by Eiman Ilyas
Another shard of glass pierces through his reedy slippers as he walks through the streets of his home. He doesn’t cry because he has known worse pain, a more stubbornly aching one in his heart. He keeps walking as if nothing happened; through the fragments of broken wood and marble, through the ghost of his home. The city is almost as broken as he is.
The mockingbirds sing a somber song that resonates through the skimpy canopy of trees. He has gotten used to it, but he has never learnt to like it. Sometimes he is afraid to press his hand to his chest, lest he find a hole where his heart is supposed to be. Sometimes he is afraid of everything, but that’s okay. He is still learning that occasionally courage, a quality every man longs for, can be unbecoming too.
He holds onto to his best friend’s kite. Although his friend has long become part of the debris, he wants to hold on to the memory of him; just like he is holding on to the memory of his father, keeping his old shirts and boots to wear when he gets older, in the hope that he may someday become a man. But maybe that is where he is wrong. Maybe he is already a man. Maybe every young boy and girl is, in a way, grown up. A country that strips you of your childhood as easily as the Germans stripped the Jews of their identities during the Holocaust doesn’t exactly permit its children to ever possess innocence.
A building, half collapsed inwards; this is his safe haven. Here, a flock of birds have made a nest somewhere above and this gives him serenity. Not because they sing, nor does he find much comfort in the presence of another living being, no. It helps him sleep at night, knowing that there is something to warn him when the air gets uncharacteristically thicker and the horizon, darker. When the incessant, terror-ridden chirping begins, that is his sign to hide.
There is a permanent unpleasant odor in the air; the smell of rotting flesh, of melancholic tedium, of grief. He wishes everything were quieter, softer, less often. He wishes that he could see a sunset that was not streaked with wandering ash and stray sparks. He swears he can see the heartache in the sun when it rises, as if it is weary; tired of emerging every day just to see that nothing has changed. He wishes he could sit by the ocean without being reminded of his own saline tears.
His eyes are ide and curious, but his mind is terror-ridden. So youthful yet so afraid. So afraid, yet surprisingly wise. His best teachers are the obsidian hawk-like planes in the sky. You learn from the best to be good. But you learn from the worst to be better. He is careful never to hurt anyone.
Every day he hears the phrase ‘God is on your side,’ and he believes it. He believes it and he has faith in it and he thinks about it every night before he sleeps. He has more faith in those 5 words than a consistent, haughty businessman could ever have in his business. God is on your side. That phrase consumes him so completely that sometimes he forgets that his pillow is a slab of rock and his veins are emptying vials.
He talks to the moon at half past five. The only time he can really feel his heart pounding in his chest, the only time he is aware of his own breathing. He prays to God. God; who he not yet can wholly comprehend, a concept too large for his still developing mind to grasp. All he knows that He will help him. He will help him and his friends and his family and the broken city and his broken heart, and there will be a day when he no longer mistakes the clouds for smoke.