“I-I can’t…anymore…” Her voice broke, and with it, Ammar’s heart, for the thousandth time in the same month.
Abeer was sitting on the hard, cracked floor, curled up in a frail little ball. One of her tiny little hands was on her almost non-existent stomach and the other was furiously dabbing at the tears of pain, lest anyone saw her broken condition.
Ammar had hunger cramps too. They felt bad for him, too – beginning from the pit of his stomach and spreading outwards in a flurry of crawling pain. Whenever he imagined a platter of fatayar his jaw hurt.
But that wasn’t half as bad as seeing his little sister, her frail little body, curled up, crying out at last that she can’t bear it anymore. This was a sight that drove daggers into his heart, sharp and pointed.
“I’m sorry.” He croaked out at her, and all his other siblings waiting to be fed, too young and weak to fend for themselves.
It’s not your fault, they said to him, and it was true too. But so was the feeling of helplessness as he stared at his fractured leg, bandaged with spoiled, yellowed cloth that once used to be a bright white.
Looking at that bandage, Ammar was involuntarily pulled into a memory which haunted his nightmares and destroyed his days.
“There, sir. Done.”
Ammar said to the man strapped in the chair in his barbers’ shop. The man brought his chin up, admiring the cut. Satisfied, he left a few pennies on Ammar’s open palm.
The pennies felt cool and healing to his scratched palm. He closed his fingers around them and quickly recited an ‘Alhamdollilah’ before moving on to the next customer.
But before he could reach him, Ammar heard a loud shriek. He halted in his steps and looked around.
Everything appeared fine – except his next customer.
Obediently, Ammar complied. He grabbed the silver scissors in his hand and went on about snipping the elder man’s graying hair.
He was almost done when he heard another shout. It was clear this time. Someone was shouting. A sick dread began spreading from his heart, and he looked around at the men in the shop. Their faces were pinched and frowned in concentration too.
Another shout joined in, and before he knew, several people were yelling. The men in the shop began to rush after them, their needs for a cut forgotten.
Ammar ran outside along with them and his eyes widened at the scene.
Israeli raid. This phrase was all he comprehended when he began hurtling himself away from the crowds of people gathering.
He needed to get home. Six children and one father awaited him there, wondering if his earnings today will be able to fill their stomachs with something tastier than their everyday food.
He tried to get past the other men and women, the shrieking and fleeing children. There was just one thought on his mind: Get home safely.
From his peripheral vision, he saw a middle-aged Palestinian man bend and grasp something from the floor. A stone. Uh-huh.
He yelled something and hurtled the stone towards the soldiers. The men and children around followed suit, each grabbing as many rocks as the sizes of their fists allowed them to.
A little boy next to Ammar offered him one. Ammar shook his head. He needed to get home.
He started running again, hands by his side, panting, swear coating his entire face. His thighs ached, and he tried his best to ignore them. Home, home, home.
His feet caught on something and his sprint came to a stop as he tripped and fell on the pebbled ground. His knees and elbows scraped against the rocks, peeling his skin. Drops of blood trickled out, bringing with them the sensation of burning.
Panting, he put one palm on the ground and shakily lifted himself up. He clenched a stone in his hand, trying to lessen the pain – and made a mistake. He looked back.
But worse? Live ammunition.
His eyes widened despite the uncontrollable itching that had started in them when he noticed one of the soldiers look at him directly. Him, and the stone at his hand.
Terror seized his being. He dropped the stone and turned to run, but his speed couldn’t have outrun the bullet.
He didn’t comprehend anything. He felt fire everywhere. His legs were sizzling with pain. His throat was raw. Perhaps he was screaming. He didn’t know. He didn’t care. He just wished, desperately, for the hot pain to stop.
As if a wish being granted, his vision blackened. He felt himself stump against the ground, felt the sharp stones digging in his back. And then, he felt nothing.
A few days later, when he came back to consciousness, he was told that three bullets were fired at his right leg, leaving it fractured. He couldn’t work anymore. He had cried then. A lot. Not for himself, not for his pain.
For his family’s. For Abeer, for her sunken eyes and for the thump he heard after a few days when her lifeless body fell on the hard concrete, never to rise again.
A semi-fictional story based on the real-life problems faced by Ammar Masamir in Qusra, Nablus, Palestine. Re-written to present the human side of the story, taken – along with the featured image – from OCHA.