:echoes of tired footsteps//



The day burst forth in the shades of oranges and pink. The sun rose slowly, drenching the city in an orange glow. The beams fell on rose petals and the green grass, illuminating the dewy jewels that lay heavily on the delicate bodies. The birds began their melodious tryst with the nature. The morning breeze blew softly, caressing the flora and whispering to the trees. As the sun rose higher, the houses in the town came to life. Fathers came out to fetch the morning newspaper and the smell of fresh breakfast wafted throughout the streets as mothers turned over pancakes, made tea and shut the lids of the lunchboxes their children were to take to school. The teenage boy bid his goodbye to his father as he kissed his mother on her flour streaked face. He tightened his hold around the tiny fingers of his baby sister who was all ready for her first day at school. The little girl had her honey colored hair twisted into two side braids that fell to her waist. The tiny bag pack containing a few coloring pages, an alphabet book, a book of numbers, a few coloring pencils and a lunchbox was too heavy for her, therefor he slung it over his shoulder along with his own heavy bag. As they made their way down the street towards the bus point, he asked her a question.

“What do you want to do when you grow up, little sister?”

She hopped a few paces away from him and then said, “I will put bandages on the people, like daddy does. After the big airplanes leave.”

A shadow crossed his face but he quickly regained his composure. Her next question chilled his spine.

“Have the big airplanes left, bhaiyya? I have not heard them for so long.”

“Yes, little sister, they are gone. Now come here, don’t go running around. You might trip and dirty your clothes. What will the teacher say? She will not let you sit with all the neat kids,” he changed the subject. She let out a deep, pretentious gasp and curled her hand around his thumb.

The bus was crowded with little children, waving at their parents, quarreling over the last piece of candy or simple laughing. He helped his sister climb the bus stairs and waved at her. “I’d see you in the school. Be a nice lady, okay?”

“I love you, bhaiyya. May Allah keep you under His Protection,” she chirped.

He saw the bus leaving and smiled, hoping against hope that the big airplanes really had left. At school, the day was busy. Teachers could be heard teaching or preaching or shouting themselves hoarse at naughty children. Somewhere, a class was reciting verses of Holy Quran in a rhythm. From somewhere afar, the faint music of a piano could be heard. It was just another day; when futures were being brightened, skills were being honed, abilities were being polished and the efforts to make the world better for our children were being made. Undoubtedly, one day, a crowd of politicians, musicians, scientists, engineers and humanitarian workers would leave the premises of this building. His mind wandered off to his sister and he began wondering what she must be doing. She was a naughty little thing, so undoubtedly would be giving her teachers a tough time but considering what an adorable little pixie she is, everyone must already be in love with her. She had this thing about herself; she could be very naughty and mischievous and no one would even slightly raise their voices, in fact everyone would stop to watch the little girl prancing about her mischief and smile. She had such a beautiful future ahead of her. He was very sure that she’d one day make a beautiful wife and an amazing mother.

And then he heard it, the faint rumbling sound that shook the Earth to its very core. The building trembled slightly and the glass on his table fell and cracked. He looked around and noticed the nervousness on the faces of every student. But he was sure they wouldn’t need to worry. The big airplanes were heard very frequently and they always passed. They always passed their city and landed somewhere else. They always spared their city and wreaked havoc somewhere else. They always skipped their city and let the hell break loose somewhere else. The sound grew stronger and sharper, the tremors gained strength. The building shook harder and little cracks appeared on the window panes. He shut his eyes and lowered his head on the table. He pressed the heels of his palm to his ears, wanting to block out the sound. He would count till ten and then it’ll be over and all will be okay.


The blast tore at his eardrums and he felt something fell heavily over his body. Darkness engulfed him but he was conscious. The screams penetrated his skin and pierced his veins. His body went numb but the ache in his heart grew. All around him, there was dust and rubble and nothingness. The building had collapsed and they were beneath it. He couldn’t move his body, he was stuck. A shard of glass had penetrated his neck, narrowly missing the jugular. Every bone in his body felt cracked and snapped in half. He didn’t know what fate his class fellows met. He wished they were alive, breathing and waiting. The big airplanes did not pass their city this once. The big airplanes did not skip their city this once. The big airplanes did not spare their city this once. Futures were blackened, little porcelain dolls smashed to smithereens. And that was when the smiling face of his little sister flashed in front of his eyes and he felt his body turn to liquid. He felt dizzy, torn into shreds. He tried to scream but all that left his throat was a hoarse cough. He felt the drip of blood over his eyes and felt its sharp metallic taste as he ran his bitten tongue over it. The tears stung at the back of his head and that was when he felt himself tumbling into a void, into a never ending pit. He felt life leaving his body and as the cries of the siren reached his ears, his brain gave in.

His eyes fluttered open and he found himself in a van that smelled of antiseptics and grief. This small metal body knew the last words of hundreds of souls, drank in agonized screams of as many. Isn’t it funny how smallest of things can cause the greatest ease and yet, the greatest damage too? Long story cut short, dear readers, the boy who left his home in the morning in hopes of making this world a beautiful place was left orphaned and with the memories of a little sister whose body was never found. They found the little pink shoe she had worn this morning but that was all that was left of her. That was all that was left of a dream that hadn’t even been dreamed yet. Another life was taken, another life that hadn’t even been lived yet. Another future destroyed, that hadn’t even made a past yet. Days went by, warping themselves into months. The teenage boy managed to escape the land where blood ran like water to a land where children never heard big airplanes and mothers never feared their laps being empty. He was a refugee in the land of people where little girls grew up to be beautiful wives and mothers, where brothers didn’t have to sleep with a little pink shoe clutched in his hand. A land where all was good, and all was well. Syria was bleeding, they all knew. Palestinians were dying, they were well aware. Iraq was destroyed and the soil of Burma was red, they were informed. But all they did was wear black ribbons to show their grief yet still fund the animals that tore at the throats of innocent boys and girls. He hated them yet he smiled at them. He hated them yet he served them. He hated them yet he had befriended them.

It was yet another beautiful day and the children were making all the noise that their little bodies had the strength to make. The sky was as blue as the deepest sea and as clear as crystal. The birds were chirping and little squirrels were nibbling at the acorns. He entered the building he knew so well. He swept the corridors here and cleaned the bins. He cleared after messy children and served tea to the principal.

“Good day, Madam,” he bowed to the receptionist.

“Doesn’t look too cold for that jacket, eh, young man,” she cooed.

“Never too cold, madam,” he smiled sadly as he made his way towards the small enclosure in the center of the building. He stood amid the octagonal building, his gaze sweeping across the landscape. He could picture his own school, the sounds it held, the promises it made. He shut his eyes. “IN THE NAME OF GOD ALMIGHTY”. That day, the safe land knew what it was like being the son of a soil where no flower could grow. That day, the safe land had a hundred pink little shoes scattered all over its land.


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