“How could this be?” He gasped and drew in his breathe. “How could this be,” he said again. With each breath, his voice became angrier filled with remorse. “How could this be!”
Emad did not notice the little girl wearing a red jumper, hiding beneath the shadow of his demise. Her eyes caught a wisp of regret and held in her breathe, unlike the man’s, but more so of utter sorrow.
Why would Emad who not a moment ago was dancing alongside happiness, turn against the world? Why was it easy for him to let go of every moment and lean toward hatred?
The little girl crouched and squinted her eyes to see better in the dimly lit corridor.
It began to sprinkle and soft raindrops kissed her cheeks gently stroking away her tears.
She noticed his hands were rough and large. Perhaps a laborer who toiled in the sun. But they were also jagged as if sharp thorns cut them and new skin healed over their rooted wounds.
She saw the man bend his knees and throw his hands over his face. He shook violently as if an earthquake flowed through his veins.
Then she looked again. His sleeves were rolled up just above his elbow and his tanned skin glistened beneath the rain. His arms were strong and firm from years of hard, physical work. Beneath his dirt covered shirt she could make out the heavy shoulders that carried his grief.
She wondered if today they would grow limp because of such a burden.
But what was it?! She asked herself.
Then she knew.
She drew her hand inside the inner layer of her jumper. There nestled beside the half eaten pistachio covered Turkish delight her grandmother gave her before bedtime in which she promised she would keep a secret from her mother was a gold locket. She found it as she enjoyed her treat while she skipped along the steps of stone path that led her back home though dreadful of her mother’s scornful words and not wanting to get her grandmother in trouble, she quickly shoved it inside her pocket.
She remembered it was still there and drew it out under the lamppost. Carefully she opened the locket. Inside was a photo of a woman and an infant boy. The woman’s hair was as dark as licorice, her eyes like sweet almonds and her skin was white like a dove. The boy was a striking image of the woman. Mother and son? The little girl thought. They were both smiling as if nothing mattered and all they needed were each other. But the infant’s smile suddenly drew chills in the girl and she recognized it. It was the same smile the man gave her two days before that dreadful night when he ran out from his home covered in blood. He was strangely calm, his eyes distant. In his arms, he carried a limp body of a young boy. No tears could be seen on his face only an empty stare as if his walking body was a mere ride for an empty soul.
There was a fire and Emad was too late. Even living miles away from where it happened, the little girl heard of the fateful night as if it was in her gated neighborhood. Carrying his hoe on his broad shoulders and whistling, he was looking forward to seeing his beautiful wife and child. It was two weeks since he had seen them. Miles out on the olive fields, he toiled driving his muscles to do what labor was given to him for little pay. His family depended on him to make a decent living. And now it was to no use. No longer would he feel the gentle pecks of his wife or look upon the bright face of his child full of life not long ago.
He took what was left of his belongings and trudged to the outskirts of his hometown, a place that seemed more like a dream that he once held. He ignored everyone’s request to remain and walked with his head stooped toward the ground. The little girl followed him close behind as her step in her glimmering black shoes tried to match his own, though his impressions were heavier causing her to lose her footing several times. After what seemed like hours, he neared the strip of land that met the sea. His steady gaze marked the spot where he knew a new journey may lie for him. Now in the distance and too afraid to near the water, the little girl stood barely able to make out his figure as he climbed into a container among goods of an array of sizes and colors. She wanted him to turn around and return. Why would he leave his beloved country behind to become a number? The waters were unknown and distant and the space he was in was packed tightly. It began rocking as he journeyed onward in silence. The silence reached her for many moons as she stood waiting for his return.
The days turned nights took a toll on Emad as he nodded in and out of sleep. The smells of the sea and the movement and noises around him seeped into his being. He grabbed at his temple and squeezed his eyes shut.
“Mama when will this be over?” Wounded while playing outside and not noticing the barbed fence that lay between his home and the other side of the city, Zachariah’s head was being stitched by gentle hands and hushed whispers comforted him. Emad’s fading thoughts of home were drowned out by moans and whimpers of growing intensity. As the hums intensified surrounding his presence, Emad’s face grew pale with each passing hour and his calm nature intensified.
His hands began to tremble and a violent force erupted from inside of him. Then with one giant leap, he ultimately jumped.
Emad hit the cold water face first and went down. He knew how to swim and fought the urge to try growing more limp with each forced gasp of air.
His eyes slowly closed as flashes of his once peaceful life streamed in his head and he began sinking. Tears began streaming down and were lost with the waves. As his heart became numb to his surroundings, something grabbed his leg. Then a sweeping force dragged him to the surface. Bewildered, Emad managed to touch a soft hand and grabbed onto what felt like a shirt collar. As he opened his eyes and the dim light from the sun broke through casting a shimmer in the water, a little girl was smiling at him. Her beauty intrigued him as he was reminded of Zachariah, his son who died in the fire. As the little girl let him go and he began floating on his own in the water, she began beckoning him to come toward the shore. Emad held his gaze on her, as she continued smiling and gesturing with her hand. The flow of her red jumper glistened in the water and he caught a glimpse of his wife. Her form began emerging taking shape and she floated toward the edge. Where had the little girl gone?
He realized the distance between him and her figure were becoming greater. “Layla, don’t go again,” his voice came out in a whisper overpowered by the sounds of the waves. As they built up and a wall of sea foam formed around her, Emad caught sight of objects floating in the distance. Even as the sun rose and the sky became lit, the sea grew darker as he neared the shore. Emad floated slowly and bumped into things as his fingers touched crinkled pieces of clothing swaying on the surface. Screams jolted him back into reality and he remembered where he was in-between bodies floating and he was at the center of the chaos. He looked toward the horizon at what seemed like millions of eyes haunting him and his wife’s deep dark eyes lay among them. He floated toward her and his fingers
swept over her pale cheeks lying in the murk of desperation and dismay. Waves crashed all around him as the sky darkened, the little girl stood on the white sand awaiting his arrival as she caught a glimpse of what he saw, her eyes became his as she appeared next to him and his body remained still as he watched of what became of his wife’s torso as it was swallowed whole by the crashing waves drifting through the mass of nameless bodies.
The little girl appeared once more waiting on dry land, reaching her arms out to him again. He finally awoke and looked up at her smile but this time ignored it. He turned his back toward her and looked back at what he witnessed. He could still see the shadowy figures floating around him as he searched for his wife’s face. He thrust his arms up and shifted his weight trying desperately to swim back toward the bodies, but his body felt frigid sensing the coldness of the icy water and froze solid. And when his incapability dawned on him, his arms lay limp, and all the tears of the world flowed through his veins into his empty heart. Still with his back turned, he closed his eyes and bowed his head. The little girl noticed he did not turn back and began calling out his name, her voice echoing across the ocean. Emad remained still and his shoulders sagged.
She recognized this poise under the lamppost and tried to return to his side. Her legs remained planted, and tears began filling her eyes. She called out again and stretched her hands toward him grabbing at the air as if it would pull him closer to her. Emad did not budge and began going under. And only the top of his head remained, a gust of wind blew, and the little girl tried again, but
her legs wouldn’t give in to her futile efforts, her sight became blurred as tears rushed down, and her cries shuddered through the horizon bellowing through the sky and shook the depths of the ocean dragging more bodies toward the surface which began drifting toward the shore. One of the lifeless bodies that reached peacefully onto the wet sand was Emad’s.
Her legs finally unlocked from their entangled poise, and with tears still streaming, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the golden locket. Walking up to his body, she opened his hand and lay it inside then wrapped his fingers around it. Before she walked away, something drew her to look down at his face. Even with the sand covering it and the distant stare, she finally was able see his smile.
Background: In each scene, the little girl represents a different reaction taken by onlookers in the world: either in Europe, Middle East and surrounding areas. I do not give the little girl a name and her outfit remains the same because she represents the masses of people that exist and that act in a similar way, this is done to actually portray the world as the mass and not so much the refugees or immigrants. In one part of the story, she represents the higher class in her city somewhere in the Middle East, due to the area in which she lives in and only hears by coincidence about the story of what happened to Emad’s family. She also can be seen as a Middle Eastern who is an onlooker and who has the means to help, but falls into the trap of being different in status and so chooses not to become a part of the much needed solution. The little girl is represented as a mere witness to the refugee crisis who are submerged into problems at home as well as problems at escaping toward freedom far away. This little girl, or the world, try to help only when it becomes too late. The character of the little girl was not made to be older because the world mocks one another by pretending to be “naive” like a child toward the wrongdoings of what is really happening around them. I give a name to Emad and his family because this is their story and not hers or ours. This story shows the ongoing cycle of the need to help and the lack of understanding and the disconnect the world has towards refugees and immigrants.