When The Air Strikes

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Rice Dish

25

There’s fire outside the truck and nobody inside it when I wake up. I’ve reached the pinnacle of panicking. “Luke? LUKE? AKIF? PA?” I am throwing things around in the bus. I hit my head against the thin metal wall when suddenly someone appears at the shutter. It is Luke- he’s fine and he’s smiling and he has a camera in his hand. I jump out of the truck and hug him really tight. Then I find Pa and huge him too. Finally I hug Anita I sit down around the fire that’s keeping the team warm at night in the desert. “We didn’t want to wake you up,” Ryan says smiling. Samantha kneels down before me bandaging my forehead that’s smeared with blood. Zian is cooking something over the fire. “Is she hurt?” Luke is asking Samantha. She smiles elbowing him, “See for yourself.”

“No I just got really scared with the empty truck and fire,” I say in my defense, “I am not hurt- that’s just my panic attack bleeding out.” Everybody praises Zian for his excellent rice dish. “It’s the best I could do,” he keeps saying. I eat more than my appetite allows.

Usually when Ashraf or Akif speak, they stand up. I guess they believe for it to be necessary to be at a certain height when addressing a gathering so hungry to know what’s going to happen next. But today our stomachs are full and Asharf very tired so he begins his proclamation right from where he’s finished eating his rice, “We’re going to start at 5 in the morning. We’ll have to stay awake in shifts and look out. I think it’s only fair that we let the drivers sleep the whole night. So who’s going to go first?” My hand shoots up like a bird. Everybody agrees, although Pa looks a little nervous. He silently motions at his head asking me if I’ll be able to. I smile and give him huge thumbs up. We spread some sheets on the sand and everyone finds their own spot. I rest my spine against Aisha’s back. A sheet of calm spreads all across the sleepy bodies. Suddenly it looks scary though. I feel very alone. As if having sensed it, Aisha takes my hand in hers and rubs it lightly. She is the only one who’s not asleep yet, or maybe she isn’t. Maybe everybody was awake that night- hesitant to accept. The sky is dark and a full moon hangs over us- pulling our heartbeats like high tides. After a while Aisha is asleep, I can tell it by the unconsciousness in the fingers of her hand. Except for a huge boulder few feet away there is nothing of shape that can be seen.

To prevent myself from dozing off and wrecking one job that I’ve got I take out the video camera from Luke’s bag. There’s a clip of me jumping off from the truck, washed by loud screams after which the camera slips from Luke’s hand and the screen goes blank. I try watching the other videos we’ve shot but out of the blue there’s a breathless whisper I can hear in the distance. I push the camera against my ears, but there’s absolutely no trace of any sound coming out of it. I can hear the whimpers again. This time they’re louder and intensified. I start shaking out of fear waking Aisha up, “What is it Zara?” I feel sorry about putting her out of her tentative sleep, nevertheless I am relieved, “Can you hear it too?” I whisper.

“Hear what?”

“Oh God, That.”

“Allah, what is it?”

We take a mutual second to look around. Finally deciding to not wake anybody else up we begin inching towards the whispers. It’s coming from behind the boulder. Under normal circumstances this would have been a dumb move but the days of normalcy are far behind.

The shape that takes form behind the boulder is incomprehensive.

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