War is a terrible thing. A plague that touches all lives it comes in contact with. It ravished all in its path. My life was a simple one. I had my brother, my parents, my friends from school. Then, the gunshots started late one night and darkness fell like a blanket…covering every ray of light in my life. In my mind, the night came and stayed.
My father was a custodian in a non-profit. His income was meager. My mother supplemented his income by sewing. They pulled their resources together and made it work. I never heard her complain. My brother, Maha and I went to school on a scholarship fund from the non-profit. My father’s income bracket made us beneficiaries. My father always told my brother and I…he washed each tile…each toilet…with valor..knowing his labor was giving us an education. Education. My father said it would give my brother and I opportunities. The first time he used the word…’opportunities’. I scampered off to get my dictionary. I remember the swell of his chest and the brightness of his smile, when I read the meaning of the word:opportunity.
My mother always used to say I was born an old woman. I was fully potty trained a month before my first birthday. I found words and spoke with the gush of a waterfall.
When the gunshots started my words became muddled in my head and my tongue cleaved to the roof of my mouth.
School. It was the only place I didn’t hear the uneven snap of crackers. That’s, what gunshots sounded like in my head…exploding crackers. My favorite teacher was Mr Farouk. He was a tall, gentle man. He spoke in a low, hoarse voice…like he was recovering from a head cold. Then, one day I heard the crackers go off during recess….I heard screams and saw people running in different directions.
Mr. Farouk lay in a pool of blood. His left shoe was missing, his head….lay at a twisted angle. Blood creeped from under his body..in different directions…down the stairway, past my feet. His assailant didn’t care we were children, he didn’t respect the sanctity of life…he was a product of the times. I stopped going to school.
I stopped eating my favorite sauce. It was thick and red from the beet vegetable that grew in our back yard. I couldn’t eat it any more.
I, who had been potty trained before I could walk became incontinent.
At night, I would hurdle in the corner of my room. My chin deep in my chest, my arms around my head….a puddle of urine circling my body. My parents were referred to a therapist in the eastern province by a facilitator in the non-profit.
His diagnosis… fear. Fear had stolen my voice and robbed me of my dignity.
It took a couple of months, but, we eventually were able to secure documents to enable us travel as a family. My father’s place of employment paid the fare and provided us stipends for our upkeep. The United States of America would give us opportunities. Opportunity. I heard that word over and over again. My father held me close to his bony chest…’you will thrive again my little flower’. His voice cracked with unshod tears.
The trip was long and drawn out. The long drive through dusty roads…the numerous check points. Each soldier with a gun, each word spoken in a high octave sent my stomach knotting in anxiety. My bladder gave out so many times….each time I was grateful for the old rags my mother had swaddled me in. The flight was a blur.
Maha was bopping up and down on his seat. “We are here!”I remember holding tight to my father’s bony fingers….being led down a long corridor. I remember sleeping on a cot…being fed a warm bland meal, drinking a sweet juice from a box..from a straw. The days blended into themselves. I lost track of time and settled into a muddled existence, where I slept, ate and used the bathroom.
Then, one day a tall man came into the room. He was lanky, his hair was thick and black, with sparse dusting of grey. He wore a black suit, like the ones Mr. Farouk used to wear. He spoke to me in hushed whispers…touching my temple, massaging my hands. I kept my eyes fixed on my Father’s kind brown ones…and listened to his voice while he sang my favorite lullaby. The next day, we were taken to a half way house. I remember being coaxed off the cot I lay on. My feet recoiled on touching the cold floor….I caught a glimpse of my face from its reflection in the mirror. My eyes were glazed, my lips cracked….my hair in clumps around my head. My underwear was dry.