*Disclaimer: This story was published in The Nav Hind Times in 2007
Inspired by an Iraqi girl who lived in my building
I was sitting at my doorstep. It was three o’clock in the afternoon. Why couldn’t I see the sun? There was smoke billowing everywhere. I hadn’t met Maha, Esraa and Zainab for seven days now. We didn’t play any more. The only good thing was I didn’t have to study. There was no school. I could hear bang, bang, boom everywhere. Mummy called them bombs and explosions. Daddy was so sick but he couldn’t buy his medicines. The chemist was closed. Daddy couldn’t eat anything sweet, he needed his medicines.
I suddenly heard the sound of running footsteps and a big, tall man stood right there in front of me. I looked into those bright blue eyes of his. I saw fear. He was afraid. How could he be afraid of a little three year old village girl? I was frightened. He was holding a big sinister machine in his hand and was pointing it at me. My little brown eyes looked questioningly at this huge blue-eyed helmeted man. Very gently he passed that black machine through my whole body.
What was he expecting? Did he expect me to be hiding something sinister in these little hands of mine?
Then he searched in his pockets and took out a sweet. Wow! He was offering me a sweet after such a scary encounter. I wanted to decline. But I was scared. Did he think that holding that sinister machine in one hand and offering me a sweet would change this encounter into a pleasurable one? I was shaking with fear. As I stood there, I saw so many of them each one going in a different direction. They were going into Maha’s house too. I was transfixed. My eyes searched his. He seemed impatient, yet kind. Did he have a baby like me, whom he had left in America? Then … why … would he want to hurt me?
“I don’t want to hurt you!” he seemed to say.
“Why are you pointing this gun at me?” I asked silently. “You seem so afraid, soldier! Mum says you’ve all come here to set us free! Free from what? Wasn’t I free a moment ago, sitting at my doorstep, watching the world go by? What is the freedom you want to give me, soldier?” I asked him all these questions with silent lips.
He replied in silence, “My commander-in-chief seems to think you are in bondage. You are being ruled by a despot. You have no voice to speak out your troubles and no rights to claim. Your needs are suppressed and so we have come to liberate you and give you your freedom.”
I looked at him and asked him soundlessly, “Do you hear my voice now, soldier, speaking out? If you think the despot silenced me, so be it! He didn’t come to my village with a gun at a three year old’s throat. The despot would let me grow from a child into maybe the murky world of adult life. Then I would know truly how the despot had suppressed my freedom. But you, soldier, you have pointed that black sinister machine at me and changed my sweet, calm existence into a life of trauma. Did you really think you could liberate me, by denying my father a right to buy his medicines? Do you feel, soldier, that after you break down my little home and rebuild it – it will hold the same charm and will I be the same three year old who danced and sang my day away?”
He had heard my words somewhere in the silence of his soul. He bowed his head in shame. He seemed to say, “I obey orders! I do not want to ever cause you any harm. Oh God! What am I doing here? Is this what my country asks of me?”
There in the middle of the afternoon, in a land caught up in the midst of warfare were two lone souls – one of an innocent babe and the other a soldier supposedly on rampage communicating for a lost cause.
I heard myself tell him, “Soldier, go away and that is how my people and I will be free. We are now victims – victims of the despot and your commander-in-chief – who dons the cloak of a foolish Don-Quixote and brings destruction not freedom.”
Suddenly we heard a loud, sharp blast! Then something hit us both! My face was splattered with blood. Something had hit my forehead. Where was the soldier? He was lying on the ground, lifeless and cold. “Didn’t that black sinister machine help you, soldier?”
“Soldier, wake up, you came here to give me liberty, protect me – now I’m bleeding! I need you! Is this the freedom and justice you’d like to bring me? I want to live to see myself free soldier! Soldier, please wake up, your baby somewhere across the sea, is calling out to you! Soldier tell your commander-in-chief at what price freedom…when life is snatched away? I don’t hate you and I know you don’t hate me! We’re both victims of a disastrous tragedy that the world is blind to see! I lay bleeding there, by the soldier’s side! Maybe we could be friends in death!”
Victory and Freedom is a myth – Death a reality!
The liberator cannot feel the throes of victory and the liberated has no life to enjoy freedom.