She Smiles

Her.

Do you see that woman over there, in the field? No, not the one who’s collecting flowers in a woven basket, and no, not the one who’s chatting with her friends. She’s over there, by the tree.

The one who who’s all alone. The one who’s just sitting there, staring up at the sky. The one with the smile on her face.

Yes, that’s her.

She looks strange, doncha’ think? Wearing those odd blue clothes. She’s from one of the Water Tribes, I bet. Just look at her dark skin.

I’ve also heard that she can bend. I remember someone saying they saw her at the river once, catching fish by trapping them in a “bubble of water”. Not sure if I should believe it…but she looks like the bending type to me, for some reason.

She doesn’t talk much, that one. Not to anyone in our village, anyway. Rumor has it that she just showed up here one day, bruised and bloody with burn marks all over her arms, babbling something fierce. They asked her what happened, where she came from, if anyone was with her…but all they could understand of her gibberish was “All gone, all gone!”

Been here ever since. Not coming, not going…just here. Like the wind, almost. Always around, even though we don’t take the time to notice until she’s already moved on.

Most of her days, she just sits in that field, staring at the sky, wearing a smile. Such a pretty smile she has.

They used to say that she was no one special. A victim of war, of the ruthless Fire Nation. Maybe some poor soul who had lost her family and nowhere left to go.

Lately, though, some stories have been going around. People are talking left and right, brimming with new information and supposed secrets. You can’t be sure who to believe these days, so I just try and listen to everyone. Gossip’s easier to follow that way.

She knew the Avatar, they saw. She was his friend, even. Exciting, isn’t it? Someone who was actually friends with THE AVATAR is in our village!

…but it’s still just a rumor, of course.

Anyway, it’s said that they traveled together. Went on grand adventures and all. They may have even been in love, according to one woman.
That’s when the story gets strange, though. One night, they were going to bed at their camp, just like all the other nights before it. Nothing out of the ordinary.

When she woke up the next morning…he was gone. Up and vanished. One of the oddest things you’ve ever heard, eh? But that’s what’s been going around this village.

Maybe he was captured by someone. Maybe something had led him away. Maybe he just felt like he had to have some time alone.

…maybe he abandoned her.

No one knows for sure. Except for her, of course.

I wanted to ask. Really, I did. I even nearly tapped her on the shoulder. But…I just couldn’t do it. She wore such a content smile, such a warm smile…I didn’t want to erase it from her face with painful memories.

The other day, I heard something else, walking back from buying groceries.

Word has it that she had a brother as well. Older than her, but not by much. He traveled with her and the Avatar as well. I gathered that he couldn’t bend, though. Wonder if he was a warrior or something? After all, sometimes I see her carrying around a boomerang that I doubt is hers. Benders have no need for weapons.

A terrible fate befell him, though. Killed in a Fire Nation attack is the most reliable explanation these days. Some say he was trying to protect her and ended up falling prey to a firebender’s deadly flames. Others say that he was murdered by the exiled Fire Nation prince himself right before her very eyes, as punishment for being in association with the Avatar.

I doubt anyone is completely sure of their words, though. All that’s clearly known is that he has left this earth for the Spirit World. Bless his soul.

I could practically feel my heart aching as this new piece of information. My own brother was sent to war two years ago, and not a day goes by that I don’t pray for his well-being. If he died…I’m not sure if I could go on.

As I passed that field on my way home, I felt the urge to talk to her swelling inside of me once again. I wanted her to know that I felt her loss, that I UNDERSTOOD.

But once again, I hesitated.

That smile…I fear it will start to haunt me in my sleep.
But I still do not want to disturb it. I do not want to get rid of it. For her sake.

Oh, and did I mention that she had a pet? The cutest little lemur that you’ve ever seen! It always used to keep her company in the field, and she would rub its belly soothingly. I remember being glad that she at least had SOMEONE to fill her days with.

A few months ago, it died. Food poisoning the cause, I believe. She buried it over by the river, in a secluded little area.

And yet, still she smiled.

I think I’m finally starting to understand just why she does it.

I used to believe that she always smiled because she had managed to forget all of the horrible events that had occurred in her life. I thought she had buried it deep within and that my selfish questions would only resurface her pain.

But now, I think she smiles because…

It’s all she has left.

The Avatar…missing. Her brother…murdered. Her pet…dead.

What else can she hold onto?

So she wears her smile. She keeps it on her face and doesn’t allow it to stray, even for a second. It’s her last true possession. The only thing she can’t lose.

The only thing no one can take away from her.

The morning, a woman ran into the village, a grin on her face and her mouth spewing words of excitement all over the place.

She had spoken to her. Not alot, but…enough.

Her name is Katara, and today is the beginning of her sixteenth year.

So please, do me a favor, and just leave her be. Don’t pester her relentlessly with questions about everything I’ve told you today, and please don’t try to disrupt her peace with needless nagging and spying.
Consider this for a moment, and maybe you will understand.

Everyone she holds dear is gone. No place in the world could ever feel the gap that has been created within her heart. There is not even a shred of hope left in her life.

And yet…still, she smiles.

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