By Mira Khatib
In astonished wide-open eyes Ahmad watched the perfect shape of the plane that hovered up in the blue summer sky. For a moment he lost touch with his surroundings and felt his passion to be above the clouds, for it was his dream one day to fly and discover the world he lived in.
“Yalla Ahmad, come on now ” his mother tagging at his arm in frustration wanting to get out of the crowded market and head home, where she had a long list of chores waiting for her. As Faitma made her way passed the loud voices in the streets that called upon different goods for sale, she could feel the trickle of her sweat stroll down the back of her neck beneath her veil.
She sighed as she approached the “Mahsoom” one of the many Israeli check points that forced people to stop and show their identification every time they wanted to pass from the West Bank to what is now called “Israel” (which occupied Palestine since 1948). Although people passed these checkpoints everyday and became somewhat of a routine in their daily routes yet many still could not get use to its mortification.
Ahmad always found himself intrigued by the young army men carrying their heavy weapons around their waste. He knew that although they were very young at age they had power and authority, which they enjoyed to use shamelessly. Since he was six years old Ahmad started to recognize that there are differences between the people that lived on this land, which made him question for the reasons behind it all and tried to make sense of the answers that where given. Ahmad wanted to smile at the young soldier that was looking at him but found it uneasy to do so as he glanced at the machine gun that hung from his shoulder; instead he looked ahead towards the street that lead to his humble home.
Fatima’s thin physique that seemed almost fragile struggled to keep hold of the four heavy grocery bags and Ahmad’s small hand “Stop jumping and walk properly” she demanded. But Ahmad’s excitement made it difficult for him to settle down, for not only did he go to the market with his mom and managed to get a chocolate treat all for himself but he also got the opportunity to admire that great wonder of a plane.
“Vroom vroom” he opened his arms like wings “One day I will fly and wave to you from above” Fatma smiled despite herself at the thought and loved her child’s enthusiasm. She knew from the moment he was born that he was unlike his four older brothers, he is a gifted one, always wanting to quench the thirst of his curiosity wanting to know the truth behind the reality of his small world, and in her heart she felt that somehow her son would make a difference.
That night as Ahmad laid in his bed his intense brown eyes stared at the shimmering stars from afar, his thoughts drifted to that solid face of a soldier that he faced earlier that day and found himself in the mist of many questions. “Why were his eyes so fixated? Why his moves seemed so mechanical?” Ahmad wondered if the soldier noticed him at all. There was something else that drew Ahmad’s attention; the soldier’s resemblance to Gareeb (which means strange or stranger); a young boy just around Ahmad’s age. Ahmad decided to call him that as he never got the chance to know the boys real name and in a way the boys attitude seemed somewhat strange to Ahmad.
He bumped into Gareeb a few weeks back while playing in the park, the colorful marbles in Ahmad’s hands caught the boy’s sight, he hesitated only for a moment before approaching. Ahmad looked up with his intense dark eyes and studied the face before him, trying to make up his mind whether to let him join in, finally he nodded in agreement and put out his hand to reveal the brilliant shades within the marbles. They sat down side by side playing with the round stones admiring their colors, as they rolled their laughter broke all boundaries, they where like any two six year old boys in their little worlds filled with exploration. Suddenly Gareeb got aggressive and snatched the marbles out of Ahmad’s hands and pushed him away. Ahmad sat up looking at Gareeb questioningly.
“Ahmad come here at once!” demanded Fatima, Ahmad looked up and understood his mothers gaze that he was only too well familiar with, for it wasn’t the first time he encountered such situations. Ahmad wondered if he could ignore his mom for once and try to play peacefully with Gareeb, but before he could make up his mind, Gareeb’s mom rushed to her son and took him by the hand while mumbling words in her language. Although Ahmad didn’t understand their meanings yet he knew she wasn’t pleased. As Gareeb was being tagged away with the hard grip of his mothers hand, he turned back and looked at Ahmad with such a confused look in his eyes and he almost let a tear escape his eyes but took control of it, still he managed to give out a smile before turning away. Ahmad waved goodbye to him with a look of acknowledgment almost beyond his years, and accepting the fact that his marbles were gone.
“How many times did I tell you not to play with those people? They are different from us you should know that by now?” Fatima almost seemed to age as her frustration got to her. To Ahmad it didn’t make much sense, “But why mama? We were having a good time.”
“Ahmad they are our enemies.”
“But Gareeb seemed nice he played with my marbles, why is he my enemy?”
“Because his parents are, and their parents before them, it is just the way it is. You will understand when you are older. And you better not let your dad hear about this because he won’t like it one bit.”
That was the last time he saw Gareeb. And as the days turned into weeks and then months and years Ahmad didn’t forget Gareeb, many times he found himself thinking of him wondering what Gareeb was doing, what his dreams were and aspirations, and if he remembers him at all, did he think of him as an enemy or just the boy that one day played marbles with? Ahmad did not understand why he often thought of Gareeb. It did not make much sense to him, yet he did not prevent his thoughts to wonder about this strange boy. He reached the conclusion that there must be a connection between them and maybe one day he would discover what that was.
The rain splashed on the streets, cars and the people who tried to take cover from it. People almost lost hope but continued their prayers for water to come down from the skies, and after many dry months the sky suddenly erupted and was most welcomed as it poured. Finally it came and people wished it would wash away their despair and anguish. It has been eleven months now since the “Intifada” (uprising) broke out. Palestinians were out raged at the Israeli dictator ship and the on going formation of the “mostawtantat” (Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land occupied in 1967 war) found the only line of defense was an uprising and saying “No more!” Nothing seemed to matter or help. If anything it just gave the Israeli’s more reasons to attack and take control.
Late one night and in the midst of their dreams they heard the harsh banging on their door. Abruptly some Israeli soldiers broke their way into Ahmad’s home and took his father and older brother away. Fatima’s cries of plea and holding on to her husbands leg while he was dragged away didn’t make a difference, she was simply kicked away and shouted at without any explanation for their intrusion. Nothing more was heard of them, from that day on Fatima, Ahmad and the remainder of his siblings never had a peaceful night again.
“Wipe your tears, mama. I will bring baba back. I promise.”
“You stay away from that business Ahmad, I don’t want to lose you too.”
Ahmad’s peaceful nature was transforming into an irrupting volcano, no longer could he stand aside and see the tears in his mother’s eyes, and the broken hearts of his neighbors and friends. He wanted so much to believe in peace and grow up to fulfilling his dreams. But as the days withered by, his dreams did too. Another goal and another dream was his focus, as was the aspiration of the people of his land, simply it was freedom and their will to get back what is rightfully theirs.
The ground shacked from the thunderous effect of the explosion. Instantly screams, cries and chaos erupted. Men, women, youth and children were chanting for Palestine and for their right of freedom in a peaceful demonstration when they noticed the choppers from above. In a blink of an eye hell broke loose with missiles fired in their way. People helplessly hurried to take cover, yet unsuccessfully managed to do so as they were on open land. They were forced to defend themselves with what little power they had, rocks and stones that seemed to insult more than hurt the raged Israeli soldiers.
In the midst of the crowds Ahmad searched frantically for his mother and brothers, looking through the scattered bodies that covered the grounds. Fear and anger grew in his limbs, fear for his loved ones and anger from the viciousness of the Israeli forces not even allowing their simple demonstration to take place. Life was not fair!
“Ahmad, look out!”
With relief he heard his mothers voice rising above the crowds. As he turned to see what his mother was warning him from, he saw him. A young soldier around his age, with a rifle aiming towards Ahmad’s chest. The soldier’s expressions uncovered his own puzzlement and panic as he stared back into Ahmad’s eyes. For some reason those eyes seemed somewhat familiar, but without further doubt the soldier fired his trigger.
Ahmad stood there what seemed forever, with the screams of his mother and people around him slowly fading in the background. With force and determination he looked back into the soldier’s eyes questioningly, and before collapsing to the ground he let out a smile and nod that echoed wisdom beyond his years, that shook the soldiers very core.
Swiftly Ahmad sensed his soul being light and free as it soared to greater heights. He felt no more pain, no more anguish no more hurt nor fear. He wished to call out to his mother and dry her tears; for at last his dreams to be free and rise above the clouds came true and it is everything he imagined it to be and more.
In his soul he wondered, “Do you dare to dream? Do you dare to make your life worth living? Do you dare make your dreams a reality?”