This is an older short story I wrote after reading about a similar case that ended, to say the least, poorly. I tried to find the love story in a story rife with hate and I think I managed. Hope you enjoy.
Yousif felt tiny pieces of dust flying past his shoulders as he sat in the dirt. The rocks below him were now satisfactorily arranged; they were now situated to suit his purpose. The little boy stood, to improve his view of the imagined village he now ruled. The wind still blew, constant, but not intrusive.
Shemin watched him from behind a row of rocks where the young girls sometimes played. The size of the rocks hid them so well that they could wade, unobserved and unafraid into the pool of water which had stood for some time in this secret place. Shemin had always dreamed it was magic, a gift from above. This made sense to her, since she rarely had visited the Sea but remembered well that it was not so set apart and lonely as was this body of water. Though now she stood before a sea more vast than the Caspian; a magnificent neighbor to Yousif's grand village of pebbles and sticks.
Shemin's legs were covered with water stopping just below her knee cap. She backed into the water never losing site of Yousif and his village. The cold water, she thought, made it feel as if her legs had vanished from her body and traveled to some other place, free from the burden of her form. She wondered, now and some few times before, if she were to suddenly plunge herself beneath the water, would she too vanish?
The soldiers had come when they were both too young to understand why the adults of the village wanted the soldiers to leave. Yousif even now was envisioning the uniforms and prototypical, manly specters he once followed at the pace and distance of a keen and seasoned observer. They too seemed to be from a magical source; men of mystique and unwavering courage. They carried guns, but this did not give them the courage. What did?
A bottle cap drove through the central road of Yousif's city, steered by the thumb of the Creator.
"Stupid woman!" Yousif shouted for the driver who had stopped for an imagined old woman, congesting the main road as she feebly crossed. Even as youthful as snow, the young boy had the wherewithal to stop himself at this: Why should the woman be slow? Is she not my woman, now? He couldn't answer this question, so he imagined the woman had never existed and returned to his route.
Shemin was brought to attention suddenly at the cry "Stupid woman!" She had heard her grandmother called this before, others as well. She remembered a particular time when she imagined -- must have just imagined -- someone had directed this to her mother as they walked through the streets.
No, she had eventually reasoned, he couldn't have been talking to her mother; her mother never took note of the admonishment. Nor did they ever discuss it. Shemin would grow to learn exactly why her mother had never discussed it, and would eventually come to reason that the man had said this to her mother and every woman at once, no matter where he had cast it.
Her surprise at having heard that phrase amidst the tranquility made her miss a step, but she caught her balance. Locking her knees, her body sprang forward and then tottered to and fro briefly. Long enough, though, was the sound of this in the water that it drew Yousif from his puppeteering of this new world. In the way young children often do, he confused his game with the real world; was someone attacking his city?
"Little girl," said the boy, "I can see your leg!"
She too was lost in the world of her own device. "No you can't! They're in the ocean."
Excited to learn of the ocean, Yousif quickly forgot to command, and became the follower. "Is it a big ocean?"
"Oh yes. And, fresh!"
He stood looking. He couldn't remember seeing a little girl's legs before this. They were much like his he thought. Gentler, maybe, but similar. He scrutinized the thin, wet sticks from their bottommost cloak of dark blue to the white robe she clenched modestly around her thighs. He liked them, he decided.
Rules were nothing either young child knew of or could explain, though they were professional at breaking them. The customs of their tribe had been followed completely as long as they lived, and would do so after they died. As such, the rules would have to exist exclusive from the worlds these two brought into being.
As though expected, Yousif's britches were now pulled very high, marking his thighs to correspond with Shemin's. The cold water thrilled Yousif. A fish swam past his leg. There were no bottle caps or slowly-moving phantom matrons in this world. He liked that.
Shemin's uncle had a cackle which slapped the walls of every building in the village with echo. It did so now, shattering their playworld instantly.
Shemin gasped "I must go!"
"Will you be back?" Yousif was running parallel to her on the opposite branch of a v-formation from the pool.
"Yes, little boy," she stopped. "Will you watch my ocean?"
The next morning the wind was whipping, blades of dust and air. Yousif's village had fallen into the grip of this mighty wind. There were no rock buildings, no stick houses, and no bottle cap cars. He climbed onto one of the stones overlooking the ocean. It now resembled in no way the body of water he'd seen one day before. Instead it looked to him as unimpressive as it actually was; it was but periphery. There was no beauty in it.
Night came ending a day spent imagining himself and the girl swimming as fish through the legs of some mighty master. Her legs, again he thought, were so pleasant.
More nights would pass and the rocks he placed became bigger, the buildings he constructed became real. His interests too grew, right along with him until they and he were proper and trained. He became a young man. The ocean became little more than a memory. The legs of that little girl devolved into little more than an ideal and a secret he would cling to during the hours when the sun seared his weary, torn flesh.
He strolled home from work one evening with the thoughtless gait of cattle, the air growing as cold as it was dark.
"Little boy!" a whisper broke through the darkness.
With no time to process, he replied simply and numbly, as if only vaguely curious "Little girl?"
He ran to the sound. He looked around, unable to see anything but shadow. The girl, now a young woman, grabbed his arm. This was an unusual sensation for them both, as boys and girls do not touch.
"Is my ocean safe?" her voice was soft as he remembered, but severe.
"Yes, I guard it every day. I have lunch there. It's my secret place."
"And, your village?"
"Where have you been?" he said, forgetting what village she meant.
"We traveled to the big Sea. My mother my father and I went with my sisters. Only my mother and I returned."
With naught else to say, he asked. "Was it nice?"
"It wasn't cold like our ocean. My father and his wives were angry with me for wanting to bathe in it."
"Why did you go to the Sea?"
"My sisters and I were to marry." The darkness hid no shame.
"Then you are a wife?"
"No, I am a fugitive. My uncle, the elder, has decided that I must not have respect for my father because I did not want to marry the man he took me to meet at the Sea."
"You know you must marry who your father demands!"
"Please, don't be angry with me, I wanted to come back and play with you."
"I don't play anymore."
"You are angry with me, aren't you?"
He was. "I came back to play with you and you weren't there. You drew me from my village into the water and left me there alone! My neglect has left my village in ruins!" The memory came through rather than to him.
"Little boy," she whispered, battling feebly to stave off tears hidden only from sight. She paused, not for a response, but to regain control of her heaving breaths. "I'm very scared. My mother and I fled in the night. We traveled for years through the unknown desert. She is now an old lady and has little more life remaining." Moments passed as the boy digested this information. He thought the woman and girl were ridiculous to have expected any less from breaking the rules of society. He would have said so, but the girl said first, "Do you remember my legs?"
"No one has seen them since you. Since my birth, only you, my mother, and the fishes have seen my leg. I had always wished that one day we might be…" She had no rights, she knew, to even imagine these things that she had planned to tell him. For years, these criminal thoughts had run through her mind safe from observation, but now they were free. She felt more fear than she had felt since the night she fled with her mother, years ago. The darkness did little but increase her fear.
"I…" the boy wasn't sure what words he sought, though he knew what he wanted to say. The girl having surrendered more villainous words than he could devise gave him the courage to finish. "I would like to touch your leg."
She did not speak but stepped closer.
And, he did.
"Shemin!" a voice slapped the air. Through the black they could see the figure of command they had both learned to fear. Shemin's uncle being a head of the tribe and a man of great size, was generally understood to be as fearsome as an earthquake.
The question danced about Yousif's subconscious mind as to why he grabbed Shemin's hand and began to run with her, but he did. The uncle was now an old man with little mobility. He knew there were followers in his tribe with a vehicle, so he trudged through the village streets slapping each wall with orders.
"Shemin has dishonored herself, her family, and our village! Abdhul, Radjou, bring me your car! We must bring her to pay for her crimes!"
The two could hear the tribesmen rushing to the street. They could hear chaos, excitement, and suddenly a car engine starting. They felt ill immediately.
Years of travel had improved Shemin's endurance tenfold however this made no difference without the benefit of rest from her sojourn. She was tired and frail. Yousif had often wondered how such delicate pieces of stock could support any frame, even one so docile. Now, he saw, they could no longer do so. He snatched her waist to his body with his right arm, running all along. As he lifted her she clung to him as a daughter, frightened tears shoved into the merciful neck of her protector, the beautiful legs bent and clamped around his ribs.
Before him he could see the headlights rounding a corner some thirty yards back. Of course that was quite a jog for a young man carrying a young woman, but he knew it would be no matter for any vehicle to achieve this distance momentarily.
The light cast onto a wall to his left and crept to the right. His path tore off diagonally away from the light but he knew his chances were failing. Once more he looked to the wall, trying to see where his pursuers were. A shadow broke the beams as the brakes released a metallic yelp.
"Stupid old woman!" spat from all sides.Of course, more patient, observant eyes might have seen through the years of travel and torment which had aged Shemin's mother so that she was little more now than a road obstacle. And, a wiser man certainly would have realized the difference between a woman wishing to hurry across the road more than her frail bones would allow and that of a woman who had finally discovered a way to enjoy the dictum of her society. She knew now that since a stupid woman was expected, even tolerated somewhat, she could likely be without blame for her fault, even if it prevented a mob from capturing its prey.
"Where are we?" Shemin asked as Yousif set her down. He was taking off his shirt. She had never allowed herself to acknowledge such, but she had often imagined what this might be like to witness. In the moonlight it was nicer than she had thought it could be.
The wind picked up and her robe danced within the gusts. Yousif was now naked. He grabbed her hand and she was not afraid, though she expected to be.
"We're where they do not know we can be!" he said intently.
She looked and saw the ripples from the wind passing through the reflection of the moonlight on the water. She followed as he stepped into the pool. The engine sounds were coming again.
Her pace quickened to the water as it lifted the robe from her body until she waded completely out of the garb.
Their naked bodies stood distant from their desert world in the arms of their ocean mother Shemin had known once before. The two heads floating above came together, facing.
"Are you ready?" he asked. She removed the remaining cloths from her face. The two locked eyes. The water pushed them even closer. Yousif was weakened by the unimaginable perfection of her face. The skin was so soft looking, the nose was just as his mother's, her eyes held the moonbeams from the water.
He had waited to touch her legs for years and knew the torment that each moment held all too well. He wouldn't feel that again. So, he cupped the back of her neck gently with his left hand and pulled her silk cheek against his gritty face. He couldn't imagine how something could feel so nice. But, he was glad he wouldn't ever have to try to imagine it again. He knew now what pleasure was. He had not spoken of and attempted to define, but had experienced in every sense true beauty. Her smell was washing off and though it was created from work and toil he thought he could wear it as a perfume if he were able. The odor which he knew had come from her pain and strife, and which even she would say was unpleasant, was to him more wonderful than a bank of flowers too magnificent to name.
He breathed her in one last time and pulled her body to his. He freed her sweet cheek from his only so he could enjoy the sight of her once more.Then without need of talk or thought, the two vanished beneath the surface of the water to be where it led them: another world where only their legs had been brave enough to have traveled, a shallow pool of water with no natural claim and no right to be, or perhaps even a secret land where disobedient children became fish and swam away from the village forever. They needed only be certain of this: it led to one another.