Aisha and I stand close to the boulder and I, very insensitively poke the shape with a stick. The form which seemed lifeless is moving. Aisha inches towards it and lets out a loud scream when she sees the face of the body. It’s a girl. Ashraf, Akif and Zian are standing around us too. “What was that?” Pa shouts nervously. Akif picks up the girl and puts her down near the almost dead fire.
The little girl of about five keeps crying. Her eyes are red and puffy, but due to dehydration there are no tears. Everybody is wide awake now. The girl has remains of a scarf around her neck, and a beautiful frock on covered in blood and dust. Her face wouldn’t give her away but her body is a huge rib cage, trapping her little soul in. She is internally very weak, like the hundred thousand people I’ve seen on tv. Samantha and Ryan bandage her wounds- a bloody elbow and a cut across the left cheek. She is scared of them so Aisha has to hold her in place.
She does not respond to any questions, maybe she is dumb, we will never know. Ashraf and Akif try Arabic and so does Aisha, the driver tries to communicate too but he looks at her like she’s a fragile showpiece who’ll break at the lightest touch. We give her a bottle of water which she eyes like a thing of past. Then suddenly grabbing it she pours the entire thing down in one go.
We’re all sitting around trying to decide what to do next while Harper ties the girl’s hair and Marcus plays a little game with her where he draws funny faces in the sand to make her laugh. She’s stopped crying but the way she looks around I know she’ll take her time to learn how to giggle again.
“She’s probably been running all day away from an attack zone. She’s lost herself, for now or forever, but that’s hard to know. It’s impossible to even try tracing her family,” Ashraf tells us. That night every team member and the driver thought of it to be an utter wrong move to take the little girl with us on board, but then eventually they would turn and look at her hazel eyes and all norms of safety would hurl away to the darkness. “So it’s confirmed,” Ryan says, “She’s coming with us.” Marcus looks really happy about that. Luke and I try shooting a few clips of her but she hates the camera. She throws a fistful of sand on Luke. She hates him. I like her. I sit beside the little girl and make paper planes out of newspaper bits I found in the truck. She likes when they’re kept on the ground but begins shouting like mad when it takes flight so I leave them all on the bed sheet. As if to return the favour she begins drawing with her finger in the sand. I smile at it and give the drawing a thumbs up, unable to determine what it actually is.
“Hey Akif, do you think you can decipher this code?” I shout over my shoulder. “I can try,” he answers.
“What is it?”
“It’s the Arabic letter ‘Ain.’”
“She keeps writing it over and over.”
“Maybe that’s something she learnt last at school.”
“It’s time that we stop calling her ‘little girl.’ She has a name.”
At the far end, sun was already rising when a loud thunder crashed our eardrums. Ashraf turned to the driver and loudly whispered, “Those are trucks, you said this route is never used.” Having dealt with multiple emotions all my life, with all due respect, panic is the worst. Ain starts crying and Marcus hold her up. Luke and Marcus try hard to hush her but it goes without saying that certain sounds triggered memories she did not want to recollect.
We all get into trucks, Zian throws a heap of sand over the fire and clears up as good as he can before getting in too. Ain, Harper and I sit in the dark. Ain is still sobbing, but Harper has her under control. She keeps playing little hand clap games with her and I brush her hair with the tips of my fingers like my mum used to. Except the rumbling of the vehicle moving somewhere in the distance I cannot hear anything. I say this total belief, that had it been a different group of people I was travelling with I would have been dead that day. But the collective goodness of the team like a shield repelled whatever it was that moved towards us and we heard the vehicle take the other way. Pa was the first to get out, “All clear.”
And we learned to love
all that we couldn’t