Peer Review by yapyapxy (Singapore)

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In The Eye Of The Storm

By: Mia Tan

PROMPT: Open Prompt

The sun’s glaring blaze faltered, blocked by dark clouds engulfing the bright sky. Blustering winds howled in my ears whilst manipulating the water to forcefully strike the boat’s outer shell. I watched as white foam sprayed onto my calloused hands, salt seeping into my pores. I could feel the boat lurching side to side, shoving me against the countless people packed into the vessel. I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to feel anymore.

My hand slowly trailed the edges of the boat. I fingered the deep crevices and dents hidden between planks of plywood; planks of plywood that I had spent hours shaping and nurturing like a parent, taking care of their child. Beneath the newly collected layers of salt and grime, traces of familiar earthy scents could still be recognised. I could remember my workroom, filled with freshly-cut wood, sanding machines and gallons of shiny lacquer, all these overpowering smells permeating my nostrils. Before, bad odours had been the worst of my problems but now, I had been confronted with my two greatest fears–war and death. I sighed heavily. Months of work had gone into creating this beauty and yet, I hated it. It no longer served a purpose, now that Izhan was gone. 

Izhan. Misery and sorrow reached out their unassailable limbs, hands wrapping around my neck as I gasped for air. It hurt to even think of his name. Mighty fists pummelled into my shaken carcass, drenching the life out of me, yanking blood and tears out of my eyes and ears. Then head. Body. My breathing was ragged. I was hyperventilating but the air was gone. No trace of it in sight. Vanished. Taken. Silent tears streamed down my face.

Flashes of his sun-speckled cheeks and bright blue joyous eyes appeared in my mind’s eye, scorning my attempts to erase everything. I remembered us running, together, in the flowering fields—a smile the size of the sun on his face. Blue skies loomed above us as he challenged me to a race. I would always feign a sore leg or ageing back as his unrelentless begging for my attention was the best thing in the world. His laugh rang in my ears and I grabbed them forcefully, shrieking in pure agony. My precious son.

    My dearest Izhan,

    I can still remember the fear I felt before you were born. Constant thoughts bounced around in my mind. Would I be a good father? Would you look up to me?  Will I be good enough for you?. 

    When you were born, all of that was forgotten. I clutched your mother’s hands as we saw your perfect face for the first time. In this moment, my life had become irrelevant. Now, it was all about you. I was not tied to the Earth any more. Izhan, you, you had become my gravity—— 

I couldn’t. 

“Adel-jan, don’t cry,”  she looked at me with sympathy and pity. “It will be okay. You just have to hold on a little longer. We’re nearly there.”

My eyes fluttered open and I looked into Mama Aiya’s deep pupils. She placed her withered fingers onto my cheeks and brushed the tears off my face. Her hands reached for mine and she squeezed them, trying to comfort me.

A deafening clap of thunder bellowed into the atmosphere, interrupting everyone’s chatter. As droplets of rain started to fall, silence-filled fear pierced the hopeful crowd—a refugee’s worst fear was a storm. Suddenly, babies were wailing, parents tearing. Prayers could be heard, scattered through a cacophony of panic. 

Mama Aiya and I watched, frozen.

I felt a tug on my foot and I looked down. My eyes met with a young girl’s. She brought her delicate hands to her face and hid behind them.

“Peek-a-boo!” she shouted, shaking with laughter. Her smile widened, innocently. Amidst all of this chaos, she had escaped from her parents so she could have some fun. “Peek-a-boo!!” she laughed again.

I stared at her blankly, seeing right through her youthful mannerisms. As she continued to laugh and shout, Mama Aiya brought her hands up in front of her face to play with the little girl. 

“Nadia!” two parents called out across the deck. The little girl turned away from us and ran in the direction of the sound. 
I clasped my hands toge—gasps filled the air, frightened eyes set on objects behind me. Life was in slow motion as I swung my head around, my eyes meeting with a tall wave that towered above us all. I watched as the wave slowed and then suddenly, I was thrown into the water.

Trapped under the surface of the boat, engulfed in the water, air escaped my lungs. I released, letting my body follow the motion of the current, not caring to take another breath. I had nothing to live for anymore. Izhan, my beautiful son, was gone. Dead. He. Was. Dead. My salty tears merged with the salty water.

I opened my eyes.

The young girl that Mama Aiya had played with before was thrashing in the water. I looked at her, short legs failing to help her get another gulp of air. My ears began to ring. I looked at her and I could hear Izhan screaming for my help. My head swung around, trying to find him around me but he wasn’t there. I looked at the girl again. The shrieking grew louder.
Without thinking, my legs began to kick—powerful strokes commanding the waters. My arms strained against the mighty tides but I had to help her. I had to save Nadia. 

My arms gripped hers and I lifted her above me. “Breathe. Breathe! You have to breathe.” I thought. There was no movement. “Come on!!! Please.” My body was shaking now, tears streaming from my face. She had to breathe. Breathe for her parents, breathe for me, breathe for Izhan.

Something twitched above me and I looked up at Nadia. I could see her chest heaving up and down, up and down. Relief washed over me. Nadia coughed and looked down at me beneath the surface, lifting her up. Her eyes began to water, gratitude towards me so great. She reached for my hand and squeezed it and for the first time since Izhan had left me, a smile overcame my face.

Message to Readers

I wrote this piece for my recent creative writing English assessment and would greatly appreciate some further feedback regarding development opportunities. Thank you so much.

Peer Review

A refugee at sea is deeply in grief mourning his son when he finds meaning in life again through a storm.

The potential for the depth of emotions

It was unclear that the protagonist was a father and refugee until some time in - I feel that you can play with the themes of "home" contrasted with being afloat at sea indefinitely as you open the scene. The relationship with Izhan can also be further contextualised so we empathise more with the protagonist - how they hoped to reach a safe place, maybe, or how Izhan died and what reminds the protagonist of how his son died.

I'm really curious about the relationship between Izhan and Adel-jan too: how old was Izhan when he died, where was their mother, and how their relationship changed if they hadn't been refugees when Izhan was born.

It might just be me, but I thought that since you've made Adel-jan the maker of the boat, you could insert throughout the piece about the meaning of the boat - what it meant to him as a refugee, for instance, or about how his previous identity redefined his identity as a refugee (maybe the others look to him for strength since he has the means to help them escape and now feel sorry for him who has now seemingly lost his strength).

Reviewer Comments

I really like the premise of this story because I feel like we don't read enough about refugees who might not have the chance to voice out their stories. You have some really nice turn of phrases that I would love to see throughout the piece! :)

On the whole, the narrative is quite clear, but I think more specificity can add to the engagement of this piece. Don't be afraid to add details! Gritty and grisly details will make the scene more real and engaging. Go really deep and imagine as though you are there at sea on the ship - what would you notice? What would you, as Izhan's father, think of? What would you as a refugee feel and desire? What the one thing that is driving him on? Knowing your character can add depth to the descriptions and their thoughts!

I think it would be interesting to drop vague details of how Izhan died - and what reminds the protagonist of his death. It would give us a glimpse of the added pain and suffering and cause the reader to sympathise more with Adel-jan.

One last suggestion would be to spend a little more time shaping the characters emotionally and physically, so as to make them seem more real and significant. Mama Aiya feels a little convenient for me now haha so I'd love to understand more about their relationship dynamics and who she is - did she know Izhan, for instance? How close were they?

All in all, commendable effort!! I hope you do well on your assessment hehe and all the best in your future writing endeavours!

Xin Yi