—To all the people who've suffered from the Israel-Palestine Conflict.
I sit in absolute confusion as I watch the night sky turn to day. Are they fireworks? No, they can’t be. I don’t recall any holiday that’s supposed to be today. They do sound like them though. But what are they?
Like when the fireworks go off, I can feel the vibration resonate in me. They make everything shake, each faraway boom rattling every window, including mine. I peek outside my bedroom window and watch as another firework shoots up into the sky, only to explode by another firework from the other side.
Mama’s voice echoes from the kitchen, her voice loud enough to be heard through a closed door. I can barely make out the things she’s saying, but I know it’s not good. But how can it not be good when there are fireworks outside?
“We have to get out of this place,” I think I hear her say. I stray from my bedside window, holding tight onto my stuffed bear, and poke my head out of my bedroom door. Mama’s silhouette falls on the hallway wall, mirroring her actions. Another shadow falls on the wall. She argues with Papa.
“It’s chaos out there. And we both know that this will only end in more death. Both leaders are too stubborn to call a ceasefire, even if it means killing the people of their own country. They’ll keep firing at each other until there’s nothing left. Only ash and rubble and skeletons.”
“Then where will we go?” Papa replies. “We have no money, Yana. And no one is willing to take us in. We’ll be refugees.”
“Any place is better than here,” Mama argues. “I’m only thinking of what’s best for us. For Irina. I want her to live a life. A life not made out of war, not made out of trauma. I want her to be happy. Live a happy life. And the only way she can do that is if we leave.”
Papa’s shadow copies him. He thrusts his hands down, hitting nothing but air. “Fine. But we need to hurry. Pack only things we can carry. I’ll try to call someone who can—maybe—get us out of the city.”
Another firework erupts, too close for comfort. Its big boom makes me yelp, and Mama sees me just before I could hide behind the shield of my bedroom door. I can hear her footsteps become louder as she nears my bedroom. I scurry to find a place to hide, but in the tiny walls of my cramped bedroom, there’s no place to. My mother enters the door and she sees me crouched down by the corner of the bed and the wall. She closes the distance between us in a few strides and kneels down, taking my hand in hers.
“Irina, darling,” she says, her eyes and smile full of love and compassion. “Do you want to go on a trip?”
“Like a vacation?” I ask.
“Yes, exactly like a vacation.”
“Where are we going?”
My mother’s eyes stray away from mine, looking sideways. Her brows furrow. “We… we don’t know yet,” she says. “But it’s going to be a fun trip, I promise. Do you remember the time when we went swimming in the Dead Sea?”
I nod my head, remembering the fun time I had floating.
“It’ll be something like that, sweetheart,” my mother says. “Now, go pack your things. We’ll leave in a few minutes.”
The streets are more chaotic than I remember. Are they celebrating? I hug my mother’s leg close, as tight as I can. Her hand interlocks with mine, like welded iron, refusing to let go. The bag at my back is light, but it has all my things. My teddy bear, clothes, and some food. Mama’s other hand is also glued to Papa’s. He leads the three of us through the streets of my home. They’re supposed to be as familiar to me as the back of my hand. But right now, they’re a whole new sight completely.
Instead of street lamps lighting the way, it’s replaced by hot fires. We stick to the sides of the sidewalk, sure to stay away from the celebrating people that clashes with police, trying to maintain the last bit of peace and order in this country. But what are they celebrating for? And why are they fighting with the police?
The fireworks haven’t stopped. Above, they continue their own war in the air while we try to escape the one on the ground. The shouts and screams and rampage only add to the chaos. It makes me hug my mother tighter.
As we round the corner of the street, I hear Papa shout. “Just a few more streets! Aram should be waiting for us with his truck there. He’ll take us past the city limits. After that, we’ll be on our own.”
We quicken our pace and walk past shops with shattered windows, people leaving the shops with several boxes in their hands. Are they stealing?
Overhead, I hear a loud whistle. I look up in time enough to see a big firework strike home. It obliterates an innocent building further down the street, probably a hundred yards away. Its powerful shockwave knocks us all down.
For a moment, everything quiets. The shouts, the thunder, everything. They’re replaced by a high ring in my ears and a layer of dust on my face. The ringing lingers for far too long for my liking.
Mama and Papa quickly gather their bearings and get back up. Mama picks me up by the arms, saying something I can’t hear. We walk faster this time and before I know it, we’re passing the wrecked building. The people search the rubble for something. On the opposite side of the street, I see people cry. Some have a river of red flowing from their foreheads, while others sleep on the ground. I don’t know how they sleep with their eyes open.
I also don’t know why we don’t stop and help them. But something tells me we shouldn’t. I push aside the thought and focus on Mama’s hand still gripping mine. We make another turn and Papa points at something in the distance. I squint my eyes, willing them to focus. We start running now towards the thing. As we get closer, the blurred object turns into a small pickup truck. In the faint light of a still-functioning street lamp, it looks pretty beaten down. The last time we went on a trip, we rode on a bus.
“We’re almost there, Irina,” Mama says while we run. I start to get tired, my heart pounding in my ears. “Just a few more yards.”
“Mama, wait. I need to rest,” I say, out of breath.
But Mama’s grip on me is unforgiving. She’ll carry me the last few yards if she has to. The truck is about twenty paces away.
Another whistle comes.
And the apartment building beside us begins to come crashing down.
My mother squats down and hugs me tighter than her tightest hug. I embrace her in return, thinking that she’s simply hugging me and not trying to shield me from the falling rubble.
She looks into my eyes. I think she’s crying. “I love you, Irina.”
Are we going to die? I want to ask. But I keep my mouth shut.
I hug her a little bit tighter, a smile covering my face.
“Love you, Mama.”
We never made it to the truck.