I know exactly the day he stopped playing with his friends and started going to the meetings. It was the day he traded his innocence for a mask. He pretends I think he's still playing, but we both know. This new understanding has brought us closer. It was two months and nine days after his father left.
He told me he was going to work. Every day he would pass through the check point at the gate of the camp and go to work on the other side. He would get up hours before the first light breached the horizon and try not to disturb me or the children sleeping at the end of the mat we called our bed.
We did not have water so he would wash symbolically, as it is taught, and say his prayers. Then he would pick up the stale piece of bread that we kept for him the night before, and leave.
He had returned home a little later than usual that night, slipping in after the curfew. He normally slept lightly, not tossing and turning for he did not want to disturb me or the children. But this night he did not sleep at all.
We had laid together as husband and wife for the first time since the baby came. He had wanted to lie with me before, many times, but I would lie still, feel him sit up, look at the children and sigh, before lying back down and turning over. Then he would deal with his desire in his own way.
I would feel guilty, but was grateful to Allah for a good, kind husband. It is so hard to find food for the children and though his job keeps him from home for all but a handful of hours of the deep night, it did not pay much. Even if it did, there is so little food to buy.
That night as he lay down next to me me and I felt his need, he did not sit up and look at the children. He did not turn over. Instead, he held me closer and touched me as a loving husband touches his wife. I responded to his touch and turned to him and saw in his eyes the whirlpool of sadness and desire, and I welcomed him as a loving wife.
Afterwards, though it was so hot that night, he held me close. When he mistook my stillness for sleep, he watched me and touched me tenderly. The moon moved lower in the sky, making way for the sun that would surely rise, no matter how hard we each willed it to stay away.
He rose and went about his morning routine. He thought that I slept on, but I heard him go to each of our children in turn. First the baby, then her brother, and lastly Saadiq. I wanted to cry out "Stay home today!", but if I let on I knew he would flee. What wife will deny her husband his final goodbye to his children? What good servant will come between a man and his God-given duty? He came back to me, kissed my forehead and said he was going to work.
"In'sh'Allah" I whispered, taking one last look beyond the storm in his eyes, into his soul.
As he left, he did not take the bread and he did not look back.
A boy of fifteen does not sleep easily. Not in so small a room so close to the bed where his mother and father lie together. The ground is hard and the hot blood of youth that visits in the night is hard to douse without privacy. Saadiq's stillness when his father left was not because of sleep. He knew, as I, when his father was not home by curfew, that he would not spend waking hours with him again.
When we rose we prepared for our morning prayers as if nothing had changed. But when our eyes met, it was like looking in a mirror. While I nursed the baby, Saadiq left and went to the ramshackle building they called a school.
Life in the camp is hard and there is no work and no money and no food and no real houses or schools or mosques. There are no hospitals, just the men in the white vans with the red cross who speak a language that is neither Arabic nor Hebrew.
There are no books at the school and I often wondered if the Imam ever taught them anything or if he was just going through the motions, giving himself and the boys something to do and their mothers time free from worry about them going to the fence where the soldiers sometimes jeer them.
It was just after the afternoon prayers that we heard the first rumble of the tanks near the fence. Soon enough, the first helicopter had taken off. I picked up the baby and grabbed the child by the hand and ran towards the school. The child was crying because the earth was hot and he wore no shoes, and because I was pulling hard on his arm to make him keep up.
The helicopter was near enough now that the sounds of its rotor began to compete with they child's cries. I still hadn't reached the school, so I moved the baby to one side and picked up the child with the other arm. Both were crying now, as they, like my scarf, slipped while I ran. Instead of stopping to right them, I would jerk them back into position every few steps.
The helicopter is circling overhead and I can see that it does not have its guns at the ready. Other mothers are also running, carrying their young children precariously, looking for their older children. When they find them, they start running again, looking for somewhere safe to sit out and wait while the tanks and helicopters attack the places they think the men are.
Such a place does not exist.
The men meet in a different place every day. Nobody knows before the time and it is announced in code by the muezzin when he calls them to prayer. There is no way for the men in the tanks and the helicopters, or the men who sent them, to know where the men they seek are.
Their shots are as random as the meeting places of the men, and it doesn't matter. For many of the battered buildings, the vibration of a ricocheting tank is enough to bring it crumbling to the ground. When the men leave never to return and the tanks and helicopters come, it is Allah who puts us in the right place at the right time to avoid the onslaught.
As I reach the school, the cries of the children are being drowned out by the noise of the helicopter. My scarf is swirling around and blocks my vision occasionally. When I can see, I search the faces of the boys fleeing the school, looking for Saadiq.
The helicopter is low now and I cannot hear anything else. I know because I can feel the moving of their chests that the children are crying even harder. The helicopter is so low that the air no longer swirls and I see one of the older boys standing still in the open ground under the helicopter. His face is defiant as he reaches down and picks up a big stone. He pulls a catapult from inside his clothes.
I can see the mouths of the other boys shouting, but none of us can hear anything other than the helicopter. The boy pulls the sling of the catapult back and points it upward. He lets it go and it does not come near to hitting the helicopter, but the pilot notices and begins shooting where he thinks there are no people. Everybody is screaming now, but still we cannot hear over the sounds of the rotor and the rhythmic beat of the guns.
I throw both children onto the ground and dive on top of them. Looking up from the ground, I can see Saadiq and call out to him, but it is futile. He cannot hear me, nor can he see me. His attention is focussed on the older boy in the open.
The helicopter is lifting a little and stirring up dust. You cannot see, but you can hear the high-pitched sounds of the bullets on the tin roofs. Time seems to stand still in our helplessness, but it is probably within seconds that the helicopter stops shooting, rises quickly and banks to the right.
We all start moving, running randomly again when the dust starts to settle. I can see Saadiq and the older boy in the opening. Their clothes are the same colour as the earth, except for around their stomachs, where they are darker in places. Redder. I am on my feet and carrying the children again now, running to my first born son who is holding the other boy.
The older boy is silent, his face contorted with pain, and the mother in me is momentarily relieved. His arms lie limply at his sides and his top is torn where the bullet deflected off a nearby building and pierced his skin. Saadiq has his friend propped up in his arms. The children are still crying, but I do not hear them anymore.
Saadiq barely looks at me, he is still focussed on his friend. "You will be alright, In'sh'Allah. Mama get the men with the white van."
But his friend no longer looks through his eyes: they are glassy and empty. The baby and child cry on, but Saadiq cries the loudest. "I was next to him Mama. The bullet came from nowhere. Why?"
He reaches up with his bloody hand to wipe away tears and leaves a red mark on his cheek. Then he looks at me and whispers "Why?" and tears in his eyes begin to evaporate in the heat of the flames that burn behind them.
Look beyond the Storm -- They have taken enough >>