Reborn from the rubble – We Are Not Numbers

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Window.
A window of the older woman’s home that was destroyed in an Israeli bombing. Photo by Ahmad El Khuwaja

I woke up to the sound of bombs falling and people screaming in the streets, and yet I felt no fear. I closed the window and returned to my bed as if nothing had happened. The next thing I remember was getting a call from my father.

“Get yourself to the pharmacy…now!”  He wanted me to pick up the bag of medicine for my tired mother and milk for my newly-born twin brothers.

I followed his orders, no questions asked. Yes, orders, as we became accustomed in times of war to my father becoming the commander in chief of the house and family members. We accepted this to make sure that everything was in check.

I picked up my phone, took some cash on hand, and headed to the street.  As I closed the main door, one of our neighbors asked why I was leaving the house and putting myself in danger. I told him a little of what I knew. He asked if I could get him some bread as his back is “rusty,” as he jokingly said. He is too old to walk to the bakery and wait in line, so I agreed to help the old uncle.

One more thing he told me: “Stay close to the walls and walk under the buildings. Take cover, kid!”

I replied with a careless “okay,” and told him not to worry about me. Why should he? I’m a grown twelve-year-old man and I know the roads like the back of my hand.

As I got closer to the pharmacy, the spy drones noticed something moving and they started to fly closer. Why would they care about a kid walking to the pharmacy? I tried to calm myself but next, out of nowhere, a house of an older woman I knew and whose small garden of mint and basil I helped care for, turned to rubble and became a curtain of gray dust. I didn’t know what to do. I just froze in place on two sidewalk stones. Should I run or go to the pharmacy? Or, should I try to see if there was someone alive under the rubble? I was alone. No one could see me. No one could hear me. I don’t think that I even was conscious of my existence for a moment. I was dead at that moment.

My phone vibrated. It was my father. I panicked. “I’m so dead, I’m late, I’m so late,” I thought to myself. I tried to speed walk while also talking to him, making excuses for the time wasted while also trying to hide my fast breathing. I managed to get to the pharmacy and pick up the bag of medicine and the milk. I believe that I was lucky to be born in a time of peace, especially when the twins wake and cry with every bombing, as if they can see the souls who limp to heaven, giving them goodbyes. I picked up a few bags of groceries, as the markets were temporarily open and a few people were allowed in, according to the situation; shop owners had become war analysts. I managed to get to the bakery to buy the bread that I promised our neighbor. There wasn’t a queue, which was odd for that time of the day.

On my way home, I saw people gathered around the old lady’s house, trying to pull something or someone from the rubble. I saw their faces turn pale when I approached as if they were seeing a ghost. To my surprise, I learned someone had seen me go down the road by the woman’s house but hadn’t seen me return. That person thought I had been there, at her house, as I usually go to drink tea and spend my afternoons listening to her stories about her lost brother. Neighbors thought I was dead or under the rubble—just like the woman’s brother had once been. When they saw me they were not sure if it was me or whether I was real. My fast-paced walking by them and not talking to any of them didn’t help explain anything, either. I went home, gave the bread to our neighbor, and went to sleep as if nothing had happened.

Some, still to this day, don’t believe that it happened or that I’m even alive. They believe that I’m dead. Some continue to be surprised every time they see me. Not everyone has the opportunity to be reborn every day.

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