He pressed his face on the fence very hard. He looked far into the empty street to see if there were any signs of life. There was not even a slight breeze making way towards the city. This street was once his favorite place.
He closed his eyes. He could hear the voices of shopkeepers who sold sweets and desserts. There was a toy shop at the corner. There were poppy flowers here and there. There were people with pretty smiles. There was joy … happiness ... love … life and in midst of this he could see himself holding his mother's hand, walking towards the toy shop. It was all colorful. It was all peaceful. But he knew the moment he opened his eyes the mirage would vanish. He knew he would open his eyes to a colorless deserted city, a cemetery of broken dreams. He knew he would have to embrace the reality of a war struck city where there were no poppy flowers ... no colors … no smiles … no life … just blood and ashes...
The fence was huge. There was no escape. He lost his shoes last week which made it more difficult to walk on the crumbled road. His hands were covered in mud and his knees were still hurting. He sat near the fence hoping someone would find him and take him to a refugee camp.
It was on this street where he lost his mom a few months ago. The first air strike and since then he had seen the joyful city losing its blooms and slowly evolving to a pile of ash and rumbles. Many started fleeing to other countries but he was left alone. Sometimes they distributed bread and water in the streets and people fought like dogs to get a slice of bread. And it had been a few days since the relief workers had visited the city. The bread he saved was over. He was hungry and thirsty. He shouted ... "I am hungry, someone help me please.” His voice echoed through the barren streets.
He was with his mom. She had baked his birthday cake. She gave him a slice and he opened his mouth. But all of a sudden the cake turned into a pile of stones. "Where is my cake? Give me my cake.” He mumbled. The Sun was gleaming hot and pierced his eyes. He woke up from his sleep. He didn't know when he had fallen asleep. But he knew that the moment he woke up, hunger would grasp him. It had been a day since he was sitting near the fence hoping to find help and it had been two days since he ate anything. He was too weak to walk. His lips were chapped. He held the fence for support and tried to stand up. But the fence was too hot to touch. He tried to walk. He was limping. The pain was nothing but the Sun had drained him and he was thirsty. His father once told him, “We are rich, we have oil. But one day water will cost more than oil.” Now he knew what his dad meant that day. His dad was a soldier, a proud soldier. There was no news of him since the war started. There were rumors that he was held captive and some said he was killed in a blast. But his mother believed that one day his father would make his way back home. Unfortunately, his mother lost her fight leaving him alone in the battle of survival.
The Sun was setting. He felt like he would not outlive the night. He sat down. The fence seemed so endless. His throat was burning. “I am sinking.” He mumbled. “Ya Allah, give me some water”. The flame in his throat was sweltering. His vision was getting vague. He was glad that Sun had bid goodbye. The dusk cuddled him with a blanket of chill. He heard grumbling noises inside his stomach which was not new to him. There comes a time in life when you wish you better not see the Sunrise tomorrow. But he was a kid unaware of the blessings death will bless you with.
The scorching Sun was not so kind to him that he woke up in the mid noon with a flaming throat, red hot Sunburns, a hungry tummy and a dying soul. He felt paralyzed. He licked his sore lips. The heat wave was so intense that he couldn’t even open his eyes. He heard his mother calling him. “Zalman … Zalman ... let me help you, my son.” He turned his neck around and there she was. Beyond the fence, in the green street full of poppy flowers, stood his mother dressed in white. He blinked his eyes. Was it a mirage? He could feel the aroma of freshly baked cake and the sound of the street vendors reached his ears. He stood up and tightly held the fence. Yes … there were poppy flowers all over … His mother stood there and there were kids from his neighborhood playing around with balloons. There was a table with plenty of dishes and in midst of it was a cake. “Zalman”, his mother called and he ran. He ran with full vigor until he fell into the mud with a thud. He opened his eyes and he was on his mother's lap and she had a piece of cake in her hand. Poppy flowers bloomed around them.