It is true that we live but to die, but life itself becomes death when there is no certainty of tomorrow. That was what life became that morning. That morning I heard the thundering voice of what they call bomb for the first time. Father, like a frightened dog, barked at us. ‘Get under the bed’. It was my sister and me. Mother quivered like a child having yellow fever.
We obeyed. Not even our hearts could tell us not to, for we heard it too. That sound that began the wrench of psyche, and pushed us, still children, into the stage of adulthood.
Father said it was war. He said ‘war has begun.’ A new age – an age where men could not boast in the bounty of books, all must carry the gun, dawned on us like day. And as each day fed us its own woes, the guns still rattled, the bombs still came shattering hopes and lives – each day was a meal of bombshells, a macabre meal – I watched my father, once a preacher of peace, walk into the emptiness of a war age, never to return.
‘I must stop being a weakling in the name of peace. I must fight for peace if it must reign,’ he told me before he vanished. ‘Shield your sister with your life. Better you die than let her die. Be a man.’
Not long after he swore to die for peace, Mother broke down. She became the one to be shielded not my sister. I did the best I could, our neighbours too tried, but rather than betterment, it was detriment. And I soon realized it was by instalment. Death. Her death. Each day feeding us bombshells and mother piercing cries. I watched her that morning as tears ran down my eyes, I watched her say her last words amidst gasps for life. ‘Son b… be strong. I l…ove y‘– she never completed it. Death didn’t allow her to, but like a child’s wordless message to its mother, I heard it all. I understood.
Life became for my sister and me, survival. A day mattered more than years to us. Just surviving each day was grace. What is life under an atmosphere of war if not survival? With each day came the urge to leave our anthill – the memories it bore were themselves a call to death. To leave and join my brothers daily dying on the field, but I could not leave my sister. I would never. Although, as I watched my neighbours bury blood brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, like us – I don’t know where Father died, or was buried – the faith of our survival slipped through my heart like water through fingers.
So, like the children with swollen, smooth faced bellies and needle arms and legs, we continued to pray for peace and survival. Eating whatever we found like a chicken with no owner, picking here and picking there.
Things soon changed. Things changed when the men who began the fire decided to sit and talk. When they decided it was time for the roundtable – and if I may ask, where is war brought to an end if not at a table? Where is the names of millions buried if not in dialogue?
And now as I sit watching the sun rise in the West this morning, and cast its beauty on the rubbles of this earth – our earth – I laugh. I laugh in silence. It must not be heard. I laugh at the fools who call the roundtable a no-place, and call the war field, where it should be settled. I laugh because they do not know war – the three-letter word that turns shores of lives to death untimely.
And as I laugh I also pray it would not be a new beginning.