As she stepped outside, the sunshine made Laila squint, and she had to use her hands to block the light. Her tiny hands now felt rugged and bristly against her face. She could feel the dried up tears on her cheeks and remembered that she had been crying the whole night.
She did not like the sunshine. She was accustomed to just sitting in one corner of the building where she lived with other wretched people like herself. She liked the dark corners of the rooms and not light, just like the darkness in her heart. The twinkling sparkle in her eyes had been long gone since the day she had lost her father, her only family.
Laila was out playing with friends when she heard it — a deafening sound like the most dreadful thunder. It came from where she lived. As she ran and reached her house, she felt she had stepped into a completely different place. The neighbourhood where she had lived for nine years had been turned into nothing but rubble and debris.
The daily exchange of greetings among her neighbours had turned into desperate screams for help. Instead of smelling freshly baked potatoes and braised meat, she smelled gas and fire. All around her, she saw blood. Laila’s whole body became numb. She forgot that she had legs. She was suffocating, yet she just stood there.
Then her gaze fell on something. Two eyes that were staring blankly at her. Two eyes she knew so well because she had the same eyes. They kept staring at her and she just stared back.
Laila never mourned her father loudly. After the incident she was taken to a building with other survivors. She did not speak a word for the first few weeks. She just did what she had to — eat the food given to her and just look at the others — some injured, some traumatised, some crying loudly and some praying. She hated the sound of babies crying and the sight of children her age playing with one another. She pitied them.
Many of the elder people regularly listened to the radio which was always discussing alien topics — attack on Syria (her country), refugees crossing the Mediterranean, clashes between governments and jihadist groups, ISIS etc., she did not understand a word of it. Did she have to, she wondered. She did not understand her own existence. She had been scarred for life.
As Laila walked in the sunshine, she looked at the streets where flowers once bloomed and children played merrily. But now, there were very few people outside. Their countenances were all the same — a look of fear and uncertainty.
Then Laila heard a sound- like a twinkling? No, a whistle. And then a giant roar. Behind her, a flash of light.
The ground lurched beneath her feet. Something hot and powerful slammed into her from behind. It knocked her out of her sandals and lifted her up, and then, she was flying, twisting and rotating in air. Then Laila struck a wall and crashed to the ground. She could feel excruciating pain all over her body; it even hurt to breathe. Then she faded into darkness.
She heard a voice calling out to her by her name, and after some time, she could see someone. She immediately recognised the short curly hair, the round face and the sharp nose-bridge. It was her dad!
He was smiling warmly and gesturing her to follow him. His smile gave Laila the warmth she had been yearning for the last two years. She started following him and slowly the pain started to diminish. She could feel that she was smiling for the first time since that fateful day.
As they walked together, Laila felt that she was leaving behind the desolate and meaningless life she was living. She was once again with her father, and she needed nothing more. She was happy, once again.