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Ahmad, his neighbour and my son…

Songül Özlem Şahin

MY SON runs around the living room playing ball with his older sister. Full of joy, energy and life. The way a child should be. Not a care in the world. Feeling safe and secure in his knowledge that all he need do is ask or cry for his food, a nap or a comforting hug.

Suddenly I hear my neighbour’s son, Ahmad’s cries. Ahmad lives in Palestine. Ahmad is crying like I have never heard a child cry. But his mother does not hear him. His cries scream loud and intensely. But his mother does not respond. Why doesn’t she hear his cries? Has she lost her compassion, her kindness, her love for her child? No, his mother has lost her life. Torn to pieces by a bomb blast. An indiscriminate bomb blast that surely had not really intended to hit her in particular. But she would do. She was the right colour, the right race, the right victim.

Like me, Ahmad also has neighbours. Ahmad’s neighbour is a little girl, the same age as Ahmad. Ahmad’s neighbour does not live as far from him as he does from me. In fact she lives just beyond the fence that divides their two countries. Ahmad’s neighbour laughs, jokes, and plays. Sometimes she even cries. Her cries are heard by her mother, her father, and her neighbourhood. In fact, the whole world hears the cries of Ahmad’s neighbour.

They take photos of her. They publish her photos in the newspaper and even on the internet. Why just the other day I saw a photo of Ahmad’s neighbour. She was standing in front of a batch of missiles. Some men dressed in khaki pants were standing in the background, smiles on their faces. They looked happy, like they were on a picnic. Ahmad’s neighbour was smiling too. She was writing something on the missile. Apparently it was a message for Ahmad.

When they hit ‘send’, it was not Ahmad who received the message. His mother took it instead. She didn’t have time to pass it on to her son. When Ahmad’s mother received the message, Ahmad started screaming. He was screaming for his mother. His eyes bore that deep and sincere innocence, that incomprehensible shock and horror of being a victim of unbelievable human greed, violence and cruelty. Who did to his mother? And why? Just when he needed her so. Who would feed him now? Who would put him to sleep? Who would give him his much-needed hug?

The fence that stood between Ahmad and his neighbour’s house was quite large. It kept out all types of undesirables, like love for one’s neighbour, human kindness, and compassion. It kept away the voice of human conscience that would otherwise have whispered to Ahmad’s neighbour and asked her what on earth it was that she was doing.

The next day Ahmad’s neighbour tries to send her message again. This time she succeeds and it hits Ahmad directly. I imagine Ahmad’s eyes now. Cold, lifeless, and black. I shudder to think of his trembling, thin body having had to endure such pain. That could have been your son, my heart tells me. The shuddering intensifies. No, not my son. How could a mother’s heart tolerate such torment. I feel an ironic sort of gratitude that Ahmad’s mother did not see her son’s final moments.

I think once more about Ahmad’s neighbour. I remember her eyes from the photo. Her eyes were the same colour as Ahmad’s. But those eyes had a different look. They were cold but not death-cold like Ahmad’s. They were cold because they were devoid of feeling. Devoid of compassion and of human kindness.

Suddenly Ahmad’s eyes appear before me once more. But now I see them smiling, twinkling, laughing. They appear to me now full of joy, life and energy. I feel a deep sense of gratitude that he has finally found peace in the warm embrace of an Endless Mercy that envelops and surrounds him on all sides.

And now I find myself shuddering once more. But this time my shudders are not for Ahmad. No. They are for his neighbour. For a little girl brought into this world having been deprived of the chance to be raised with a conscience, a human heart and human feelings. What would happen to her? How would she live her life? What would her end be…?

  28.01.2009

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