The crackle of gunfire blares like a storm. The blistering heat is suffocating. The wind churns up the sand in this sour drama staged at the Sinai Peninsula by an army checkpoint south of Sheikh Zuweid. The small building is shored up with sand bags as if it were a fort. Muffled pants and groans can be heard coming from inside. As one approaches the scene, one sees an ailing soldier scrunched down on the floor with his hand pressed against his stomach. His blood is gushing out, soaking his vest and caking the dusty pavement. Another comrade in arms lies next to him in the same position, but he has already lost his life. Half his brains rest at the bottom of an eerie dark red pool. The wounded soldier gazes in fear and bewilderment at the young general who lies stretched out on the ground in front of him. You can see he is scared stiff by the way he clasps his machine gun, as if he could wring some sort of magic shield from it. Another burst of gunfire ricochets off the pavement and makes shards of cement fly in all directions. Hell is raining down on them. The wounded soldier screams, aghast, in pain.
The young general hisses, “Rein yourself in, soldier! They are just rats shooting from the top of a knoll. Get yourself under control, grab the machine gun, and deal with the enemy.”
The wounded soldier, paralyzed by fear and pain, whimpers. “Sir, please forgive me. I cannot. I’m gonna die like a worthless street dog.”
The young general quickly worms his way over to the wounded soldier. Three bullets whistle past them. He gets so close to him that a jet of his hot breath slaps the wounded soldier’s face. He fastens the straps of his subordinate’s vest and yells through clenched teeth, “You are not gonna die, Sayyid! Soldiers do not die. You are a hero and as such, you cannot back down. Suffering pain and shedding blood is what makes us men. Now, crawl over to that trench and shoot to the east. I am going to wipe them out once and for all.”
Sayyid is struggling to stay alive. He looks at his bleeding wound and nods. A tear rolls down his cheek and dries up as soon as it hits the searing ground. Suddenly, his imagination comes to his aid and screens him from the grim reality he is stuck in. He starts fantasizing about his return home from deployment. He sees himself rambling with his mates across the vast fields in the evening. He pictures his wheelchair-bound father clapping enthusiastically on his wedding day, while he waits in the background for the big reveal to happen. Barely daring to even dream about it, he sees the love of his life walking down the aisle toward him. He still remembers how after he had rescued her cat, which was about to fall from a tree onto a water pipe, she had said to him, “Sayyid, you are my hero.”
The pain returns. The place still echoes with the rattle of gunfire. He steals a look at his general, who, hunkered down in the trench, signals him to pitch in and do his part. He rubs the tears out of his eyes, thrusts his hand into his pocket, and takes out his ragged wallet. He shoves it into his mouth and sinks his teeth into the leather. He then gathers up every last ounce of his strength, leaps to his feet, raises his machine gun, and takes aim.
At the top of a not-so-distant knoll, Ramadan is lying on his stomach. Next to him, two of his comrades are planting explosives by a small cement structure. He is finding it hard to breathe because of the scarf clamped over his mouth and nose. The world has turned asphyxiating: the heat, the fright . . .
“Ramadan, don’t let them escape! Go, you are a hero. Riddle those sick traitors with bullets! Allahu Akbar!”
Ramadan sieves through the words that have just fallen on his ears. They have lost their meaning. How on earth should he brace himself for what lies ahead? Not even once has he hesitated about his decision to serve the cause. Until this very moment. All of a sudden, he doesn’t have the guts to pull the trigger. His mind has gone blank. All he can think about is his little brother, who has died in one of the battles of the war between the Egyptian government and the Islamic State. Suddenly, he cannot fathom why anyone would choose to fight so bitterly over power. He can only zero in on the fact that his brother died lying in a pool of his own blood. He doesn’t see the houris waiting for him in Paradise. He doesn’t see the need to buttress God’s authority by spilling the blood of infidels. He’s gonna pump ’em all full of lead only because they have butchered his teenage brother.
However, he suddenly hears screams and wails coming from inside the stone kiosk. He doesn’t know what is going on. Fear grips him. Something major is headed his way, and it sure as hell won’t feel how he had imagined it would to realize his sacred dream of revenge.
A second later, his dead body is lying sprawled on the pavement.
Written by Gamal Alnashar.