A New Hope (NKP06)
By Adya Agarwal Gupta
A young boy, named Abdul Sheire sat by the river, lost in his thoughts. The other children were skipping around. The river ran throughout their small village, bringing water to the village. The village was on the Gaza strip, near Egypt and Israel. This was the daily life in the village. A modest, though, good life. The villagers made just enough money in their little farms and Abdul’s father kept his family going. However, everything changed the day the bombing happened.
As he sat by the river, Abdul heard a deep rumbling sound. A jet passed. They continued to play despite this. Then some gazed up in awe as the black balls started falling. Soon, all the parents and villagers were rushing out of their huts screaming for their children to return. The frightened children obeyed, especially Abdul. The jet rushed past. It turned around and again the black round balls fell to the ground. Abdul Sheire and his parents crouched under their furniture for whatever little shelter they could find. Abdul didn’t know what was happening, but sensed from the worried looks of his parents’ faces that something was wrong. The small fallen balls seemed to lie still for a few seconds, before exploding. It was a terrifying sound of a massive eruption. Abdul saw a vivid orange and red dash of colour through the window and flinched. He felt fear like he had never experienced before and felt the urge to just run. He rushed to the door. There were millions of people rushing around madly, agony piercing their eyes. Their children were hanging over the edge of their shoulders. Many were shouting, trying to escape the destruction.
Sirens wailed. Rubble fell. Abdul didn’t hear his parents. The door was only a few centimeters from their grip, but those centimeters cost two lives. There was a rough thud! Abdul was petrified. As he looked back at where his parents were, he saw a heap of rubble. It had destroyed all the furniture and Abdul’s parents. He couldn’t believe it. Running desperately to the rubble, his tears flowed in disbelief. Had he really lost his parents? It can’t be! No! Abdul thought. He ran to a truck, trying to shout for help through the window. There was hope that his parents were still alive. Abdul’s voice couldn’t reach the men inside the truck. Chasing the truck helplessly, Abdul grabbed onto the back and drove away with it hoping to convince the men to return. He tried. He really did but the men said it was too dangerous. He had left his parents to their fate. He desperately regretted leaving his parents underneath everything. He felt in his heart that he could have saved his parents. He could have pulled them away, but he was too frightened. And it was now too late. As the truck drew further afar, he clung onto the truck for dear life. When he had enough sense to ask where they were heading – he got only deathly silence. No one felt like answering. Maybe no one wanted to.
The truck reached a crumbling building. It was a miracle it had survived the happenings. Rushing inside, he realized it was an orphanage. He looked around at gray walls. Some were children he recognized. The group was rushed deep below, where there was a tight room. The floor was firm, though wet. In one corner, there was a once shiny water container. The ceiling was strong, and there was food with them. It was a bomb shelter. Abdul huddled in a corner with the other children. All of them were bunched up close in fear. It was cold, the bombs had scared them to their wits end, and they were still traumatized from the deaths they had just witnessed.
It was then eight years of the same fate. The group would rush down to the basement very often. It was like their second home! The bombs had destroyed so many houses and people’s lives. All these children were left homeless and parentless. More and more children would be admitted to the orphanage, and the house grew well into the lane. They tried very hard to keep themselves happy, but their lives had been ruined. Abdul grew older, but it wasn’t special to him anymore. That is, until he turned sixteen.
In the shattered society, everything that was pretty was gone. Everything! Hearts were broken. But, this was a village that lived with rules and abided by them strictly. When any boy officially turned sixteen, they had to start working. The villagers would categorize the boys. Abdul could no longer reside in the relative comfort of the orphanage. He had packed his clothes already. It was sorrowful, for he was the oldest child and often calmed the other children.
Solemnly greeting the caretaker for the last time, he stood by the door. The place he would stand to say goodbye to his friends. The caretaker fought back tears. Bending down to take her blessings, she lifted his head up and whispered something.
“My child, you were at the top of the crater. You fell, deep down below. Everyone else was slightly higher. But, you have fought your way up to the middle. Keep going. Don’t look down, or let go, because the distance to fall will be steeper than ever before. Keep helping everyone else, and remember that you came from hard conditions.”
She said no more, as she looked away. Their eyes couldn’t meet each other’s. Abdul embraced all the other children before turning away to leave. The letter that would determine his career was a meter away. Turning back to wave, Abdul whisked the letter out. Opening it, he read it excitedly. His excitement faded away slowly, as he realized what his future would be!
‘Rescue worker’. It was the one job he dreaded. Rescue workers died doing their job! They went into the most dangerous places and into the deepest waters. They would walk across a mountain, a few centimeters in width, just to save someone’s life! It sent shivers up Abdul’s spine. He knew that rescue workers were genuine at heart, but he had seen so many die just rescuing others. It was these rescue workers who rescued him and so many other children. They rescued others, but they couldn’t even rescue themselves. It was not that Abdul was ungrateful. He was just terrified. All he wanted to do was escape. This would only take him closer. He had spent the last eight years learning to forget his grief. This would make him relive his grief every single day. He felt his heart ache like someone had taken a knife to a raw wound.
Abdul sighed. He was shaking inside. But he knew that this couldn’t be changed. He would be a rescue worker. He would obey his village’s rules, but he knew that he would never have the courage that other rescue workers had. Trembling, Abdul entered the office.
If you were visiting the Rescue Centre, you wouldn’t believe that it was an important office. It was a unexceptional building with stains on the windows and a rusty handle on the main door. Going in cautiously, he greeted the officer typing blankly into a screen. A towering man with a bushy beard then led him to a room. Zakir, his teacher, made him train with tedious exercises that made his legs ache. Abdul thought mournfully how ill fated this all was. Though Zakir tried to make conversation with Abdul and comfort him, he was too daunted to speak. The terror of the fires had returned to him.
That day, as Abdul walked away from the office, he felt cold and tired. He felt cold in a way that he had never felt before. Goosebumps covered his arms and the hairs on the back of his neck no longer protected it. They had made a mistake. How was it possible that that anyone saw the courage inside Abdul to be a rescue worker? The only thing that Abdul hadn’t realized was that a rescue worker didn’t need courage. They needed to feel enough about these dying people. Zakir trained Abdul hard, making him work to the best of his abilities. He thought this would comfort Abdul but it only scared Abdul more. Abdul dreaded the day he would have to go on a mission.
“Abdul! Come on, faster.” Zakir shouted, evidently annoyed. Abdul was distracted and slow. “You cannot get out of this, Abdul. You’ll be compelled to rescue people when this training is done, whether you are scared or not!”
It was like this for the next two months. At night, Abdul would think about the caretaker’s words. Keep helping everyone else. But, as he walked into the office on the first day of the third month, he saw all the workers rushing around frantically. Zakir was talking urgently on a device. He brushed past Abdul and rushed into a truck. His team followed him, but Abdul stayed behind, trying to stand out of the way.
He shuddered as the same thoughts crossed his mind. Trembling, he thought about Zakir risking his life. Would he return? Who would be his new teacher? It made Abdul shiver. Then he noticed Zakir’s panicked expression. Something was wrong. As he rushed to the truck to ask Zakir if he could help, Zakir pulled him into the truck absent-mindedly. As he was pulled up, Abdul felt goosebumps grow on his arms. He felt a shiver rush up his spine and remain there. An icy, bitter presence hung around him. Abdul panicked, trying to rush out of the truck, unnoticed. But, the truck had already started rolling violently and he couldn’t slip out without injuring himself. Shaking back and forth, he felt water fill his eyes. He himself couldn’t believe what he was about to do, and wiped the tears from his eyes.
“Where are we going?” Abdul managed, teeth chattering.
“I already told you…” Zakir then realized who it was. The truck was almost reaching their destination. He couldn’t send Abdul back, it would cost them too much time.
“But, where is the other agent we expected?” Zakir asked his team, as the agents explained that he was sick. Groaning, Zakir led Abdul out of the truck. Abdul shivered, too scared to move. He would have to rescue someone! But he hadn’t even finished his training.
Wild panic overwhelmed him. Would he too be buried under rubble, forgotten forever? Staying close to Zakir, he glanced around. He saw rubble. He mindlessly walked up to a house that looked so familiar to his. It had the same doorway. The doorway in which Abdul had stood in when his parents left him. He was in a trance, as all the memories came flooding back to him. He imagined his parents still under that rubble, after so many years! Gasping for breath! Suddenly, Abdul tripped and snapped out of the trance and kneeled near the rubble before leaving.
He was petrified of the rubble. What if rubble fell on him and buried him like it had his parents? Rushing out almost immediately, he heard a faint, but unmistakable call. It sounded somewhere between a whisper and a cry, but it was real. Too petrified to even talk, he went to look for Zakir.
“Zakir! I think I heard one survivor, underneath the rubble. P-p-p-p-p-please save her.” Abdul stammered, panic-stricken. Zakir edged closer to Abdul, trying to comfort him as he called his team. They pushed aside some loose rocks as Abdul rushed after them. Zakir confirmed that there was certainly a survivor underneath the rubble. They searched through the rocks desperately, and found a very small opening. It was only fit for a very, very small person. Abdul was the youngest and the smallest of the men. Zakir and all his teammates immediately turned to Abdul, who was already shivering. But, he felt compelled and started to take a step ahead. It was a big risk, since Abdul had never done anything like this before!
“Go on!” Zakir said.
“No, I-I-I-I can’t face that monster alone!” Abdul shuddered, as he edged closer to where he had heard the sound.
“There isn’t a monster, Abdul. Don’t be silly! It’s just a little girl.”
“The monster is the rubble. The monster killed my parents; I can’t face it alone. Please, Zakir. I can’t do this alone! You have to be next to me.” Abdul pleaded.
But Zakir just firmly tied the rescue ropes around Abdul and nudged him towards the hole without a word.
“Hello? Hello?” Abdul called, trying to put on a brave face. “Zakir, there’s no one here. Maybe I just imagined it.” Zakir ignored Abdul’s fear. Abdul called again. This time, there was a little movement and noise amongst the rocks. Abdul’s eyes widened. He shivered, as he bent closer to hear the voice.
“Help… Me.” She whispered, mustering up all the little pieces of strength she had within her. Abdul shifted closer to the right, where he heard her voice.
“I’m here… T-t-t-to help you.” Abdul tried once again to be brave, feeling stronger. The girl whimpered, when she heard Abdul.
“Okay, what’s your name?” Abdul waited for a response. He wanted to be heard, and make sure the girl was alive, remembering the little training he had received.
The girl answered in a shaky and coarse voice, “Nafiza…. I am alone… scared… please help! I want my Ammi!”
Abdul’s heart ached. He heard the word, ‘Ammi’ and knew that Nafiza had suffered the same fate as him. His parents had been taken away from her, like his were. Something clicked in him, as he felt the girl’s pain. She was facing the same fear, the same heartbreak that he had experienced.
“Nafiza, can you see my hand? I also don’t have my parents with me anymore. I fell down from a big crater, like you. But we have to climb our way up.”
Through the pitch-black darkness, Abdul saw a small nodding movement. He had no choice but to respond to Nafiza’s nod. She had faced so much. Zakir leaned in to remind Abdul to ask the standard questions – to check the little girl was able to think fine and follow instructions.
“Nafiza- what was your name yesterday?” Abdul asked nervously. Crossing his fingers, he silently hoped that Nafiza was lucid. If she weren’t, this rescue would be much more difficult. She wouldn’t be able to help them help her! There was an uncomfortable silence. Finally, a small voice replied, “Nafiza…Same as today. Why?”
Abdul followed her voice and moved closer to it slowly groping his way through the tiny opening in the rubble and reached out his hand. Abdul’s only thought now was about saving Nafiza. No matter what. As he came within viewing distance, he shone his little torch slightly away from her face. There was a big lump, which spread across half of her forehead. It was a gruesome vermillion colour. Abdul winced and wiped uncertain tears from his eyes. He fought to erase the image of his parents lying in that rubble and instead thinking hard, Abdul thought about how to persuade Nafiza that she was in safe hands.
“What do you like to eat, Nafiza?” He asked trying to relax the young girl.
“I want water” Nafiza faintly replied.
“We’ll get you as much water as you want. But you still have not told me, what’s your favourite thing to eat?”
Abdul, in spite of the situation, let out a little laugh of relief. Almost beside her now, he leaned over quite far, reached out his hand and tickled Nafiza’s foot to make sure her legs were fine. He could hear her giggle. The legs were fine! Catching ahold of her sweaty feet, he pushed him towards her and heaved her into his arms firmly. The movement made the rocks unstable. Next he felt the rubble on him and Nafiza. He shielded Nafiza’s head and hoped for nothing to injure him. For a moment he was seized with fear. He would be buried like his parents now! But, he could hear Zakir and the men getting into action. He felt the tug of the rescue rope that was tied around his belly.
“It’s time to go, Princess Nafiza. We’ll get you out and someone will get you water and all the chocolate you want. Ok?”
As he said this, he signaled Zakir’s men by returning the tug of the rope. They yanked the two bodies out of the rubble.
Once out, Abdul gasped in relief, as he turned Nafiza over, so she could breathe. Nafiza hugged Abdul tightly. The paramedics took over. They assembled her in a stretcher, letting her rest, as they ran through some medical tests. Abdul scurried away to find the promised chocolate bars and water for the desperate little girl. As he started off, he felt a warm, small hand on his arm. It pulled him back. Turning around, he saw Nafiza. Her eyes were closed, but she was grinning jubilantly and her grip said it all. Gratitude. Relief. Trust. Abdul laughed. She waved weakly as she was led away in a stretcher.
It was only in the minutes of silence after, that it all sunk into Abdul. He had rescued Nafiza! But, it was not only her who was rescued. He had rescued himself. He now knew why rescue workers did what they did. Because, only they witnessed hope in the midst of the dark days of hell. Nafiza’s rescue had redeemed him. Freed him. He had managed to push himself to the very top of the crater. It felt like a new life had commenced. Now he knew why Allah had chosen this profession for him. He was watching from above.
“There’s been another bombing in Hebron. We have to rush.” Zakir yelled, gathering the team as he ran to the truck. Abdul waited just a bit longer. For a very brief moment he stood still and then he put his hands up in the air in prayer. For the first time in eight years, he felt alive. Through the clouds, a strong ray of sunlight shone through. It was the start of a new life. The life of a rescue worker.
CREDITS: Story Inspiration: Al Jazeera; Pictures: Google Images