Habitat: Gaza6 mins 21.9K 6 mins 21.9K
August 4th, 1412 hours, Gaza.
I sit still in the tiny dome-like hut that I had grown to call ‘home’. Cooped in a corner, my sister Nasra lays down. Her back is against me as I notice that her lean posterior doesn’t make a very appealing sight. Her nails pick at the protruding straws from the thatched walls of the house. It has been over two days since we’ve had a single morsel of food go down our throats. But, the hunger, by no chance, trumps the anxiety of not having Abba and Ammi around. They’ve been away a while, but I’m affirmative of the idea that their return is certain. About an hour ago, I found out about the mutual decision to declare a ceasefire. Not that I dwell on it to make all the difference in the world, but it leaves me hoping and praying for my parents. It will apparently last for 72 hours. I know in my heart that until the last second, I will wait in the light of the candle and not be afraid of the shadows that occasionally crawl upon the thatches and dance.
August 5th, 0512 hours, Gaza.
There has been plenty of movement and liveliness, shuffling of feet and muffled talks outside as relocations have been in full swing. I sit by the entrance of the hut, still clinging on to Abba’s watch. Watching the hours tick by makes my wait more inconvenient. I’m counting down to the last minute but as the hours pass by, the frequency of my prayers increase and my hope is left dwindling by the remaining few moments that the watch constantly reminds me of. At this instant, I’m not sure whether I want to tread into unknown territories of my mind. I’m simply cowering away from confronting my worst fear. Nasra doesn’t speak much, she’s sixteen and quite obviously, she doesn’t have much to share with her ten-year-old brother.
August 5th, 2000 hours, Gaza.
Hours pass me by but not having to hear the sounds of rockets blasting is a feeling too unfamiliar. Call it cynicism at its best, I’d grown accustomed to dozing away to the booms, almost like an enraged, unsettling lullaby. I failed to understand the point of wars and religion, the monstrosity and magnificence of my situation accompanied by the complete marvel that at ten years of age, I was contemplating the very survival of my birth land. Generally, such questions would be answered by Nasra but lately she has failed to make conversation. After shooting me various uncomfortable looks, she diverts her attention or simply walks around, still continuing to rub her hands up and down, almost like a habit. Earlier this evening, we had a food package drop at our doorstep containing bread and milk. I noticed bruises on her back when she bent down to accept the generous gift of a kind stranger, but I foolishly rubbished it.
August 6th, 0800 hours, Gaza.
I woke up later than usual which I soon realised was a big mistake. I scanned the hut and Nasra was nowhere to be found. My heart was hammering in my chest. Instinctively, I reached out for the watch but it still lay in the pocket of my worn out pyjamas. Getting up off the ground, I stepped outside of the hut and looked around, trying to find Nasra. Somewhere. Anywhere. Not many people were out at this hour which facilitated my movement. I sought for her around, but I didn’t stop until I heard low whimpers coming from a corner. I hid behind a tree and watched the scene. There stood my Nasra, begging for mercy from a man who wouldn’t stop beating her with a crowbar. The fear was soon replaced by anger, but there wasn’t much I could do. Being the absolute coward that I was, I proved to myself that I didn’t possess the courage to fight this. I waited till he was done and then led her back home. As usual, she had not a single word to say but her eyes screamed disappointment and her body reeked of discomfort, simply because she was around me.
August 6th, 1700 hours, Gaza.
Starvation led to sleep, and somehow not eating made me extremely lethargic. I would doze off at random intervals and I had managed to do so again. However, this time when I woke up, and tried to reach out for my watch, it didn’t quite touch the surface of my hand. I rose with a start and panicked, I tried to push the thought away that the disappearance of my watch had something to do with Nasra not being in the house again. Not wasting a single minute, I ran out and headed in the same direction as I had this morning. The sounds were reverberating from another hut this time around and her pleas sounded more desperate, although her voice got softer by the syllable. I realised that if I held back this time, I wouldn’t be able to rescue the only daughter that my Ammi and Abba had.
I swaggered inside to see a dark man in a Paithani who had a crowbar in one hand and was trying to pull away the watch from Nasra’s hold with the other. Her face was bloodied and she looked sore, she was whimpering, but her grasp was tight. I intervened only to know I had not much strength against this burly mass of a man. He whacked one across my back and I was in pain, lying on the ground. I think he grew frustrated that she wouldn’t let go so he used this opportunity to hit her hard against her neck. She gave in and he snatched the watch from her, and left. I crawled towards her but my heart sank and tears found their provenance as I felt her pulse and checked for her breath. I was left alone to limp back home, dragging her carcass along.
August 7th, 0100 hours, Gaza.
Sleep wasn’t a guest that night, not when Nasra lay lifeless in front of my eyes. I felt numb and I couldn’t tear my gaze off of her. I was scared, but at the same time, my mind was too preoccupied to notice Ammi walking in through the entrance. Her face bruised and her fingers gnarled, she looked weak and miserable. Albeit, nothing in the world compared to the horror that spread across her face when she saw her aulad on the ground. She shook her head fervently, she tried to bring her back to life by yelling her name over and over again, but all she was left with were her tears that were endless, her pain and heartbreak filled the room and suddenly, loss had a new meaning.
Knowing this wasn’t the time to let curiosity get the better of me, I asked her about Abba. She softly shook her head as she burst into tears all over again. I think the look on my face replicated the same horror that she had felt. Loss was imminent, and it made every fibre in my body hurt. Nasra had left us all. And Abba was gone. His watch, his last memory, the only souvenir of him that I would still possess was stolen. The absence of family left a void. We could spend centuries wallowing in the pain and sorrow had it not been the sound of tanks outside and the rockets booming again.
It seemed like the ceasefire had ended earlier than usual, but everything else that my life revolved around had already ceased to exist. The emotions recklessly misplaced left me feeling overwhelmed. All that I had in the beginning was what I was left with towards the end, mere hope that someday, I won’t remain a boy of only ten years of age.