That Monday morning greeted me way too early, stirring me awake before the sun had a chance to set on the the horizon and the usual chorus of cars passed the house for an early start. My eyes were stranded on the moon-shaped face, watching as it’s hand swung to the next digit. Six. I said it out loud, the sounds tasting funny in my mouth. Not quite right. I felt like it wasn’t quite me talking, but someone entirely different.
It had been too long since I’d heard myself, my real self. It was as though I’d lost a large part of who I was. The most important part.
As it orbited, it seemed to slow down, teasing me. I wondered if it would stop.
Then, I recognised the silence bleeding through the sound of my breaths. A cruel sound, one that had followed me from the village. Or what remained of it, anyway. The silence was the last remaining remnant of that horrible noise that devoured my home.
I filled it with a shrill cry. Screamed a name that — like everything else in this strange language — didn’t feel right in my mouth. When she didn’t come straight away, tears sprang to my eyes.
I’m not alone.
She ran. I could hear her feet pounding against tile and then her friendly face filled the tiny crack in the doorway. A moment of comprehension passed across her face, like a slow, reluctant slap, and she came closer, kneeling by my side.
I never listened to what she said, but I heard everything that mattered.
The concern. The warmth. The resemblance to my real mum.
And then the tears vanished.
I’m not alone.
When she finally kissed my forehead, I knew where the signs were pointing. My fingers latched onto her arm and held on tight. She didn’t resist, but gave me a half-hearted smile.
“Come on, then. You can sleep on our bed if you wish. But you need to be up in the next hour or so. Don’t wanna be late for school.”
I stood, not letting a second slip past. I’d dismissed her mention of school and all I could focus on was snuggling up close to her, stealing her heat.
I didn’t want to hear that sound ever again: the silence. I had to at least hear the mellow wash of air fill and release from someone else’s lungs.
“I’m not alone. I’m not alone. I’m not alone.”
She traced a delicate line down the side of my face with one soot-painted finger as she sung a lullaby I’d known for a long time. Her voice was a half-whisper, so my ears strained to hear when her voice would catch on the last word of each verse and when it fell to a low pitch, as soft as plush grass. The words were strange, scrambled together in a mix of syllables and sounds, but I knew she was singing about the clear air, blue skies and wide smiles of the life approaching. All it took to guess, was the way she sung it with one corner of her mouth slightly raised and a light shining past brown irises. Even though I usually kept my eyes shut hoping she would continue, I often peeled one eye open to see her eyes locked on me as if in the world there was only us two, nothing in the way. Sometimes I’d see a tear leak from her gaze, marking it’s track like a river on dark soil. One time I asked why she was crying. She replied with a moment of silence and then she’d tell me it was a tear of joy, for me and for the rest of the family.
I believed her.
I’m the youngest of four, the sister in a flock of brothers, so often I would rest during the day while my brothers were at school. I’d listen to my mum sing and tell stories and sometimes even watch her tidy the house. Aunt Noora and grandma lived with us too. They often exchanged words in another tongue, words quiet and blurred. They try to teach me to be a woman by introducing me to large tubs I carry on my head and advise me to live in the shadows of men.
I don’t like it, but it’s the only way to survive.
I don’t remember much about him, apart from the patches of green that consumed him whole and the sharp smell of blood and dirt that followed him home. I don’t remember his voice or if he resembled me or my brothers. I don’t remember if he ever wrapped me in his arms or told me he cared. I can’t remember when he last visited or how much his skin wrinkled. I just remember he was a toy in the hands of the army, someone far less than human.
Yet again a father isn’t meant to be. As long as they protect and serve our country, all will be fine. Right?
Mum, Noora and grandma all say he’s gone, but I don’t believe it.
I need to see evidence, but they say his body was lost amongst all the other fathers and husbands taken by a shower of bullets. None of him remains.
I became dizzy from thrusting my head left to right and having a head overflowing with ideas that he’d ran away from the fighting or dived away from the incoming shots with barely a scratch.
I stopped worrying about my father when I heard the action arriving at my own home.
They burst into my home, storming past the furniture and dull ornaments of the life I’d always had. They had long rifles, which they pointed at us with their eyes as empty as the barrels. I was lying in the corner, body scrunched up tightly to keep out the cold. They couldn’t see me, so I took the chance to do as I’d been taught: hide from the men.
I crawled out of the room, pausing to gather together the chaos laid out so close to me. That’s when I heard a loud crack echoing through the house, stalked by the sickening thud of something hard landing on solid ground.
Crack. Crack…crack. Crack. Crack.
I held my breath, trying hard not to shatter that horrible silence.
And then I fled through a window, leaving the life I’d grown attached to far behind bringing nothing but a pointless mantra along with me.
“I’m not alone. I’m not alone,” I repeated under my breath.
I’m not alone. I’m not alone.
I kept it in my head all the way to the school. Stepping over the staggered land, trying to hold myself upright while also trying not to make a sound. I caught the eyes of several boys who foraged through the rubble, brows creased and eyes wide when they saw me. I was an intruder blindly making my way into enemy territory, but it didn’t seem to matter.
I needed to find my brothers.
“What are you doing here?”
I whipped around to find myself looking at the chest of a man roughly my father’s age. He had the same steel gait as him, with eyes that drilled straight to my brain, rendering me completely speechless.
“My brothers,” I let out, gawking hopelessly. “I’m looking for them.”
“They’re not worth the trouble. Go home.”
I started to walk closer to the school, ignoring the warning. I heard him sigh before he went back to digging through the remains of a home.
I should’ve listened.