People everywhere- skinny, skeletal people, in front of her, behind her. In the thick crowd, Maysun loses the grip of her mother. Someone bumps into her; she stumbles forward and almost fell. Only the thickest of bodies in front of her save her from going to her knees in the dust and dirt. She shoves her way around to the other side of the road, crying out, “Mama! Mama!”
There is no answer, just the ceaseless pounding of feet on the road. She calls out for her mother, but her cry is lost in the thud of so many feet. People bump her, push past her. She can’t stop in the middle. Her mother told her that the only way to survive is to flee the village, away from the soldiers, from the bumps. Her feet aches, a blister burns with every step. Hunger walks beside her, poking her insistently with it sharp little elbow. She tries to look back to trace her mother but the crowd push her forward. A woman limps along beside her, crying , her tears black with dirt and grit. The sun is growing stronger, become stiflingly, staggeringly hot. The acrid, stuffy scent of body odor and sweat fill the air. At the top of a small rise, she comes to a stop. Moonlight reveals thousands of people walking beside her, jostling her she has no choice but to stumble along with them. Hundreds more have chosen a hillside as a resting place. They have left their burning homes, bummed by the cold,heartless soldiers. Some have lost their parents, some their children. Maysun peels away from the crowd heading toward the collection of moonlit gray stone building in a distance and picks her way carefully through the valley. After a mile or so a trail leads her into a copse of spindly trees. She is deep in the woods- trying not to focus on the pain in her toe, the ache in her stomach, the dryness in her throat. Dehydration gives her a terrible, pounding headache. Dust has clogged her throat and eyes and made her cough constantly.She couldn’t walk any longer so she sits leaning against a huge tree. Instead of her effort not to sleep, her eyelids closes.
Maysun is in her school, a small building on the far edge of the village. The open windows and thick stone walls help to keep the sun at bay. Maysun loves science and when teacher asks her, she answers in all smile, “ When I grow up, I will be a scientist.” Mayson glances at her friend Hamida,who sits beside her, looking fearful. She whispers. “My mama says we should leave before the war gets worse.”
Maysun closes her notebook. Her eyes widened. “ I should tell my mama”
“My uncle says it is very bad in the nearby town. The soldiers have burned down the houses.”
The bell rings and students popp from their seats like springs.Maysun gathers her books in her bag and runs home to give the news to her mother. Her mother is in their garden. “Mama!” Maysun calls her mother throwing her bag on the kitchen floor.
“What happened?” her mother asks wiping her forehead, aware that she is smearing black dirt across her skin, and she stands up. She rises to her feet and moves toward her daughter. Before she reaches, a trip of women appear, as if sculpted out of the shadows. They stand clumped together in their front pathway. An oldwoman in rags,holding the others close to her- a young woman with a baby in her arms and a teenager. Each looked feverish, sweaty and tired. The old woman helps out her empty hand. “ Please spare some water.” she begs.
Maysun’s mother opens the small wooden gate. “Ofcourse. Come in. Sit down on the front porch.”
The old woman shakes her head. “ Just give some water, please.” Maysun runs inside and brings a jug of water and a glass.
“Drink.” The old woman says, holding the water to the young girl’s lips. The young mother makes a moaning sound and tightens her hold on the baby, who is so quiet-and her tiny fists so blue- Maysun’s mother gasps. The baby is dead.
“Go inside,” the old woman says. “Lock the doors.”
Then they see the mass of black shapes moving across the field and coming up the road. Dogs bark and babies cry. They come forward through the field and up the road, relentlessly moving closer, pushing one another aside, voices rising. Suddenly the world becomes pure sound: the roar of airplane engines, the rat-ta-ta of machine gun fire, people screaming. Bullets ate up the grass in rows, people scream and cry out. Trees snapped in half and fall over, people yell. Flames burst into existence. Smoke fills the air. Maysun watches a man fly into the air like a rag doll and hit the ground in a heap. Her mother pulls her into her house and tries to lock the door behind her. The house begins to shake, the windows rattle, the shutters thump, dust rain down from the exposed timbers of the ceiling. Maysun hugs her mother, uncertain, her heart pounding. Suddenly the house shakes violently. “Let’s run!.” Maysun’s mother runs outside clutching her daughter’s hand. Outside in the dust, they continue running. Suddenly Maysun loses her mother’s hold in the crowd. “Mama! Mama..” Maysun opens her eyes. She tents a hand over her eyes and stares up into the bright and cloudless sky.