One waked up under the sky of a city where the light of the sun tries so hard to fade out the pitch darkness of the night, and the remnants of black smoke carrying the fear of children who cried or might have even died before having the chance to see the light of day. Everybody prays for the one hour of electricity per day to be somewhere they can use it to get some of their work done.
Public transportation is not as crowded as they it to be anymore and almost every bus carries someone wounded asking the bus to stop in front of the biggest functioning public hospital in the city, the university hospital. The middle of the day is always something you wait for carefully listening to the sound of ambulance filling the city, and hoping that the daily share of mortars won’t get to hurt a family member, a friend or a beloved one. Grabbing a bite with your friends after the sun goes down is now considered an adventure. You might have to change your way at least five times to avoid the falling mortars. You meet knowing that it might be the last time you’ll see each other before each of you takes their way back to the new place they’re trying to restart their life and future from.
The purpose of my visit and the visit of hundreds of people I know who have fled the city to different places inside and outside Syria was to take the midterm exams. Less than one month finishes giving you a mortar beside your house, a bullet in your friend’s head and 2 weeks without being able to see the light or water. Watching my mother fading away among people going back to a place I once used to call home, I sit in the bus taking me back to Damascus.
A lot of children wondered the place between the buses trying to sell sweets to people. They looked homeless, helpless and devastated wearing one layer of clothes with their toes turning purple with the cold. 12-year-old Rama walked into the bus. She was talking to people trying to sell them some sweets. Some of them gave her money while others despised her and told her to get away.
She stood silent behind my seat for seconds before she started reading what I had started writing in my papers IN ENGLISH…. I was more than impressed! “Continue reading darling” I told her.
She read a whole page with anguish in her voice. “Am I reading right?” she asked.
“I used to love English language when I used to go to school. I also loved to read and write the songs they used to teach us there.” She said “After my brother lost his hand because a mortar fell on our house, I started working as a street vendor to help my family. I still have this dream to be a teacher going. I believe I can change who I became today and make people pay attention to what I say just like I did with you now” she told me.
She took me to her friend Ammar who had lit a fire to sit beside it with his friend giving tissues to people who wanted to use the bathroom beside the fruit shop. He had only one chair, yet he invited me to sit on it. “You look cold. Come get warm with us,” he said. Ammar also left his school after being displaced six times since the war started in the Salah Al-Din area. “My hands and face look black because of the heating methods we use in our house. We normally cut-off trees and burn wood inside a metal container just like this one,” he says. “My mom says that it’s neither healthy nor clean to do that but we’re not in our house anymore. Therefore, we have to bear all the circumstances.”
“You are the first person who actually stops to pay attention to who we are or asks our names. Normally, people treat us just like we’re machines producing toilet paper, sweets or whatever. They silently put the money on the table and wait for us to give them something in return,” Ammar says.
It was not long before the bus started moving and I had to get back to my seat.
The three children followed me with an apple in their tired hands.it was just as red as their cold cheeks. Their names were graved on it with “Thank You” written in English by Rama. “This is for you to remember us always” they said waving their hands and giving kisses in the air. Although the children of Aleppo have lost every single aspect of their lives and childhood, they still carry the most honest hearts.
The apple, the kisses and the sparkle of their eyes are the most precious thing I’ve ever owned “In Times of War”…..