A woman and her children struggling to survive in the midst of war.

At dawn, I arise for Fajr, my morning prayer. I veil myself with my old black hijab and enter our prayer room; a room separated by tapestry that hangs from the ceiling. Here, there is a prayer mat facing the east, a Quran and my prayer beads lying still. I stand tall with my feet together facing the sun that has yet to rise. I lift my hands to the sides of my face and whisper:

Allahu Akbar.” God is great. I close my eyes, bow my head and put my hands to my heart as gunfire discharges outside my home. I flinch but keep myself steady. “Bismillaahir, Rahmaanir, Rahiim, Al-Hamdu Iillaahi Rabbil-Aalamiin: Ar-Rahmaanir-Rahiim; Maaliki Yawmid-Diin Iyyaka na-budu wa iyyaka nasta-iin.” In the name of God, the infinitely compassionate and merciful. Praise be to God, sustainer of all the worlds, the beneficent, the merciful. Owner of the day of judgment, to you alone do we give worth and from you alone do we seek.

“Shoot that motherfucker!” A man screams from outside; his curse is followed by the sounds shattering glass and discharging bombs. I take a deep breath and hold in my sorrow.

Ihdinas-Siraatal, Mustaqiim,” Guide us on the straight path. I softly continue, “Siraatal-lazinna an-amta alay-him Gayril-magzuubi alay-him wa laz-zaaalliin.” The path of those who have received your grace, not the path of those who cause wrath, nor of those who wonder astray. I repeat myself, then bow and continue. A loud explosion erupts and shakes the house and I collapse to my knees. I sob as I lay my head on the floor for Sujud and ask for help from my god. I sit up, continue, and then turn my head to the left towards the rebels and rioters, I recite: “Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah.” I turn to my right towards the Americans who have come to fight them, I recite: “Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah.” Peace and blessings of God be upon you.

The house rattles as I leave the holy room and comfort my awoken children. Najib screams from his crib; I pick him up and hold him close to my breast as Amira comes and hugs my legs.

La taqlaq, la taqlaqi.” Don’t worry, don’t worry. I assure them with a soothing voice. I guide them to the cushions in the middle of our living quarters and we sit down. I rock Najib in my arms and whisper to them both: “Wasaf tajid lana ‘abadaan huna.” They will never find us in here.

I serve their breakfast as the sun rises: stale bread and dirty water. Amira and I eat?and after, I nurse Najib?with hellish noises beating and blaring around our confinement. Besides eating and praying, not much is done other than us holding each other, in a corner, as far away from the door as possible. With the small amount of power I own, I stay strong and comfort my babies, shielding them and always asking our god for salvation.

It all began after a long rebellion in our townthat’s when we began to fortify our home. My dear Hazael did well to leave and scavenge for food for our family. Even on the brink of this deadly revolution, we still managed to smile during those days. The conflict escalated when United States became involved.. We all were saved, we thought and continued to think until one of their bullets drove into my dear Hazaelfor any man with a turban was an enemy to them. After his death, I never stopped crying, but I still managed to leave my home just a few more times to get food, then came back to permanently close us off from the rest of the world.

God knows how long we will have to be imprisoned in this room. And God knows we will starve ourselves before we leave. All the other refugees have already made it out of this country and in the safe hands of somewhere better. It’s too late to leave, both armies are too close. If we leave this room, we will die, if they find this room, we will die. We must stay in this room until this fight ceases or until our dead bodies are dragged away. The rioters want to kill us and the Americans want to kill us. Our only ally is God.

I do not know what I long for more: the rioters to win so we can live where we have always lived, or the Americans, so they can take us someplace better. But we are enemies to both of them! I long to leave this cell with my children and to finally escape this horrid hell! If nothing more, I wish for both sides to die with their wrathful guns to their violent foreheads! I wish for an end to this war or an end to all their lives! I want everything to go away! The bombs, the bullets, the hellfire, the evil men, all of them; I want them to vanish from this earth so my babies can be safe!

Why can God not grant me this wish? Why can’t he save us? I’ve prayed every salat and have given all my alms and have done all of my fasting and have sacrificed more than enough?is that not enough? Is death our only escape? To leave, will I have to put my children’s life to a halt? Is that my burden I carry? Or will I have to suffer from the burden of waiting here until I starve or some manbearded, cloaked and brown or not?bursts in and shoots us down?

I hold my sweet Najib to my face and my darling Amira to my chin. I shake and cry with my babies crying in unison. How long must we go through this?How long must we suffer? Something explodes outside, men scream back and forth, guns cry their deafening bullets and tanks roll in waves. The tank fires and something very close to us explodes; our house rattles. The grip on my children tightens. I whimper to myself softly and my children copy me: “La ilaha illa allh. Nauzobillah, Astaghfirullah.” There is no god but God. God protect us. I seek refuge with God.

A man breaks through the front door and we shriek. He aims his weapon at us and I raise my hands.

Min fadlik la taqtalna!” Please don’t kill us! I scream as I shove my children behind me. I crawl forward to the man’s feet. “Qate li wa’atfal baldi!” Spare me and my babies! I raise my hand to him and he lowers his gun to me. Bullets are cast through my body and I collapse onto the ground with everything ringing in my head.

My babies wail in the corner of the room and the man follows their trail. I force myself to move and protect them but my body stays motionless. Blood flows out of me and I can feel my life slowly draining. I gargle my words and try and try and fail to reach for my children.

Min fadlik.” Please. I spit out. “Alssamah lahum aleaysh.” Let them live. The man turns and walks back up to me. I raise my hand one last time and close my eyes?I know I will not leave here alive. Yet still, I pray. I pray in those final moments that my babies can get away?that maybe, just maybe, if they get away from this man, they will be able to leave this cursed land and refuge somewhere safe.

Submitted: April 08, 2018

© Copyright 2023 Franklin Rayeski. All rights reserved.

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