It is mid afternoon and all is quiet apart from the odd sniper; the night’s onslaught will begin in a few hours but for now the heat of the day is too much for battle. The insurgents bide their time. We are holed up meanwhile, in what is left of my uncle’s garden, once a beautiful place and now almost derelict. Sadia is in her own little world as usual and I know the burden of her future rests with me, at seventeen…
She sits in a patch of shade where the outer perimeter wall meets the corner of the house and gazes at what is left of the courtyard and patch of lawn. The meagre flower beds have been trashed and trampled on, but a few blooms still remain, spots of bright colour in a morass of dust, broken concrete and rubble stained with blood. We came here when our own house was bombed, and I hid Sadia in an old shed used for storage, when the soldiers came. She is too young to be slaughtered like the others, and although I survived the carnage by the will of God, I now don’t know what to do with her. My little beloved sister, has no-one but me, her big brother.
Still wearing the light, velveteen coat to match new shalwar kameez she so happily received for her eighth birthday, only a week ago… It may well have been years, so much has changed for us. Sitting on the hard concrete with her ankles up to her bottom, she has tucked the torn and stained garment around her knees and looks as regal as a little princess. She loved this garden. Here she was always the princess. Behind those dark troubled eyes, she still is… Her fingers flutter in the space around her as her mind plays out a familiar scenario. Beautifully patterned butterflies visiting the scented roses, come to rest on her royal fingers, before flying on. She can call the butterflies at will; in her imagination they come. I will always remember her like this – once I leave her, who knows what fate awaits her ?
When the dusk falls, I will take her through the shadows to the rescue centre, set up in a distant suburb and deliver her to the international charity workers. I have written a brief letter with her details and mine, explaining that as the only other member of her family, I am joining the fighting and want them to look after her welfare. I did consider staying with Sadia, perhaps hoping that both of us could be taken away and rehoused somewhere peaceful and normal, being able to pick up our broken lives… But now that is impossible. I have seen pain and utter destruction sweep across my family and homeland, everyone tortured and murdered before me. I cannot ignore that rage and hatred that sweeps over me when I close my eyes ! It gives me no rest – I cannot ignore the damage done – not least to Sadia, who only looks at me with an opaque gaze, detached and remote from any reality. She is the living dead and I cannot help her any further… I must go and fight.