When I awoke, the sun had begun to set and Ahmed wasn’t back yet. An uneasy feeling in the way only a seven year old could explain come to my mind, and I had racing thoughts of Ma and Baba. The events of the afternoon felt unreal and the thought of home clouded my judgement. In that moment, I forgot everything Ahmed told me and instead raced as fast as my legs could carry me towards the direction of home without glancing down.
As I got towards the main town gate, I stumbled; fell down and rolled over on things that felt like a mixture of cushion and wood. It was uncomfortable, not to add the skunky smell that filled the atmosphere. I managed to find my footing, stood up and took a look at the mattressy-wooden thing that I had rolled over on. Staring at the sight in front of me, I shrieked and screamed. My legs were numb, my hands shivering, tears flooding- I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Lying beneath my feet, in front of me where hundreds of bodies, draped in white with patches of red all over. This couldn’t happen in reality, no, I was only dreaming. For the first time since I had left school, I looked up and around me. To my right and left, men and boys with blood stained clothes were dragging bodies and dumping them at the edge of the already huge pile. Women were gathered together a little away from me, in clusters, weeping, sobbing loudly. Some were on the floor and rolling in tears, others were sitting with hands constantly flared up. Some of the women were seated, with babies clutched to their breasts, a blank expression on their faces- a lot of the women, I recognized. It seemed nobody noticed the little girl in brown skirts and a white shirt, ruffled thick black hair, standing behind a pile of dead bodies, shivering in fear with tear stained face. Too many lives had been lost that day for the living to be noticed. Humanity was lost in Baga, and that wasn’t the only thing lost sadly.
The one thought that kept flashing back to my mind was of Ma, baba and Ahmed. I needed to go home. And for the third time within a few hours, I found myself running. Not away from something, but in fear of what to expect when I arrived. I tried to console myself with words like- “they are fine”, they had to be, they wouldn’t leave me.
It was a long run because our house was a bit far off from the main town but I didn’t feel the distance. The door was open, which the seven year old me thought was a good sign. After the heartbreaking sight at the entrance, I regarded even the setting of the sun as a good sign. I barged into the house screaming Ma, Baba.
Ma came hurrying from the room and swept me off my feet, raising me up and giving thanks to Allah for my safety. It had gotten dark and the flicker of the single candle in the living room was not bright enough for me to make out her facial expressions. Her palms were sweaty though and as she raised me to her chest, I could feel her heart beating rapidly with short breaths.
My dad had joined the rest of the men in sorting out the seriously injured victims from the dead. The rebels who came didn’t extend up till the end of town and hence we were safe. A little way from where I and Ma had met, I sighted Ahmad. Lying on the mat placed against the wall, curled up In a fetal position. I was surprised to learn that Ahmad had returned home just a few minutes before my arrival. We had separated hours ago with the intention that I would go to the school and he, home. Surprisingly, I wasn’t even angry that he forgot about me, just relieved to find him safe.
Ma told me Ahmad came home, trembling and without a word went to the mat and hence the position I found him. She was bewildered; but me, I got scared. What happened in the five hours that I and Ahmad had separated. Why didn’t he go home straight as he had told me? All these questions kept going through my head, all these questions are still going through my head. The answers of which I am yet to find, because that day, I lost my brother. He’s still alive just not living. He doesn’t speak, doesn’t even try to speak. He’s just… Like a living corpse; and the reason, I guess I’ll never find out.
And there are many more kids like Ahmed, distraught and displaced. Kids whose lives have been snatched from them before it even got started. It tears me apart to hear real stories of the trauma they go through because these could have been me. And so, my heart goes to every single child who has ever encountered violence. My heart goes to them. Here’s the link to the first part: part 1