If I Could Speak: A Letter From Ciham Ali

Selfa SolomonMarch 25, 202234823 min

Ciham Ali is an American citizen who was kidnapped by the President of Eritrea in 2012. She was born in Los Angeles, California. At the time of her abduction, she was only 15 years old. She has been imprisoned in Eritrea ever since. Nobody has seen or heard from her. This fictional letter is written from her perspective.

For a long time, my mother would visit me. And although I love my father dearly, she knew I was most at home when she was there with me. So I would sit, her on a small stool, and me on the floor between her knees as she combed my hair and twisted it into braids.

 We would speak for hours about nothing and everything. When I laughed I was at my happiest, leaning my head back and seeing you laugh with me. After you finished I’d look in the mirror and notice your smile in the reflection behind me. Your hair was just as black as mine.

The last time you came to see me you told me you had a surprise for me. You reached behind your back and handed me the backpack I’d been begging you to buy me. I opened every zipper and pocket of that bag! And when I finally stopped you promised to buy me the swimming goggles I wanted if I finished 9th grade with the same scores I ended 8th grade with.

But your promise never came true. And none of the other promises you made me in the dreams you visited came true.

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Where I am there are four cement walls and no windows. The low-hanging ceiling is peppered with holes that allow water in when it rains. But I don’t mind because they let the sunlight in when it’s nice outside. On some days, if I am lucky, I can hear the whistle of birds perched on the roof. Everything else is cold—the walls, the floor, and the man outside.

The days have blended together such that I no longer ask the man outside what month it is. One day, though, I made the mistake of asking him for a mirror.

He slid a rusted mirror to me and I gazed downward at it. Streaks of gray, brittle, hair pierced the glass, and the reflection of a woman I did not know greeted me. So I crouched down and held the mirror to my face only to find that the stranger in the mirror was me.

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