“I want to survive”

I unconsciously replied to my big brother’s question. He did not expect such an answer to his inquiry on what I wanted him to get me from the supermarket before it gets dark, before hell would break again that night as it usually did every night at the same time. He laughed, bitterly. I did not.

It took me some time to realize that still then, I was surviving. After what seemed a long time, I still survived. It was a miracle to survive the nights. It wasn’t the same in the morning, but at night every thing went loose. Our house would be lighted every now and a while by a near bomb, but then the light we’ve missed for a while at night was of no use to us as staying up in our third-floor apartment was just an act of craziness. Here, one could definitely get shot any second. It was too close. The war was too close I couldn’t believe I’m still surviving. Here, you wouldn’t know when a bullet finally rests at your heart or chest or your eye, or a shell just tears you all apart. It was definitely crazy at night. Night was the time for evacuation, or shall I call it displacement? Leaving our house was never optional. It’s either you die or you leave the house to survive, which again was not guaranteed as you might leave the house to find that bullet waiting to rest in your heart as well. But, we had to go down anyway.

It was about sunset now. I could hear it begin again. I could hear it begin as every night at the same time and I would grab my mattress, my pillow, and my blankets, with the voice of my mother urging me to hurry. “It’s no time to be an obtuse” she would say, and I would discover that she was right as she always is, for I would have to crawl to go downstairs with not a bit of light on the stairs and with that luggage in my hands, in my pockets, on my head and covering me all around. I would crawl and cry. I’ve never paid much attention to history before and I so much hated history classes, but every time I would get downstairs seeing my mother, my father, brothers and sister with the luggage they could collect; most of which was not important, I could not but recall my late grandmother’s talk about the way she left her home. I thought we’re destined to displacement.

The downstairs room was not as clean or as wide as own lighted well-cleaned house. It was fine but bitterly cold. Somehow, my father thought it’s safer. My mother had to obey. It seemed to me that for this time, she was going to let him decide where we shall spend the night. Desperate, she would let him decide where we shall die. She could not. She was courageous though or acting so. She refused to get out of the house completely. I Thought I would never hear her say so, but she courageously refused to leave the house, and she repeated what I for once thought a cliché “I want to die at home.” My brother, terrified to death by the news of a close bombardment to a neighbour’s house, started crying, shouting at her face. “I don’t want to die”, he pleaded. Back then, I shamefully thought of how selfish of her to sacrifice all of her children for the sake of an old cliché and an older house. But, she was a refugee. She knew what it’s like to leave home. She knew the guilt she would feel when time passes by. That I knew later. I remember that her mother died, wishing she never left home.

The nights were dark and cold at that room. And when all would decide to stop talking, and try to sleep, I would start reading. Solaced by one and only one book that I kept reading over and over again, my mother, taking notice that I, unlike the others did not pretend to sleep, would start rebuking me every time she sees me holding the book so close to my eyes with one hand while the other holding a candle. “Are you planning to die burnt? Wait for your fate.” It was then I grew that fascination for Darwish, his “She is a song” was such a great relief. He, too, lived a war. He, too, wanted to survive to sing her a song and to make a cup of morning coffee. How many wars have we witnessed so far? Why didn’t the word cause me to tremble before as I’m trembling now? Perhaps it’s only cold.

Cold were those dark nights, sometimes terribly loud, frighteningly loud that I wished for some silence. That I could not get with the old radio my mother kept in her pocket day and night, tuned on. Was it her curiosity that made her listen to every single piece of news? Was she hopefully waiting they would announce the end of the war soon? As tortuous as it was, I was thankful electricity was off. Listening to my aunt crying heavily on the telephone and asking us to persevere, I knew that I have missed a lot. I heard the radio say a family was massacred the other day. I heard they say they demolished a whole neighbourhood, sometimes on the head of its inhabitants. I heard them announce figures of children, women, and men killed. I even heard some people calling and screaming for the help of the Red Crescent. Yet, I knew nothing. I’ve seen nothing of it.

“War would end soon. Perhaps it ends tomorrow. They say so.”

“You said so yesterday and the day before, and every day, father” I mutter, not caring.

The next day, the bombardment was faintly heard. There were still some warplanes around. But most importantly, electricity was back. TV was turned on again. In fact, we knew nothing, we’ve seen nothing. The last 23 days started passing in pictures and voice into the screens. I was not on TV. None of my family was. I survived a war while more than a thousand of my people did not. I survived a war not because I was a hero, but…

A war ago, I wouldn’t have thought about writing this, about writing anything. Today, trembling, recalling, I find it an obligation to write the details of it no matter how trivial it might sound for I have to survive; we shall survive.

Sameeha Elwan

26th December, 2010

 

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