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I Have a Dream

I Have a Dream
Iona Mandal

Mother used to tuck me in bed every night, folding me up into the depths of the duvet like one of those sushi platters on the ‘best deal’ racks of a superstore. Bedtime for us was somewhat a luxury. A hot mug of some liquid left on the bedside table (of whatever was left in the fridge shoved into the microwave for a minute) that I drank senselessly, but with greed. Then, either a warbling Swahili lullaby I could only half make out the words of, and one of the same three traditional folktales passed down from what seemed like countless generations. The lightbulb usually did not work, flickered like a flame for about a couple odd minutes and then, when saturated, turned off into a void of oblivion. No matter how many times our self-acclaimed next door electrician neighbour popped in, the overhead lighting always seemed to get worse, with each screw of the bulb.

Circumstances were bleak, but my dreams were always vivid. Mother, who had been to nursing school for a few months before colour was worth more than skill, told me that frequent dreams were not a sign of good health. She would chant nonsense phrases into my ears, feed me perplexing spice blends and do anything to stop my dreams. Poundland dream catchers were always her sought after item. It was not even as if I had nightmares either, it was just that my dreams were realer than life itself and that I was always completely aware of them. Scientists called it lucid dreaming, my mother said it was bad luck. I remembered each and every one of my dreams well enough to spill them out into a notepad each morning. And they never grew monotonous. The best way I could describe them was like having a thermal camera for normal vision, heat-sensing eyes, being able to feel all five senses and even a sixth, some would say scarily vivid.

At school, we had been learning about famous activists. Each one of us had to make a poster about our favourite one. I did Martin Luther King, his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech particularly catching my ear. I would play the video on repeat, his distinct voice making my eardrums buzz with an inexplicable clarity, his words like a blunt knife. It was a particularly touchy subject, being practically the only one with melanin in my class. None of the kids would sit next to me at lunch; scrunch up their noses when I opened my lunch box, gagging at the contents of my ‘ethnic’ food.

They say your dreams are nothing but a distorted reflection of your thoughts. That statement made most sense that night as my eyes fell shut. I could hear the speech replaying in my head, like a broken tape recorder. Particularly the last line: “…free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” That line seemed a labyrinth to me. Free? Was I free yet?