We debute a short story by Mariam Q for the month of April under the theme “Dreams” Her piece was very powerful yet tragic. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
No one can ever leave this place, she thought.
The gunshot that sliced the air made her cringe and push herself into her hiding place. She had no one and nowhere to go to. Another gunshot boomed in the air that made her pull her knees to her chest and block her ears with her hands. Choking sobs made their way to her throat and shook her to her bones. What was she going to do now? All was gone. Everything perished. No one was left.
The sun broke into the dull and harsh sky brightening the dead city of Palestine. Houses threw ghostly shadows across the bloody ground, corpses were lying everywhere, widowed women and orphaned children mourned for their beloved, and even the trees bowed for the dead. This was what became of the beautiful city. They tore out the heart of this beautiful city. To this day we mourn for the loss.
Assia opened her eyes and gazed at the horrifying scene before her. Her heart squeezed with pain and sorrow, for how long should they suffer? For how long should they lose their families and friends? For how long?! These questions seemed to crowd her sad mind and take up all the space in it. She felt hopeless and in despair. When will the time come? When will they be free?
She got up and tried to feel her legs again. They went numb while she slept in that position she was in last night. She groaned, walked a little bit faster and winced as the tickling feeling went up her legs. After she was wide awake, she went in search for food and another shelter. You never know when the soldiers will come back and raid the place all over again. She found an abandoned bakery and some milk bottles propped up against a wall. She stared in awe; Assia never found abandoned food that was not half-eaten or bloody. She approached the food slowly in fear that it might suddenly disappear.
“Stop right there Miss!” She heard a raspy voice order her to stop.
She froze in her place, muscles tensing. She pulled her hijab tighter around her head and tried to sound brave, not scared to death. The owner of the voice was a feet away.
“Trying to steal, weren’t you?” He sounded angry, maybe even furious.
“N-no sir,” her soft voice came out as a whisper. She was terrified he might hurt her.
He stepped in front of her and what she saw shocked her. He was no older than her, except maybe by a few years.
“Why did you come here then?” His dark brown eyes sparkled with rage. “This is my property.”
She hesitated before answering. There was no use in lying. “I was hungry and this place looked abandoned.”
“It’s a deception,” he sighed.
Assia looked at him quizzically and turned to leave. There was also no use in convincing him to give her food or shelter.
She stopped in her tracks.
“I can give you something but I never want to see you here again, understood?” He said.
She nodded gratefully and took the milk from him. He ran inside the shop to fetch her some loaf of bread. As soon as she got what she needed she left him standing there, staring at her retreating figure. She needed to hide; the raid and gunshots usually start this early in the morning. Assia found a deserted playground and hid inside one of the dusty orange tunnels. She tore part of the bread and munched it cautiously. She stopped chewing and listened. The eerie silence engulfed her like a blanket, a blanket that was suffocating her. She hated waiting, especially for the gunshots to end.
She gave up and finished the half of bread she was eating, drank some milk and laid on her back to sleep. She was tired and her body was hurting her. Her skirt was tattered from down, the color wearing off. Her white shirt splattered with blood and dirt. The jacket she wore was stolen from a dead boy, she was freezing that night and she needed something to warm her up. The only thing that was quiet intact was her hijab. She frequently got new hijabs from abandoned shops and tailors. Nobody cared that she was stealing; nobody was even there to care!
That day she had the most bizarre dream. She was chained, by her legs and hands and at her legs were snakes slithering on the ground with their long scary bodies and lazy, glowing eyes. She struggled to free herself, she screamed and yelled. No one was there. She pulled and pulled on the chains until her wrists were bruised and bloody. She wished, no wanted, to be free. She wanted to break the chains and run away from this dream, from this life. She cried with so much intensity, she felt the ache of pain in her heart. Let me go! She yelled in her head. Let me go!
The thought was getting stronger and stronger. Her hands shrugged with power she never felt, a power so huge it broke the chains. Now that she was free the snakes started to attack their jaws clenching and snapping, tongues making ominous hisses. She covered her face screaming and fell to the ground. She flailed and kicked as hard as she can. She screamed at the top of her lungs, wishing that someone will hear her.
“Stop it! Stop struggling! I can’t carry you like that!” he groaned.
Her eyes snapped open and she pushed herself away. She grunted as she hit the hard ground.
“What is wrong with you?” he helped her up.
“Nothing,” she stuttered.
“Bad dream eh?” he smiled. “We get lots of these.”
She looked away and rubbed her wrists absentmindedly. What did he want?
“I came looking for you,” He shifted his weight from foot to foot. “We are leaving and I thought it would be unfair to leave you behind.”
Leaving?, she pondered. Leaving this horrible place?
It was a dream comes true; she will leave this place and start a new life. She will live a life free of war and bloodshed, a life where she will become what she always wanted to be and live in peace and harmony. She stared at him reluctantly, but then again this was her home. The place she was born in and it was dear to her. She will be betraying her country by leaving it behind.
“We will come back,” he smiled at her. “We won’t leave Palestine. We just need to build ourselves and come back to free our country. We need to cross the borders fast, it’s unwatched now.”
Assia was so hesitant to follow him as he headed to the north. He kept saying “we” while referring to himself. He wasn’t alone? He had people with him?
“Let’s go,” he smiled sweetly and encouragingly. “I’m Yousef, by the way.”
They walked for what it seemed like hours until they reached the borders. There, Assia met Yousef’s so-called gang. They chatted for a bit and introduced themselves; all of them came from broken and destroyed homes and sought freedom. They all shared one dream and that is: freedom.
“This is it,” said Yousef.
They were all standing at the border staring at what was beyond this destroyed place. Assia sensed the tension and anxiety in the air. They were getting their minds ready for what will come, for the groundbreaking change in their lives.
“Hold hands,” Yousef ordered and everyone linked their hands together. Assia looked at Yousef and he nodded reassuringly. Everything will be okay, he mouthed. She did feel that he was feeling guilty on what he did to her, when he scared the daylights out of her in front of the bakery. This was as an apology to his harsh actions towards her.
“On the count of three,” Yousef said. “1…2…”
The three never came. The bullet sliced through Yousef’s back and he dropped to the ground like a puppet that just got its strings cut off. Assia shrieked and turned to look at the intruders. The soldiers spotted them and now they’ll never leave until each one of them lies motionless on the ground. She ran as fast as her legs could and couldn’t. She didn’t look behind and just ran, her body going on survival mode.
That’s when the bullet caught up to her. It slithered its way into her heart, her caring and sweet heart. The shock of the bullet made her stop and listen to her heart before falling to the ground. She counted the beats and waited. She didn’t want to die, she didn’t want to leave. Yet death was a form of permanent freedom from this life. She’ll rest in peace and sleep forever without any disturbance.
She smiled and let her tears caress her face. She was free at last, free from this wretched life. She closed her eyes counting the last beats of her heart that stopped as she took her last breath…
Author: Mariam Q.