In a land far far away from the Indian Ocean, there is a small country of fertile plains, majestic mountains and jeweled deserts. The land is home to the Arabs, Kurds, Armenians and Assyrians. The country is called Syria, named after the al-sham and royal history it had survived. Through the cascades of Time, slaughters of swords, Killings of the humane, Fear of the undefeated and vengeful of the unfair, Syria like a jeweled desert stood still in the test of history and Time. But what happens when the evils of religion, power struggle of superpowers and political tyranny collide in Syria? With the prediction that World War 3 will wage soon from this land of royal history, will Syria stand still in the test of time or will it fall prey to history and be broken apart? Only time will tell.
Time seemed to be going backwards unlike its usual run forward. History was repeating itself and Aza could recall the story from his history textbook. The story came like a flood of black and white pictures of the Caliphates and the grand culture of the great Ottoman Empire. Only this time it was happening for real, not the celebrations but the wars of history. There was a time when the idea of a real war had sent a rush of dangerous excitement in Aza for he dreamed to experience and be a part of a historical event like war. Now ashamed by that surge of rush, Aza had tears in his eyes. The tears of regret and pain, threatening to spill like the chemical weapons. He had lost enough to know that there was indeed nothing majestic in a war. Aleppo had fallen, He sat there watching it burn with his eyes but it still seemed unbelievable. In anger, he threw stones from the mountaintop but if only those fists could reach out and tame the madness. He sat there for a very long time not prepared to move for it seemed that each movement was a step towards danger.
“Aza—Azaran,” Razia called out repeatedly as she reached the mountaintop in a huff. “I have been calling you since so long, amijaan asked me to look for you and I knew you would be here. Your family has been worried sick Aza–.” She sat down beside him. They had been best friends since childhood. The thought of anyone hurting Aza or his family left Razia mad. Despite not being blood related, Aza was like a twin to her. They were inseparable and even attended school together. Taking deep breaths she stopped to take a minute for herself and looked around, the scene was tragic.
She had known that Aza would be up here at the mountaintop like he always did when he craved comfort. But it worried her that they both had frequented this place way more in the past few months than in previous years. It was the hard times that had fallen upon them. First the news of Sharik, Aza’s elder brother disappearing, then well-known neighborhoods being bombed and now Aleppo, their last hope was burning down. Aza and Razia were twenty but they felt like fourteen year olds amidst this chaos and helplessness. They both watched the city burn in silence, the heat from the flames felt worse than the desert summers. Aza looked at Razia and knew she was trying to be strong for him. Aza finally broke the silence and spoke after what felt like hours, “You know what this means right? Aleppo has fallen and a war is coming.” Razia seeked comfort but she took the words in.
Time stood still as they sat there, hours seemed to have passed but they refused to move away from the secure mountain top. It almost gave the allusion that nobody could reach them, nothing could destroy their world. Looking at Aleppo burn down seemed like watching an action sequence in a movie. But like everything else, the real world came running back to them as they saw Aaliya running towards the mountaintop. It was unusual to see someone else come up there, Razia was the first person to see her walking up. She knew that something serious was up otherwise Aaliya would never come there. The thought of something serious happening, made Razia’s heart race. ‘In times like these anything could happen, its best to be prepared for the worst’ she shuddered, recalling her mother’s words. She refused to believe the worst for a long time but when Sharik bhaijaan disappeared, her hope had come crashing. She instantly recalled all those nights she spent taking care of Aza’s family after Sharik had disappeared. She would never forget how everyone had whispered that Sharik had joined the ISIS. Their eyes accused Azaran’s family and her eyes sparked hatred towards them. She snapped out of the painful memory as she heard her name.
“Razia, there is a bad news! Saddam has officially declared war against the Free Syrian Army. Bombs are being dropped from all the sides. It’s a chaos, we need to go back home right now. Your Ami and Abu are worried sick about you.” screeched Aaliya as she reached the top.
Despite the war being an obvious prediction, a tiny shimmer of hope in Razia among thousands of others had died down with the official declaration. On her way back, she thought about how things had come this far. She looked at the place they now lived in, ‘the garage turned house’ as she liked to call it. When they had shifted, she had expected it to be temporary till her own house would be rebuilt after clearing the ruins of the bombings. The violence had not broken directly then. There had been riots between the Sunnis and Shiites but it had been controlled.
She sneaked back into reality when she heard people talking loudly and lots of screaming. She walked further to see what was happening. What happened next, gave Razia the shock of her life.
There were two armed men in Black uniforms with Red logos. She overheard them taking bets on something. They were planning to use something for target practice. When they agreed to the bet, she turned to finally see and realized that they were talking about a six-year-old boy who was standing at gunpoint. Before she even thought about saving him, two gunshots had been fired. It was too late – one of them had taken the bet and shot him in the head.
The crowd around her started running and the street was deserted within minutes. The child was lying on the street, Razia couldn’t move. It wasn’t a clean shot and he didn’t die straight away. She couldn’t remember how long it took. Blood had drained from her face. Anger, hatred and helpless were the only emotions she could feel. She could hear his mother, inside the house on the same street screaming. She wanted to reach her child, but the men kept firing into the street and taunting the mother: “You can’t get to your child; You can’t get to your child.” He died alone on the street outside his home.
After that incident, Razia could barely sleep. When she did, the dark nightmares of his mother’s screams made her jolt awake. It was ironic isn’t it? Religious riots meant conflict between two religions but they seemed to worship the same Allah and still fought their own. So what if one was called Sunni and other Shiite? Different by messenger and united by the same message and receiver, the two groups fought for their own kin with their own kin. How twisted is that?
Azaran knew something was wrong, Razia barely spoke these days. There was something about her eyes, she looked haunted by something. No amount of comfort seemed to have effect on her. At first he had deciphered it to be the worry caused by war but as days past, he released something more was up.
For protection and safety the four families of the neighborhood had decided to stay together. In the coming months, there was more pouring of bombs than the rain. There was confusion who was the ally and who was the enemy. Al Bagdadi had declared himself the Caliph of the Islamic world. With this came more destruction for the fear of terrorism in the blood of Muslims. Sadam Hussain backed by superpower countries refused to give up. Blood seem to flow like fountain.
Out of fear, the families had dug a small tunnel with room for 5 to 6 people to hide. At first, the hole was dug only for the children to crouch in for a few hours of extreme violence but as days descended, the time only increased. With promises of the bloody war coming to an end, they were sent down. Azaran and Razia with the other children would spend endless hours holed up while their parents covered it with sand. They knew that the elders were worried about the continuous kidnappings and disappearances of children from the nearby areas. This was the only way to ensure their safety.
Staying in the hole had effects on the children. They barely spoke. After all hiding came with the price of freedom to walk the streets and experience the open air. Every time they came out, it would be with the hope that the war had subsided. One could clearly see a change in them. Azaran and Razia were the eldest, they wanted to protect Aaliya, Hamza, Fatima and Arwa from all of this but they felt helpless and tired. The tunnel often smelt of drain and had nothing for their time to pass. The hours only increased till a point that they would have to stay inside for days. Razia suffered the most with her increasing nightmares and haunting memories of the night. She needed a stroll in the open air to breath.
Razia woke up with a nightmare to start with again. This time she was running with the child and he gets shot by the militants. Her mother blames Razia in her agonized screams for his death. Shrugging the nightmare, she felt saddened as it was their fifth day in the tunnel. She needed to go back to the place it started. She blamed herself for the boy’s death. That morning, she quietly slipped through and escaped the tunnel while everyone slept. With one last glance at Azaran, she jumped out and looked around. Everything seemed peaceful and there was nobody around. She prepared herself for a long stroll towards the area of her nightmares. She was surprised to see no militants around or no chaos.
The fear of losing someone had made Azaran very alert. He woke up to the sound of some movement. Thinking of it as an attack, Azaran pretended to be asleep and looked from under his sheets. For a second, he thought he was dreaming when he saw Razia leave the tunnel but soon realized it was real. Even before he tried stopping her, she had disappeared. ‘Shit, today is Thursday, a day before the Jumah Nawaz which means complete curfew’ panicked Azaran as he thought about Razia going out.
Two militants were walking at the end of the lane when they spotted a girl walking around. On looking closely at her dressing sense they knew she was a sunni. Judging by the looks of revenge on their faces it was clear that they were in mood to avenge and inflict any of the inhumane and painful act only to get some sort of satisfaction out of it.
Not even decently dressed, such a shame on Islam. I am telling you, these modern methods are evil. She needs to be taught a lesson for not wearing a burka.’ they discussed. As they saw the girl change routes, they started following her.
Razia was walking past a city which looked besieged and fallen, almost as though a tornado had ripped it apart and left behind reminders of its undoing. She hid herself at the sight of two militants talking at the end of the lane and decided to walk the other way. Hearing someone following her, her hurried footsteps picked up even more faster pace. She wanted to turn and look but knew that by doing so, there was a high risk of her getting caught.
‘We need to catch up with her faster, Yakub’ said the militant to the other. ‘I think she is heading towards the dead end, Bhaijaan’
Razia took several turns as she ventured into the depth of the city she could no more recognize. Her heartbeat thumped as she felt a presence behind her. All the walking had made her tired but she knew better than to stop. By taking a turn at every street and changing ways whenever possible she had wanted to sidetrack her trailers only to find herself lost. She felt the need to quench her thirst.
She turned a little as she gained distance from the stranger. She felt shock when she noticed not one but two militants trailing behind her at a very close distance. She was alarmed when she noticed their militant costume. The shock was quickly replaced by the alarm of danger approaching. She tried to work out an escape. The alarm gave her the motivation to walk faster, despite the thirst and her tired thighs.
Azaran had climbed out of the tunnel only to find that Razia was nowhere to be seen. He grew worrisome at the thought of Razia being in danger. The complete desertion of the area did not help his nerves. He had to find her and make sure she was safe. The elders would not come down at the tunnel till evening when the curfew would subside. He thought about all the places she could go while keeping in mind that he had very less time.
Through the cascades of Time, slaughters of swords,
Killings of the humane,
Fear of the undefeated and vengeful of the unfair,
Syria like a jeweled desert stood still in the test of history and Time.
Will it stand this time?
Will the evening weep the song of broken friendship?
Will the broken city break their strong friendship?
What will happen to Razia? Will she be safe?
To be Continued…