The roots of the Ombu tree sprawled out like giant hands over the terrain—growing in knots and spiraling around one another until they were as wide as the trunk itself. The entire thing looked like it had been wrung out, the bark rippling and twisting as if it had once been made of flesh. It tore from the ground on webbed feet, jutting into the horizon like the sloping back of a dancer, and the thick branches hung low, leaves trailing the ground as if the wind was spelling its name.
Diego watched as Liliana disappeared within the branches, catching glints of her as she slid between the leaves—their velvet skins fluttering against her own.
“It’s like the whole world’s upside down,” she said.
Her voice flitted amongst the rustling leaves and Diego followed it, winding through trembling vines and over mangled roots until he peeled her blush form from the dark jade of the landscape. His fingers slipped through the branches, parting them until he could see her. And at the sound of his steps, shoes slipping over the exposed roots, she turned, Diego’s face inches from her lips.
She leaned in, wind spiraling her hair into a tangle between them. “Play for me?”
Diego slung his guitar over his back and they climbed to a high branch so thick that Liliana could sit on it with her legs crossed. Diego plucked a few strings, adjusting the sound by ear before giving it shape. Then a low thrum unfurled against the wind, the cadence wrangling with it until every other sound grew faint and Diego began to strum.
And introducing Lilliana’s mother, Isabella:
My foot skirts across the slick floor, ankle twisting as one of the men pulls me upright by the arm and drags me forward. It throbs, a sharp pain cutting up into my calf and past my knee. I feel the blindfold sinking against my lashes, sticking to the moisture there and I set my jaw. I stumble against a step as I’m led outside, the wind so fierce as it shudders against me and I almost lose my balance again but then I feel the steel door beneath my feet and I follow the incline into the back of the truck. I’m pushed down, someone’s palm leading my head through a narrow space and I feel my skin grate across something rough and jagged like wood—something warm trailing down my arm. Something passes over me, a shadow bleeding across the blindfold and then I hear the low ding of a hammer and the walls of the crate tremble against my skin.