A Dead Visitor

image of Martyrs Cemetery

by Asmaa Khalaf Madlool

It is a hard fate for my little city, Fallujah, to endure a second attack by the international forces.  How can this be true? All the universal forces seem determined to erase a little city from the map. Though it is small in size, it is an amazing place, especially its part that sleep at the hand of the Euphrates. The sounds of mosques mix to produce a religious hymn of eternity. I am born and raised to be part of this eternal ceremony.  But now my family is living amiss, wondering whether to leave the city or remain as we did in the first attack. How can we stay again to witness the pain, death and blood, only to be protected by our home? A huge family with many kids cannot afford displacement. We were saved in the first war physically, but our spirits are so hurt. The images of blood, dying people, and the dead occupy a large part of our souls. Until now the stories of our family have the smell of death, thus the decision is to stay home rather than endure the pain of displacement. I watch fearing and thinking of the death that we will face. We learn that only few families in our neighborhood remain in the city. So I resolve to write a brief record of every event during this escapade.

I am the fifth of eleven siblings. I seize the opportunity to remain indoors to write true scenes of this brutality for the world. My siblings are forced to stay home for their safety, hearing the petrifying sounds of bombs and horrible sound of the close airplane. Being a woman, I should care for them all. The pilot seems to use its loud noises on purpose to frighten people. We soon regret staying home because of the horrible images, the sound of rockets and the falling of house. From the upper floor, we check out the scene. We see a group of people burying their dead. Horrible scenes of a war that only started a few days before. There are short intervals in the day that the war calms, this is a suitable time for us to sleep. The city seems to be dying. The brief quietness suddenly vanishes with the falling of barrier from a local made weapon.

Among these horrors is a knock on our door. Suddenly the sound of the door vanishes with the horrible cry of bombardment, dust, stone and flying pieces of a roof. We hear the knock of the door again later on, but it is impossible to open it. My brother from the upper floor looks to find a young boy with one leg, begging for treatment. He seems to be a victim of the recent attack. His blooding and his leg is beside him, proving that he was recently injured. He knows that my family did not leave the city, so he comes to ask us for help. But how can one reach him through the shower of bullets in the street? Oh, it is too difficult to give him a hand because of the snipers! After the shooting stops, we drag him in only to find a dead body. We struggle to forget his death as sadness mixes with regret for not giving him a hand more quickly. The next morning my brother insists on taking the risk to bury him. We failed to help him in life, we should at least respect his death. After the brief ceasefire, my brother buries him and selects a stone for his grave to distinguish it from tens of other new graves besides him. The only remainder of his life is a belt that is kept as a sign of his lost existence.

After months of pain, the war stops. The displaced people begin to enter the city. As we begin to repair the fallen part of our house, a faint knock is heard on our door again. An old woman whose face tells various stories of pain and loss is the knocker. The surprise is that the woman is the mother of the young boy we buried. She comes directly to our home after her arrival to the city. She knows us from people who heard about her son’s burial. The belt is given to the woman and she recognizes it. After much waiting, she is now certain of the death of her only son. Her son is so lucky to have a grave whereas many people don’t have any reminder of their loved ones because they were either thrown in the Euphrates or vanished ambiguously. We guide the old woman to the grave. I notice her slow steps and her eyes that travel so far to beautiful spots in past. Her countenance echoes her memory because of her slight smile. This is the grave, my brother said. Her tears fall quietly on her wrinkled cheeks. She sits quietly as if she didn’t want to wake her sleeping loved one. She murmurs few words reminding her son of his lost life. We understand something about her son’s fiancée, her preparation for his wedding. She seems a little relieved while telling the story of his lovely childhood. We hear a history not only of this man, but of a generation’s loss. The white tale of love and beauty is distorted by blood, betrayal and hatred.     

The pain in her heart places a responsibility on my shoulders to tell her story and others to show how hatred has the power to turn human life into tragedy. Telling these painful stories is a mere attempt to calm my rebellious heart that loses faith in human slogans. We will need decades to rebuild our damaged souls. Many other stories of   the little child, the newly bride, the old father and others are waiting their turn to be told. The killers will be shocked to hear their buried crimes revealed and voices given to their victims to tell their stories.  After the arrival of the heart-broken mother I mediate in human fate. Many questions hurt my heart. How can a man turn into a monster in human form? How can we stop the pain? What is the responsibility of literature to renounce the criminals in our society that steal our happiness?