“Hey! How did it go?” Amna asked her friend, Maria about the exam they just stepped out of.
“It was just okay, not very good. What about you?” Maria inquired Amna in return.
“Same.” Amna replied sadly.
“Yeah it was tough! Well, I am so hungry. Do you want to eat something?” Maria was feeling tired and hungry.
“Yeah of course! Let’s go to café.” Amna said and they moved towards café.
They were biology students in their 9th grade and were preparing to go to 10th grade.
_ _ _
“Do you have any news about the exam postponement?” Maria was asking Amna while they were having club-sandwiches.
“Yeah I have heard. But I hope nothing will happen. We are so used to such situations.” Amna replied recklessly.
“Hmm, but my dad was telling me that there are already shutter down strikes going on in many cities and the condition is getting worse. That is why it’s hearsay that it’s very much likely that the situation will get critical here too.” Maria wasn’t satisfied with Amna’s response.
“Let’s see buddy. And hope for the best. Just prepare for the next examination paper.” Amna responded carelessly once again. They finished their meal and prepared to leave for home. It had been a tiring day for both of them.
* * *
“Assalam-o-alaikum *ammi.” Amna greeted her mother as soon as she got home.
“Walaikum assalam. How was your exam?” She greeted her back and asked.
“It was okay. Where is Ahsan?” She changed the topic. She wasn’t in the mood of talking about exams. It was upsetting her. She was a perfectionist and that time in her exam she wasn’t perfect.
“He’s out with his friends.” Her mother told her.
“Alright. I am going to sleep.” She went to her room and rested. She had to study whole night for the next examination paper.
* * *
It was 1am and she was tired of studying. She had been studying since five straight hours. Everyone in the house was sleeping and she wanted to sleep was well but she didn’t. She wanted to score highest. She wanted to get admission in one of the best medical colleges in the city and for that she had to work hard, she couldn’t sleep.
“Go sleep beta. You have one more day to prepare.” Her mother suddenly came into her room. She just came out to drink some water and entered Amna’s room when she saw lights turned on.
“Yes ammi! I’ll sleep in a bit.” Amna smiled at her mother.
“There is news that your exams might postpone. Conditions aren’t well in country.” Her mother was informing her of the current situation. She didn’t pay attention like before.
“Yes but it’s very common now ammi. We are so used to it.” Amna replied while her eyes stuck on her notes.
“Anyway, sleep soon.” She gently moved her palm on Amna’s head and left her room. Amna studied for four more hours and then slept.
* * *
“Go Assad Go, We don’t want you.”
“Go Assad Go, We don’t want you.”
“Free this state from Alwaitis”
“Go Assad Go.”
Amna got up from a deep sleep early morning when she heard such violent protest going on her home street. She got up and peeked outside the window; the rally was passing through the streets and protestors were raising slogans in loud and blaring voices. There was so much chaos outside. She had been so much busy in her exams since last week.
“Oh *Allah, Why there is so much noise outside!!” Amna exclaimed frustratingly and move towards bathroom. She had been burning midnight oil due to her exams and waking up so early made her aggravated.
“A public protest which was started with an anti-regime graffiti by some children has turned out to be a country wide protest now. It seems a threatening situation throughout the country and people are raising massive slogans against President Bashar al-Asad.” Amna stopped on a news channel and heard the news. They were telecasting protest coverage from different cities. She had just come out of her room for breakfast when she accidentally stopped by the news channel. It made her furious and curious both at the same time. She pressed forward button and turned towards the next news channel.
“A country-wide protest has been observed throughout Syria since few weeks. Today, this protest has intensified and public is demanding government to punish the perpetrators. People throughout the country are extremely angry and aggressive.” Another news channel reported. The situation had gotten critical in her city as well. The rumors that she had been listening to since few weeks had come true then.
“My Allah! What’s going on?” I have my exam tomorrow.
“All the examinations have been postponed throughout the country due to critical situation. New dates will be announced later.” The news channel was broadcasting breaking news then. Amna should’ve been happy to hear to this news because she wanted more time to prepare but she was afraid and aghast. She had been hearing such conflicting news since few weeks but she thought it is just for the time being and will soon end. But this chaos was converting into a country-wide havoc.
“Ammi! Do you know where dad and Ahsan are? The situation outside is very critical. Did you see the news?” Amna was asking her mother who was cooking in the kitchen. She was aware of the news but she didn’t know how intensified it had got till then.
“Yes beta I have seen. People are protesting.” Her mom replied to her while stirring the curry she was preparing.
“No ammi it’s not just a protest. Government has taken action against the protestors and they are planning to make a Free Syrian Army (FSA)” Amna was talking to her nearly shouting while she was busy cooking. She kept cooking, without paying serious attention.
“Come see ammi! Come!” Amna was calling her, alarming her of the growing tension. She came in and saw the news. It was really threatening. After a few hours her father and brother were back from work too.
Amna and her family members were so used to protests, security issues and minor critical situations but it was cultivating with each passing time. Amna was worried about her exams earlier but country-wide menace made her more furious. She had been watching television on daily basis then. The number of deaths, injuries and missing people was increasing day by day. Her father and brother were home since few days.
* * *
“I don’t know when will this all end? I have no idea about my exams!” Amna was talking to her father on dinner. Their routine was nothing more than waking up, watching television, hearing news about the number of killings and bomb blasts all over the country.
“Everything will be alright beta! It’s just hatred among different sects for each other. Hope for the best and it will end soon.” He knew he was hiding the reality from his little kid. He was lying to her. Deep down in his heart he felt like cheating on her but he had no other option. Sometimes you just can’t speak the truth! Not because you are a liar but because you don’t want to face the reality as it is harsh and unfair. Days were passing and they were getting worse.
Bashar Al-Assad was the President of Syria and Amna was a civilian of Damascus. The chaos which started from city of Derra just as a protest against president had spread throughout the country within three months. That’s what happens when the culture of sects starts prevailing. Assad was an Alwaite Muslim and the opposing population started protesting against him just on the basis of cast and sects and the deterioration started right from that point and it grew rapidly. Amna wasn’t aware of her future. She had always dreamed of becoming a doctor. How would she be prepared to leave all her dreams behind! How would she know that she was going to face the most miserable time anyone in the world would have ever felt! She was just an innocent kid with tons of dreams and enthusiasm in her mind and heart. The protest has now turned into a civil war and the victims were no one other than innocent civilians.
“There’s nothing to eat anymore.” Amna’s mom was telling her father.
“Please check! There might be something. We have stalked four months food. It’s been three months only.” Her dad replied worriedly.
“No there isn’t any. We stalked two months food that we used three complete months. There isn’t anything at all.” Her mother was almost crying then.
It was only then when they heard loud bomb blast. It wasn’t far away, it was somewhere near. Panic and fear rose among them. All of a sudden, people came out of their houses to see what had happened. There was so much panic among them. Amna felt tremor in her hands. She felt trepidation in going outside. She protested on going out of her father and Ahsan as well. She had never felt such huge noise before. They were only deciding from where had the voice of bomb come that they heard another voice, more intense, less distant. That time Amna felt like the floor has displaced beneath her leg. It had shaken her completely.
“It’s not a bomb blast. Something is coming towards us.” Ahsan informed them.
“*Baba please doesn’t go outside! Please don’t go!” Amna started begging her father who was running outside, but, he didn’t stop. She kept protesting louder and louder.
Amna had no idea what life was going to show her next. She didn’t know what was coming but whatever it was, it wasn’t good. She was pretty sure about that. She didn’t want to face all that she had been watching on news channels. All this was very new to her. She was a dearest child of her family. Her father had kept her like a doll, her mother had treated her like a princess, and brother had loved her like a new born baby. She had been so used to being pampered and protected. How could she protect herself from what was going to happen then.
“Amna go inside and take your mom with you. There are people coming with tanks and riffles here.” Her father was shouting to her from outside. She was watching all the dishevelment from balcony that all of a sudden she saw a tank coming to her street. Hundreds of people including children were standing there including her father and brother. It was only then she saw the most disastrous thing of her life. She shouted, alarmed her father and Ahsan of the coming tank but they were concentrating on looking at her and her mother and telling them to go inside. Amna pointed towards the tank and tried to alarm them once again to look behind. That time they did but it was too late. There were two tanks and fully armed men were inside. A man on top of each tank had a riffle in his hand that he was pointing towards the people on road. As soon as her father and Ahsan looked behind, they opened fire and killed each and every one on road like a hunter hunting for houbara bustrard. People were falling down like dried leaves falling from trees in autumn. Amna protested, shouted, cried but she was helpless. She felt her heart stopped beating, her mind stopped working. She couldn’t think anything nor feel anything except sudden pain. A pang and throe she felt settling in her heart. She ran towards outside without thinking about the possibility of being killed. She hadn’t accepted in her mind that they were dead. How could they be! They were talking to her few minutes ago, alarming and instructing her to go inside. And now??? She kept running, but her mother stopped her. She shouted and protested but her mom pulled her towards herself and locked the door. Memories of her childhood started coming in her mind. How her father took her on her shoulders and walked miles! How she used to fight with her brother over little things! How they used to go out for dinners every next day! How both of them used to bring her chocolates just because it delighted her! How they used to cosset her, care for her! Memories were rushing through her mind and only then she heard another explosive noise outside. What was it? Ahsan was no more there to alarm her. She became extremely worried for her mother now. She didn’t want to lose her. She wanted to sacrifice her life for the sake of her mother. But she couldn’t help herself. No one was listening to her. No one was there for her. The explosives were being bombarded on neighborhoods only. She was calculating the distance only when she experienced yet another worst thing of her life. A missile with hundreds of speed per kilometers was fired on her house. It had made a big hole on the wall of lounge. She and her mother were sitting inside room. The lock had dropped itself due to the echo and frequency of explosion and the door opened. She couldn’t believe her eyes, but she thanked she didn’t see it when it was fired. It was too much to absorb and accept what was happening then. Only few hours had shown her what she had never even dreamed of. She was crying so hardly. She didn’t know that it wasn’t going to stop. Worst of it was yet to come! Don’t know how much more pain her little heart was going to feel!
“What is going on mom? Why are they doing all this? What do they want from us” Amna started crying once again. Her mom showed so much courage. She had just lost her husband and son but she was being strong for her daughter. She hugged her tightly. She was crying and Amna’s question made her cry even more. Both of them hugged each other tightly and they cried several minutes like this. Amna was facing that huge hole that had just been made by the missile explosion. She saw a few military men going into her neighborhood’s forcefully. They kicked the door opened and entered. Her senses came back and she felt adrenaline rushed through her body. It was as though she was watching a Hollywood action movie. She had no idea such action scenes are so terrifying in real. She separated herself from her mother quickly.
“Mom they are coming. They are coming towards us!” Amna was pointing towards the armed men entering in the neighborhood. Her mom became frightened. She had no idea what to do, where to go. They were everywhere. They couldn’t hide nor could they run. But they tried anyhow.
“Let’s hide in the next room. Come come come!” Her mom took her hand and pulled her to run towards the room next to that one. They hid behind the door. Amna felt desperately to go outside and check if her father and brother were alive. How could life be so cruel to her all of a sudden that she couldn’t even see the dead bodies of her loved ones? She had never harmed anyone nor hurt anyone, then why was all this happening to her? She was unable to answer these questions. She started reciting all short verses she memorized in her early childhood.
Allah! I will pray from now on. I will help the needy. But please Allah end this all. Let me see the face of my father and brother. If they are dead, let me bury them and if they are alive let me nurse them back to life- she prayed in her heart.
They were next. The armed men entered their house from the hole then. Amna had just started shouting and her mother gaged her suddenly.
“Sssshhhhhh! don’t shout!” she put finger on her lips and told her not to make noise. Amna’s eyes were wide open of fear. She felt urinating. They were throwing tables and chair violently in the lounge like a tiger tears his prey when he’s hungry. They searched for someone in home and came to the room Amna and her mom left a moment ago.
“Where the hell did everybody go?” One of the men asked another. They were six men inside altogether.
“May be we just killed the residents of this house outside.” Another colleague replied jokingly and all of them laughed. Amna and her mother were sweating badly. They were just praying to Allah they may go away so that they could breathe. They had even forgotten about their loved ones they just lost, whose dead bodies were still outside. Those armed men were still there. Prayers weren’t working.
Why us Allah? Why all this mess? We don’t deserve this! - Amna was talking to Allah in her heart and crying.
And all of a sudden, the door of their room burst open and those six armed men entered violently. It was a blood-and-guts scene. Amna couldn’t shout nor scream. She just held her mom tightly. Both of them were convulsing. Those men had blood in their eyes. They surely drank blood not water.
They aren’t humans! Why didn’t you introduce us with this kind of creature before Allah? Why such surprise? - Amna was thinking. She felt Allah even more closely this time because she felt death very near to her.
“Oh so here they are fellas! Just take this lady away. We have our food for tonight.” One of them said sarcastically and all of them laughed and nodded.
“Sure thing bro.” Another man leaned forward towards Amna’s mother and held her hand tightly. He shoved Amna away and pulled her mom towards him. He moved his fingers gently on her face. She protested, turned her face but he took her face in his hand and squashed her face.
“Don’t try to be smart OK!” he said to her. She started crying. He pulled her up and took her with him. Two others followed him.
“Please don’t take ammi! Please leave her! You can take me! Please don’t take her!” Amna was begging to them but they paid no attention to her innocent voices. How could they? They weren’t humans. Neither could they listen to humans nor could they behave like humans. Three of them left then. First time in her life, Amna wished she could die. She felt death better than what she was going to face. She was just a little kid but she could feel what was going to happen to her mother and her as well.
“Please leave me or kill me. Please!” She said to one of those human-faced monsters. But same was the case with them. They couldn’t listen to what an innocent kid was saying. They came to her, molested her, all of three of them at the same time. Amna cried and cried and screamed so much until she felt her throat dry. She couldn’t feel her voice anymore. Her vocal cord was hurting now. One of the men stood up and closed the door. Then all of them did to her something that was worse than facing death. That innocent mind couldn’t bear all of this just in few hours. The mind who was preparing to be a doctor in future had been miserably treated by the monsters in the name of political fight, in the name of cast, creed and culture. What does all this had to do with Amna? Did she and her family kill anyone who didn’t belong to their culture? Amna didn’t even know why people were protesting against President Assad. She knew nothing except his name. Then why she had to face all this? Amna felt dark. There was nothing more left in her life then.
_ _ _ _
Those men were gone and she was sitting there naked, empty minded, crying with no tears. She missed her mother, father and her brother. She recalled what just happened to her mother.
What they would have done to her? Same what they did to me? Or did they kill her? - She was trying to find an answer but she hadn’t any. She might not see her mother again. All of a sudden she recalled what had happened to her father and brother. She stood up and moved towards the main gate and suddenly she stopped. She looked at herself and that time she cried with tears.
“I am so dirty now Allah! I am very dirty!” Amna looked upwards as if she was talking to someone sitting on the roof. She went to her room and searched for some clothes. After a minute she found her pink shirt that Ahsan had gifted her on her last birthday. I wish he could come back; Amna thought and put on her clothes.
She went outside. She saw hundreds of men soaked in blood. All the houses were destroyed. She just saw destruction everywhere she could see. She couldn’t believe her eyes. It was only a day ago she walked through these streets and everything was fine. She thought for a while that she was dreaming but she was wide-awake. She searched for her father and her brother. It was so difficult for her to find them. People had wounds on their faces. Many of them had been shot in faces and heads that changed their facial features. She tried to recall the dresses they were wearing but she couldn’t remember. She ran here and there helplessly.
“Where are you baba? I am here for you. Can you listen to me?” Amna was shouting like a kid playing hide and seek with her father.
“*Bhai are you there? Can you listen to me?” She kept wandering here and there, screaming, shouting and crying. At last, after about half an hour of searching, she found both of them lying next to each other. They had been shot multiple times in head and chest. She could recognize their faces easily. They weren’t shot in faces.
“Baba!!!” She screamed as soon as she found him. She hugged him and cried harder. A ray of hope went through her mind that he might be alive. She checked his heartbeat then checked Ahsan’s.
“Baba I am right here. Can you listen to me?”
“Bhai look at me! I am here!” Amna was switching to both of them one by one. But they didn’t speak up. They had been put to sleep forever. They had been sent to Allah. A last hope had gone too. She had been left truly alone in this cruel world. Where no one was there to protect her, love her, feed her, take care of her. Neither she had anyone to love nor could she be loved by anyone anymore. After all that happened to her she was unable to feel any good in herself. She cried sitting in front of the dead bodies of her brother and father for hours. She wanted to ask Allah so many questions which were unanswered. Most wanted of those questions was: “Why me Allah? Why Us?”- She asked again.