My mother died in the first bombing attack. She’d been sitting alone watching the TV reports of the war and waiting up for my father to return from the hospital, where he was a doctor. He’d called earlier to say he didn’t know what time he’d be home as they were dealing with the many casualties. My sister and I, Amara, were asleep in another room when the bomb hit our property. She’s eleven, I’m thirteen, and my name is Leila.
The explosion woke us. Dust filled our room; parts of the ceiling had collapsed, leaving chunks of rubble on the floor. We both cried out and yelled for Mama. She did not reply. I left Amara sobbing and shrieking while I went to find her. I couldn’t move much beyond our room. A metal beam had fallen from the ceiling, eerie, jagged and jutting out into the open air where the entrance to the living room used to be. I looked out onto the outside and the sky. The air was full of black smoke, great plumes of it rising upward from the ground where a bomb had just hit a building. Only the bedrooms and the hallway of our apartment remained intact; the rest of the building destroyed, fallen to the ground. ‘Oh poor, poor Mama,’ I yelled, grabbing Amara by the hand and running to the ground floor and into the street below.
A large pile of rubble met me, about a metre and a half high, rising to two metres in places. Rescue workers and emergency personnel, their faces smeared with dust and grime, were rushing around checking for trapped and injured people. ‘My mama, my mama,’ I yelled to one of the workers. ‘I think she’s under there.’ Two women, looking like nurses or official helpers, came forward in our direction, both of us sobbing and screaming, and took us by our hands and led us away. They took us to a building they called a safe house: it had a large red cross painted over the flat roof. Inside, many other shocked and traumatised people were wandering around, some with injuries and bandaged. The women wrapped us in blankets, gave us warm drinks, and calmly and kindly asked us our names and our parents’ names. Once we’d told them, they took us to a room with many other children, some we knew, all shocked and distressed as we were. After a few minutes, some of us played together, helping us forget our trauma.
At midnight my father came to collect us. I have never seen him looking so awful: shocked, strained, trembling now and again, and looking as though he’d been crying. ‘Papa, papa,’ we both yelled. ‘Where’s Mama?’ He didn’t tell us, saying everything would be alright and we were going to spend the night at our aunt’s apartment. He took both our hands and led us on an unfamiliar and long route to our aunt’s home, telling us the regular route was unsafe. When we arrived, we both ran to our aunt, who cuddled us close, both clinging to her. We turned to look at our father. He was standing a metre away, shaking and looking as though he was about to burst into tears. He looked at us, his sadness palpable, biting his lips, and told us our mother had died in the rocket hit.
Our father worked on the cancer unit at the local hospital, our mother was a teacher. We were a close, loving family. Neither of my parents was political in any way – both innocent, unaware of the causes of the present violence, and wanting to make the world a better place.
The bombing has stopped now. There is hope.
Although this story is fiction, it could have been taken straight from the current Israeli/Gaza conflict.
There must be no going back.
Dialogue – not bombs.
My recent publications
Otto and Frankie, my latest novel, is about a dying man’s fight against injustice, his wife’s unusual affair, and the love from his long-lost daughter.
Otto and his daughter Frankie could not be more different. He’s rich, an acclaimed author, human rights activist, and lives in England. She lives in New York, just about survives from one pay cheque to the next and hasn’t seen or spoken to her father for twenty years. Dutifully reunited by his impending death, she’s amazed to find him a kind and noble man who, while grappling with his wife’s bizarre affair, champions for the world’s forgotten and dispossessed to his last. After Otto’s death, Frankie’s admiration for her father leads her into a dangerous and life changing pursuit.
Life in four stories
Recently I donated a substantial sum to the INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS (ICRC) from the proceeds of this little book of shorts. ICRC help the most vulnerable communities fight COVID – 19.
Four shorts: two about life, love, and death; one a poignant and disturbing memory that dangles a question unanswered; and one a wild fantasy – plus the first chapter of my latest book, Otto and Frankie.
By buying this book you are helping fund ICRC in its valuable work.