urdu: guard keeper
Writing prompt: A contemporary tale that parallels the story of Odysseus when he escapes Ogyjia.
When I lost the anchor to my ground, I felt as though I was flying. For the briefest moment, I could forget where I was, what was happening and all the troubles of my little world. But then my face hit the earth, and the dust flew into the air, and I choked on reality.
Hameez quickly picked me up, and we started to run again.
The rhythm of our bare feet on the hard road was masked by the terrified shouts of women and little children. There was no way they could have found us in all of this madness, but they did anyway.
We rounded a corner, narrowly avoiding knocking over a large wheeled cart, decorated with foul smelling slabs of slowly rotting meat. I grabbed a pole near the stone wall and used it to fling myself around yet another corner, with Hameez close behind.
I knew this formidable maze of a town like the back of my hand. For seven years, I had lived on this soil. Every secret pass, every shortcut, every house was ingrained into my memory forever. If they were chasing us in here, we would lose them in minutes.
Then I heard the warning siren.
I froze in my tracks, my eyes widening in fear.
Hameez nearly crashed into me, for I had given him no warning that I was going stop.
“What’s wrong? What happened? Keep going!” he shouted.
“Qunbula,” I whispered under my breath. “A bomb.”
I took off running again, having already wasted too much time standing there.
The whole experience was so surreal. My feet were both hurting as well as numb, and my eyes stung from the dry dust that was blowing against my face.
The panic around me seemed to reside at the edge of my consciousness. The sobbing of women who cried for the children they had lost, the children they were about to lose and children they never had. Their screams of agony mixed in sync with those of the young children, and the constant bang of the soldiers’ gunfire. Everything around, made me desperate to have my home back.
However I could.
My cousin’s ragged breathing was still close behind me.
But above the cacophony on all sides of me, was the siren. The sound, though terrifying, seemed to help alleviate my fear, perhaps it was the only thing that wasn’t letting me drown in the screams–the one constant wail through all the movement and chaos.
Others heard the siren, too, and the screams intensified.
A sharp stone stabbed into my foot, and the feeling returned. I almost wished it hadn’t, for it burned with pain as dirt and tiny pebbles wedged themselves into the gap in my flesh.
I ignored it and kept running.
I had no idea if Hameez was still behind me.
Though it sickened me, I realized that at least one of us was going to die here, and it couldn’t be me.
Finally, when I thought I was safe, I collapsed against a rough wall. Hameez joined me a minute later.
As I slid down, the protruding rock cut the back of my shirt. But at this point, I didn’t care. Stopping made me realize how exhausted I was, and I had a sudden fear that I might never be able to get up.
“How…do you…run…so fast?” he asked me, still out of breath.
“…Practice,” I huffed. For years I had tried, in vain. And he didn’t know about the hell I had been through before this.
But then I heard the heavy footsteps of the men in boots, and I remembered why I ran so hard and for so long, trying to get my visiting cousin to safety with me. The Israelis had taken me away from Taheen, my little son, and Pehrun, my beautiful wife. For so long I had been careful, waiting for an opportunity to escape their captivity, I couldn’t get myself killed now. I had to go home.
But now, they were here.
I stood up quickly. Too quickly, as my head began to throb and the world began to spin. I felt nauseous and dropped to my knees, panting, still out of breath.
“Odayb!” Hameez shouted.
The siren kept wailing. I wondered if it would lead to the end of all of us. I hated the destruction it brought with it. It reduced humanity to nothing with its power.
I hated having to wait there, kneeling helpless in the dirt, but my body was not cooperating, and I was disheartened from trying to get up again too soon.
The footsteps of the junud grew louder, the echoing footsteps depleting my confidence.
There wasn’t enough time. There’s never enough time. We had to go now, before it was too late.
I stood up, leaving the fatigue behind me, and took off running yet again.
I was vaguely aware of Hameez’s footsteps behind me.
“There! Someone’s over there!” I heard a male voice shout. He sounded as though he were no more than twenty, a young lad, and yet bold enough to attack a town of innocent Palestinians.
I passed an abandoned cart as I went, and, as soon as Hameez ran past, knocked it over in an attempt to slow their pursuit.
I felt incredible, indomitable, in charge of my own destiny.
A couple of soldiers weren’t going to stop me now. I was going to go home.
But then I sensed something, and as Pehrun used to say, I was too curious for my own good, I slowed to watch the sky.
The rocket, which minutes ago had been a pinprick in the sky, was now a malignant black shadow with a massive smoke tail, headed straight for the center of town.
I froze completely. If I turned around and went the other way, I would be able to escape most of the blast. Hameez would still have to face the soldiers, but his American ass might win him some sympathy.
It was unlikely though. Israelis have no soul, I knew. I was a witness to it.
But as I began to twist around, a two soldiers rounded the corner and I came face to face with one holding a massive gun
“Come with us,” the woman said, speaking with an Israeli accent. “The bomb is about to hit. We came to help clear the‘ashkhas out. Yrja tueal maeana. We won’t hurt you.”
Suddenly it didn’t seem like I was in control of my destiny.
I had a choice–run from the Israelis, leaving Hameez to their bullets, or stay, and be killed by the bomb with him. Should I abandon my cousin, who knew little of the reality of war, or sacrifice both of us to the explosion?
The siren kept wailing, and the screams had grown louder, and my foot hurt, and I felt ready to puke, and my throat was dry, and the woman jundiin was staring, and the bomb was drawing closer, and–
I couldn’t take it. I barely noticed my knees buckling, or my shoulder slamming into the ground.
My eyes were only partially open as the soldier with the woman tried to pull me into an underground pit, while she kept firing and yelling at someone behind me.
Hameez stood there unmoving, his mouth somewhat open. He was taking massive, ragged breaths, and it occurred to me that he probably had asthma.
He collapsed onto the ground, then.
“I…I can’t…breathe,” he said. His voice seemed far away. I was surprised I was still conscious. He sounded like he was in pain. He gasped something else that I couldn’t quite hear, but I thought I could make out the words “kill” and “me”.
I would have never known what happened to him if I only I let go of my senses then. But some part of me held on to awareness, and I heard a single gunshot somewhere, followed by the sound of Hameez’s body hitting the ground.
I lost consciousness.
Translation: Arabic words
Qunbula : Bomb
Yrja tueal maeana:Let us help you
Junud: multiple soldiers