Hours passed at the site of their bombed-out apartment building. Most of the survivors could do nothing but watch and weep as the corpses were lined up on the ground—bodies that included Tareq’s grandmother and mother.
The moon shone bright as he lay between his mama and tehta. Holding their lifeless hands, Tareq tried breathing in his mother’s scent one last time, but all he could smell was smoke and dust.
He squeezed her palm, ignoring the sirens that engulfed his neighborhood. Although limp, it was still the same hand that he had held as a timid child when stepping into crowded souks in search of spices and clothes. He stroked the elegant fingers that had caressed him gently, making him feel warm and safe. “I will be okay, Mama, please don’t worry. I will take care of my little brothers and sisters just like you took care of us.” He looked at her closed eyes with those perfectly arched brows and took in her beauty. Even dead, his mother looked peaceful and gracious. Tareq brought her delicate hand to his mouth, pressing it to his lips ever so gently. A kiss goodbye. A finality he didn’t want to accept; no child ever does, no matter their age.
When he looked up, he was brought back into the current chaos, listening to the sounds of wails and the sirens. The man in the white helmet wasn’t alone: There were many wearing the same uniform—they all had the same tan vests and tired eyes. Some helmets were brighter, others stained with the gloom of war, a thick layer of death and broken souls.
Tareq spotted the man who had pulled him out—Ahmed—marching forward, carrying something. His headlamp beamed in front of him, making it hard to see what was in his arms. It was when he got closer that Tareq recognized the long dark brown hair bouncing with Ahmed’s every step.
“I’m sorry, habibi.”
He handed Farrah’s wilted body over to her big brother, who rocked the young girl in his arms as he kissed her round cheek. The tears falling from his face cleaned the dust from hers.
“I found her in the room next to where I found you.” Ahmed quickly turned and walked away, unable to take the grief.
Copyright © 2018 by Atia Abawi. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.