Home is not a place

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: November 22, 2017

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Submitted: November 22, 2017

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Chapter 1

Thursday 28th May 2009: My first scar.

Do you like your life? Most people do, though many would beg to differ. I always asked myself whether I liked my life as consciousness would creep in slowly after a good night’s sleep. I was only 9 years old, but I still asked myself this question more or less, within the limits that my little nine year old mind would create of course, yet nevertheless, I would play around with this question backwards and forwards in the comfort of my silk, plump duvet. Everything would always been an evaluation for me. The day began with the ever-philosophical question, “Do I like my life?” but would eventually progress to questions of significantly less importance like, “Do I like this flavour of toothpaste?”, as the day progressed. In case you were wondering, the answer is yes. Or was yes. I did like my life very much back in May 2009 and the following 2 years. Yes, I liked my life. Yes, I liked the way the sunset colours would dance on the high skyscrapers as evening drew in, and the succulent aroma of freshly baked bread from the local bakeries.

It was a good life. It was a great life.

The biggest problem I ever faced back then was whether my socks matched my dress or if I had left my lunchbox at home by accident, or if I would be treated to another trip at my favourite restaurant - a friday tradition.

A typical day was a day like Monday 28th May. The reason I remember this day so vividly was because that’s when I got my first scar. My first scar among many that would become unrecognisable over the years, as I gradually gained more to keep it company on my body. However, still just my first scar. I remember the day being wonderfully routine-like, waking up to my mother’s singing and what followed with it: the smell of fresh Akkawi cheese and pita roasting in the oven. A smile creeped on my face when I saw that my favourite blue ruffled skirt had been picked out for me to wear to school, matching with my light beige blouse. Glancing over at my sister’s bed and finding it empty, I threw my clothes on and ran downstairs. I absent-mindedly placed a lace black bow in my hair as I tied it back and greeted everyone good morning. “Sleep well?” mumbled my father, distracted as his eyes poured over the local newspaper. He was a very intelligent man, my father. He never wore glasses but they would’ve been a vain attempt to distract from the fact he had quite a large head which my mother always joked was because of his stubbornness and unwavering belief that he was, unquestionably, always right. Despite the stubbornness that followed my father’s attitude towards my mother, his eyes would spark brighter as soon as she’d walk into the room, or smile inexplicably when he studied her with the concentration he held not unlike the one for his local newspaper. He loved her and she loved him.

However, that has nothing to do with how I got my first scar. It was a sweltering May afternoon, and I was playing on our old swing set. I loved that swing set. It was old and wooden and worn out but it brought so much joy to my sister and I, as memories of laughter and childish games - which we would soon be deprived of - surrounded it. This particular afternoon, we were laying on the swing set and my sister was pushing me on the swing because I remember I was too lazy to swing myself. She giggled at my lack of effort as she pushed with all her might and the swing went rapidly back and forth, sending me soaring high. Soon, I was impressioned by her infectious laughter and started giggling too, as I soared forward into the blue sky and pulled back into the abundant greenery that was our garden.

Our garden was truly magnificent, with an assortment of trees ranging from thin, delicate willows, to thick, outstanding oaks, all of which outlined every edge, creating a long bushy outline. Exquisite flowers created an array of vibrant colours that decorated the lush greenery and the bushes, giving the garden an added extra of a sweet, earthy fragrance. I’d spend entire afternoons admiring the beauty with just the company of a book and some tea, or a notepad and a set of colouring pencils.

 

A sense of unfamiliarity invades me as I think of simple things such as reading and drawing, unimportant things that have not crossed my mind for years.

 

In said garden is where my first scar did indeed occur, by a flowering patch of crispy white roses where the swing set was. As my sister and I laughed, she mentioned something to me that peaked my curiosity, “You know what Muhammad did in school today? At break time, by the swings?”, she looked round at me from behind the swing expectantly, as if I should’ve witnessed exactly what Muhammad was doing. Quite frankly, I didn’t blame her, us being twins meant that we spent most of our time together and break times at school were always a shared of event.

“No, what did he do now?”, I asked sighing; Muhammad was always up to something and it was never exactly safe. I could hear the smile in her voice as she explained,

“Well, Ali was swinging next to him and he bet Muhammad that Muhammad couldn’t jump off the swing - mid-swing - you know, like at a really high point, and-”

“Let me guess, Muhammad just blindly jumped off with no regard to anyone or anything around him?” I interrupted knowingly - typical Muhammad.

“Yes! He really did! Are you sure you weren’t there?”, she seemed impressed at my accurate recollection of events I didn’t even witness, and to be honest, I was too. This  incited a little inner pride as to how well I knew my friends that I could just predict their next move based on their personality. Back in the days when I still saw my friends. Then, sparked by energetic inspiration, I had an idea that I thought would really have us in stitches. Little did I know, it would actually have me nearing stitches.

I’m really used to getting stitches now and I get increasingly better at ignoring the pain everytime it happens, but I was young and carefree,  wounds were just a casual aspect of my life - always insignificant and just an indication of the end of a successful playtime.

“So he just went like this?” I teased, emphasizing on the last word as I took a great leap forwards with the swing much to my sister’s shock. As my body leaped forward with the swing, I planned to make a precise landing in the honour of mocking Muhammad but actually just ended up falling flat onto the grass. Unbeknownst to my enthusiastic self, my father had been repairing the swing set earlier that week and had left a few tools on the floor, therefore as I extended my hands forwards reflexively to break my fall, I extended them straight into an upright saw. I opened my mouth as the sharp pain seared through me and concentrated on my hand, but no sound came out. It was almost as if all the blood that drained from my face was gushing out of the palm of my hand as the deep gash bled dramatically. I looked up at my sister in frantic panic who mirrored my expression, with her face also paling outstandingly, her brown eyes big and round searched mine for a solution as she was frozen to the spot. It was then that I realised my sister is useless under pressure; she looked to the injured party for a solution to a problem that wasn’t even occurring to her. This frightened staring contest seem to go on for quite a while until the deep cut in my calm demanded my attention as a sharp pang of pain spread through me when I tried to move my hand slightly. I quickly took a sharp breath and mustered all my lung capacity to shout for my mother, who didn’t hear me from all the way out in the garden. Finally, pain induced tears started streaming hot and thick down my face far as a very delayed reaction, sparking some sort of delayed reaction in her too.

“GO!” I shrieked at her, and she was already halfway sprinting towards the house, seeking my mother’s help. I clutched helplessly at my bloody palm and now looking back at it, I wasn’t really scared or in that much pain, just transfixed by the redness that was rapidly spreading around me - on the grass, on my blue skirt, on the saw. I sat there perplexed by the bright red colour, the pain and alarm hardly registering anymore, only the steady dripping of the blood from my palm onto the grass. Blood didn’t really affect me when I finally got used to it on a wound and now I can say I’m more familiar with it than I’d like to be.

“Haya! What did you do?!” My mother snapped me out of my transfixed daydream, scolding me but the frantic state of worry she’s in is crystal clear.

I stared at her, speechless, yet my tears were not dry yet, so I suddenly realised I must have looked a lot more upset than I really was. I muster a mumble of “I’m fine, it’s just a cut,” not looking into her piercing blue eyes, and staring determinedly at the grass. I could feel my mother’s infamous grimace on me that she got when she was weighing up a situation - lips set into a hard, thin line and brow creased slightly into a small frown, and arms crossed, in a judgemental stance. She heaved a long sigh and bent down to scoop me up, “Hubibi,”, she murmured as she looked sympathetically at me, kissing my hair lovingly. “Come inside, we’ll get you cleaned up,” she whispered as her lips lightly brushed my ear. She carried me all the way inside, despite me being a chubby nine year old coming in at thirty-three kilograms, without problem, reassuring me all the way that she’d clean me up well and dinner would be served soon after. After a quick wash and disinfect of my wound, I was good as new and I kissed my mother’s cheek hastily so I could go play and discuss my idiotic incident with my sister. I regret the haste now. Had I known that that would be one of the last times I would see her happy and lively, I would’ve stayed longer, maybe even helped her with the most mundane culinary activities that evening - chopping up vegetables for our dinner or cooking the rice for the Freekeh with chicken. I can still do that today of course, but her clinical depression makes it harder to feel the same kind of catching enthusiasm she had 8 years ago.

 

Chapter 2

Saturday 28th May 2011: Freekeh with chicken

 

Food is great. Food is probably one of the best necessities of life, the best thing that happened to us as human beings. Food not only serves as nutrition for a person, but can either unite entire families in harmony and joy or be the witness to epic disputes. Food never fails to be a suitable activity for when two people go on a date, or are looking for something. Want to update your friend on the latest drama? You both discuss the gossip over some food. Want to impress a girl? Buy her food. Chocolate preferably. Want to do something with that friend you haven’t seen in a long time but is still a good enough friend to share an entire meal? Off to a restaurant you go. Then there’s the nostalgia food brings us. When you taste a certain flavour or a particular type of food you haven’t had for a long time. When the last time you ate that food, you were still wearing brightly coloured mismatched clothes and loved to play with childish things. Food can remind us, make us travel back in time, a trip down the memory or so to speak.

My favourite food used to be Freekeh with chicken. Freekeh is cereal-like grain, that is the centre point of this traditional Syrian dish, the one that reminds me of home. The home I once had, not home now - that shouldn’t be a home to anyone. That’s why I used to love it so much, I associated it with home and instant images of my school friends and my favourite city restaurants would form in my mind. That was home back then. Now, if I so much as smell Freekeh with chicken, my gag reflex has a field day. It makes me associate it with home in Damascus and it’s for sure that vivid images of school friends and my favourite restaurants don’t form in my mind - I would have to know if my school friends were still alive and those restaurants would still have to exist and not be reduced to mere rubble or not have witnessed so much death for that to happen. Nevertheless, eight years ago, this was my favourite dish but I remember the first time it was ruined for me.

The table was quiet with nervous tension, as it always was. It was almost as if our single dinner time reflected the entire country’s attitude. The government and Assad’s men weren’t sufficiently intimidated by the rebels that were even taking to the streets at this point. Many knew it was no use, they were too strong and how can we win against our own government? The same people that run our country? Telling the authorities if something went amiss wasn’t an option because the police were your enemy. Already, there were distant stories heard here and there of horrible acts from the government towards anyone who wasn’t - in their perception - undoubtedly devoted and loyal to the good for nothing president, Mr. Assad.

On the dinner table sat my sister Larissa, my brother Ahmad and my mother. Father was working late and an undercurrent of unspoken worry for my father ran through the table. The government sometimes just stopped cars randomly and searched them, most of the time taking whatever they pleased and showing little mercy to those who stood up to them and we knew father was a stubborn man. We didn’t worry too much though because stubborn as he might be, he isn’t stupid and many people pledged their undying loyalty to the government to keep their life, and we were confident he would be among them.

“Can you pass the dish?”, said Ahmad, interrupting my process of thought. He eyed me worriedly, as if almost guessing what I was giving so much thought to.

“Of course,” I replied sweetly, wanting to keep my voice light and breezy, not allowing it to expose the turmoil of anxious thought in my head. I decided to just focus on my plate of food. My plate of my favourite food. It looked so appetising, it really did distract me from the matter of my father. I stared intently at the succulent minced meat that made random appearances in the risotto-like dish. I remember having poked my food around, much to my mother’s disapproval, because I wanted to appreciate the fluffy texture, and just being genuinely distracted by how my fork bounced off the grain. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my sister smirking at me, at how easily entertained I would become. I decided to stop amusing her and stuck my tongue out at her before shoving a forkful of freekeh in my mouth. I was momentarily distracted by the explosion of flavour that my taste buds were struggling to keep up with - the freekeh’s distinctive nutty taste combined with the minced meat, onion and spices, so I didn’t notice the general shift of atmosphere at the table. Ease diffused around the room as my father arrived home, and made his way to the table. However, when I did eventually look up from my delectable meal, I noticed immediately that something was wrong. My father nearly always shouted some kind of greeting as soon as he got home from work, but this particular day, he walked in silent and with a grave expression ruining his normally happy expression. He looked sickly pale and was sweating excess My mother picked up on it even faster than I did.

“Abdallah, what is it?” She asked quietly, so that only he could hear her clearly. She was clutching him tightly, one shoulder around him, half-crouching, peering into his face, her expression a mixture of curiosity and worry.

“Surely not someone we know?” She prompted bravely, coaxing my father to explain what the matter was. My father said nothing, just looked into empty space with the same expression on his face as when he came in. My mother had had enough of being sympathetic; the silence was obviously killing her.

“Abdallah!” She called, with a tone not unlike the one she used towards my sister and I when we misbehaved.

“It’s Yaseen.” He murmured gruffly with an indication in his voice that he wasn’t elaborating any further anytime soon.

My mother held a hand up to her mouth as she inhaled sharply, and sat back down at the same speed in which she inhaled. They both now wore the exact same expression on their aged faces. The silence in the kitchen was deafening. My brother and sister both exchanged confused looks with me and at that moment, I realised they too were trying to rack their heads for any Yaseen they knew.

Then, all too fast yet all too slow at the same time, it came to me.

“Haya.” I said, my voice wavering. Her face creased into worry as she turned to look at me, having heard the urgency in my voice.

“Haya,”, I repeated, “Yaseen. Yaseen Khan. Muhammad Khan. It’s Muhammad’s father, Haya.” I whispered, watching the horror spread through her and my brother’s face.

I don't know how long we sat like that in the deafening silence; untouched plates of food growing cold and tense, nervous stares exchanged as the news sunk in.

Finally, my mother broke the silence, “Alright, children, eat.”, the stern look told me it wasn't up for discussion so despite my lack of hunger, I started to eat again, as did my my siblings.

“Abdallah,” she turned to my father, her face growing softer and her voice kind, “What happened? What happened to them?”She asked for an explanation, knowing at that moment she had the best chance of getting one. I didn't see it right away, but what my mother did was rather intelligent, otherwise our father might've never told us what happened. She knew that what he must've witnessed must've been so awful, he was completely in another state of mind and if she brought some normality to his surroundings, eg. His children eating at the dinner table, he might snap out of the probable horrific loop of events in his mind. My mother was right.

 

“It was horrible, just horrible, just happened so fast yet so painfully slow at the same time,” and with a wavering voice, he launched into his recollection of events.

Apparently it was a normal day at work, Yaseen and him had decided to stop at a bar for something to eat during their break. An additional shiver ran down my spine when I heard the name “Yaseen” - it reminded me of just how much of a hard time Muhammad must be going through. However, when they had stepped out of the restaurant, they witnessed the ends of a confrontation between a few innocent citizens and a few government soldiers. The innocent citizens were just that - innocent citizens who didn't agree with the government but wouldn't go as far - for their own safety - to identify as rebels, they just didn't want any of it. But that never mattered to them. The victims were not that seriously injured and Yaseen is a doctor, so he of course rushed to the aid of these people. As he was patching them up with my father's help, one of the soldiers turned back, displeased to witness aid finding its way into the innocent people he just struck. Father said that the soldier had almost turned the corner, but the brief backwards glance had him marching straight back. He looked angry, chest heaving and face slightly coloured, face twisted in harsh annoyance.

“What do you think you're doing doctor?”, the soldier hissed,and spat the word doctor out as if it was a disgusting swear word.

Yaseen regarded the soldier calmly and simply replied,”Helping this man and his wife, whom both obviously need medical attention.”

The soldier laughed a hollow laugh, “Doctor, doctor, doctor...people who hesitate to bow down to the great Assad and acknowledge him as their God don't deserve or need the medical attention you are so… expertly giving them.” The soldier tried to appear calm and collected but father said his anger betrayed him and it was evident he was agitated.

Yaseen simply stared at him, but then after a moment, resumed attending to the patient. The soldier stalked over to him, in a predatory manner. Cheetah approaching gazelle. Metaphorically speaking, it wasn’t fair to place Yaseen as the gazelle, as he was a lot smarter and a lot less scared than said delicate creature, but the soldier compensated this unbalance by having a dangerously murderous look in his eye.

“Get up,” the soldier barely whispered as he stood menacingly over Yaseen.

Yaseen took no notice.

“GET UP,” he roared, daring Yaseen to stay where he was, who momentarily winced at the outburst. Slowly and deliberately, Yaseen rose for his eyes to meet the soldier’s with a stony gaze.

“Now bow, bow for Mr.Assad.” The soldier barked the command at him, expecting nothing less than for Yaseen to eagerly comply. He obviously didn’t know Yaseen.

“I bow before none but Allah,” he replied determinedly, my father experiencing nausea as he said this, knowing there was a very high price to pay for such comments and the currency for these kinds of prices wasn’t any sum of money. The soldier’s eyebrows shot up for a millisecond in surprise before he quickly composed himself and despite his drawn out menacing stare, he began to laugh again.

“Look, doctor, you’re pretty useful to the community and I don’t like depriving our good citizens of your services,” he said with an expression that said the opposite and he couldn’t in fact, care less about what happened to the community.

“Bow. Down. Now.” He enunciated each word harshly, his voice dripping with fury.

“No.” replied Yaseen.

“You have a thick skull, doctor, like stone. Stone is impenetrable, some would say. I disagree,” he said absent-mindedly, whilst loading his shotgun. My father immediately turned to Yaseen.

Click. They heard the safety being turned off.

“Yaseen,” my father pled, “you have child, a wife. Think of them, you do not want to do this. You wife, your unborn child. Yaseen please. Just bow down. Please.” My father said he couldn’t stop the tears of begging at this point, and was sobbing in disbelief. He watched Yaseen also begin to cry silently.

Why was he doing this? It wasn’t worth it. He listened raptly as he stared at Yaseen’s wise, aged face speaking in barely more than a whisper.

 

“You can tell my children his father was a stubborn man then.” he laughed shakily. “Please tell my wife, tell her I -” Yaseen’s aged face looked pained until it wasn’t there.

 

There wasn’t a face anymore. Instead, a sea of red full of bony and muscular debris exploded into the air.

 

The red went everywhere, painting the world an endless red for a split second. The hot and thick blood splashed my father in the face, on the chest. It also hit the floor, but with a sound much too heavy that didn’t correspond the simple light splash of blood. Chunks of disfigured, decomposed, slimy pink were splattered across the pavement arbitrarily, revealing the sick, heavy thud concealed in the blood. What used to be his brain marked the pavement with death. All this was happening in slow motion through my father’s eyes. After what seemed an eternity, the decapitated body dropped to floor unceremoniously, limp. The realisation and visualisation that his head had been shot in half and his brains were splattered across the pavement was too much for my father and  he vomited violently into the pool of blood, a concoction of a terrible afternoon he knew he was never forgetting.  The soldier didn’t look like he wanted to forget, he looked transfixed at the tragedy and chaos he’d caused, almost proud. Most probably proud. He turned to my father with an unnervingly calm smile, “A special bullet for a special mind. Well, impenetrable...I had to break that rock that was his stubborn head somehow,” he stared at the mess, amused. “Do I have to ask you to bow down too? Or do you want to lie with your friend?.” My father sank to his knees weakly, immediately, needing no incentive or threat.

Nothing other than sprinting occurred to him, so he got up shakily and sprinted. He heard a loud protest behind him but he had already turned the street corner.

A car roared to life in the distance, banishing all hope of momentary safety. The car however, by a stroke of cosmic luck, turned into the wrong street.

“And here I am now.” My father concluded his story, looking more shaken than when he had commenced it.

 

Chapter 3

Tuesday 28th June, 2011: From bad to worse.

Summer was usually my favourite time of the year. Flowers everywhere, sunshine brightening up the sky, refreshing drinks and summer dishes galore - summer was the single best season for me. However, the summer of 2011, traditions broke. Everything went from bad, to worse. When I said things were ‘bad’, I mean people being taken out of their homes and executed in a line against a wall for mere suspicion of being rebels kind of bad.  Bad enough that people were afraid to do things such as buying groceries or something of the sort. The government had started and were already recruiting young boys from the age of 16, to men over 50 to join the army. The desperation came from the fact that everyone had started to hate the government and resistance had built up amongst those of us who wouldn’t tolerate these beasts. The resistance though obvious was somehow also hushed, people too scared to speak up for fear of themselves and their loved ones getting in harm’s way, yet determined not to give themselves up easily. However, that was angering the government and they were determined to abuse their power to a completely new extreme than the one they had reached before. They were overstepping it already, doing terrible things from pushing people around as they pleased, to shooting them on sight as they pleased with no given excuse. Well an excuse they deemed fit but that's usually an inexcusable act. As the summer went on, more and more murderous acts rose in our wake and the terror in the air was palpable.  Going out to buy potatoes was an event that required maximum safety measurements and rehearsals of what to say should you be caught in the hands of those tyrants. One terrible story I remember clearly from that summer was the one that marked the beginning. The beginning of motion and of flee and escape. The story marked the start because it made us realise that even the families weren't safe and it didn't matter how many children you had, if they thought they had reason in their sick heads to end you,  they would.

This particular day my mother and father had been arguing about my father going to work elsewhere in Saudi Arabia because it was safer that way. My father refused, arguing that he would be too far away. I understood my mother’s concern, however, she was right, he worked everywhere around Syria and travelled a lot around Syria for his job because he was good at it and solicited round the country. She had an inescapable counterargument to my father; maybe in Saudi Arabia he would be far away but at least he would continue to exist. If he stayed, the chance of him getting killed grew everyday. He travelled to other places where the conflict was much worse, because where we lived in Damascus was slightly better than the situation in many other parts of Syria. That morning they had been disputing over this in raised voices which was unusual of my parents so the matter must've been pressing. Secretly, I was hoping my father would stay as selfish as that might seem. It would be perfect if he just stayed and didn't work. But life isn't perfect. Never in my life did I believe that more than when we heard piercing, desperate, wailing screams from outside the window.

“THEY TOOK MY BOYS. THEY TOOK THEM. HOW CAN THIS BE? THIS IS NOT REAL. SOMEONE HELP ME FIND THEM AGAIN.”

A neighbour of ours, a middle aged woman on the old side was wondering hopelessly down the streets in a sprint going everywhere but nowhere. We all rose to the window and as my father made out to go help her, my mother grabbed his arm and held him back as she choked a sob. Another neighbour had already restrained the woman and was calming her down, leading her into their house. We all stood by the window in horrified silence, rooted to the spot, not knowing what to do with ourselves. A loud, urgent rap on the door interrupted our trance of horror. We all jumped and my mother hurried to see who was behind the noise. Unlocking the door, our neighbour Asha bolted in abruptly, fiercely embracing my mother. She seemed shaken, and my mother directed her to a kitchen chair silently in an attempt to calm the poor woman. After what seemed like an eternity of silence, the woman finally spoke up and began telling the story of what she had witnessed. She had gone shopping that day and remembered one of her neighbours had asked her to get something for her since she was going shopping anyway. A bag of sugar. She had happily obliged. The woman who asked was middle aged and plump with a motherly glow radiating from her. That was most probably due to the fact that she was an actual mother to 4 boys, whose fate scared her daily. They were all unfortunately old enough to be recruited - or more accurately put, forced - to join the government army whether they agreed with the politics or not or whether the fight was worth it or not. Whether the guilt would eat them up every night or not. Whether their actions drove them insane or not.

Upon her return with the bag of sugar, much to her surprise, she found the door ajar which was a very strange thing to do these days since danger was around every corner. To not insult her own intelligence further, the surprise quickly blossomed into heavy fear sapping into her veins like lead. Something was horribly wrong. She debated turning her back on the door, sprinting the remaining flights of stairs to her house, bolting her door and locking it tightly and go about her day in reclused ignorance. However, this woman had been a good friend and neighbour to her over many years. She had been an exemplary nanny to her two children who made it to school while Asha had had to work. She had been kind. She deserved better. Come on, Asha. She urged herself forward and that’s when she heard the voices. It was a heated argument.

“These boys look healthy and old enough, they should do, woman. Don’t stand in the way of things you don’t and never possibly understand,” The soldier commanded. The soldier looked menacing and positively brainwashed. His kind face sparked unconditional belief in the saying “appearances can be deceiving”. He was tall, broad shouldered yet far from muscular. His features were plump and kind, with big brown eyes and plump lips, giving him the complexion of a curious eight year old. His dark skin shone in the fractions of light seeping from the blinds. It created an almost peaceful atmosphere in the room that was interrupted by a screeching protest.

“But they cannot go, they will not go, they are my sons and no one else’s.” The woman was already panting as if she’d ran a sprint, with a sheen of sweat breaking across her forehead. Her hands shook and she was swallowing frequently, It was the picture of pity. You could really tell who had the upper hand, as his calm matched her nervousness, like fire to ice, two opposites yet not equal, as one had such an advantage over the other. The soldier had a calculating look about him as he weighed up the situation, regarding everything with unsettling calm despite the desperate sense of fear in the room.

“I have asked you many times but you do not understand. Now, as your punishment for refusing to an order and wasting my time, you will choose for one of your sons to die today or I will shoot them all.” The soldier threatened idly, with no real emotion and wiping his gun absent-mindedly. The woman reflected the storm to his calm. She grew as pale as her skin allowed her and she sank to her knees.

“How… how… how can you ask that of me? They are my children, I love them all the same, I can’t just choose like that.” She begged, in barely more than a whisper. Still, the soldier merely shrugged and asked her to make the decision within the hour. Asha could barely breathe. She was paralysed with fear and therefore harshly rooted to the spot and there was nothing she could do about it. She could only watch. Watch as the hour went by with the mother howling and her children discussing who the soldier should kill. The family could not make a choice and time was running out. Asha almost wanted to run in herself and force them to make a choice but she could not do it. She could not do it for several reasons. One being her inability to move, another being the fact she would be in danger and would probably worsen the situation and the most important one being: How do you choose? Who is anyone to choose who gets to live or die? This is especially hard to determine when it’s your family and you can’t let go of any of them, as they’re all your flesh and blood, all your brothers you’ve grown up with or in the woman’s case, all children you’ve given birth to, cared for and nurtured for many years. “Time’s up.” The two, emotionlessly delivered yet deadly words broke through the room, making everyone stop in their tracks.

“No,” the mother whispered.

“NO,” she bellowed again as the soldier lead the children into the kitchen.

“Against the wall.” He muttered simply, systematically.

“NO, NO, NO,” The mother was screaming her voice raw, tears pooling everywhere as she kicked and screamed and attempted to harm the guard. He hit her with the back of his gun and forced her to stay on the floor.

“See? This is what you have done. We could’ve avoided this. You decided not to comply. This is the punishment.”

Asha clutched the curtain she was holding on to tightly, her knuckles grew white from the tightness and she bit down on the fabric. She was useless to them yet all she could do was watch from behind the living room archway in her original position since she’d heard the argument. The apartment was relatively small, with the living room being the first thing you encounter after a small entrance, yet the living room was connected to the kitchen by the archway she was standing opposite. Here she had a clear view of the situation and a quick journey to the door where she could bolt to safety. If she could move that would be. The guilt ate Asha up as all she could do was watch. Tears rolled silently down her cheeks steadily as the four boys, from the youngest being sixteen to the oldest being 22 lined up against the wall with the ultimate expression of fear on each and every one their faces. Asha was in disbelief. How was this happening? She had watched the youngest, Raj, take his first steps. They had all been there when the moment happened, all the neighbours from the community at his third birthday party. Someone had recorded it with their camera but no one knew where the video had wound up. Many camera companies sell with the idea of “capturing life’s most defining moments”. I’m sure they don’t mean being made to stand against the wall facing your breakdown of your mother amongst your brothers at gunpoint as a defining moment, but that just goes to show how drastically life changed for all of us. Suddenly these were our kind of defining moments. Only different was, in these instances, no one wanted to grab a camera. Everyone wanted to forget and I’m sure Asha thought the same as she heard the first gunshot go off.

 

Bang.

Raj fell lifelessly to the floor as the bullet pierced his chest, then penetrating his heart which stopped as he collapsed on the floor. A scream broke out from the positively deranged mother who looked like she could not cry any more. 1.

 

Bang.

His brother beside him also sank to the floor as the bullet hit his brain. Asha was speechless, thoughtless, practically breathless, she had babysitted all of these children before and watched them grow up. Her mother was wailing a garbled mess of “please” and “no”, seeming like the shots were also affecting her, she was actually tearing chunks of her own hair out now. She seemed weaker and more incoherent every time a shot was fired. 2.

 

The shoulder maintained his arm extended and gun pointed at his next target, yet bent down slightly so he could face the mess that was the mother on the kitchen floor. She was the picture of insanity. Blood was dripping from her mouth as she had bitten her tongue furiously. Her fingernails bled from raking them against everything she could have gotten her bloody hands on. The floor, the chair on which she had left a bloody trail in her wake. Her eyes were bloodshot and red from crying so much and her entire plump frame was shaking uncontrollably.

“You could have stopped this” He whispered into her face, and smiled, giving him the expression of a psychopath. She was umbling yet some more incoherent responses, weakly when her mumble was interrupted by the unforgivable noise that had been haunting that family all afternoon.

 

Bang.

 

Ahmed fell to the floor, a lifeless corpse, shot in the same way his brother Raj had been. A bullet to the heart. The mother was muttering something barely audible, pressing her wet cheek against the cold floor, too lifeless more than anything, she seemed in another world, almost but not quite oblivious to the destruction of her world. 3.

 

Bang.

 

The last of her sons slumped lifelessly to the floor, ending the time period of her being a mother to any surviving children. The thud of the body seemed to retrieve the woman from the escape world she had gone to and she seemed to almost wake up again. She robotically stood up and surveyed her four dead sons against the kitchen wall which had once been white, now was painted and marked with the red of death. The were all slumped against each other on the lowest point of the wall and upon regarding the situation again, she sank desperately to her knees.

“No… no….noooo…” She quietly began to cry, scooping two of her dead boys into her arms, caressing their faces with motherly concern as if trying to cure a small wound. Only this wound was incurable. This wound was a bullet to the heart and it’s almost that as soon as she realised this, she began to really screech and scream again, “NO...NO,NO,NO,NOOOOOOO”, she frantically looked around, a lost deer in a forest fire. A broken ship sailing through a storm on a red, bloody sea of tragedy and despair.  She wasn’t sure what to do with herself, and then suddenly, she got up and sprinted, running as fast as her plump frame would let her, out of the house in a strange adrenaline rush. Asha watched as the blood from the kitchen made its way to the living room passing through her feet where she had dropped the sugar. She stared, in mesmerised shock as the sugar was becoming a crystal mix of red slush. The bag of sugar was no longer white. She stayed rooted to the spot a few seconds but also ran out after her as she saw the soldier out of the corner of her eye, calmly start to leave the house. She didn’t want to be the fifth victim of his gun. Eventually, she found her way to our house and that’s why she was seated at my kitchen, crying and shaking whilst my mother held her and my father’s brow creased deeply in thought. Not long after, she left saying she had to and needed to get back home to her husband and child whom she was desperate to see after having spectated how easily one’s family could be ripped from them in those days. As my mother served up dinner that night, no one was really hungry but it there was an ulterior motive for that dinner. That was the day my father announced he was moving away. He had a job offer in Saudi Arabia and my mother’s and his discussion had led him to believe he should take the job. Everyone agreed and thought it was the safest most best option we had. We wanted to have the best chance at survival, keep our options open unlike our region, which went on lock down.

 

Chapter 4

Friday 24th September, 2011-2012: Lebanon & Turkey and a whole lot of other problems.

 

We were literally trapped.

 

The arrangements had been made. My father was to leave for Saudi Arabia and reach out to the government there. He would inform them of the fact he had a family and he would buy us tickets so we could go and live there with him which was simple enough. We were to wait for said tickets in Lebanon but only for a week, maximum.

 

We Iived there for a year and a half.

 

As my father stood in the doorway, suitcases packed, dressed in his smartest suit, but not wearing any expensive jewellery of course to avoid it getting stolen by soldiers or worse, merely attracting their attention, he looked depressed. I was teary-eyed as I reached out to him.

“Baba.” I embraced him fiercely in a hug, willing myself not to cry and not too hold on too long. Had I known it would be the last time I would hold him for six years (and counting) I simply wouldn't have let him leave or I would've cried a river and held on to him for hours. He looked down at me fondly, also embracing my sister as she gave in and started to weep. My brother remained calm for the sake of everyone and simply smiled proudly at my father, who returned said smile. It was a very touching moment now that I think of it, what I would give now to reenact it is not to be taken lightly. He and my mother kissed briefly and out the door he went without looking back. My mother did not want to dwell on it to much, not to worry us. If it really was only for one week, it shouldn't be reason to get so emotional. However, she wanted to leave her doubt and ours unconfirmed by not giving the matter a lot of importance. She carried on as usual that day, not wanting to give off how worried she was. One week later, her worry stretched out for something else. We were on lockdown. We couldn't attend school,there was no new food or water coming in. We were completely trapped. Why? Because it was “thought” that there were rebels against the government in our region and they had to lock down the city to find them. I remember staying home all of that week. Hours spent shut indoors at home turned into long,unbearable days. People racing to the supermarkets on the first day, rushing to get any food they could set their hands on and racing it back home. The streets deserted in fear of being questioned because the interrogations were now a matter of life and death. Their reason to believe was also a reason to kill. I remember on the fourth day, just being home, sipping mint tea to trick my stomach into some satisfaction, daydreaming of school and chemistry lessons and my classmates. How I loved school and how long I was deprived of it on my journey to safety.

Everyday became a routine of waking up to the same faces that reflected my miserable expression, eating the same long lasting food, a soup to last for days, the bread that slowly became stale, limited bottles of water. No showering, no baths. Tea being a luxury that was slightly necessary to keep our stomachs full. Then, as soon as the city was lifted from the lock down, mother insisted we make our way to lebanon, and after much effort, packing and travelling, we got there. We moved into a refugee compound because our situation was only meant to be temporary and we were fleeing so we were refugees. The first time I associated myself with that term. Now it's all I hear.

A year after we moved there, my mother’s friend went into childbirth. I remember my mother's frantic steps into the living room that morning.

“Priya’s giving birth! I must go to the hospital with her at once!” She announced, as she quickly gathered her things and exited the room. My siblings looked around at each other, amused and cracking a smile at our mother’s stressing as if she was the one giving birth. We heard footsteps run back into the room “Oh, and yes, you need to take care of her children, bye!” and with that exclaimed order, she rushed out of the room again. We were once again amused to find all our smiles had vanished once she mentioned babysitting Priya’s children. They had a very stubborn little boy of around the age of 6.

“We should go,” announced my sister after a while, pointing out that the longer we stayed home, the longer the children were alone.

“It's almost eight o’clock anyway, we won't be allowed out if we wait much longer.” She warned as she got up and reached for her bright blue coat from the coat rack. The coat rack glistened in all its glory when she lifted the coat from its surface; mother had bought new furniture for the house just a week ago and now every piece of furniture shone a little. My mother polished everything to distract herself these days from ironically, herself.  She wasn't doing too well without my father. None of us were.

However, my sister’s comment about the time sparked a little fury in me. It always did when curfew was mentioned. Here in Lebanon, they also supported the Syrian government and weren't having any rebel nonsense, so due to their racist and politically inspired hate towards Syrians, this refugee compound had a curfew for Syrians. And guards. Everywhere. If a Syrian was caught outside their home at 8pm, they would be punished, no question, no explanation.

“Haya!”, my brother snapped his fingers in front of me, snapping me out of my daydream, “Haya, are you alright?” he smirked, watching my daydreaming expression. I realised then I had been staring into the lamp determinedly, with a passionate look of hate on my face. I could feel how angry my expression was. I made a mental note then to not be such an open book. Also, to not get so angry at something I can't change. And to stop hating on the poor lamp.

“Yeah,I'm fine,” I tried to snap shortly, but failed and laughed a little too. My brother looked at me expectantly.

“It's just…” I began, trying to find the right words, “Curfew.” I summed it up in one word and with a quick nod, he showed he understood. He understood that one word accounted for an incredible depth of emotion about many unspoken things but all really going back to the same thing. Us. Our life. The war. Everyone suffering. Conflict. The usual.

My sister and I stepped out first, linking arms in the cold whilst we waited for my brother to lock the door. I smiled a reassuring smile at her and she returned it, but it didn’t really meet her eyes. She was worried just because it was 19:45, and she doubted whether we would reach the house in time. The house barely two minutes away. I rolled my eyes at her in dismay, mock appalled at her behaviour which made her giggle. Our brother finally finished locking up and started walking alongside us.

“You know this girl thought we would be late?” I piped up, smiling at my brother.

“Larissaaaaaa, come on, Larissa,” My brother laughed, shaking his head at her.

“Oh shut up you two, you especially, Ahmad,” she directed her speech at our brother, and explained her thought behind his comment to answer his expression, “don’t even pretend like you didn’t lock the door twice… I saw you,” she declared all haughty, and just like that, we began to laugh with each other one of those rare, beautiful moments you are thankful to get. Just like that, we took our actions of people who live in anxiousness for our father and fear for our future into a source of comedy. Just like that, we felt a little better.

 

“I want milk!” A tiny voice exclaimed. After we had left our coats indoors and started talking to the excited-upon-our-arrival children, the youngest had become demanding as always. The little boy’s curls bounced with him as his chubby frame waddled towrads he kitchen.

“Let me check the fridge,” Larissa winked, making her way into the kitchen. I got up and decided I would go and help her out, so as she walked into kitchen, I got up to follow and appreciated my journey there, as I grown fond of this house. I’d only been there 15 minutes, but already I was inspired by their sense of home. Despite getting a mediocre small-ish house in a compound, they had hung up family photos and drawings made by the children. There was a little childish mess here and there, making the place much more human than those patrolling it for our supposed “safety”. The living room was a smallish rectangle, with a hard wooden floor that had been attempted to be completely covered up by fluffy carpet. However, there were a few awkward bald spots here and there, marring the perfection but the general effect was nice. What little toys the children had, they were scattered across the carpet in a most effortless manner, ready to be played with at a moment’s notice. Overall, the house was pretty clean and had a homely smell to it. I appreciated all this just on the way to get milk - I had learned to be a lot more perceptive, appreciate my surroundings a lot more. You never know when they might crumble before your very eyes.

“COME BACK HERE AHMED” We heard our brother shout into the night, all the way from the kitchen; it was past eight o’clock. I ran into the living room immediately to see what had caused the commotion.

“What is it? Where’s Sanjay?” I looked to my brother asking questions he answered without words, only by running after the little boy into the night. My brother Ahmad was only fifteen, but he looked about twenty. He was very tall and already had a scruffy beard going on, so what happened next was not completely inexcusable but still inexcusable for the most part. My brother had not advanced 50 metres before he was pinned down by about 6 guards.

“HEY!” I screamed, losing all sense of self-preservation, and shrugging out of my sister’s hold, running over to my brother. Thank god my sister had stayed with Sanjay’s eight year old sister, so as to not frighten her by leaving her alone. She stood at the doorway, worried, watching, shouting at me to come back. Thinking back on this, I realise that that wasn’t my most intelligent moment but the adrenaline won. Ignoring her, I sprinted up to the commotion, screaming at them to stop. Two soldiers, very muscular, were holding my brother back, whilst another two were beating him. Throwing punches at his face, his stomach. It seemed surreal to me and I felt as if I was watching a film and it didn’t really hit me until one of the soldier’s fists connected with my brother’s jaw and blood shot out of his mouth as a result.

“HEY!” I repeated, but they merely turned my way for a few seconds and resumed with their leisurely activity of reducing my poor brother to pulp. He would never get this treatment if they knew he was a minor, but they assumed he wasn’t, so that played hugely to his disadvantage. Just as I was about to test out a punch on one of the soldiers despite the cold, raw fear in my veins, a familiar voice brought me to relief and my senses.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” My mother exclaimed. She was being escorted home and saw the commotion.

“What’s wrong with you? That’s my fifteen year old son!” She shouted, outraged. The soldiers said that he looked much older and resumed beating him. I watched in disbelief, mirroring my mother’s expression, only the disbelief quickly disappeared and anger replaced it.

“You know what? I’ve had it up to here with you suck-up Syrian government supporters!” She insulted them all, and with one powerful sentence, they dropped my brother to the ground and turned their attention on her. What was she doing?! I had to pin that down as one of the scariest moments in my life. My mother, a Syrian woman, anti-government, speaking out her opinion in a compound full of muscular, armed Syrian government supporting soldiers. The only thing saving her from her death was maybe their stunned silence and initial shock. Much to my dismay, they quickly recovered from the daring verbal attack my mother had cast upon them. Was she insane? Did she want to die? I stared at her, still in shock, not knowing what to do with myself. Much to my building up anxiety and sickening worry, my mother began to speak. Not about the weather, not about the food.

 

About how much she hated the Syrian government.

 

I never realised my mother had a death wish. She could get killed mid sentence. I wanted to shut her up. I wanted to interrupt her. I couldn’t do anything whatsoever. My voice was gone, and my ability to open my mouth. I had lost it in the same place my mother had lost her reason; somewhere, disappeared, hidden, out of reach. The night falling around us was quite, aside from a few cricket sounds here and there. The sky was dominated by dark blue interrupted by small streaks of light orange and pink, blending into each other. Such a beautiful setting for such an ugly scene.I had shut out her rambling after the first minute, and I had retrieved my brother’s unconscious body from the floor, dragging it to a nearby streetlamp to rest against. My sister was approaching Ahmed and I’s whereabouts by the streetlamp. I shook my head, motioning to go join our mother but she waved it off.

“The soldiers are talking to mama. All 6.” She took in my worried expression, as she pushed her glasses up her nose.

“She’ll be fine, I really think so. If they wanted her dead, they would’ve killed her already,” she flinched slightly at having to mention the possibility of our mother’s death out loud and slung one of my brother’s arms over her shoulder, helping me carry him home.

 

We waited two hours.

 

As soon as we got home, we patched my brother up, watching his cuts, putting plasters, putting some ice on his inflamed forehead and on his bruised shoulder. He thanked us over and over again as we helped him into bed and bid him goodnight. After that, we both had some tea because the events that had unfolded had stolen our appetite, so we just sat at the small kitchen table, waiting. We didn’t really talk. Occasionally, there was a brief discussion on what could be happening and how our brother would heal up, but silence dominated the scene. Our house, despite the new furniture that did admittedly add a little more life to it, didn’t quite feel like home despite our year of and a half of living there. The main part to it being my father was missing, he wasn't there anymore and that took a toll on the family dynamic. Things were slightly quieter now in unspoken worry for when we would see our father again. A little over 11, the front door opened. My mother and not a scratch on her.

“Mama!” We exclaimed in unison like the good twins we were and hugged her in synchronisation.

“My beautiful girls. Sit down. I will tell you everything, I know you want to hear it, I'm sorry you had to wait so long,” she started a long stream of speech as she took off her coat and put it on the coat rack. My sister began making her some tea with such eerie efficiency that when my mother was finished was ready to sit down, a steaming cup of tea was awaiting her.

“Thank you, Hubibi, she smiled gratefully at my sister who took her hand and sat down next to her.

“So tell us, mama,what happened?” my sister prompted, and my mother began to tell us the entire story.

Soon after we had left, she had stopped talking and everyone had raised their weapon at her. The fact that they were going to shoot her was clear to her as day, but she still pretended to be surprised when they drew their weapons. However, before she even got a chance to protest or beg, the leader told his men to stand down, and not shoot. Ignoring the surprised looks, he told my mother to go to the office,the security guard office so they could discuss the matter.

“Long story short… we have to leave Lebanon, it’s the best outcome, trust me.They were going to all shoot me had it not been for the team Leader who took me aside and said that he understand everyone has different political opinions, but that I should leave and never come back. If they ever saw me again, they would shoot on sight.” I was surprised at the news but not too stressed. It seemed like a step forward, closer to being with our father perhaps and I was grateful for the safety of my mother.

“In 48 hours.” I spat out my scalding tea everywhere.


 

Chapter 5

Wednesday 15th March, 2013: Bigger turkey problems

 

The next day we were gone. After my mum had announced we had 48 hours, we packed up the house in no time. Mother had arranged a last fee last minute calls with a man in turkey who was willing to give up his house for rent so my mother payed him 3,500 dollars so we could stay there. We didn't know what the house was like but it was a roof to sleep under with available food and water, we must not and would not complain about it.  We had left abruptly, leaving all our furniture behind and mother had said to “pack everything we need in a bag, and leave”.

We wanted our father in Turkey but we knew no one would hire him. My father didn't speak the language and that would limit his job options a lot to the ones he can't do because he's in his 50s. As much as we wanted our father, we couldn't run that risk as he's our main source of income and we would be left with nothing if he didn't have a job. We applied for a passport from there, basic things to be able to visit my father in Saudi Arabia,but despite living in Turkey for three years, we received nothing and the years without seeing my father grew more and more over time, just like that, just as easily.

 

However, for the three years we were there, we spent most of it ending back at a compound. The first house we had payed for and had been promised had never had an actual contract drawn to it, so when my mother arrived and went to claim the house,the man ordered my mother out of his house, but eventually he reluctantly acknowledged she had paid a large sum for it. However, he did his job well pushing us out. Banging on our windows at night, stalking the house as he pleased, entering like he still lived there in the middle of the night. One time, he started banging on the walls and screaming during the night and my mother the next day packed our bags and we were out marching to a compound.

“At least there's security there,” my mother had said, trying to point out a bright side to the situation of getting scammed out of a house because of a screaming owner at 2am.

“Yes… that's important… I see that now,” my sister said so bluntly it sounded like a joke.

I burst out laughing and three pairs of eyes regarded me as if though I was mad.

Maybe I was. Everything was driving me insane. Move here, more there, can't live here, can't live there, you're syrian, get treated different, you're a woman, even worse. Once we had settled into our compound house, my mother announced something that made me question her logic. One Sunday afternoon or Wednesday,  I don't remember now. Without school to mark the days, they had all just blurred into one unrecognisable, lazy mess that was my life.

 

“I'm going to get our furniture and ship it back here” my mother announced as if the new furniture she bought over there mostly in a second hand shop was part of the family. After that, there was no arguing with her, if she was going, she was going. We gave her space and agreed that we would look after each other while she was gone but what she encountered coming back was no easy feat.

I remember the day she came back, looking a little shaken and it didn't look due to standard aeroplane dizziness or sickness or anything of the sort. She looked the kind of pale we see all around us today. The suffering in silence kind of pale.

As soon as she got back, she sat down at the small kitchen table which had become the centre point of tragedy in that house and began to tell her story.

She had made it fine across the border, done everything she needed to but upon returning faced a few big issues. My mother had received a mark on her name and was wanted by the syrian government apparently. I slammed my hand down on the table when I heard this ludicrous information. Really? Is that what they have sunk to? That level of paranoia? That a middle aged woman returning furniture to another place was supposedly a rebel mastermind? I calmed down significantly once she told me the reason, which was the fact that she had helped out once at a refugee camp and that helping Syrian refugee camps had been banned by the Syrian government in case they were helping rebels survive and cause more “destruction” which we all knew was code for them wanting to be as inhumane as possible to them to show others how little mercy rebels received.

The little star next to her name meant that if she was intercepted at any airport by a Syrian government official and they saw her documents and her name being starred, she would immediately be deported back to Syria without argument to be tortured or killed unquestionably. Sometimes tortured, then killed. Unfortunately for my mother, it just so happened a Syrian official did decide to check her documents and found that her name most certainly had a star next to it. My mother’s heart sank to her stomach when the realisation hit her. She was to be deported. Killed or tortured. Her children and husband far from her reach. She felt the blood rush out of her face and her voice come in barely more than a whisper, “Please, I have my children in Turkey. They will be alone, what will they do? What will I do?” She started raising her voice and hysterically crying as she realised that this was it for her despite all the horror she'd lived through and all the people around her that had faced much worse fate. That held a comforting thought, the fact she was not the worst one off yet, she wouldn't have to watch her children die or her best friend blow up to smithereens before her very eyes. The man on duty regarded her pitifully. I wonder if his reasoning would've been as comical as I guess to this very day that it might've been. Would he have thought that yes, he's a Syrian government soldier that is capable of killing children and torturing people but he's not a monster? Would he have felt pity for my mother and used that to feel good about himself for that day? To justify all the other times he's left destruction, horror and tragedy in his wake? I won't ever know, but I've placed a pretty safe bet. How ironic because nothing I do is completely safe anymore. Nevertheless, I thank whatever logic it is that inspired him because that meant my mother is still alive today. He helped her board the plane to turkey undetected and didn't call her out. However, he was not the only one on duty, and someone noticed what happened and approached the soldier asking what he had done and why that syrian woman was on the plane. The flight was even delayed. They stormed in, searching people, checking documents. My mother sank low in her seat and tried to hide it out. She heard the commotion around her with her heartbeat in her ears. Feet stomping, papers rustling, all the noises around her but the only noise she registered was the uncontrollable one of her nervous heart. She hoped it would be over soon. That they would find her or that she would remain hidden and not face a torturous fate but most of all, instead, she just wanted to face a fate. The seconds were ticking painfully by. Thumping footsteps, thumping heart. Eventually, after the world had reduced itself to mainly a blur of noises and commotion, she lifted her head when a hand aligned with her eyesight. She looked up to find a kind-faced woman, hand extended to help her up into her seat. She surveyed the scene about her. Calamity and commotion turned to silence and relaxed movements from the people around her. This was an ordinary plane and there was nothing wrong. A man sneezed and she turned to stare at him, perplexed. Hadn’t he been questioned just a second ago? About whether he knew her? She decided to sit back down, avoiding the growing pairs of eyes that were drifted towards her direction. Everyone resumed with their usual chatter. The commercial plane was starting to seem stereotypical again which caused huge relief to everyone. Babies crying, children playing loudly, a middle aged man snoring, a couple eating.

They hadn’t found her.

The plane started to accelerate and slowly rose into the clouds, touching and passing through the fluffy white material,

To blend in with the normality, she took out her phone. That was a very usual thing to do, she reminded herself. She didn’t want people to think she was the reason for the commotion, exposure would only upset her further. She swiped on her phone, which had no passcode and she was straight away staring at one of her group chats. She had left her unlocked phone on a group chat. With friends. Where they criticised the president and his followers in their rule of tyranny. She felt her face pale and her mouth grow unhealthily dry.

The only thing that had been separating her from definite, instant death if a soldier had decided to review her phone was a single swipe. She made a mental note to wipe the chat and make a passcode. She swallowed hard and exhaled deeply. There had been one swipe between her and death.

 

Chapter 6

Wednesday 15th March, 2013: Death road

 

“I simply won't have it!” My mother exclaimed, bringing her ring hand with a harsh slap down on the table.

Are there things you simply wouldn't have? Like people being rude to waiters, people who claim they don't like Nutella,  people who aren't nice to animals. Pineapple on pizza. Let's try a broader, more significantly selfless outlook.  What about world hunger? Will you simply not have world hunger? Will you simply not have world poverty? These are all questions that when placed on a smaller, more selfless scale they are easier to think about. It's much easier to come up with a solution to “Will you not have someone put pineapple on your pizza?” than “What will you do about world hunger?”. However,  I remember that frosty, dewy morning, for the first time in my life, I heard this theory proved wrong. An extremely selfless question was being thrown around and both candidates in the argument were making their case for it. My mother and my brother. We didn't cure world hunger of anything of the sort, we cured our own little existential issues which we were sure enough happening to anyone in the neighbourhood. Before presenting my memory of the ground-shaking argument,  there's something to know first. A little background theory about the argument.

We needed to leave and it needed to be done soon. We needed to leave those aggressive guards, we needed to leave that place that brought only discrimination and homesickness. Homesickness for our real home before the war, that is,not the unrecognizable mix of rubble, dirt and casualties and debris, the residue of unforgivable violence. We needed to leave that place and we weren't sure how. There was a man in that neighbourhood,  we had heard word of, that could arrange for a family to make it out of Turkey into a country that was much safer such as Greece, for example. However, as there always is, there was a catch. In order to be able to supply us with fake passports and a way out, which he was genuinely trying to help, he had to have one of the family members go in a boat to greece. One member would have to stay behind and go with 63 (or more) other people on the boat. Naturally, the voices being raised uncharacteristically loud at my house must’ve scared off a cat or two, or even guards.

“I forbid it! You are young! I am old! If anything goes wrong, I need you to be capable to take care of your sisters! You have your whole life ahead of you, don’t you understand that?” my mother was shrieking, something I’d never seen her do before. Her hair, out of her hijab, was glossy and black but had become more displaced and messier with every rigorous movement of anger.

 

“Mama, you will care for them much better than me, they need you more than they need me. Please mama.” He begged quietly, not making eye contact, for even in the face of conflict, my brother would not disrespect my mother or race his voice at her, his inner timidly respectful child shone outwardly in his behaviour.

 

My mother sighed heavily, automatically making her significant older than her years. She pulled up a small, plastic kitchen chair and sat herself down.

“As you wish,” she sighed, running her hands soothingly through her own hair almost as if to pacify herself when no one else would, a hopeless mother at crossroads, no one but her children to understand her viewpoint and even then, all they did was oppose it. Not understand well enough to stop them sacrificing themselves for her. She gave up tiredly, not wishing to discuss this anymore, knowing it was useless.

 

“But I will get you a greek passport and I don’t care what I have to do to get it.” That day, despite our many protests,my mother got up and left. She hastily put on some outing clothes and left like it was nothing, leaving three dumbfounded children behind. There was no telling what she would face even getting out of the compound, let alone whatever was out there. We realised then, my siblings and I, we had pushed our mother too far. Whether it was her pride or her sacred need to care for us, it had driven her out to do god knows what. The guilt creeped in unwelcomingly, bounding us down to our chairs around the table. The guilt heavily seeped from our hearts to our limbs like lead, which we spread on the table, not to be relieved as there was no justification for what we had done. I don’t know how long we spent with our heads on the table, burrowed in the enclosing safety of our arms, shielding ourselves from reality.

 


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