Winter 2017 — THE POTOMAC

My Brother and Me

  Ken Williams

I sit playing in the dirt, covered in dust. Watching the wind blowing brown sand down deserted streets. My brother is also coated in it making him look ghost like. I sniff. The wind is perfumed with the smell of burnt flesh, acid odor of high explosives. Everywhere is the smell of rot. I look over to my brother when another loud explosion shakes me like a rag doll. Sitting up I brush off my blouse and smile at Mohammad. Nothing bothers him. Maybe it's the age—six years young and yet as experienced as an old man.
     He's seen it all. The democracy rallies, followed by the terror of Assad's henchmen. When the repression came, the night raids, the disappeared neighbors and friends, all, my brother took in stride. Marauding militias came next. We made a game when our family evacuated to the countryside. We hid when the devils in their black garb came and butchered those of us different in faith than them. But it was the Coalition airstrikes with their terrifying precision bombing that forced us back to Aleppo.
     We found shelter in an abandoned apartment with another family. That family though is amputated, missing their father and two older brothers. Which side, which faction took them is unclear. After all I am only eleven. Standing in the front room the sight of tattered curtains catching a breeze hypnotizes me. I cock my head and listen to their silent flutter. Picking up their family photo I grin at the shatter lines of glass that cut through their faces. I look over to the mother of that family. Holding a baby in her arms she stares out the shattered window waiting for her husband and sons to come trotting up the street. Even someone as young as I knows that isn't going to happen. The baby whimpers and paws at breasts that are absent milk due to our lack of food. Starvation... a gift from Assad for those of us labeled as terrorists by him. But that's okay for no longer do I feel hunger.
     My brother and I play hide and seek in the tilting buildings with blown out fronts. We skip in and out of living quarters that used to house families. We sail make–believe sailboats down gutters filled with brackish water trying to avoid floating feces. When the bombing comes too near we run to mother. But she just stares into the bleakness. They came for my father the night before last. Sadness crusts her face with dried tears. We have no water to drink or wash. My brother and I tiptoe quietly out.
     We were asleep at home when the bombs came. They took my brother to the hospital run by the foreign doctors who go by the name: Doctors Without Borders. I tagged along. We thought we were safe there. But the bombs followed us. Running out of the hospital we heard one of the men in a white coat splattered red with blood curse the Russians.
     My brother and I laugh at the cruel grown up games. Nothing they do can harm us. We're young, invincible! Death does not scare us. Besides, they don't seem to care—the men who worship violence if they hurt us or not.
     We come across a body. We don't know how old he is, that is, was. His head's missing. We search for it but the bombs must have used it as a soccer ball. We grow tired, but again, hunger no longer phases us. We go home. Mother sits in the dark. I guess she isn't hungry either.
     She holds something in her hands. Quietly, so as not to spook her I approach. It is a picture of my brother and me back in the old days. When birds still sang and fluttered in the air. When buildings had walls and windows glass and we had hope. I tried telling her that my brother and I are there for her but she doesn't listen. She only has ears for the explosions and the sounds men make when they deliver their manhood with the ends of rifles. She misses my father I remind myself.
     My brother and I see a funeral procession down the street. We run to join it. After all it's the only social function allowed by the killer planes. It's probably because they are so proud of their handiwork—like the score at a soccer game. We slow down and stop as it passes. This procession is a strange one so unlike the others. No one yells, "God is Great!" Shuffling feet and the soft cries of women, and more than a few men are the only sounds. And the Coffins! They are so small. That hospital the evil Russians hit must have been a children's hospital. Mothers walk quietly next to impossible tiny coffins. Pictures of dead children are pasted to the caskets. I cheer up when I seen my mother towards the end. She walks between two wooden boxes. A piercing wail suddenly comes from her. A picture of myself, and my brother are on each one.
     Sudden knowledge fractures my world from before and after. My life, my brother's life is no more: We never existed, for the rest of the world. We simply never were. They went on with their shopping. Their computers, their smart phones with twitter and Facebook replacing their cold souls.
     Now I wander down deserted streets. Sadness is me. My brother is gone. The wind carries the sounds of many mothers' wails, also the absence of little feet. I curse all who wage this war. I care not for your excuses, your political and religious reasons. A heavy sigh is the only sound I hear knowing I will never see my brother again. We are no more. Which, like I said is what we always were to the rest of the world.

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