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Islands

Graphic by Juliet Nwagu Ume-Ezeoke



If you had asked me earlier this year what I would bring with me on a deserted island, I most likely would’ve chosen a water filtration device, a machete, a flare gun, a tent—staples of survival to advance my chances of lasting through the chilly nights. 

But now, my answer is different. Now I know what it is like to be moored on a deserted island, alone under the violent sun. 

My island is not made of hard earth or sediment; it is soft and made of gray woven cotton. When I cast my gaze around me, no blue waves roll and thrash; my island and I are buoyed by layers of dirt and grass. On this island, I do not fear wild creatures in the night; in their place, I am pestered by persistent mosquitoes.  

All around me, I see people running, kicking balls into goals, sitting in the sunshine, walking dogs. Many of the families around me have their own cotton islands too, some patterned, some plain, which they lay out on the grass and eat sandwiches upon. I see all of them from my gray cotton island, and of course, I see your little island as well. Yours is technically two islands put together to create one multi-patterned cotton patch, laid out meticulously on a square of grass six feet away from mine with nothing and everything hovering in the space between us. 

I suppose if I were truly alone on some unlucky island in the middle of some unfortunate ocean, I would spend my days staring at the waves, surrounded by lifeless survival tools, attempting in vain to conjure up sensations of other human beings—of seeing them, tasting them, holding them, feeling their soft pulses against my skin. 

Here on our cotton islands, I don’t have to struggle in vain to visualize other people, to visualize you, but I do have to undertake the formidable task of imagining what your skin feels like against mine. We never touched before the island days and now it is too late. 

One day, and one day only, we break the rolling waves of grass between us—hands extend, first furtively, then fiercely. In those gentle moments of intertwinement, we are no longer on islands, we are steady on the mainland with not a drop of ocean in sight. The smell of saltwater dissipates, the cawing gulls melt into nothingness, and for one short time that stretches easily into eons, I finally get to experience the feelings that I fruitlessly tried to imagine before this moment. 

At this moment, which ends all too quickly, I realize I would not want a compass or a knife to keep me safe on a desert island. I would simply want your hand to hold.