Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Gifts From Faraway Places

Her face turned an angry red when she learned the market was out of rice. She had tried several shops in the neighborhood and no one knew when there’d be more. Her face was hot, her chest heaved as she took intentionally slow steps and long, extended breaths. Her limbs vibrated softy, it was an almost imperceptible shaking to anyone watching, but it affected her speech and walk in subtle ways, and in recent months, she had begun to move slower in an effort to disguise her constant state of fear.
It was almost a year ago since the first bomb was dropped; it was that day, while the night was heavy with the heat of August, that she became familiar with the sensation of panic. Terror traveled through her open window, wrapping itself around her like the thick arms of a possessive lover. That night became a stain in her memory, its edges dark and black, leading to the open well of wounds which tunneled deeper each passing day.
Before that horrible day in August, she had led a modest life. She was raised by deeply religious parents who sheltered her from the influences of the world. She spent her childhood confined to her home and small family garden, her mother taught her to cook, (so one day she could please her husband) and her grandmother showed her art of embroidery (so she could decorate the clothing of her children). Now, she was the young mother of an infant son and the obedient wife of a much older man. She had been introduced to her husband by an aunt during a New Year’s celebration, and after a short courtship of shy hand holding and quiet conversations, they were married. Before the one-year anniversary of their marriage, the bombs began to fall.
Now, she looked back with nostalgia, recalling the naivete of her former self, nearly unaware of the global politics that would lead to the reality shattering destruction, the ever present booms and human cries which would soon become a daily occurrence. Her husband had watched the news each night, but he rarely spoke of politics with her, he rarely spoke at all, and even though she spent most of her time in the house and the small courtyard outside, she never turned on the TV. She preferred talking with her neighbors, whose windows opened into her bright courtyard. Her small garden was full of sweet smelling flowers and overflowing with the mint she used to prepare tea. During the day, she loved sitting on the small bench made for two, letting her bones rest beneath the young tree that had begun to bear sweet fruit. In the warmth of the ever present sun, she relished the luxury of resting in the sunshine and filling the small square space of the garden with female laughter and gossip.
When the first bomb struck the earth, only a mile from her house, she was awoken from the sweetest of dreams. Even today, she could not recall the details, but she remembered smiling, remembered the feeling of lightness and air. As she was jolted awake by sirens and the sound of splintering metal, she felt the softness drain from her consciousness. Before her brain could catch up to her movements, she was already running for her son. After gathering the crying infant in her arms, she ran for her husband to ask what was happening. "The Americans" was his only reply, and then he left them to turn on the TV. She spent the rest of the long, black night alone in bed, trying to console her crying son and failing once again with the sound of a new explosion. His cries lasted through the night, never ceasing, never slowing, as if he already knew what was coming. As dawn broke, the sounds of explosions continued.
She thought of the "Americans." A vague place and people. She had had a Mickey Mouse toy once, she had seen pictures of the Statue of Liberty in a book, she could recognize the American flag and her grandfather had bought her a hamburger once, despite the objections of her strict father. Once, while shopping with her sister-in-law, they had passed an electronics shop, and she had glimpsed a TV show with people in red bathing suits running along a beach. She had never known an American. She had been raised by very strict parents, they were conservative in every sense: dress, religion, politics, manners. "Western," was a word her father used with disgust. He said it often and she feared its implications. She didn’t know exactly what it meant, but she knew it was bad and she knew she would never want to be called "western." In the darkness of that first night, she wondered what her country had done. She knew nothing of the world, and for the first time, she wondered if that was a problem. What lay beyond the boundaries of her immediate community was as foreign to her as the strange faraway country which now dropped bombs upon her land.
The days passed with more reports of bombings, and with them, her fears multiplied. After a couple weeks into the conflict, her husband returned from work to tell her he had been fired. He said his job had been "dissolved," which was the official term his boss used. She watched TV with him and saw the images of destruction mounting. Burning oil fields, decimated bridges and hospitals. She saw the crumbled remains of their water plants, the hiding place of women and children that had been bombed accidentally. The shocking images of bodies left to rot on the road filled her with dread. How long would she remain among the living? The fireworks continued each day and night. All her friend’s husbands were out of work too, the faces of the women with whom she had once chatted so happily not so long ago, all their faces were now dark with worry. The neighborhood now lived in a state of constant worry, teetering on the edge of hunger, thirst and desperation. With each visit to the market, she noticed the price of rice and milk steadily rising. Soon, she thought, they would not be able to afford the basics needed to survive…thousands of black thoughts clouded her mind.
Her husband announced he was leaving to join the resistance against "the Americans." As she sobbed, he told her she would move in with his brother and his family, which was only a couple blocks away. Although her husband seldom talked, through her tears, she could see the regret in his eyes; but she could sense his courage, his need to act. He told her there was no option. There was no work, there was no money. Without action, there would be no future for his son, he said. Soon, he lamented, there would not even be any food…the Americans had to be stopped. "I cannot just watch my brothers dying, I must move." He held her all night as she cried. And at dawn, as the sun broke over the horizon, as strong and as a fiery as a bullet, he took them to his brother’s house and said goodbye.

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