Amira crouches in the corner, around her dark shadows rise as somewhere beyond the thick walls around her the sun sets. Her heart pounds and it hurts to breathe so she gently gulps in air.
This is her usual, still it feels so foreign.
She hears scraping sounds across the room and squeezes her eyes shut; if only she could disappear into the shadows. A loud sound pierces the air and she hears voices. She knows she shouldn’t be here but she feels safer surrounded by the thick walls. The mackintosh tents provided for them didn’t make her feel safe. If anything, she felt more exposed inside them as they moved along to the arid breeze. Every sound echoed within the triangular construction and when the loud sounds came, the tents shook fiercely. Her mouth grew dry as she heard a sharp feminine scream followed by a gargle of rough laughter.
She really shouldn’t be here.
Slowly, she opens her eyes and just as slowly she begins to make out dark figures. She barely makes out figures in army camo, others in blue, others in white. Colours from the checkpoint at the gate; from the food tent; from the medical tent; from the provisions tent. She watched in horror, hardly making out the figures or faces and yet horror swelled within her, dulling the sound of her racing heart.
With wide round eyes, she knew what she was witnessing. It’s what young girls whispered about in small groups while the women shushed them and urged them to focus on chores. It’s what some men snickered about and caused others to swear because of their total helplessness at the situation. As tiny sorrowful gulps begin to emit from the figure on the floor, Amira knew the deed was done.
With dry eyes, she pressed her back into the wall behind her as another loud sound pierced the night air. With the ease of handling a familiar situation, the shadowy figures begin to make their way from the room. Crawling on all fours, Amira starts to inch closer to the tiny crack she’d squeezed in through. A familiar smell reached her. Blood. But this time there was the hint of another smell. She didn’t have time nor did she wish to analyse this. Sliding out, she raced across the muddy grounds, laying low as she made her way to the mackintosh tent that held the children. She quietly slid in – no one had noticed her absence.
Not long after, an arm wrapped in army camouflage sleeves reached in to part the tent door and one of the widest smiles ever appeared on face of a military officer. Surrounded by dread, hunger, uncertainty, darkness and fear, the children all burst out in contained cheers as the officer fully entered the tent with a hand behind his back. He crouched down and the children all moved closer, anticipation brimming in their little faces. All eager, scared, strangely well-behaved and seizing this entertainment in the midst of such disaster. He presented his other hand and the children all ‘ooohhhed’ as they continued to sit patiently, eyes intently fixed on this treat-filled hand.
He began to distribute the treats and the sound of plastic wrappers being ripped off by dirt-covered little hands filled the tent. In no time, they all had the tiny sweets in their mouths. The officer held out his hand and empty wrappers dropped into his cupped palm. With another bright smile – which seemed so unreal in the situation – he ducked out of the tent.
The kids didn’t know his name but whenever a loud ground-rocking sound pierced the air, he would appear with treats. Along with other soldiers, he often scooped kids off the grounds and brought them to the tent when there was a scare but he was the only one who brought treats. He didn’t say much but once he’d said sharing treats was his special tradition.
Amira wasn’t sure if she ever smiled at him – she wasn’t sure if she was still capable of smiling but she remembers stories of angels from her grandma. Wide smile, peaceful eyes was surely an angel.
As he left the tent, the door flapped in the dry breeze and Amira caught a glance of Hafsat as she walked by in the darkness illuminated by overly-bright lights powered by a generator. Hafsat used to join them in the tent but a while ago she began to grow breasts and began to sneak off every month to an area behind the trees. She became reserved and sometimes smelt funny.
One day, one of the shadowy figures from before came for her. They took her away and when they brought her back, she became even more reserved and soon the women began to give her tasks to keep her busy and just like that, she was no longer considered a child. She was no longer helped by the soldiers to the tent during scares.
Amira gulped and her throat was filled with sweet saliva from the treat in her mouth. As the tent door flapped closed, she wondered when her turn would come. It was a cruel world out there and she was scared of when she would also have to join the older girls behind the trees because as she’s witnessed over and over again, that would be the beginning of the end.
Another day… maybe a week later, maybe a month, maybe just the next day
A loud sound pierced the air. Amira raced from where she was drawing in the sand with other kids instead of doing the dishes they’d been assigned to do. She raced toward the building with thick walls but the crack – her entryway – had been sealed. Spinning on her heels, she ran through the frenzied crowd toward the willowy tent. Wrapping her arms around shaking knees, she buried her face against her knees. All around her inside the tent, the children were silent. Utter silence prevailed as beyond the flapping mackintosh, boots scrapped in the mud as soldiers tried to control the situation.
As the frenzy began to die down, little eyes rose to the tent door, waiting for their single ray of hope. He never came. Hours went by and little whispers floated around the camp; wide smile, peaceful eyes, treat-filled hands, reassuring tradition. He was gone.
Angels aren’t meant for earth after all.
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