A Beautiful Flower
Zaira Abadi was fastening her hijab in the mirror, and as usual, was having difficulty with it. “Mother can you come help me with this please?” Her mother walked into the room. “Zaira what’s the problem? Why are you putting on your hijab, are you going somewhere?” “Father asked me to go to the market and get some fish for dinner before he left.” “I thought you had school today?” “No Mrs. Hafeez is feeling ill, and there isn’t another teacher to fill in, so we have the day off. Now can you help me please?” Her mother went to help her with her always troublesome hijab. “You really need to learn how to do this yourself.” “It was so much easier when I didn’t have to wear one.” “Zaira you are not a child anymore. Wearing a hijab is a rite of passage, you should be proud to wear it; it means you’re a young woman now.” Her mother finished fastening the hijab into place, and Zaira stood up. “Yes mother I know. Well I’m off to the market now, so make sure little Abdul is all right while I’m gone.” Her mother went to pick up the baby and laughed, “Of course, I know how much you love your little brother. Now go off to market before all of the fish are gone, or we won’t be eating dinner.”
Zaira left their apartment, headed down the stairs, and took a right turn to start heading for the north Gazan market of Beit Lahia. It was a hot day outside, with the sun shining and not a cloud in sight. She turned and started walking down the main road heading for the market, mindful of the money she had in her pocket. With so many people unemployed and desperate for money you could never know who might try to steal from a little twelve year old girl. Fortunately, the fifteen minute walk to the market was uneventful, and she decided to take a detour to visit her father at the fruit stand.
He was haggling with a customer when she got there. “Twenty shekels for a pound of apples? You’re insane, the man two streets down is selling them for ten!” “Well then why don’t you go buy from him? I can sell them for fifteen, no less. I need to feed my family.” The man was grumbling, but he pulled out his fifteen shekels for the apples nonetheless. Her father noticed her. “Zaira! What are you doing here?” “I thought I’d come visit you on the way to get the fish, father.” “Well it’s always good to see you, sweet one.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek and said, “But you had better get going; the catch was small yesterday and there might not be any left by the time you get there.” “All right father; I’ll be on my way. See you at dinner!”
She took a left turn and started heading west towards the fish market. After a few minutes she started to smell it, and scrunched up her nose. She walked up to the same stand as always and asked, “How much for six fish?” “Six? Sixty shekels.” “Sixty? But the price was thirty last week!” “Well now the price is sixty, girl.” “But I don’t have that much. I’ll give you five for each fish.” “I’m sorry girl, but all of the warm waters have moved farther out into the sea, and the fish went with them. The Israelis won’t let us go that far out to catch them, and with less fish to sell it means that I had to raise the price.” “Oh…well can I just buy three fish then?” “That would be thirty shekels.” Zaira pulled all of the money out of her pocket and traded it for the fish.
She started walking back towards the fruit stand to talk to her father about the price change, but got distracted when she noticed some men driving trucks turn around a corner. That was strange, she thought. Most people don’t bother with vehicles when it’s easier to walk around the crowded streets. Curious, she ran around the corner to see them before they were gone, and then she saw why they were driving trucks. They were driving east, and they were carrying missiles. No no no, Zaira thought, they’re going to bomb Sederot! Sederot was a small settlement on the east side of the border, and it was full of Israeli soldiers who also had their own missiles to fire back if attacked. Frantic at the thought, Zaira started running towards the fruit stand to tell her father.
She was out of breath when she got there, still carrying the fish in her hand. “Zaira? What’s the matter? Why did you run here?” She was still out of breath when she tried to speak. “Father…I saw men in trucks with missiles! They’re going to bomb Sederot, and then the Israelis are going to fire back!” “Zaira, Zaira calm down. We don’t know that for sure. There’s nothing to be worried about until the sirens go off. Now why don’t you go home and help your mother with dinner? Wait, why are there only three fish?” “They raised the price. There wasn’t enough to catch.” “Right, well we can worry about that later too. Now will you go home please Zaira?” “Fine, fine I’m going.”
Her mother was playing with the baby when she got home. “Zaira! You were gone for a long time. How was the market?” “I was only able to get three fish; they raised the price.” “Oh, well then we’ll just have to make do with that. Can you play with Abdul while I cook the fish please?” Zaira was about to tell her mother about what she saw in the market, but then decided not to. There was no point in worrying her mother when they didn’t know for sure if there was anything to worry about, as her father said. She took off her hijab and went to go entertain her little brother, brushing her fingers through her newly freed hair.
About half of an hour later the fish was sizzling on the stove, and Abdul seemed to be enjoying her hair as well. “Ow, Abdul, that hurts, stop pulling on my hair.” She heard her mother laugh from the kitchen, “He wouldn’t be doing that if you were wearing your hijab!” “Well, yes mother, but it’s annoying, and I’m home so I don’t have to wear it.” “Yes, yes I know, anything not to have to wear your hijab. The fish is done and your father will be home soon, will you come help me cut it up please?” Zaira left her brother to crawl around the floor and went to help her mother. “Mmm, mother, this smells delicious.” “Yes well it would be better if we had any salt for it.” “Do you know when the next United Nations drop off will be?” “Well, hopefully by-” Her mother stopped mid-sentence, and Zaira heard it too. The sirens. “Quickly, Zaira, grab Abdul and let’s go!” Zaira scooped up her brother off the ground and ran out the door with her mother, the smell of sizzling fish long forgotten.
Other people were pouring out onto the street, most of them their neighboring women and children, while their husbands were still working. “Hurry Zaira, to the bomb shelter!” Zaira ran with her brother in her arms across the street to the bunker. A man had already opened the hatch and was helping people in. “Quickly, everyone get inside!” Her mother grabbed her shoulder. “Zaira, give me Abdul and climb down the ladder, quickly.” Zaira handed her brother to her mother and began her descent into the bunker. Her mother immediately followed with Abdul, and more people followed her in as well. Five minutes later the room was packed, and Zaira was huddled in a corner with her mother and Abdul. Abdul was screaming, and her mother was comforting him, “Hush now little Abdul, it’s going to be all right.” Zaira wasn’t so sure. “Mother, I’m scared…what about father?” “I’m sure he’ll be fine, there’s nothing to worry about.” But there was something to worry about. Not a moment later, Zaira heard it: the explosion. It sounded like it happened right above them, and she held her mother even closer.
Ten minutes later, the man that had helped everyone inside said, “All right everyone, I think it’s over, time to get out.” He opened the hatch, and people started to pour out. Eventually, it was her turn, and with the sun blinding her, she went outside, and then she saw it. It was gone. Their home, everything they owned, their life, was gone. It had all been reduced to a pile of rubble. Zaira’s mother came outside, carrying the screaming Abdul, saw what was left of their home, and began to cry. Zaira didn’t cry. She walked over to their destroyed home, and began sorting through the rubble when she heard a cry, “Zaira!” It was her father running towards her, coming back from his fruit stand. “Father!” she ran back to him, and he held her in his arms. “Zaira, are you hurt? Your mother? Abdul? Are you all ok?” “Yes father, we’re ok but…our home, it’s gone. We’ve lost everything…” “Zaira…do you remember why we gave you that name?” “Yes…Zaira, a rose, a beautiful flower.” “Yes, sweet one, a beautiful flower. A beautiful flower may wilt and die in the winter when the times are cold, and harsh. But in the spring that beautiful flower will grow back as strong, and as beautiful as it ever was. We are in the harsh winter right now my sweet child, but soon spring will come. We will rebuild, we will grow back, and it will get better.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek and left to go see Abdul and her mother. She thought about the words that her father had just spoken to her, and they made her feel better. Yes, Zaira thought, we will rebuild, we will grow back, and it will get better.
© Copyright 2016 Alex Pichler. All rights reserved.