As habitually, Hamza leaned back against the dark white-painted wall recently-spotted with the hands of his little nephews, nieces, and little cousins and whereon crevices of various lengths laid bleakly; he fought off all nudging thoughts which overrun him every now and then as if they conspired with the blasts hereabouts to preoccupy his mind when it looked peaceful for him to proceed on his reading. Theses thoughts, as he assumed, were of his own creation; they were figments of his own imagination; and therefore, they haunted no one but himself; they wanted to prevent him from going on reading his book. The candlelight flickered , and thus his shadow on the wall, while gentle cold breeze wafted through the slightly opened windows: His mother, a moderate lady in her late forties with a mole on the nose, made sure to open them slightly before everyone falls asleep and that in case a blast takes place nearby, the windows will not be smashed into pieces. Hamza, the book lying open onto his warm hands, persevered in reading his tattered book: the book which his father used to be obsessed with; he read it time and again and perhaps that was what made it badly tattered. Hamza read on: ‘”Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our Freedom” Hardly had Hamza closed his lips on, softly, pronouncing the ‘m’, a huge deafening blast struck the area and turned the once-seemed never-ending prevailing silence into an ear-shattering thunder. Hamza, unconsciously tightening his grip of the book, his heart pounding as though it were ripping his chest from inside, immediately jerked his head back. Pitch darkness savagely lied there. He focused his looks ahead, straining to fathom something of what he saw; but the deeper he focused his looks, the more his grip tightened around the book, and the pitcher the darkness seemed around him.
None could ever understand what made him smile in his sleep. No one could ever simply conjecture that, only when he is asleep, he could have the objects that would grant him relief and happiness. He could own what he was always dispossessed of when not sleeping. He was encircled by his hissing nephews, nieces, and cousins— they were staying at their home along with their families during the war— who were competing who would come near that sleeping body and touch his bristling beard. Hamza lightly opened his eyes while clear mirthful faces, guiltless of wakening him up, were purely grinning to him. Yawning, he outstretched his arms, his book next to his head, half-covered under the pillow, and smiled back at the kids before he bade them leave the room. “C’mon, buddies, go play away.” quietly said Hamza, pulling the blanket up onto his face. The sun was flowing into the room through the widely-opened windows. This was the first thing his mother used to do when she woke up; she inherited this propensity from her mother not knowing what exactly it meant to do it before all else: perhaps to breathe a new life into their dull faces, or perhaps the windows were the first object to meet their eyes, so, desiring to release themselves from a smell that was not commendable in the least, they opened them. The light made the spots on the white-painted wall distinctly visible, and brightened the heaped up waxy pieces on the tarnished candlestick. Meanwhile, a little heavenly-like girl stealthily drew near the sleeping-again Hamza, whose smile had not vanished from his lips yet; she advanced on tiptoe, her eyes beaming, and concealing her smile with the back of her hands, she placed herself by her uncle’s head. The little ones on the other direction were no more hissing. They started to lose control of their sniggers which were little by little turning into uncomfortable chuckles. Hamza fidgeted, while the girl who was blocking the sun from his face, extended her hands to touch his beard. Dreadful silence prevailed in the place while the little ones finally ceased sniggering, carefully watching their playmate triumph over her uncle’s beard. The little girl fixed her eyes unflinchingly on her target while her hands were steadily nearing Hamza’s face. A sudden huge piercing blast hit the nearby area. The girl shuddered, pulling her hands promptly. She pushed her red under-lip out, and, contorting, she cried. Hamza, who had gotten up panicky, dashed to the windows while the hovering fainted away. It was shortly then, he had collected himself again and patted his preferable little niece to stop crying. He was harshly rebuking himself for failing once again as the would-be-familiar blasts aroused him from his sleep another time.
Hamza assured himself he would not have the least trouble, in case of, one day, becoming a father, his children ask him to tell them a story. He was standing by the window and reflecting on the past few days. “One week! Oh time goes by so slow” Hamza muttered, resting his head in his hands which were leaning against the windowsill. He looked at the vacant street below recalling how lively it used to be, and, feeling queasy, he raised his head. The view of the blue sky spotted with a few light clouds roaming overhead amused him; it revived his normal-low spirits. “At least, you’ve got some life.” He muttered again lowering his head. The street was not vacant, however; two dogs trotted along lolling their tongues and wagging their tails. Hamza, delighted, opened his mouth to call the dogs; he wanted to say something; he wanted to hail them, and, for moments, he had that sincere desire to yelp. But his desire had not lasted for long when he raised his head again as the hovering overhead was irresistibly to be ignored. He focused his eyes on the two choppers tearing their way through the clouds while the two dogs below had centered the street. Hamza was mindful enough to discern the message of both the still-hovering choppers above and the wagging-tailed dogs below. He was pondering on his unchanging status, and exasperated at grasping the discrepancy between his own status, and the other of the sky and earth. He had unequalled capability to dig deeply into the happenings around him, and little unimportant incidents which were insignificant to others, profoundly inspired him, though he thoroughly failed to notice his mother calling out for him over lunch.
It grew darker, and thus harder to read, as the sun, peacefully, sank to bestow a new life on a new people. And it seemed peaceful about while Hamza, sinking into darkness which nothing other than the same sun provided him with, goggled his eyes and struggled to read the grim lines lying lifelessly before him. It dawned on him earlier as long we seek it, we can give it, and there always must be life so close to us— closer than we imagine. He had some life to live among darkness, therefore; and Hamza had not failed to see it lying before him. “Everybody had fallen asleep” he thought, relaxing his eyes. “That’s another thing to be proud of,” looking down the page; he kept on in his thoughts. Meanwhile, the irregular creaks coming from the farthest door on the other side could not break him in the least from his prolonged muse. “Well, I’ve got a lot to be proud of” He replied to himself, conceitedly. Then, suddenly, “Hey, you’re still awake!” Came the soft low voice of his brother Jihad— He was Hamza’s only brother, seven years younger than him. Collecting himself, Hamza kept calm for moments, then replied in an undertone: “Yeah, just reading a few pages before go to sleep,” He smiled at his brother as he uttered his words. “Oh yeah I know” Jihad replied whisperingly. He moved closer, his blanket over his shoulder dragged on the floor, and seated himself next to Hamza. Hamza commenced perusing his book; his legs lying half-bare as the folds of his slacks piled up randomly at his knees. Little Jihad, noting this, drew the blanket to shield his brother’s legs; he could feel they were menaced, and covering them would help him, at the very least, muster his concentration on reading; however, he did not define precisely what menace he wanted to protect them from. In good tranquil times, Jihad was afraid of darkness; he seriously hated silence and never liked being cold; that is, he escaped the three conditions when alone, although in the presence of Hamza, he dared to insult darkness by his laughs. He turned his face, gazed at Hamza, and anxiously observed his eyes were fixed. Cold air wafted their faces while Jihad felt a great desire to break the horrifying silence, so, confidently, he interrupted his brother’s feigned reading, in fact he tore him away from his deep muse, and stated in a clear high tone: “I won’t go to school when war’s over,” He grinned. Hamza, immediately, turned his face, and lowered his looks to meet his brother’s “You won’t?” Widening his eyes in astonishment, he questioned whisperingly. “Yeah they say it’s goin’ to be an open-week” Cunningly, Little Jihad justified. “And I know what they’re goin’ to tell us, so I’ll just stay home.” Raising his voice, Jihad continued, his eyes beaming through darkness. Hamza was not surprised by his little brother’s clear and confident statement, as he justified it, yet he had but to praise him another time: “Oh yeah I see; you don’ need to,” He said. “But you won’t blow that week playfully, will you? I’ll bring you another two stories, how does that seem?” Hamza went on, admiringly, his smile broadened as he said this. Jihad exchanged looks with him for moments, and, neglecting the cold darkness, he said cheerfully: “Yeah I’ll read whatever you bring me.” He, then, feeling secure, sank under his blanket and, at short notice, fell asleep while, besides him, Hamza resumed reading his book encompassed by silent cold darkness.
Hamza whiled the night, his book in his lab, and his hands flipping the pages one following the other; he had not known he would have such persistence like that of a night spent with no company encircling him except that company of coldness, darkness, an amusing wheezing of his little sleeping brother: a persistence that empowered him to satiate his hunger lavishly devouring the words mercilessly. He breathed a thoroughly new life into himself.
Hamza strove to open his eyes a few hours later. He failed, but, persistent, he had to fight. He failed again, expectedly. His smile never vanished from his lips while sleeping; this time, however, it was a smile of that kind, ironically, he used to shoot others when they attempted to test his will. Hamza opened his eyes. But all he could see was blurry figures floundering before his eyes: rampantly swinging figures: higher and lower, lower and higher, right to left, and left to right. Shortly afterwards, the rampant figures cooled, and the picture settled down, and Hamza could make out some non-familiar figures around him; he focused his eyes and attempted to take a close look: masked surgeons were encircling him, and, on both sides, he could see needles, surgical blades, scalpels, handles and some scattered tablets. He knew this was a surgery room, and he needed not to seek further inquiring to realize what kind of rooms it was and who these people standing before him, curious gazes in their eyes, were. He needed but to know he had to be a little submissive sometimes. Hamza, obstinate as he was, insisted to ask, but scarcely had his lips separated, huge pains swelled through his chest and the back of his head, and now he had to be entirely submissive. His eyes slightly closed, He started to recall back the last moments he had lived before. “Right here, c’mon, c’mon, here I found another one.” The words resonated in his ears. Hamza, then, amid the hubbub, felt himself being heaved from under the rubble, his face hanging backwards, and the pebbles harshly scratching his dangling hands. The ambulance sirens were his great disturbance, and he could feel cold air bitterly blow his face while the hands of those carrying him on each side unconsciously nudged him in the ribs as they rushed to one of the ambulances. Meanwhile, through a gap in the ruins, Hamza was looking backward at the little body of Jihad laying peacefully, his burned hand extended motionlessly on his tattered book.
Mohammed Rabah Suliman
14th December 2009