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posted Feb 25, 2016, 4:33 AM by Noa Shmueli

As I woke up that morning, I could sense that everything was different, just like my father had told me - with that wistful look in his steady eyes. Birds seemed to chirp louder, more melodious and the younger children seemed mere dwarfs, scurrying along to escape their mothers’ sharp slaps and scoldings. I knew that turning eight - a real man now - brought on many more responsibilities and duties, yet I felt a deep gratitude and joy at making it this far.

Today, instead of joining the long line of women and children at the water hole, I skipped along the well-worn paths with my father. His whole body seemed to glow with anticipation, and there was a hungry - no, a starving - danger in his eyes I had never seen before. If I was expecting a breakthrough, a speech of some sort, I was disappointed. My father had always been silent yet warm towards me, and this characteristic shone through even more as we walked, him a mere but constant step ahead of me.

My bare foot arched around a sharp, slate-grey pebble and I cried out in pain, hopping around in agony. My father said not a word, but continued on his way, shooting me a disapproving glance, and I understood - being an adult also meant I could not show my emotions and pain.

As the days wore on and the flowers of the spring shriveled and cowered before the summer heat, our journey became arduous yet routine. Everything that was needed to be communicated was through actions - a slight incline of the head; a slouched shoulder; even a slight twitch of an eyebrow. I learned to read these unspoken signs, and imitate them.

Meanwhile, the heat only intensified. The suffocating air shimmered like the haze above a sweltering campfire - man and beast and ground parched and lustless, depressed trees shaking off their leaves in annoyance and seeking relief in a non-existent breeze. But we never rested. The forest awaited us.