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The Syrian Tragedy
A torn Syrian flag gently waves it’s white, blue and green colors in the morning breeze; trash litters the sides of the street. “Achmed! Achmed Takbir!” yelled our commanding officer. “Yes?” I asked. “Salam Aleykum Achmed, we need you to go with this group of brothers and defend rebel families in Salahhedin, including your wife, Fatima.” I knew that Salahhedin was the most dangerous part of Aleppo; it’s where the heaviest fighting was occurring. It was also where I left my wife alone with her brother so I could fight for the Free Syrian Army. I want to fight for my country, so a little extra danger won’t stop me. “Yes Sir.”
I jump into the back of a truck, and I make sure my Kalashnikov’s clips are filled, each one taped to another. As we drove through the streets of the wasteland I had once called home, the sound of the mosque begging for bread to give to starving children enters my ears. We drove past refugees, they shout words of praise at us. I felt glorious, my hubris multiplied by ten, I was ready to engage in battle. But then I looked at my surroundings.
I didn’t know that the damage to Aleppo had become so severe. Buildings toppled, cars blown across the street, even the isolated ruin of one of Assad’s tanks laid in what was once a children’s playground. A place that was once dedicated to the laughter and joy of our youth, now filled with the hollow wind and groan of this iron shell that killed so many of my brothers. The refugees were beyond skinny, their underweight bodies threatening to blow away in the wind.
“We are approaching Salahhedin. Check your weapons, make sure there on safety” said the driver, breaking my concentration. The truck slowed to a stop in the back parking lot of an apartment building. My Kalashnikov loaded and safe, I jump from the bed of the pickup. Immediately I was greeted by who I assumed was the leading officer. “Salam Aleykum akhi, we have scouts ahead, for now we are safe, feel free to relax, but keep your guard up.” He smiled at me, crinkling his eyes, and walked away. The first thing that united in my mind was Fatima, I had to see her. I took a moment to analyze the scene in front of me: men carried weapons inside the apartment, and others out; a group of teenagers sat in a circle laughing and joking, pistols and MG’s rested on their sides. She must be inside, I thought until my eyes rested on a small group of children playing, and on a bench watching them sat a beautiful woman, black cloth wrapped around her head. “Hello, Fatima.” I said, failing to suppress a smile. She looked up at me, and the joy was illuminated in her eyes. “Achmed… My love!”
“Are you okay, Fatima?”
“I’m fine, I really am. I have just been so worried about you.”
“Well, were safe now, and I’m here to keep you safe. Forever.”
I sit down with my wife, enjoying the moments with her as I can. I was consumed by comfort until the man who greeted me earlier approached us, now in the company of a… an American? “Hello,” said the American, he had a thick-trimmed beard and mustache; his light brown skin clashing with the sand-colored Syrian environment. “Nice to meet you, my name is Michael, Michael Robinson.” He stretched his hand out, and I shook it, “I’m a journalist, from America, I’m here to record your struggle.” I looked at him, “Fine, allow me to show you what Assad and his dogs have done to us.”
I lead Michael inside the apartment, my wife follows, leading the children behind her. I hadn’t been inside yet, but I knew what it would look like; I had seen it many times before. So, when I stepped inside, and allowed the image to dominate my vision, and the smell to sting my nose, I was not surprised. Dark streaks of blood weave a carpet of rose red velvet into our improvised emergency room. The smell of death is overpowering. A metallic taste of blood fills my mouth. Across the hall are three rooms that the families are staying in, about ten women, and thirty to forty children. At the front of the house, was a room being used to house a cache of weapons, ammunition, and explosives.
When we left the building, we found the people outside scrambling, “A jet is coming!”
“Get to cover!” I grab Michael by his shirt and pull him inside the apartment. “Get down!” We face plant in a pool of blood, adrenaline coursing through my veins.
The roar of the jet grows louder over our heads, explosions flooded our ears. The ground shook as the levels above us collapsed one floor, then the next, and another. Then, nothing. Not a sound. No screams. No gunshots. Nothing. A ringing fills my ears, louder, unbearably loud. And then, then the sounds of screaming, gunshots, and blood begin to pour in as my senses regain.
Grabbing my Kalashnikov, and flipping the safety off, I try to get a sense of my surroundings. Dust fogs the air, but I can see that part of the first floor has collapsed, no time to worry about it now. I run outside, and find some cover. Everything is much clearer outside, the rubble of the building has poured into the streets, and I can see that about 20 or 30 Syrian soldiers are attacking us. I lift my Kalashnikov and begin to fire; I allow the gun to release its barrage of blood splattering fury onto my enemy. The recoil of the gun goes pulses in with my heartbeat, acting as an extension of my arm and obliterating any threat.
After I killed the last enemy combatant, I realized that my wife was still inside. I run inside what was left of the apartment, two of the three rooms that held the families had collapsed. “Fatima!” I scream. I begin to pull rubble out from on top of people. “Help, my wife! I can’t find my wife!” Anxiety and fear fill my veins, on the verge of bursting like broken water pipes. “Brother, I think I saw Fatima run in to that alley, during the bombing.” I don’t think to thank the man. Dropping my gun, I run toward the alley.
Although it’s still morning, the alley is dark from the sinister shadows formed by sandstone buildings and the smoke of the recent attack. The ground is wet, and trash lays soaked, begrimed. A shadowed figure rested against the wall, her panting echoed in between the ample walls of the alley. “Fatima! Fatima, are you okay?” The shadowed figure stands up strait in response to my cries, “I’m fine, my love.” I run over to her, and place my hand on her shoulder, “Come, we need help removing rubble; a lot of people are hurt, maybe dead.”
“I’m sorry, Achmed.”
Before I can respond, she flips around and grabbing my arm, snaps it backwards. The pain is blinding, I scream, magnified by an echo, it was as if a thousand copies of me are screaming in my ears, all sharing this sudden pain. I fall to my knees, “W-Why…?” Fatima looks down at me, her beauty astonishingly magnificent in the darkness of the alleyway. “I’m sorry Achmed, but I am loyal to Assad. Everything you have seen this morning was all staged to kill the Free Syrian Army’s 'Great Achmed Takbir'.” I look at her, the pain of my broken arm drowned out by the pain of my broken heart. “Fatima, I loved you… How could you?” Ignoring my question she continues to explain, “The man who told you to come here, he was a spy for Assad, one of our more valuable ones. Those men who attacked, the ones you helped kill, they were rebels, and those woman and children, they were rebel prisoners. That ‘American’ Journalist, he was only here to record your death, for Bashar al-Assad.” Fear runs through my spine. “Like I said, I’m here to record your struggle.” A male voice says from behind me.
Michael steps into view, a camera relaxes in his hand. “Hey baby.” He wraps his hand around my wife’s waist and they kiss, her arm wraps around him and caresses his hair. “Please… stop.” Tears run down my face. “I’m sorry Achmed” Fatima says again. Michael turns on his camera, and points it toward me. Fatima pulls out a .357 Magnum. “Please, Fatima.”
“Assad, or no one.” She points the gun toward my forehead. I look at her, a fire burns in her blue eyes. I hear the click of the gun as she pulled down the hammer. A tear runs down her cheek, and her finger trembles on the trigger. “Goodbye.”