Tell A Tale in 500 Words
It's Tonight By Deborah Barrett
Ahmed crouched and squashed himself between his mother and his little sister Amira, he could feel his mother’s breath against his face, hot and hurried, he could smell the sweat rising from the damp dress that she now wore every day. Amira’s elbows were drilling into his ribs and her heart was racing, he knew because he could hear it and feel it as it echoed in his ears and in his heart too. The three of them were the only ones left in the al – Hamdo family, his family, sheltering in the ruins of this building, his home. They sat huddled beneath the dining table, around which they used to gather every evening to talk about what their day had been like and to eat. His favourite food had been his mum’s fattoush, with the little chunks of bread soaking up the juices as they oozed their way down to the bottom of the blue and white pottery dish that had been in his father’s family for ever, he had told them the story of his great grandmother who had carried the dish all the way from Damascus when they had moved to Aleppo.
But now sitting on the floor of their dining room, amongst the rubble and shards of glass, and waiting for the sound of the bombs, secretive whistles followed by explosions that threatened and bullied, Ummi’s fattoush was just an excavated memory, for he had not seen it or tasted it for months now. They sat, they listened and they waited. Where were the bombs going to hit tonight? He tried to imagine the streets outside their cocoon of stones and to work out which building would no longer be there when he could once again wander in search of friends. But sometimes he didn’t want to imagine as his thoughts scared him and made him unhappy.
Time between explosions was counted not in minutes or hours but in the number of times he could say the rhyme his grandmother had taught him long ago, laughing loudly then, but silently now. When he’d said it more than twenty times, he felt his mum’s arms tighten as she grasped him and Amira even closer. They listened as the old freezer they used to block the gaping hole in the wall was scraped across the floor and they smelt the acrid smoke of the outside world force its way in to their shelter. Footsteps scrunched towards them, a whispered voice spoke. “Hanan.”
Ahmed felt his mum’s arms move and the warmth of her clasp leave them and then he heard her say, “We’re here Sami.”
He peeped out from under the table and saw Abbi’s best friend standing there. The man who others had always mentioned, the man who Ahmed had been told to be like, clever, smart, strong, a success. The man who was now hunched and grey with such sad eyes.
“It’s tonight Hanan, it’s tonight we begin our journey.”
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