Ma, I can’t sleep. The loud noises have started again. I remember when we’d burst firecrackers, and there would be pretty coloured lights in the night sky. You would tell me not to go too close to the firecrackers so that I don’t burn. These noises are just like those firecrackers, Ma, but they’re so much louder. Are they bursting firecrackers, Ma? Maybe they have ones bigger than those we could afford. Maybe that’s why the lights beyond my curtain are so much brighter. Won’t they burn so much more?
What are those planes in the sky, Ma? It looks like they are dropping balls of fire from there. All the houses are burning and people are running from within them. There is so much noise – loud bangs, and screams. Why is everyone screaming, Ma? Are they hurt? The fire must be so hot. You always told me to stay away from your cooking fire when you would make hot curry for me and Pa to eat. But that was such a little fire. These flames are as big as the houses they are burning.
I am scared, Ma. The noises are getting louder; the screams of people are getting higher. Even when I cover my ears, I can still hear them. There is so much dust and heat – I can barely breathe, Ma. The balls of fire are still dropping to the ground, faster now. The sky is no longer dark – it is outlined by large yellow-orange flames. Did you know that yellow was my favourite colour, Ma? I don’t like it that much anymore. I think I prefer blue, like that dress you had worn on my 5th birthday, last week. You looked so beautiful that day, Ma, with that little white flower in your hair. We played all my favourite games in the park opposite our house, remember? I think that park is on fire right now, Ma.
Where are you, Ma? The walls are shaking in my room and the door is blocked with large blocks of stone. There was a very loud noise and now I feel like I can’t hear anything. Can you hear me, Ma? I keep calling out to you, but you aren’t coming. You always come when I have a nightmare, Ma. I think I’m having a nightmare, but I don’t think I’m sleeping. Can that happen too, Ma? Can I get nightmares even when I’m awake? The stones near my door are too heavy, Ma. I cannot move them. There is a hole in the roof above me, and I can see the sky, and I can see the planes. They are right above us.
I feel so tired, Ma. I think I have been asleep for a while. Maybe it was all a nightmare – all the fire and the planes and the noises and the hole in the roof. It is very bright suddenly; I can barely open my eyes. I can see a lot of people around me, they are saying something. I cannot hear them. But I’m not lying on my mattress. There are only stones here, and pieces of wood. I don’t understand, Ma. Where is my bed? One of the men picks me up and carries me away from all the stones. His arms are warm. He puts me into a chair. It is so much softer than all those stones. But where am I, Ma? Where are you?
A man has come up to me and he is looking at me. I think he is asking me some questions. You told me not to talk to strangers, Ma. But I cannot hear him, and so I don’t know what to say to him. I just continue sitting in the chair quietly. I feel so sore, Ma. My head is hurting. I press my head with my hand and it hurts even more. There is something wet and sticky in my hair. I look at my hand; it is covered with grey dust and the sticky red thing. I had taken a bath after returning from the playground this evening. I know you get mad when I don’t clean up. How did I get dirty again, Ma?
Who are these strange men, Ma? They seem nice, they smile at me too. They even gave me some water. But I don’t see you anywhere, Ma. Where are you? Why am I not in our home? Will Pa be able to fix the hole in the roof? I feel so cold and so tired and so sore all at the same time. I just want to sleep, Ma. But I don’t know where you are.
This story was inspired by Omran Daqneesh, the little boy who was pulled out of the rubble after air strikes in Aleppo, Syria. I’ve tried to do justice to the trauma that he, and thousands of others, must have felt during these air strikes, in the best way that I could. I hope from the bottom of my heart that peace reigns again soon. I don’t think we can afford to lose any more innocent lives than we already have.
I’ve also submitted this story for the TATA Literature Live! MyStory Contest, and if you liked what you just read, please go over to this link (I’m ‘rewa01’) and vote for me. It would mean the world to me!