The power was off and the night was cold and moonless. Silence prevailed; only the sobs of children and the whistle of bullets being fired in every direction dared to punctuate it. The Angel of Death had decided to sojourn in our town for an indefinite period of time and it seemed he had only just started making himself comfortable among us. We lit some candles and formed a circle around them. Our eyes were fastened on their faint glimmer. It was the only thing we felt we could derive a feeling of safety from and we sucked on it like unweaned babies.
I didn’t understand how some had managed to fall asleep knowing that they very well might not wake up again in the morning. I switched on my portable radio, which had seen better days, and gently, started turning the tuning knob in hopes of receiving a signal, preferably a God-sent and auspicious one. I couldn’t afford to be picky, though, for my old radio was hardly in a cooperative mood. The awful screeches it emitted told me that, at least, the problem didn’t lie in the fact that the batteries had run out. Regardless, the truth was that I couldn’t count on it to keep me company throughout that black and baleful night.
Suddenly, a volley of shots rang out and I felt a surge of panic. I pulled a blanket over my head and laid down to try and catch some shut-eye. I needed to escape conscious reality no matter what. Yet, I couldn’t help having the thought that I looked like a mummy in its coffin and feared that I might actually turn into one if I fell asleep with that picture in my mind. I could hear the wind blowing and the sand it dragged pelting against the window. Then, a raging storm broke out and torrential rain began to lash down. My father still hadn’t returned home and I was worried sick. He had gone out to herd the sheep hours ago.
All of a sudden, I heard the plaintive bleating of sheep. I wanted to stand up and open the door, but then I realized that I had actually managed to drift off to the land of Nod and that I would have to strangle my survival instincts to travel back to the harsh dimension of reality in which I didn’t exercise any sort of control. It took time and effort, but I made it, and as soon as I opened my eyes, I flicked my lighter to look for any obstructions in my path and rushed to the door. My father was standing on the other side. He was soaking wet and shaking. I ushered him inside and offered him something to eat. My lighter’s flint wheel had become too hot to handle and I had to switch hands in order to avoid burning my thumbs. After a short while, I suggested we climb up to the second floor of the house to improve our visibility of the battlefield and psych ourselves up for what lay ahead, but he dismissed this idea with a shake of his head. Instead, he beckoned me to step outside the house. I obeyed, but not without hesitation.
I opened the door once again and, to my surprise, I saw that the sheep were all gone. The wanton destruction wrought by the war had spooked them and driven them to run for their lives. One lamb was trapped in barbed wire and was bleating at the top of its lungs. I then turned around to look at my father and saw that he had been hit by a bullet and was lying dead on the ground. “At least now he has reached Heaven,” I thought. “He doesn’t have to run any longer.”
I leaned back on a nearby palm tree and started crying; I was surrounded by corpses. I tried to recall who fired the first shot, but all that came to mind was an image of the blinding sun.
Written by Ahmad Al Haron.