Apartment 202. The building is old and rusted. Classic Nikitha. There’s a small souvenir shop selling miniature Big Bens and phone booths underneath. “We also rent movies,” the shopkeeper boasts when I ask her about Nikitha’s flat. I show her the address and she nods in agreement pointing her fragile finger to the window on the second floor. Inside, there’s very less lighting but as soon as we reach the staircase the whole lobby brightens. “Damn these motion sensitive bulbs,” Hanna speaks for the first time since we met this morning. I knock on the house at the end of the corridor, before I hear the knob turn around twice. Nikki’s waiting for us in a loose shirt and gallace pants.
I seat myself on the leather recliner near the window. It’s warm and comfortable. There are papers all around. Everywhere you look you can find traces of bits and pieces of recently cleared trash. In the corner two huge black polythene bags full to the rim are kept tied. Nikki gets us tarts that we eat in silence. Near the TV trolley there are two movie CDs that look recently bought. Rented, I correct myself. “Nice place,” Hanna remarks, “It’s very creatively brought together.” Nikki smiles at her, turning around as if noticing her presence for the first time. I let out a sigh of relief. The weight of eyes peering at you when you pretend to be not looked at is tiring. I stare at the window and it’s the most boring sight ever. After some time my mind stops registering shapes, forms and sounds. I can hear two women talking just a little away from me but I have no idea what it is that they’re discussing. Their voices just become another part of my conscious brain, while I dwindle back and forth with the unconscious side of it.
“Zara, did you hear that? Oh my God. He could be here any moment now,” Hanna shouts in my ears. The sound of her hysterics wakes me up. People say it’s hard for victims of crisis to get any sleep, but I guess I’m just too cowardly to remain alert all the time. I let it all slip; I give myself away to the other world when I can’t handle everything that this one’s got for me. I assume Nikki is in her room when I don’t see her around.
“What the hell just happened?”
“Andrew is coming here, Z. He says he’s got a plan. I mean not the blueprint of it, but just a vague idea.”
“Oh, yeah. Wait, alright?”
Hanna opens up her phone. There are 4 missed calls from Luke and a cluttered up notification panel. I have no idea where she’s going with all this. Nikki has just dropped something on the floor. I look away for a second and when I get back there’s a video being played across the mobile screen. It’s an extract from last night’s news highlights. The anchor is talking about a food and water deprived city. All entrances to the city have been blocked; there is a chance of open fire. The studio is mute for a fraction of time after which pictures begin flooding the screen. There are clips of kids collecting grains from garbage dumps. A supposedly dead man’s body is spread across a hospital bed which has run out of all forms of medical help. I cannot help but stare at his ribcage that is covered with only a thin sheet of skin. Having peered at it for so long I sense motion. The man is alive. It would have been better if he wasn’t. Death can feed on the sympathy that the life can only feel. The woman starts speaking again. I have extracted the pen and pad from my bag for no apparent reason. “Join us at four tomorrow for more on this story of the city of Aleppo.”
A sharp pain shoots from the heel of my feet. Researchers suggest that pain in a foot does not mean it is hurt, it could be an indication of damage inflected upon other parts of the body and mind. For all I know my legs will be doing a fine time because I can feel the destruction- in the left ventricle of my heart, in both the hemispheres of my brain, in every artery carrying blood. Besides panic, there’s another unidentified emotion flowing within me. I assume for it to be hatred. I hate the way the anchor from the news channel refers to Aleppo as a fictional set up for her brand new story to be enjoyed by people at dinner parties over light hearted conversations, I hate the way she smiles at the camera while talking about a potential attack that could kill hundreds, I hate it.
While I’m in the middle of an internal destruction of most physiological processes of my body, Andrew enters the house. He looks around with an appreciative look. I don’t want to meet his eyes so I pull the lids over my cornea and open them downwards. My knuckles have turned crimson. There’s a dent at the end of the pen I’m holding and the pad is brutally destroyed. I’ve ripped apart half the pages.
Nikitha runs to the door and takes his hand for an official handshake. Then they simultaneously smile, move their heads in a funny motion and hug. Nikki then asks Hanna to help her put away the coffee table so they can make place for all of us to sit on the carpet. I place myself on the extreme end inclining my spine on the couch, while the rest of them form a close huddled triangle. They look like a football team in the middle of a pep talk. Andrew places a device in the centre and the sound of static washes over the house. He adjusts the knob on the device and it makes little unrecognizable noises. Despite the need for a constant support to my vertebral column I get up and infiltrate the group. “It’s a radio,” Andrew says. “Yeah, so I see,” I speak in a long time.
“And your father, he-“
“He always carries his pocket radio with him, so you thought it’d be a good idea to talk to him through this device from the eighteenth century while he provides you service risking his life, standing on a ticking bomb, which God forbid might not even be a metaphor.”
“Zara, I didn’t ask him to do this. They volunteered.”
“And you let them, your only two best friends in the world take a trip down the suicide lane. You just let them.”
All of a sudden I feel very alone in a room full of people I’ve liked the best. I zoom past all dimensions, crumbling into formlessness. I am lonely, very very lonely. My English teacher once taught us about the fear of crowds. By a show of hands she then wanted to know how many of us could admit to being sufferers of demophobia. “I am desolated when moving in or with huge groups of people,” said a girl sitting two seats ahead of me. I let out a loud laugh and few other people joined me. Even my teacher smirked before further correcting, “Elise, desolated is not the very right word. I think what you’re looking for is- scared, frightened or afraid.” Elise shook her head and I though then that she’d accepted her mistake. But now I know that she motioned her head because she gave up. She realized she wasn’t wrong, but she also realized that people would never understand what she meant. She wasn’t afraid, she was desolated. And now all I want to do is apologize to her for being such a jerk.
Hanna hugs me. The gesture is more for the likes of saving herself from embarrassment than friendly. I wrap my arms around her waist and sob into her stomach- he let them, he just let them. After a while I’m only whispering through hiccups. I can see Nikitha and Andrew discuss something in hushed tones. That’s when I decide to raise my volume. In very steady, undisrupted except by my convulsive gasps and clear words I announce, “I’m going after them. I’m going right now.” With that I brush my jeans, pulling my body up. The part of Hanna’s sweatshirt that was in contact with my left cheek is severely wet. I think about apologizing but I’ve more important things on my mind right now.