The Smile (Story by R.C. Peris)

Marie, an aid worker from France, helped a family walk two miles to fill their buckets with clean water. The water in their home was contaminated.

“Don’t drink it,” Marie told them. “Cholera.” There had already been an outbreak and hundreds had contracted the devastating disease.

The walk to clean water was difficult. Streets and highways had been shredded by bombs. They passed a school, valiantly struggling to continue the education of its students. There were at least a hundred children in there. Marie waved to the teacher who was standing in the doorway greeting each child. The teacher waved back. There was a smile on her face, despite the state that Yemen was in.

Marie continued on holding two buckets. Each adult family member, two women, and a teenage boy carried water buckets as well. Marie was thirsty from the heat and walk. She would be able to drink from the pipe where clean water flowed. It was only a half a mile more. Overhead two jets flew. Marie felt nervous. Jets were not a good sign. They continued streaking through the dull blue sky.

When they reached the water Marie and the family drank and began filling the buckets. As Marie cupped water to her face, an explosion ripped and shook the ground. Marie stumbled. Other aid workers rushed forward. There was silence and then an aid worker from Germany spoke. His voice was firm.

“The Saudis just bombed the school.”

Marie screamed. “Why would they do that?”

The German aid worker, Dieter, shrugged. “The US sold Saudi weapons and the Saudis don’t really know how to use them. I think they meant to hit a Houthi enclave a mile away.”

Marie felt tears forming. She wiped her eyes quickly. All she could remember was the smile on the teacher’s face. A smile that defied the destruction of her country and the destruction of normalcy. Marie knew that smile would haunt her until her death. Marie knew she would never see a braver smile in all her life than the teacher determined to teach amidst chaos. The teacher made a choice to continue on that morning and her choice meant death.

Marie filled the buckets with water. “We must go on,” she told the family. But Marie was already considering ending her work with the aid agency early. She knew she lacked the courage of the teacher and this made her sad and angry. We learn who we are in the face of adversity and Marie was learning she was not as brave as she once thought.


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