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Fiction in response to Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
September 2018

The Girl in the Storybook

By Caroline Sun

dear diary,


i found a book yesterday, lying in the trash heap outside our village. it was unlike any other book i had ever read or seen. why anyone would throw it away, i could not imagine! the cover was hard, smooth and shiny like the dark surface of a depthless lake. the figures depicted in bright, vivid color smiled up at me, cheerful faces warm and inviting.


but this book wasn’t special just because of its beautiful appearance. (my bibi always told me never to judge a book by its cover!) as i opened the book, my fingers brushing the pages as one might caress a wounded moth, i found the true magic of the book. within its crisp, cloud-white pages, there lived a girl. she was a lot like me, young and stubborn (as my bibi points out every chance she has).


except she was not like me at all.


she had long hair the color of autumn sunlight, eyes bluer than a summer sky. her skin was the delicate shade of frost in the winter, pale and soft. she lived in a house. no, not the kind of house you and i live in! it was a grand, grand house, with walls made of concrete instead of dried mud and a solid roof that actually kept the rain out.


everyday, the girl would ride in this machine called a car, that can travel five times as fast as the fastest horse. her baba would take her in this machine across long strips of black ground, where there were other cars, and she would go to… school?


at school, she would sit in a room with hundreds of books such as this one and just read. (bibi says no education is better than the one nature holds, but i can’t help feeling envious…) occasionally a mwalimu, a teacher, would come in and speak, but no one came in to yell at her to go work in the fields, or to go fetch water.


when the girl became sick, her baba took her in their car to this house called a hospital, where nice men in white capes would cure her illness. they gave her magic beans (that were called pills), and told her to eat them whenever she felt sick.


i told my bibi about the magic beans, but she just laughed and told me to watch what i believe. still, i wish we had one of those hospital houses around here, or even some magic beans; my bibi has been coughing so much lately. oh, i love her so much. i worry about her.

* * *


dear diary,


they said she died because they didn’t get here in time. they said... they said she could have been saved. if only we had found out earlier, if only they had treated it, if only they had gotten here faster. there were so many possibilities, so many ways this could have ended differently, so many things i still wanted to say to her.

if only i was that girl from the story with skin like ice, if only we had the cars and the phones and the magic beans from the hospital. if only the world described in that book — oh, that beautiful, beautiful book — could be true. if only it weren’t so unimaginable, so unbelievable, so… unreachable. maybe i could have said goodbye to her.

maybe my bibi could still be alive.

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