(continued from Part One)
I cross the street and stagger towards Galel’s home which is now a pile of bricks, beds, fans and blue curtains. The only trace of a structure not in pieces is a flight of stairs which led upstairs to their door, now leads to a stone-grey sky. More gunshots. I drop myself onto the ground and crawl beneath the stairway, and there… right there, I witness something that I least expected.
His eyes are bloodshot, his teeth clenched tight, his face peculiarly distorted as he lies under the weight of concrete on the lower half of his body. He is right here, my Yaara.
“Jamal… my legs!” tears run down, leaving muddy tracks on his face.
“You are my Jaan, Jamal. I am proud of you,” Abba’s words ring in my ears, and then the impact of the blast. I collapse on the ground.
It has been weeks. We spend our days waiting by our ravaged homes; me and Galel. We just fill water in this pot and drink till we are full. There is hope, that someday Abba will walk out of the wreckage and tell me that I am still his Jaan, that it was just another evening and we are still at home, having bread with mashed potatoes.
I want to know what we did to them that they destroyed our homes and robbed us of our lives. We were here and we just sold tea and groceries to people.
At the corner of the street, people queue for Pita bread once a day. And here, Galel limps back empty-handed from the bread counter, “Jamal, they won’t give us bread without our papers, they say!”
I want to tell those swines that we are not strangers, we are children of this land, this very street; that our papers are buried deep with our parents; that just a few weeks back I went around every store in this street selling tea to the same people who pretend not to recognise me now.
Galel’s palm is pressed hard against the back of his head. He pours a handful of water from the pot and applies it to the fresh scar beneath his rugged, brown hair.
“They knocked me with the butt of a gun.”
“Come with me when they leave,” I unwrap the bandage from my head and drape his wound with it.
When the supply men leave in their trucks, we lumper along towards the bread counter and I see how people don’t value hunger. They don’t wrap their bread carefully and often drop a few crumbs on their way back. We crouch on the mud and handpick them. From a handful, we have some and save the rest for our journey. They say a bus shall arrive at sunrise and drive us all to safer lands.
At sunset, orange threads linger in the sky mutilated with black smoke rising from cars and trucks stranded in the middle of the street. The street that once bustled with life is now a sea of warped tin-sheds, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, beds, suitcases, crumpled air conditioners, skeletons of street lamps and fallen branches of chestnut trees. There are homes that have not caved in like mine, but their walls have fallen off like baby teeth. And I think of what those families might have been doing when shells landed on them. Were they reading bedtime stories to their children? Were fathers telling their sons that they were their Jaan? Or were they peacefully asleep when they were thrown out of their beds and ripped apart from their mothers’ embrace?
For one last time, we visit the remains of our homes. Galel kneels on the street, and with his face lifted heavenwards, he opens his palms like a book and begins to pray. I wonder if God knows what it is to lose a mother who had a baby in her womb; to lose a sibling for whom you had just bought the first pair of socks; to lose a father who told you for the first time that you were his Jaan, not knowing then that he would never be able to hold your cheeks again. I wonder if God has a heart, for if He did, I would have been a brother by now, watching those newborn legs dressed in a pair of woollen socks play in the air.
At daybreak, a blue bus waits at the corner of the street. Galel is not within eyeshot. I hobble towards his fallen home and from beneath the stairway, I pull him out of his night-long prayers.
We find ourselves a seat in the bus. On the aisle by my side is a pale and lanky man. His hair scraggly and matted, cheekbones forming tent-poles under his skin, his hands cradling his infant wrapped in a tattered blanket, pressed close to his chest.
I look around searching for the mother wondering if she too is dead like mine. It is only when the baby wails in his embrace, and he places its lips beneath his robe in the vicinity of his chest, I realise how I failed to notice her all this while.
The metal frame of the cabin rumbles in the wake of the engine as our bus wheels out of the corner. Warm fragments of the sun filter in through the window. I pull out a pair of blue woollen socks with white polka dots from my pocket. I smell them for hours, and… and then I throw them away.
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