When The Air Strikes

By Mariya Nadeem All Rights Reserved ©

Mystery / Adventure

Security

24

When I regain consciousness, my body is splattered all over a rundown steel bench. A strong stench of greased metal and sweat fills my nose. A fan is dwindling right above me. It looks so fragile, I have a feeling it will fall on my face and so I put myself back on my feet. That is clearly not the right thing to do, because I trip. Anita picks me up and I’ve never felt better. I am not in a dream, thank God, or am I? Luke grasps my arm, “We’re in Syria. An overnight journey away from Aleppo.”I don’t know if he sounds relieved or scared. To hell with all, I do not know if I am relieved or scared. He continues, “You passed out half way through the flight. We landed an hour ago. They’re running safety checks on us- you will go next. Do not question them. I am going to go help others load the aid in the trucks. Do not question them.” He walks away, turning his head once to mouth something I can’t understand. I walk over to the wooden table that passes for the security check counter. A woman shakes my body asking me to stand straight, “Ya Allah Amrikiat,” she hits her head with the end of her palm. I have a strong urge to correct her wrong assessment of my nationality. She turns my rucksack upside down, extracting everything. She is so ferocious for a second I think she might as well find a reason to detain me. When she finally looks at me, her eyes strike a very soft chord in me. She has kind eyes, but a stern face.

Fall for the eyes
they never lie

“La American?” she asks me, “Not American?” I nod my head negative, “British. I am British.” She looks very confused. I show her my passport, that’s been resting in my pocket. It looks like she wants to believe but she can’t. Samantha is frightened, “Come on Zara, we’ll be leaving now.” Her voice is shaking. Just as I am about to join others near the trucks I hear a voice, “Zara.” It’s the security lady. If she calls me back, what will I do? What have I done? But all she does is wave at me, smiling. I wave back, not smiling. Outside the others are done loading. There are a lot of armed men. I have read a lot about the Syrian war, in fact so much that it confuses me, who the real bad guys are. Even the adrenaline in me is perplexed, it rises when I look at the guns but drops again when I realize nobody is shooting. Not yet, at least.

“Luke and Hanna, you might want to start,” Ashraf calls from one of the trucks. I’d almost forgotten about the documentary. Luke switches on the video camera, taking whole good shots of the entire place and our trucks, finally pointing it at me, so I begin, “We’re Peace in a pod, reporting live from Syria.” Luke laughs out loud, “Reporting?” I swing my arms violently, trying hard to lighten my mood, “Sorry, let’s take it from the top.” After I am done with the briefing, we ask each of our team members to prepare a short introduction. We start with Marcus who is surprisingly loud. Then Harper who wouldn’t stop, “What part of short introduction do you not understand?” Luke asks her. Then comes Ryan- he is so scientific, it’s kind of intimidating. The rest of them talk to the camera too except Pa who wouldn’t say anything except ‘Hi.’

Akif claps his hands twice asking us to gather. The circle looks very overwhelming. I could go on and on talking about it, but my story needs to finish fast or maybe it never will. In a nutshell, it looked like the world. People from the mountains, deserts, rivers, soil, forests, cities- all here to help and only help. I feel like crying purely out of respect, but who does that? Besides I’ve had my share of attention. Akif announces, “I’d like all of you to meet this wonderful man who’s decided to drive one of the trucks for us. He’s a local so” We all cheer for him, although the authorities don’t like it. I don’t remember the driver’s name- it’s a sad thing I don’t but I have my reasons. We split into three groups for the three trucks carrying our aid, deciding to make only one stop at night. Luke, Pa, and I go into Akif’s truck. Harper, Marcus and Anita are with Zian behind the wheel. Samantha, Ryan and Aisha take it upon themselves to let a complete stranger drive them. I find it funny, cause these ten people have believed in us over a cup of coffee, a man over his driving skills. Eventually it’s not funny but just pathetic. I feel pathetic. It is sad how fast good people put their trust in others.

The inside of the truck is dark and with all the supplies there’s hardly any space for us to sit. We crouch at weird ends to make place. I have a feeling it’s not been used for very noble purposes in the past. Soon, we are zipping past nothingness. I can’t see what’s outside but I know it’s just as good as nothing. I feel dizzy after a while, so dizzy that I have to voice it. In pitch darkness, Pa takes out something from his pocket, “Do you have water?” he asks both Luke and I. “No, I don’t,” Luke answers. His throat is parched. It’s weird to hear the sound of him bounce against the close vicinity of the truck. I sense fear in his voice. Despite of being totally acceptable, it seems out of place. I haven’t seen him scared a lot.

No matter how prepared you are, it’s always unexpected to see people in ways you don’t want to see them. It was only obvious that dad would cry at some points in life, but every time he did, it caught me off guard. “Akif have you got any water?” Luke shouts over the thin metal wall separating the driver’s seat and us. “Yes,” he shouts back, “I’ll pull over in a while.” After another fifteen minutes of feeling nauseous I try getting up in the truck in vain. There are hardly any words that can explain what I felt. I was walking over this thin line separating physical pain from mental anguish. As soon as I felt like I could finally trace the part of my body that hurt, the pain would glide to my brain and form into outburst of emotions. Akif finally got down for giving us the water bottle. In the moment that the shutter opened my pupils didn’t dilate very well, but I caught a glimpse of wide expanse of nothingness and light- a contrast of hope and no hope. It was hard to tell if the stretch of what I saw was natural desert or rubble.

“One Aspirin will do the work,” Pa hands me the medicine. I gulp down it down with huge portions of water. I have to remind myself to not drink a lot. The silence embraces us once again. Very oddly, it’s Pa who pushes it away this time. “Here, in Syria, he was the most powerful young man you would ever meet. He killed a lot of them.” I am not sure who he is or who they are. “He ran like a horse, I often joked he looked like one too. But believe me I was only joking- he was the most handsome man I’d ever laid my eyes on. He was all I truly had, he was all I truly lost. My son.” I am taken aback and let out a loud gasp. Behind the skin there’s so much that’s been endured, it’s shocking. How does the body so easily hold onto such heavy impacts? No matter how strong your bones are though, those goddamned eyes will give you away. I wipe Pa’s face with the end of my sleeve. There’s a new respect for him in me. He keeps talking on about his son and how he tried to stop the rebel in him and how his son wasn’t the one to see bad happen to good people. I can’t hold on anymore but Luke keeps listening like that’s all he wants to hear.

Yesterday is not a place to be found.
The past lives best in its death.

I put my head against Luke’s shoulder but it doesn’t stay very well in place and I end up lying on a potato sack.

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