Zareena treads along the sidewalk, her backpack dangling loosely from her clenched fists. She might have been mistaken for a nonchalant pedestrian out on a stroll, for she wears a dead expression on her sun-baked face. It is quite a task to maintain such a balanced footing, given the fact that the entire pathway lies strewn with debris. Yet she does not show a single pint of emotion. She keeps on walking, occasionally viewing the street and then shifting her gaze to the unconscious world about her.
She reaches the dead end of the road after clearing the collapsed bridge. Trekking across the caverns of twisted metal, concrete and corpses fuels her with adrenaline. Atop one of the more stable steel slabs, she feels the crisp breeze kissing her from the serene expanse of Mediterranean. She wishes she were as composed and strong as the water, for nothing other than Al Mutawassit had been left unscathed. Ah! The mighty waters!
“A’WOODH!” A croaky voice roars from across the beach. Rising from her trance, Zareena rubbed her eyes desperately as she makes out a string of tiny boats, docked up, laden with escapees. Men and women. Children made men and women by the conflict. Heaped up on wooden planks, life sucked out of each one and yet a ray of hope dazzling in each pair of eyes.
Zareena makes a go. Striding across the rubble on the beach, her feet bloody and painful. No force can restrain her. She feels a moment she thought she never would again. “Antazar daqiqa! Syd!”
Zareena tries to catch her breath.
“Shaqiq!” she mouths, panting hard. “Plea-
“YALLAH!”, the boatman groans, “What has gotten into this pearl! Take your time!”
Zareena looks at the man, in his thirties, very well built and handsome.
A pause prevails.
Out of the blue, without further ado, the man extends his hands, cupped together, and speaks so softly that the Mediterranean roar muzzles his voice.
“I don’t have much space. Piraeus in three days. And immediate payment.”
Zareena gulps down her fear. “I don’t have a single penny,” she says.
“Awww! Thumm Ghadar!”, the man barks impatiently, “You have no business here then!”
Zareena’s heart sinks.
“PLEASE! HAVE MERCY!” she lets out with despair,“They took everything.”
The man lets out a deep breath, screws his eyes in anger and then looks at Zareena. As he scans her, his anger recedes. A malicious grin ensues.
“It’s all out here,” he concludes.
Zareena stands rooted to the spot in utter disbelief as one boat after another starts to sail away.
A bolt of pain hits Zareena. She opens her eyes, and face palms herself: the pain waves past her head into her abdomen. She finds herself webbed by confusion. Sitting upright, she looks around. She has been resting against an old lady on a plank. About fifteen families lie silently, fast asleep at her feet. The boat is bouncing gleefully but the sea seems calm. The Sun is about to rise.
“It is cold.” The old lady hisses.
“How long has it been?” Zareena asks. Her throat seems to have been scalded for the discomfort is unbearable.
The old lady does not pay attention. She instead goes on, “Lecherous twits! Haven’t they been begotten? RAB YAKIBUHUM!”
Zareena looks across the sea, all misty and silent. Not a single soul stirs around her, not even in the boat.
“Kobani. You?” The old lady clearly wants a new ice breaker.
“Um, Aleppo. I was a physician.” Zareena answers.
“Ow! We have a celebrity amidst us!” tries the old lady.
Both smile at the heat of the moment, or rather, the lack of it.
“My brother is in Europe. We will go to Montreal. I hear it is more distant. We will be happy.” The old lady says in one breath. She has had it rehearsed for days. It is evident.
Zareena lies on her back, her eyes transfixed at the starlit sky.
A pure melody fills the air.
Zareena looks to her left to find the old lady, playing a Rabab. It reminds her of Abba, of the weekend afternoons after prayers. She smiles at the old lady and the lady smiles back. It is genuine and heartfelt this time. She is lulled to sleep.
BOOM!!! A deafening thud . Zareena springs awake. The wind is spooling the boat into a tropical whirlpool. All men hold onto their families. Some cuddle hopelessly. The storm gets violent, tossing the boat like a Frisbee.
Zareena does not have time to register what is happening. She clutches onto a rope clamp on one of the anchors. The bloodthirsty sea tries to gulp the boat and its occupants.
Zareena cries out aloud. The thunderous boom of rocks grazing the boat adds to the shrieks of panic stricken people. Women recite final prayers. Zareena is scared. It has been a long time ever since the bombings struck. Yet Nature seems to have a more murderous aura. She looks for the old lady. She is nowhere to be seen. Amidst the volley of rain pellets and gushing seawater, Zareena is able to make out the lady’s shawl, tied to a broken post.
By this time, the boat has angled dangerously. The intermittent lightning is the only dispersal of darkness. People start to be washed off the boat.
“NOO!” Zareena hollers in agony.
The boat is kicked upside down. The bobbing waves swish her miles away. The sea appears to be dotted with life-clingers everywhere. It is ghastly.
Zareena looks at the lightning. She lays afloat and stops fighting. The sky and the sea have mixed together in marvelous shades of blue.
“It is beautiful,” she says, smiling tearfully. “Marhaban”