Blackened ash lifting in delicate spires touching the sky, visible against the black night only from the bright halo of flames delicately criss crossing a tortured city. Is the wail of suffering audible above the caucophony of bullets and rage, or is it just that a scene of such terror triggers a cry in my own mind. People are suffering in front of my eyes. People are dying in every direction. The taste of ash is on my tongue.
What is happening? The war was over, has been over for months. Grass has been growing green in the parks and children have been filling the streets with the sound of laughter as they played without fear. That was this morning, just this morning. My own son and daughter are with my wife and I looking out the window of our flat. They should not be here, I will send them to bed soon, yet, this is their country, these are their people. We missed the war, we will not miss whatever beast arises here before my eyes, they have a right to put a name to that fear which I am sure must be in their hearts. Both my children are being held close by my wife, I put my arms around all three of them providing what comfort I have. I can feel the silent tears streaming down my sons face.
The crackle of gunfire is still in the distance, not immediate. Should we run? My family looks to me to take command. Their safety is in my hands. Who is winning the city? Who is even fighting? The power is out, the internet is out and cellphone coverage is out. Loud cries on megaphones shout revolution and religion, but then many of their banners are in flames. My family and I arrived back soon after the war, I felt that my homeland needed me, needed people like me to take her from such a dark future into something brighter. I wanted to help make a country that my children would only know as a land of happiness, a place of peace. If the current crisis is from a remnant of the old regime coming to take back what they feel they lost they would be brutal with us, people like me, the opportunists, the stooges. Should we run. Should we run. Run where? Where is safe? Are the noises coming closer? I want to know what is happening. How can life move so fast. Things will be alright. I need a clear head. Watching this is helping nothing. There is a fire spreading to the freshly named parliament hill.
Straightening up, I call my wife my daughter and my son by their names to look at me. I tell them that we have of course planned for things like this to happen, we will follow our preparations and if we act smartly of course everything will be fine. We must be brave. To my wife I tell her to pack essentials, if we get a window of opportunity to flee we will take it. I don’t expect such an opportunity to come, I don’t tell her this, but it is smart to be prepared. It is reassuring to me as well to see the bags there, a concrete plan of action that we choose not to take, a power when so much of what is happening in front of us is bigger then we can control, we are just a leaf in a gale and it is lucks grace that will spare us, just as it is lucks bleak fate to take us low. My wife silently begins packing. To my son I tell him to make sure all of our curtains are blacked out, and to place as much furniture as possible to block our street exposure. We have practiced this, I squeeze his shoulder and he takes a deep breath to dispel his fear and begins his tasks. To my daughter I tell her to knock on all of our neighbors doors, to make sure they are doing as we are and following the emergency preparations we agreed on. Every family in our building is involved in the reconstruction effort. Everyone has something to lose. My daughter runs quickly and silently. I look to the window, parliament is on fire, the wail of screaming is now no illusion. The night burns brighter, closer.
Let me get in control of myself. Let me get in control. We planned for this. It is true we planned for this. Of course what we never said in these plans was that we were so small in a darkness so vast, we are insignificant, just a building, even just one family that may just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some hate us, people I have never met hate my children, hate my wife, hate me. I need to be brave. I need to be strong. There is nothing to fear, only life and the destiny that I cannot control. I will play chess with my maker. Today, I pray, even if it has been so long that I last prayed, that fortune will smile down on me and mine. Tonight does not have to be a nightmare, tomorrow can rise with these memories nothing but a bad dream. I clench and unclench my hand. I clench and unclench my hand. There is nothing to do but wait to see if we are an island of peace of a part of the fierce torrent of violence.
My family comes back, their tasks completed. Some neighbors come in, it seems by reacting first they have decided to make my home headquarters. That is fine. Safety in numbers, they might as well congregate here rather than anywhere else. There is the sick smell of panic in the air. I am no leader, but someone has to say something before the fear in all of our hearts bubbles to the surface. I quietly ask them if they have made all their preparations, as we planned previously. Everyone nods. Is the downstairs foyer and fire escape secured? Yes. Well, alright then, everyone might as well make themselves comfortable: the night may be long.
Everyone’s eyes are riveted to the window at my back. More flames licking the city, so close. Was that a gunshot on our block? The individual please of mercy and cries of aguish begin to come towards us: please, there are no bad people here—please, there are children. The faceless mob ebbs and flows. The night is filled with the thunder of gunshots. There is no way to know the fate of those pleaing, of those crying. The chaos comes closer. Down a side street a few men run by carrying weapons. My son sees it and huddles closer to hit mother. Everyone in my apartment seems to huddle closer together. The tides are not in our favor, so much of the night is left. So much time for terror to breed, to take advantage of the private blanket of darkness. Fate, today, is not with us.
There are many children in the building. So many wanted as I want to create a land that their children would be proud of. Second guessing feels of naïvete and stupidity will not have time to rise in my head now. We planned as well as we could. I tell the other adults that it seems like maybe tonight luck is not with us. It was meant to be just a little bit light hearted, it falls flat. I sigh. I look at each of my neighbors in the eyes. I say we need to protect the children. They all agree, which breaks the last barrier in my mind that this nightmare may come to a happy ending. We have a room in one of my neighbors apartments where the door can be covered by a bookshelf. The room itself is in a top corner of the building as far away from the street as possible. It is not a perfect hideaway, but, well, we don’t always get the pleasure of perfect solutions. In our minds when we all talked about the need for a room such as this we tried to be serious, yet, we never thought we would truly need this. Fear creeps up my heart, back down, back down, I must be strong. Others depend on me. We put all the children in the room. We leave a few women with them to keep the children calm and comforted. The room is completely full. I have already hugged my wife and children, I was lucky that my wife was able to stay with the children. I have done the best I can for their safety.
My neighbors come back to my apartment. Everyone in the building is either in my apartment or the hideaway. Some of my neighbors have weapons, ranging from hand guns to knives to kitchen mallets. My own hands are empty. I must master my own fear. The street is slowing filling with a trickle of combatants. There seems to be a silence in my mind, across the street I can see a flat level with mine having the doors kicked in. There are no people in the flat, did they have a plan like ours? The throw a Molotov cocktail in the parlor and quickly go into the next room. We cover the last sliver of our parlor window that is still exposed, look towards the open door that leads to the buildings stair case and count time to the beat of our own hearts.
Nothing happens. Screams trickle through every crack. Fire spreads, but the brick buildings are strong. We do not talk. We do not look at each other. Nothing happens. Hope quietly asks to be allowed into my heart, and I slam the door in its face. There will be no hope until the sun shines and the streets are empty. Nothing happens. My mind is filled with a huge vacancy. For some reason the feel of walking on thick green grass fills my mind. Where was I that the grass was just like that? The sort of grass that makes you want to lie in it and just stare at the sky, to count the clouds. We hear a commotion in the stair well. Screaming. The mob has come. Our preparations do nothing. The noise of heavy feet running up the stairs fills our ears. We do not look at each other we look at the door.
My flat was on the fourth floor. We hear doors being kicked open below us. They are coming. They are coming. One of my neighbors becomes brave, walks to the door, walks to the railing of the stair case and bellows ‘there are no enemies here. We are all good people. Please, we are brothers. We are brothers. It does nothing, there is not even a response. These are not men streaming through my building, they are not even monsters, they have drunk from the flames of the night and are drunk on their own passion. If only they hates us, to be killed by someone for a reason would mean something, I shake the thought from my mind. I will not allow myself pity, we must be brave, we must think of our children.
“Well,” my neighbor says, “should we try to kick these sons of bitches out?” Grimly we file out of my apartment and take the positions we plotted months ago placed between my floor and the top floor where the children were. We touch each other lightly and unconsciously whenever we go past each other. My position is midway between my apartment and the children’s room. I have a small hand gun that I practiced with just for a purpose like this. Amazing how we did so much preparation for something we never thought would happen. Men are filing up the stairs, I have never fired at a living creature before. I see someone in a clear line of sight waving a Molotov cocktail. I fire, at the same time as a few on my neighbors fire. We shouldn’t waste shots, though we have enough ammo. It’s just a bad habit, a bad habit that the instructor at the gun range was so adamant we were aware of. I curse myself for wasting the shot, and see the man I fired at lying on the ground. Is he dead? Was it my shot that killed him? Why is there no emotion in my heart. I ready my gun again.
More and more people people stream up the stairs, many with Kalashnikovs. We fire back as best we can, but my neighbors are being killed in front of my eyes. We keep firing. I do not have a perception of time. Nothing exists except the struggle to again and again raise me gun, to keep is steady, to keep it loaded, to shoot at anyone walking upwards, anyone I can, How many are left. I must raise my gun again. There is no noise, no silence, just the raising of my gun. How is it such a small device can have such power. How terrible a device of such death was ever created, the power of an army should never take such a deceptively small shape. I am lying on the ground, how long have I been here for. There is blood coming from me, is it my blood? I cannot tell. I feel my gun still in my hand but it is becoming increasingly heavy. Soon boots are running past me higher, I should shoot. Then, the boots are running back down in fewer numbers. How is it time is passing. Are winning or are we losing? Time is so fast, or is it so slow, I cannot tell.
Someone shakes my shoulder, is he going to shoot me. I look up into the eyes of death and am greeted by a neighbor. He shouts that I’m alive but bleeding quickly. I am lifted and brought to someones kitchen and laid on the table. I am so close to passing out. Someone in my ear, is it my wife? Someone, she whispers don’t worry, tonight we have won.