A story of pure love between a mother and her 8 year old daughter set in the cruel world of refugee crisis.
“What’s for dinner, mother?”, little Joan asked with a weary look on her face.
She was eight years old. With the same old shabby dress that she wore for days, dirty hands, sticky skin and messed up hair tied into a small ponytail, she made herself resemble a giant rag doll. She was waiting eagerly for her answer, with a ray of hope in her face.
“Honey, I don’t know what to say to you. How many times should I tell you that we will be getting the same meal every day?”, she told her with a scent of love and affection in her words.
“I know you want a decent, tasty meal like how it was when we were at our home…when…before he…before your father…”, she choked as she said those words.
She felt tears in her eyes, but she managed to hold it together, for the sake of her daughter. “Have your dinner fast and go to sleep, dear.” She said.
With an unsatisfied look on her face, she stomped away to her dirty tent. As the color of the sky began fading away from golden orange to a shade of black, a small girl was planning her greatest dare. ‘I want to see my mother enjoying delicious food. ‘Before she…’ the thoughts ran wild in Joan’s mind.
She remembered that day. How could she ever forget it? The day she realized the harsh truth. The doctors who came for their usual rounds, one day, were in a heated discussion. The attempt of the doctors to withhold their precious information from the girl had failed miserably. Joan had heard everything in shock as she eavesdropped the whole conversation that took place inside the tent. Her mother would be with her only for a few more days.
“Two days. Not one more. Actually, it’s just pure luck she survived this far”, she had heard one of them saying.
Since then, she had made it her mission to make sure that her mother had something delicious before she left this world forever. She looked at her mother, sleeping peacefully. After a few more days, she wouldn’t wake up. There wouldn’t be anymore morning kisses on her forehead, the only source of comfort she had each day. No more stories that drifted her to the world of sleep. No more hugs that gave her warmth in the cold nights. She had made her decision.
She carefully put away her mother’s loving arms which were hugged tightly around her. She crept out of the bed and started tiptoeing towards the tent’s threshold. In the distance, though not far away, she saw a cluster of other tents, with a massive tent in the center. It belonged to the higher officials that controlled the camp. She knew there would be something left after the grand party the soldiers had the previous night. While they were wasting away such delicious food, she and her mother were struggling to eat the stale bread they were given. She sighed. “Not today”, she muttered to herself. She hoped for the best and entered the tent.
It was pitch black inside. She felt her way inside. She knew what she was looking for. Something her mother could feast upon. Something delicious. Her last meal before she bid farewell to this cruel world. Gradually, she became adjusted to the darkness. She could make out shapes and objects now.
She moved towards a basket filled with what seemed like fruits. She couldn’t quite figure out which fruit it was. She put her hands inside the basket and took out one fruit and smelled it. Engrossed in the pleasant aroma of the fruit, she lost herself in the thoughts of giving those fruits to her mother. She would eat those fruits with a contented smile on her face. She would move on from this world only after eating a delicious meal brought to her by her dear daughter. She saw in her mind the twinkling eyes of her mother, with a surprised look on her face as she sees the basket filled with food, slowly breaking into the most beautiful smile she had ever seen in her life. She was lost in her train of thoughts and didn’t notice the neatly stacked ceramic plates lying nearby. Before she knew it, she had bumped into those plates and with a deafening noise, the they came crashing down onto the floor.
“Oops” was all she could think of at that moment. She was unaware of the grave situation she was in. The noise of the crash was enough to wake up the sleeping soldiers. In no time, they woke up in the bat of an eye, lit their lanterns and made their way into the place from where the sound came from. One by one, the tents began to be lit. And finally, Joan’s tent was lit too.
Her mother woke up frantically and, to her horror, realized that her daughter was missing. The first thought that crossed her mind was her incapability to protect her own daughter. How could she call herself a mother now? She cursed herself as she grabbed her lantern and ran towards the source of the noise.
A crowd had already been formed there. At that point, a deafening sound of a gunshot was heard. Had her most terrible nightmare come true? She feared the worst as she walked. It took a more rapid pace after a few seconds. She was running now. She ran past the soldiers who were standing guard against the door of the tent. Even the armed, muscled strong men couldn’t prevent the weeping mother from witnessing the terrible sight.
“Ma’am, you don’t want to see…the…”, One soldier told in a lame voice. Another one, a bit stronger than the first, confessed to her. “Ma’am, when we heard the sound coming from the kitchen, we thought it must be some stray dogs…never in our wildest dreams did we think…that…a child…”, then his voice got choked up too.
The voice of the soldiers drowned in her river of anxiety. As she made her way into the now well-lit kitchen, she saw a sight no mother could bear to see, let alone think of. All her years of love and care were now crushed into nothingness. She froze. Her hands were numb, and she didn’t know what do anymore. She was numb like a statue. She wanted to cry but her voice was gone. She fell on her knees as she sat on the floor which was stained with blood. In front of her
was her daughter, covered in blood and near her were some scattered strawberries and a fallen basket. Between her sobs, the strawberries stared at her.
Were they so deeply red, or was it her daughter’s blood?