“Abba, I am scared… I am s-s-scared of dying,” little Uzza blubbered.
All of 5, the child had seen and experienced pain far beyond her years. In a month’s time, she had lost not only her mother but her newborn sister too.
He forced a smile, “Your name means ‘a strong woman’, Allah is holding your hand, and he will…”
A powerful explosion drowned his words. The stunned duo clung to each other, too shocked to react.
The next moment he let out a gut-wrenching cry. Waleed, his 7-year-old, was not at home. Left with no choice but to leave a bawling Uzza alone, Shakir raced out, promising to return soon.
Howling, he trudged through the dust clouds, which had engulfed the entire area. He forgot to breathe as a sea of dead and injured greeted him. Men and women; old and young, were on a frantic search for their loved ones; screaming, yelling, wailing…
Dismembered parts lay strewn all around and fetid odours of burning flesh, tires and leather wafted. But he noticed nothing. His mind and heart were racing.
He froze in his steps as he spotted a toy truck peeking from under a mound of rubble. It belonged to Waleed. He knew it because he had made it for Waleed’s birthday with plastic containers and bottle caps. He dashed towards the ray of hope and dug with his bare hands, all the while screaming for Waleed. His hands were bleeding, but he didn’t stop. He couldn’t break the promise he had made to Ameera, his dead wife, I’ll protect them always.
Crimson skies had turned inky, and he strained to see in the dark. Flashlights and torches were doing little to release Shakir from the wicked clutches of despair.
Sporadic calls of discovery would cut through the chaos —, and joyous cheer or mournful wails would follow. Shakir would pause and resume digging on realising the finds were not his.
He was sad and relieved when his search ended up with nothing. No news is good news, he consoled himself. If only I had listened to you Ameera… he sat on his haunches clutching the toy truck close to his chest.
“Abba?” a feeble hand tapped on his shoulder. He turned white – covered in blood and dust stood his precious jewel.
“Ya Allah!” He fell on his knees, hugging and consoling his terrified child.
Shakir sniffled, watching his children huddled on the thin mattress. Fear had become his permanent state of mind. Every waking moment he feared losing them. Conflicting thoughts filled his brain as he stared into oblivion. As the clock struck twelve, Shakir straightened in his chair… it’s time to shed this blanket of fear.
The war and bombings had snatched enough from him already, whatever little he had, meant everything to him. Embarking on the jeopardous voyage to Greece was their only option.
Aleppo isn’t home now, not anymore, he sighed.