The Valley of Death
"She woke up abruptly to a resounding explosion, that echoed from above. Her eyes resembled that of a sleep-deprived zombie, accentuating her gaunt, shabby visage. Pale, and ghost-like, her hands had an almost grayish tinge
By Lamia Mohsin
She woke up abruptly to a resounding explosion, that echoed from above. Her eyes resembled that of a sleep-deprived zombie, accentuating her gaunt, shabby visage. Pale, and ghost-like, her hands had an almost grayish tinge to them, probably because of the dust and rubble that had assimilated with her gangly features. After all, it was what her life had been reduced to – a perpetual abyss of debris and regolith. Slightly wincing because of her cramp-infested feet, she sat up sluggishly, coercing her famished, diminutive body, which was refusing to co-operate, to shed the torpor and indolence and brace itself. For apocalypse. For the end.
Settling herself adjacent to the window sill, her dilated pupils looked up for the source of the pandemonium. Was it another barrage of rocket launchers, or perhaps the relentless staccato of those rifles? Perhaps it was the tanks, grinding the decomposing carcasses, as they made their way through the alleys and cul-de-sacs, tearing down those bloodstained walls. It was as if she could hear the walls whispering their tales, narrating just like the fables and lores she had read in the books at school, the tales of destruction and demolition, of atrocities and murder, of bloodbaths and massacres. She covered her ears tightly, trying to muffle out the screams of agony, desperation, and despondence of the mother on seeing the mutilated corpse of her son, the dumbstruck toddler whose tiny fists grabbed on to the pristine white cloth that shrouded the mangled remains of her parents, and the sobs of the faceless woman who was dragged and dishonored by those uniformed men. She put her clenched fists inside her mouth, precluding the moans that were about to escape.
‘You need to stop those tears from tainting your face’, she murmured, clutching the threadbare kurti she was wearing. Her impertinent heart seldom paid heed to her requests, as each night she promised herself not to cry, not to sob, not to wail, a promise that shattered to smithereens everyday.
‘Sorry Ammi. I’ll be more careful from now on’, she pledged. She recalled Ammi’s words, “Never wail in a loud voice Suraiya, for doing so is prohibited in Islam and it is certainly not a gesture befitting of a woman of fortitude. Have patience”, she would say.
She closed her eyes and beckoned her pensive mind towards a tiny door in her heart, a compartment she had bolted shut, but the keys would yearn to open them once in a while for behind the doors lied the ointment for her wounded and bruised soul, the minute semblance to redemption amidst damnation. She opened it. The floodgates to another world, a different eon.
It was the dawn of Eid-ul-fitr , as the intonations of the muezzin’s Adhaan reverberated around the tranquil neighborhood. Suraiya could hear the familiar clangs of pots and pans, the clinking of the cutlery and finest china from the kitchen. Ammi must be preparing her special semolina, dipped in creamy milk, a gastronomic delight her magical hands conjured on this day. Suraiya smiled in anticipation. She heard the door creak open. Abbu was leaving for the masjid.
She was decked up in the kurta-shalwar Ammi had gifted her on the occasion of Eid, her face emanating the ebullience and excitement as she rushed around, greeting the guests. At noon, she had a gourmet meal that Ammi prepared for everyone, and such was the taste that even the most abstemious of the guests relished every morsel.
It was evening and Ammi was chiding her for not wearing the dupatta properly when she was about to leave to meet her friends. she wrapped it carelessly around her head as Ammi’s stern gaze pervaded her fervor.
“It’s Eid Ammi, you should smile for once’’, she said cheekily, to Abbu’s amusement.
Ammi’s lips curled into a smile, as Suraiya hurtled across the street to meet her friends. “She’ll grow up to be a beautiful young woman, insha Allah’’, she confided to her husband.
The missile struck the roof, and like a toy being tossed, it descended on them. Ammi screamed.
Suraiya’s eyes were fixated on Abbu’s lifeless body, as it was being carried away for the funeral. Her lips chanted, “Ya Rahman, Ya Rahim, Oh my Lord, have mercy, give me strength, for you are Al-Jabbar, the mender of broken hearts and lives…”
Suraiya, the orphan, lay motionless on her back, a prototype of a hundred others in the shelter. She was alive, breathing yet she had embraced death on that very night. She ate the insipid food they gave her, and every bite was poison to her intestines. She slept, and Armageddon was her lullaby.
Just because she lived in a world where her life is as precious as that of an insect. Just because she was a terrorist to have lived in a land that Allah (SWT) had granted her forefathers.
Just because… she was a Muslim.