- By Safeerah Mughal
Winner of two Young Muslin Writers Awards 2015 for prose and poetry, Safeerah Mughal’s Creative Corner brings you a weekly dose of creativity. The following piece was a winning entry at the 2015 Young Muslim Writers Awards, a Muslim Hands project presented with the Yusuf Islam Foundation.
Home. It was still home. Despite the warfare spreading like a fatal disease.
Suddenly, I was eight years old again. Plucking ripened berries off the lush bushes; savouring the sweet-sour blood red explosion in my mouth. Relishing the sweet roots that sprouted under your feet like mushrooms and toadstools and the bitter taste of pine needle tea. Running through fields at the exhilarating speed at which Sohrab and I chased each other causing tears to steam down our face as the wind hit us. Breathing in the rich, heavy, earthy aromas of pine, mint and wildflowers while trailing my slim hands over the rough tree bark; almost smooth from the amount of times my hungry fingers had grasped the reassuring surfaces. Letting the long, cool, silky grass slide against my bare, scrawny legs tickling me. Small bursts of laughter erupting shortly after, but then quickly quietening to hear the soft kiss of falling leaves.
All gone now. Corrupted. By the rancour and rivalry that lives in these streets. Forlorn and dilapidated. Falling to pieces. Bullets scarred the once beautiful glimmering white stone like flea-ridden hair. War has made it a permanent sneer. He has made sure that he has the last laugh. Always. Acrid stench manned the streets. Crushing your soul as if you were a meagre insect beneath its feet. The city is in turmoil, boiling like a pot of Kebab Halabi. All you ever hear is painful, gut-wrenching groans of death. Their bodies writhing with an intensity that burns like a steady flame, their pale, pasty faces contorted in eerie masks of torment. The harrowing hoarse cries of what birds were left, pleading for some mercy. Blustery wind howling in sympathy. Blowing ferociously as if trying to obliterate the evil that has caused this desolation. You could choke on death. Strong, sickly, sweet. Easily taste too much. You wouldn’t even realise it. After all, all you saw was death and some more death. Death of your people, death of homes, death of the streets, death of nature, death of animals, death of friendship, death of familiarity, death of happiness, peacefulness, death of hope, death of comradeship. Death. Death. Death was a dictator too. Dictating your life….
Sohrab was the only one keeping me together. His carefree laughter, the mischievous gleam in his eyes, his toothless grin. Without him the days would have trampled me like armed tank. I crept under the moth-eaten rag encrusted in mould and fell into a fitful sleep. Tossing and turning.
Opening my eyes, that were used to the suffocating darkness, I took in my surroundings and a sudden sense of fear ran through my nerves like the chill of an icy wind, something was wrong. Turning over to wake Sohrab, my hands found empty air. He was not there. I scrambled up unsteadily like a blind man feeling his way. Finally getting my numb legs outside, I saw a dark, tall silhouette sitting on the wall. “Sohrab!” I whispered, relief flooding through me. He turned slowly alarm evident on his face, then his expression softened, his lips crooning my name, he looked into my eyes, his own, large green pools full of heartache, sorrow and love, the mischievous gleam gone. My numb brain struggled to string the meanings together. It was as if he was … no! NO! He was. He was saying goodbye. Looking up once again I saw him give me my favourite toothless grin; but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Soh…” The words barely left my mouth when I was thrown high in the air like a rag doll and slammed into a concrete wall, debris raining down on me, a putrid stink thick and nauseating, threatened to suffocate me. Excruciating pain made me writhe in agony, my lower body was burning, but my heavy arms were pinned to the ground making me immobile while angry tears fell down my face. Gas! They had released a poisonous gas!
Biting down hard on my bottom lip, to keep from breathing in more gas I willed myself to the side of the street. The effects of the gas were wearing off, and I could feel unbearable pain all over my body. I thought of Sohrab. It was entirely my fault. They had heard me. Even though it was barely a whisper. I might as well have shouted. I had to find him. I wouldn’t lose him. Not now, not ever.
I latched onto a wet beam and started edging my way forwards. Firelight danced across the street; illuminating the sodden beam. Only for a second though. I paled and a whimper escaped my lips. It was not a sodden beam. It was a mangled, bloody arm. But not just any. It was one I knew as well as my own…
I don’t know how long I sat there. Sobs wracking my body, tears cascading down my face, vomiting until I had nothing left in my stomach. Twisted painfully in knots. I was oblivious to my injuries but the pain of losing Sohrab was like a garden rake over my body, my eyes, over the top of my head, dragging and scraping away, dragging and then scraping away again. It burned like a living coal in my heart. I wailed. A note of despairing appeal which felt like a cold hand upon one’s living soul. Sohrab, Sohrab, Sohrab, a thousand voices pounding in my head. I don’t know how long I sat there, sat there, and sat there. What do I do? Do, do, do. The agonizing pain blinding me I gratefully gave in to the darkness threatening to engulf me.
Am I dead Sohrab? It’s so serene and, and quiet. Quiet. No despairing wails of starved, scraggy children, no moans of dying people, bloody and scarred, no deafening dire roars of gunfire and RPGs. My energy restored just from breathing in the clean, untainted air, I hungrily breathed in the exquisiteness around me. An isle of paradise, fair as a gem. Evening greeted us. A warm, friendly breeze drifted through the trees. Tall and wise. The warmth of the setting sun seeping into my bones immediately warming me from head to toe. Sohrab took my hand and we strolled further. It was a breathtaking sight, the light rays created marvellous patterns on the blue waters. Birds circled high above us singing merrily, adding to the magical song already being sung to me. A sweet, heavenly aroma guided me towards some dangling fruits. Luscious and mouth-wateringly scrumptious. I picked one off and bit into it my eyes closing in pleasure. It was very sweet with a tinge of minty flavour towards the end. Grabbing a handful more I threw one to Sohrab, winking happily. Linking arms together, we walked forwards emerging on a sun-dappled hill; overlooking wild fields hiding brown fluffy rabbits and tiny grey mice in thick overgrown warm grass. Others filled with sunflowers and daisies. Lush green meadows, crystalline streams racing each other. Cradled in Sohrab’s arms I looked up at the reddish, glowing sky. Listening to nature sing for me, I breathed in the soothing earthy, minty aromas perfuming the air. Losing myself in the exquisite colours surrounding me I snuggled deeper into Bliss and fell into a peaceful sleep.