper and button either torn or cut away. She was still slowing her breathing, clearly having run from something. She had soft cheeks, skin the colour of rich soil, and kind smile lines despite what appeared to be a fight between vacancy and fear in her glossy eyes. Gunfire rippled the airwaves and though she turned to look, she didn’t flinch. 


“What’s your name?”



“I’m Nevaeh.”


Kamia shook her head. “I’m so hungry I must be seeing things.”


“You aren’t, I promise.” Nevaeh paused, having emphasized the word to ground her uncertainty.


“Your promises don’t mean very much. Your tech batteries and cars are made from our blood.” 


Nevaeh nodded. “I know” was all she could muster. 


Kamia peered at her with a mix of cold and pity. “You know, huh?” She began to turn away. 


Nevaeh stopped her. “Where are you right now?”


Kamia turned back, not quite all the way, and with a tinge of surprise. “Jimbo la Kivu Kaskazini,” she replied proudly, “Goma, North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo.”


Nevaeh nodded. “Tell me more about it.”


“What?” Kamia’s eyes narrowed.


“Tell me about you. And your home.”


Kamia drew in a sharp breath and brought her tongue to the back of her teeth. “Why?”


“Because I want to listen.”


“Hm.” Kamia crossed her arms. “Alright,” she said hesitantly, dragging a broken table over. She sat facing the shop window. Nevaeh pulled a footstool over. 


Kamia took another deep breath and swallowed hard. “I’m fifteen. I grew up here. Central Africa is so beautiful. There are over 200 different ethnicities here, and coltan, gold, tin, cobalt, copper, zinc, diamonds, and other rare earth minerals. But my people have been victims of corrupt political regimes, armed militias, and violence by neighbouring countries and investors—Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Chad, Libya, Sudan, and more. For political gain and as part of industry-driven access to our reserve of these materials, the USA and UK give military and financial aid to Rwanda and Uganda to invade us. We’ve been displaced. Seven million of us. There is so much violence. So much pollution and theft. Genocide.” Kamia breathed out heavily. She’d said nearly everything in one breath as if it had been bursting to be heard by someone who might do something about it.


Nevaeh dropped the glass, scrunched her eyes closed, and looked away. There was silence followed by a flash that filtered through her eyelids. When Nevaeh looked up, Kamia and the streets of Goma had vanished from the mirror.


“Kamia?!” Nevaeh called, her voice cracking with fear and panic. She picked up the glass again, hands shaking, and faced the mirror, willing Kamia to come back. Nothing. 


Nevaeh dropped to her knees, tears streaming. Her hands closed warmth around the glass. She looked up into the mirror. 


“I want to see. I will see. I will look,” she begged, meaning every word. The same flash appeared as suddenly as it had before. 


“Kamia?!” Nevaeh scanned her stunted view of the street frantically. 


Kamia poked her head around the building, a hole of betrayal ever so slightly filling in. “I thought you left.”


“I didn’t mean to. I don’t know why the connection stopped.” 


“You looked away. From me and yourself.” 


Nevaeh was quiet, nodding softly, but her gaze didn’t shift. “Please. Tell me more.”


“You won’t leave?”


“No. Not ever again.”


Kamia breathed a sigh this time, almost of relief. “When I was little, I was forced to work for a private company extracting coltan. I was so young I don’t remember the name. I don’t remember what happened to my parents. I’m trying to find medical assistance because I was raped last night. And our humanitarian response plan is only 38% funded. I live with a host family right now. Election protests were banned and police violently broke them up in Kinshasa. I heard about these women giving birth in the flooding and landslides. I’m scared, Nevaeh, and I don’t know what to do or who cares to help.”


“I don’t know either. But I want to help.” Nevaeh ground her teeth together, acutely aware of the privilege of her innocence. She wondered how, in admiring the strength of other girls like Kamia, she dismissed their girlhood—their right to softness, femininity, and innocence. They needed nurturing, protection, support, and comfort, too. She felt overwhelming gratitude for Ana. Yet Kamia would be criminalized and treated like the adult she both wasn’t and was forced to embody to survive. 


“You have. Listening helps so much.”


“But I want to do more.”

“There are some things you can’t do. But there are many you can. Listen. Don’t look away. Write to people with power. Call them until they answer. Speak up.” 


Nevaeh shivered again. Wait. 


“My aunt used to tell me that shivering meant a new ghost had passed through my body.”


Kamia looked confused. “And?”


“I’ve had chills and shivers since I found this piece of cobalt glass. What if it’s not a ghost, but a soul who needs help.”


Kamia’s cheeks relaxed and she smiled into doughy dimples for the first time since they’d met. “Your name is heaven spelled backwards, isn’t it?”


Nevaeh beamed. “Yeah, it is. And I think I know what that means now.”



(1) Blue Glass

(2) Slow Factory Instagram PostDemocratic Republic of Congo | World | Human Rights Watch & DRC - UN News 2024

(3) What It’s Like to Be an Owl: The Strange Science of Seeing with Sound

(4) Slow Factory Instagram PostDemocratic Republic of Congo | World | Human Rights Watch & DRC - UN News 2024

(5) Congo police disperse banned election protest as opposition cries foul | Reuters

(6) Congo floods forcing some women to give birth ‘in the water’ | UN News




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