A Long Way Gone

It was getting dark outside, though it was still mid morning. The blue spring sky was suddenly gripped by gargantuan blackness, and within a few minutes, heavy rains knocked insistently on the window panes in their living room. Ahmad looked up from his book, and listened to the song that the rain always played in his ear. Immersed in his childhood pleasure, he didn’t notice his wife grinning at him. She carefully set down the tray on the wood carved table and sat beside him on the couch.

And people think you are 75 years old, she laughed.

75! I am still a 5 year old inside, he turned towards her, his radiant smile narrowing his eyes, his soulful life reflected in the intense folds that formed on his face.

Her eyes gazed at the soul that cherished her, who was her strength, through 50 years of togetherness, of accumulated joys and sufferings, what started off as friendship, transpired into love, eventuating into an eternal companionship.

Come on now, sweetheart. You know I can’t resist those charming eyes, he pulled her closer,more quickly than he should have; his glasses collided on her forehead, as he tried to kiss her. They slanted off her face, coming between their lips and she broke into a hearty laughter.

Here is the miss. My oldie is a 5 year old who doesn’t know how to kiss! She teased,in her sweet broken voice.

He laughed, closing her in his arms, in a tight embrace that she warmly returned. A gesture he was so familiar to, it had been his strength, a reason their love grew each day.The woman never gave up on him, on their life.

A loud thunder rocked the sky outside. They both jumped. A flash of lightening illuminated the room for a microsecond, when a loud noise shattered their peace again.A cloud burst perhaps, leaving them in little trembles and a sadness lingering from a decades old memory they had.

It was raining heavily since morning. Aisha was humming in the kitchen, prepping up to set the feast on the table. She had cooked Chicken Biryaani, Kebab and his favorite desert, Phirni. Outside she could hear her children playing with him.

Baba, when will you get me a pony? Maryam was asking her father.

Soon, he promised.

Honey, the kids are hungry and so is their father, he called out to her.

Ten minutes, she replied. Five, if you all come and help me!

One by one, her husband, Laila, Farhan and Maryam lined up between the kitchen and the dining table. Food platters, steaming rice, passed hands from her onto the table.

All done, in less than 5 minutes my love, Ahmad took a bow before her. The kids followed his suit.

Thank you, she kissed him and her cherubs. They all sat down on the table,her hungry monsters devouring the food with their eyes.

Not before you make a little prayer to thank God for the food that He has given you, she raised an eyebrow to Laila, who was about to ram the spoon into the hot steaming biryaani.

She thanked God for Ahmad’s promotion, for the small feast,asked Him to keep them in His protection.

Ahmad called for a toast. To  small happy moments of  life, to family!

Now you can eat, my grumpy barbie! And they all dug in.

They were still eating, when an earsplitting blast roared in the skies making them jump in fright. Maryam shrieked and crawled into her father’s lap.

What in the name of God is that? Laila frantically asked.

It’s a cloudburst, Aisha replied leering at Ahmad, in the obvious fear.

What is a cloudburst, little Ali asked.

Before Aisha could reply, there was another ‘cloudburst’, then another and it was more than rains that slashed someplace, not very far from her home.

There was an uproar outside. Loud dismal voices, women wailing. Ahmad and Aisha exchanged anxious glances. Ahmad wiped off his hands, stood up to leave, unsure of his impending fate. Aisha sorrowfully watched her children shuffle through rice on their plates.She knew it was to happen. They were but a few dozen families left in the town, others having fled, soon after the war had broken out. 

We have to leave right now! Ahmad broke into her thoughts, flung open the door, in an incessant urgency.

They are upon us, Ahmad panted, before Aisha could even ask. They are closing in tonight. This is the last town. We are doomed Aisha, his voice broke down. Only God can save us.He picked up Maryam on his arms and lead Laila by her hand.

Aisha held Ali close to her bosom and asked, Where are we to go?

Sardar’s basement. Everyone is going underground. We have no way out, it will soon get dark.

It was still raining and the night was abuzz by gun shots, blasts and sirens. They were all crumbled into the basement, a dozen people crouched in a narrow space. Children horrified into silence, clinging timidly to their parents, the elders paling at the thought of what the morning would bring. There was so much noise that one failed to make a blast from the thunder and the cloud shards. A blast near, would make the entire company shudder in fear.

Ahmad held his wife and children close all night, in one corner of the room, never loosening his grip on them.The night passed and the sun rose to a screaming silence. They slowly got out of the basement, one by one , the small crowd. No one spoke a word, tears streamed Aisha’s face as her eyes went onto the rubble of stones and bricks, that had once made her home.She sobbed silently and when she felt Ahmad’s hand on her shoulder, she ducked her head into his chest. The days that followed were the most difficult of times for them.

Whatever little, of use ,they could fish out from the debris of their home, they packed and set on foot for crossing over the border.Battling the weather, the hunger, the sores on their feet, they kept moving, never looking back at what they lost. Through the darkness of forests, narrow alleys, hiding from the hawks, they made it to the border, in what seemed like an eternity. A wounded journey, weighed down by the gravity of what the hands of fate had written for them.

Together,they made it to the new city where people had thrown open the doors for their likes.But it had not been an easy life, starting from scratch in a strange land, making a living, fighting the barriers of language, while yearning for home every single day. This time shall pass, Aisha would comfort her husband, whenever helplessness would cloud his face. With hardship comes ease, she would remind him.

Ahmad sipped on his tea, while Aisha silently stared at the cake. 30 years had gone by, in struggles, in hope, in sorrows and a few true moments of joy. They had finally made it through.

Aisha….darling, Ahmad touched her hand, bringing her back from the past.

I almost forgot today.

What? She frowned.

I love you, he smiled.

I love you more, she teased.

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