The Last Day
This is a real-life inspired narrative centered around the Yemen conflict. The author strives to portray a serious topic in the form of a story to bring its personal aspect forth for the audience. Here a young girl relates her last day to God after her death, starting from a war hospital and ending as a spectator to the horrific school bus bombing by the Saudi-led coalition.
Disclaimer: This narrative is a product of the author’s imagination and is inspired by real events. The happenings presented herein may or may not have any bearing on reality.
Mama had lied. Mama had said things like this didn’t happen in the sun. Now Sophia was going to tell Him how everything had gone wrong. She was going to tell God everything.
The light was so bright she couldn’t see her own hands. She didn’t know if she was sitting or standing, if she was on the ground or in the air. She didn’t know anything, but she knew He was there, that He was around and that He would finally listen.
“Sophia?” The voice rose in her head, like a whisper in the wind that is too soft to hear but you understand the words because of their familiar tune.
“Why did you let it happen?” she asked. She thought that she should cry, but she felt too comfortable to do that. “Why?”
“I brought you to me, Sophia. I stopped the pain. Now, what happened? Tell me.”
“You don’t know?”
“Don’t you want to tell me?”
“Where do I start?” Now that she was here, the sheer burden of her knowledge frightened her. What if she missed something? She didn’t know where to begin. From the hunger and desperation, the emptiness that gnawed at the stomach and eat a person from the inside out? Or from the fire and death, the bullets that whizzed through the air and the smoke that filled the lungs and clogged the throat? Or maybe she should start with how the wind now blew over bare streets and through the hollow shell of her roofless house like a living thing, as if it too was there to push her out because she didn’t belong, because she was alien?
“Start from today morning.”
“Mama said things like this didn’t happen in the sun.” She felt so warm. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been warm.
“When did you wake up?
“In the afternoon.” There had been nothing to eat in the house. There never was, now. “I was sick, so we had to go to the hospital again.”
“Your mama went with you?”
“She carried me. I couldn’t walk.” She closed her eyes. She remembered how her mother’s dusty black abaya had hidden her skeletal frame, making the on-looker almost mistake the hollowness around her eyes for a curious stare. “How could you let this happen?”
“What happened at the hospital?”
A milling crowd of humanity. Thin, hungry children, their curly hair burnished by the sun and their ribs pushing through doll-like chests as if on show, as if they wanted to jump out of the tiny bodies and clatter to the ground. “We waited.”
There was silence.
Sophia looked around. “Did you leave?”
“Then what happened, Sophia?”
“We waited for two hours. There was such a big crowd. And then the doctor was finally free and we saw him.”
Profound silence. White, calming silence.
“They put me in a blue basket to weight me. It was hanging by four ropes from a weighing machine.” She smiled. “I felt like a sack of flour. We haven’t seen flour for months.”
“Who else was there?”
“A woman with a mike and a man with a very large camera. We learned about cameras in school. I remembered. I thought it was a monster on his shoulder when he pointed it at me. I wanted to scream.”
“But you didn’t.”
She giggled. “Of course not. I am a big girl. And mama was there. She said nothing bad can ever happen in the sun.”
“What did you see?”
“The woman had yellow hair and very pale skin. Like milk.” She looked up. “I don’t remember the taste of milk.”
“And the man?”
“The man had dark skin. Very dark. Like the night. But his teeth were so white they looked like stars in the sky. His eyes were huge. Like this.” She made circles on her face with fingers she still couldn’t see, giggling more.
“They were fat, all of them. The doctors in the white coats, the woman with the mike and the man with the monster on his shoulder. They were so, so fat. I was thin.” She remembered her legs sticking over the edge of the basket, the paper-thin flesh stretched over long bones. She wore old yellow shorts, so big that five pairs of thighs just like hers could have fit in them quite easily. The doctors wanted to probe her stomach, so she wasn’t wearing a shirt.
“They put me on a wooden board to measure my height.” A cold, unforgiving wooden board, with two upright plates at the ends that could be lengthened or shortened. It had bit into her back, a foreign object pressed against the knobs of her perpetually bent spine, trying to push it in. “They fixed the board to my height and then wrote it down. The doctor was shaking his head. I am very small for my age, you see. Mama and Papa are both tall. I should be tall.”
“Do you remember your father?”
Sophia closed her eyes again. “He went to fight in the war, so many years ago. They say the enemy blew his head off.” For the first time since coming here, she felt the threat of tears. “I can’t remember his face. I can’t—”
“The hospital, Sophia,” the voice reminded. “What happened then?”
She cleared her throat and set her jaw. I am angry, she reminded herself. I am going to tell God everything. “The woman with the mike was saying something I couldn’t understand. She spoke funny. The man with the monster was pointing it in everybody’s faces. I didn’t like it at all.”
Silence once again. Sophia wondered if he was writing it down, then remembered he didn’t need to.
“The doctor pocked my stomach and shone a light in my eyes. They took the measure of my arms and legs, of my thighs and wrists. When we were about to leave, Mother asked for medicine to help with my sickness. She wanted them to make me whole again. The doctor gave her a few medicines. He was still shaking his head when he looked at me.”
“Did you blame him?”
“He couldn’t do anything. He wanted to help, but he couldn’t. I forgave him.”
“What happened when you left the hospital?”
“I still couldn’t walk. I felt so, so weak, like my arms and legs were rocks. Mother helped me put my clothes back on, and then we left.”
“Where were you walking?”
Sophia laughed. “I wasn’t walking. Mother was walking. She was carrying me.”
“It was a market. A busy market, though there was nothing in the shops that could help us. We didn’t have any money, so we didn’t look at the shops. We just kept walking.”
“Is that where it happened?”
Sophia clenched her fists. “Why can’t I see my hands?”
“Did it happen there, Sophia?”
“I wish you would let me see you.”
“Where did it happen?”
She sighed. “Right there, in the market. It wasn’t supposed to happen. Not in the sun.”
Sophia was getting used to the silence.
“There was a school van passing. It was white and small, and there were children packed inside. They were laughing, the children. Loud and shrill. They were happy.”
Was the whiteness fading? Were those her hands? They didn’t look like her hands. They were fat and round, with dimples on the knuckles. They looked funny. She remembered having fat hands once.
“A boy was looking out the window. He was wearing grey clothes and there was a red bag on his shoulders. He caught my eye and smiled. His smile was so sweet, I couldn’t help smiling back. He waved.”
“There was a low groan in the air. For a moment, nobody looked up. I think all their mothers had said nothing bad happens in the sun too, for they weren’t scared. But then they did look up. It was only a dot in the blue sky at first. Mother had stopped. I told her to keep walking, but she didn’t.”
“What happened to the dot in the sky?”
“It fell. It fell on the van.”
“What was the last thing you saw?”
“The boy. The boy was looking at me again. His eyes were wide now, the smile gone. His hand was still raised in a wave. And then he vanished in ash and fire.”
“I don’t remember. There was pain, for a moment, and then nothing. Did you stop the pain?”
“And did you stop his pain too?”
“After a moment, yes, I stopped his pain too.”
“And my mother?”
“Hers too, Sophia. I stopped her pain too. I stopped all their pain.”
“Why did you let this happen?”
“I am so sorry. Will you forgive me?”
“Will you punish them? Those who did it?”
She could see her thighs now. They too were fat and round, now covered in a loose white gown. She touched the fabric and thought it the softest thing possible. Looking up, she saw a light ahead, a light that seemed to call to her.
“Tell me, will you punish them?”
“Come to me, Sophia. Come to your mother. And to your father. Come.”
“When will you punish them?” The light was bright and golden. Sophia walked toward it. She wanted to touch it. “Tell me, when?”
“You will always be in the sun, Sophia. And nothing bad will ever happen in the sun. Not to you.”
Sophia touched the light. She saw what was beyond, who waited for her there, and she forgot everything. The fire and ash, the hunger and pain, the frustration and death. It was all gone. Nothing could touch her anymore. Nothing could touch them anymore. “Do you promise?”
She never did get an answer to her earlier question.