Seeing light through the darkness

By Olivia McAdams

It was December 31, 2014. The war had ended. A young man named Cameron Chambers was smiling, laughing with his girlfriend and embracing his mother. He had been a private in the military since he had signed up shortly after graduating from high school a year earlier. Cameron hadn’t seen much action. Most of his duties were simple and didn’t threaten his life or the well-being of others. Still, he was happy to be home. He was happy to leave the place of despair and uncertainty and be in the loving arms of his girl.

    Another young man named Daniel Red looked as his family celebrated his return. His gray eyes were mere slits, vaguely showing him his family’s happiness. As a young boy, he had been proud of his country. Freedom, liberty, and justice rang through his ears every time he and his unit patrolled an unpronounceable name of a small village. He remembered the small wary eyes of the children, and how the mothers would quickly glance at him and then look away. Some of them didn’t acknowledge his presence. Others, mostly torn youths, screamed at him for the injustices he and his country had apparently caused. He had seen the orphans, crying and begging for food and warmth when he and his unit patrolled the many devastated cities. He had heard about the refugee camps across the border, with the hope of those who fled and the despair and sorrow of those that lived in that place. How many bodies had he seen, the blood bright red to his eyes? How many people had he seen simply accepting of what had happened to them, without crying out when they died? It was during his third tour of Afghanistan that Daniel began to doubt. How could sophisticated beliefs like freedom and justice ever come to live and flourish in this country?

He didn’t understand of how such liberties that he had taken for granted back at home did not survive here. Daniel, the boy who had never experienced war or witnessed death until 2006, had started having doubts that democracy could ever truly live. Daniel opened his eyes a bit more, the light from the Christmas tree shining in his eyes. There were times when he hated the ones that had caused him to separate from his family, the one thing that kept him sane. At first, he wanted to kill them all. Then, he settled for just a few. Daniel couldn’t count how many resistance fighters he had shot. He hadn’t even seen them die. A part of him wondered if his country was fighting for the people that he had seen suffering, or if it was all for their benefit. A squeal of laughter caused his thoughts to cease. His little niece, only two years old, was in the arms of her father, his older brother. Little Isabel had been so excited to see him, his older brother David had said with a smirk. “She couldn’t stop talking about you.” Now the young man stared at his family, seeing his mother and father crying at the thought of their youngest son being home at last, their family finally reunited. It’s over, Daniel thought to himself as his memories of Afghanistan faded into memory as he stared at his niece, a symbol of hope. It’s done. Now I must live.

    Rebecca Muller, a former major in the United States Army, slept in the arms of her wife as dreams over took her. The rugged beauty of the Afghanistan land echoed in her dreams. She saw the snow-capped mountains and felt the hot sun across her back. The sand that never ceased to exist. How could she long for this land as much as she did when she almost lost her life because of it? Her entire unit had been killed by a bomb. Only she had survived, with multiple shrapnel wounds and a lost leg. She remembered the hazy numbing pain as she tried to wake from her dreams that always were about screaming and blood. She was always crying then; always screaming. Her then-girlfriend’s face filtered in and out as both of them cried. How could this girl from a rural Kentucky town love the land that had scarred her? Children’s face, bright with excitement, squealing in their native language, echo in her dreams. The women, thanking her and crying out of relief. The mountains behind her, the beautiful headscarves and the kind old men, made her weep with knowing that she would be leaving this land and may not come back. She remembered of how respect dictated the way of life in Afghanistan, and the bright colors of the traditional dresses. She had once tried to learn how to write the script she had seen within the cities, but the beautiful and poetic writing couldn’t reach her mind.  Rebecca had served three tours in Afghanistan. The first one had cost her one leg and her spirit. The other two reminded her what she loved about this dangerously exotic and glorious country. Ever since she left and held her wife and their infant son in her arms, the landscape and the many near, yet exotic and soothing languages spoken there echoed in her mind. Pashto…Dari…Arabic…Farsi… And so she dreamed.

    A young girl wandered around the city, hoping to find anything to eat. Her eyes were dull, speaking of the hunger in her stomach, and her body impossibly thin. Her child mind could only vaguely recall when she had last had something to eat. A woman’s face, beautiful with big dark eyes and smiling gapped teeth jolted through her. Tears immediately trailed down her cheeks even though she had no idea why. Who was that woman? Why couldn’t she remember her? A memory of eating rice with naan with a sweet voice urging her to eat it causes the child to cry even more. It had been such a long time since she had eaten. Where was her baba, her maman? She couldn’t remember that they had died in a bombing two years ago. She had been four years old. The child could only think about finding food. Her cracked lips hurt when she put her fingers to them. A sharp pang in her stomach made her whimper. Her dark eyes followed the ground, where she hoped she would find something that someone had dropped on the floor. A hint of white grazed her gaze, and for a moment she wasn’t certain what she saw. Then she started running, and then pounced on the on the piece of naan, her nails desperately digging into the wheat. The naan was small, half-chewed and slightly covered in dirt, but the child shoveled the piece of food in her mouth looking at the scenes before her, afraid that someone would take it away from her. No one did.

    Hassan Al-Abdul wept, his cries being one of the many that had been uttered this day. His entire family had died during the war with the Americans. His son, a young boy of twelve years, had died in the refugee camp that he had been born into. His only surviving son had died of pneumonia two weeks earlier, and Hassan had been hoping to start his life anew in the small village that he had grown up in. That dream was now dead. His family home, the one that had been built by his grandfather, was in ruins. A small hut it might have been, but it was the only home that Hassan had left. Bullet holes were numerous; discarded cigarette butts littered the once-clean floor. The family picture that had the last living image of his beloved grandfather and the Quran both his grandfather and father had recited from had been burned; its ashes were nothing more than a memory. The hut had belonged to him after his father had died. Hassan had raised his family here. He remembered that his first son’s first words and steps – Amir, he would have been sixteen years old if he had lived – had taken place in this hut that meant so much to Hassan. He had taught the children of the village ever since he was a teen himself. Then he had gotten a teaching positon in the city, and he remembered too, whispering to his wife that their new life was beginning. After the bombing of Kabul that had taken the life of his two oldest sons and his daughter, Hassan and his six year old son named Omar and his wife, had departed to a refugee camp in hopes of surviving and living until the war was over. Hassan was the only one left alive during that long winter night when the Americans finally left. As Hassan continued to cry, he thought about all that he had lost. Everything, including his reason for living, was gone.

    A young boy lied against the wood of a broken shop. How was it that he breathing despite the tremors that shook through him? His hazel eyes would see nothing but darkness soon. The boy tried faintly to remember his name and age, but what did it matter here? Names and ages didn’t exist in his world. All that mattered was death. He had seen so many die. So many dying from disease and bombings, blood staining everywhere with no one to hear them… Now he was one of them. His parents had died when he was four years old. They had died that day when the American bombs first came. His mother’s face, nothing but a bloody pulp, and his father’s severed head echoed in his dying mind. So much death…why…can’t it end? His thoughts became even more muddled as tremors continued to shake through him. Why..? Suddenly, something heavy landed on him. He felt the slight warmth it gave him, and his eyes opened painfully to see a young girl, perhaps seven or eight, looking at him with sad eyes. Her dark hair was long and tangled. Green eyes older than they were supposed to be pooled into the boy’s weak state.

    “What…is” he rasped. His eyes were closing and yet he could still see her face. He could almost feel her uncertainty. Names didn’t belong here in this world. Nothing did. Everyone that cared if you died was dead. Yet, why did he ask for her name? Why did he care? She would end up suffering her whole life, just as he did. “Sister?” he whispered.

    There was a poignant pause. “My name is Noor.” Her voice trembled. “Please…what is your name, brother?”

    Tears leaked out of his eyes. I…thought I had…forgotten. The name was on his lips. A...ziz… “Aziz. Thank you.” The warmth from the blanket somehow made his passing easier. Tears continued to trail down his cheeks as he stared at the young child that had been forced to grow up too quick. “Thank you…Noor…”

    Aziz felt a final shudder in his body and he died.