(Note: this article is part of Volume 18, Issue 2 publication, to view other articles click here. To view the ISSUU version of the magazine click here)

by Ifrah Akhter I dropped the ball I held in my hands, when my father told me.

“Hakim is gone.” He said gravely, eyes downcast. “The bombs fell on your school and he was playing there.” Moist, were my father’s eyes. I’d never seen him cry before.

When a parent cries, a child’s whole world seems unstable for the first time, able to crumble. My world had been crumbling for a long time. Brick by brick it fell into ruin. And I stood helpless.

“The janazah is today Mahmud. I thought you may want to go.” His voice was gentle.

My mind was still trying to take in what Baba had told me.

They say, after family come friends. Hakim had become my family.

I, with no brothers, became a brother to Hakim and he to me.

“When Baba?” Even to my ears, my 10 year old voice sounded older than it should have been. Wiser than it should have been. Sadder than it could have been.

When you burn the midnight oil afraid to lose light, when your lullaby in the dark of night is the sound of bombs falling around you, when your bread lies soaked in the tears of mothers and the blood of your country men, you grow up. The veil of innocence is ripped away ruthlessly. You grow up, even if you don’t want to.

I was a child in appearance only. Death had become my harsh reality. And I watched.

They said the land was theirs.

We said it was ours.

But we said we could share.

They insisted it was theirs.

Only. Theirs.

How could you reason with such a people?

Father said these things pass with time. Time heals wounds, he said. Time smooths the wrinkles.

As I carry Hakim’s small, cold, dead body, my friends and I are his companions to his final resting place. But after we leave, he will be alone in the ground. The gravel road under my feet blurs as I walk.

I wonder about my father’s words.

He did not grow up in the war like I am. He never saw the things I am seeing now.

My friends clothed in red, like scarlet birds whose body is tied to earth yet whose souls have flown back to the Creator.

My hands tremble as I clutch a fist full of dirt.

The tears silent, my face solemn.

I make a prayer to God, to Hakim.

“Brother,” I say in my heart, “Your death will not go in vain. I will make a difference.”

The dirt from which Adam was first born and to which his children return, falls gently from my fingertips.

“Then I will join you there in Jennah.”

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