There is a boy who is afraid of blue skies. Of course he was not always this way. Blue skies once brought days spent in meadows, picking flowers and chasing sheep with his little sister by his side. Her name was once Hamila, and she was just a child; and he was just a child. The only thing separating them was 18 months.
Both their childhoods ended on a blue-sky day. A fluffy-cloud, flower picking, sheep-chasing day.
A loud purr from a steel bird...and that was that. Perhaps he could’ve moved on, forgave, forgot, but it’s hard to forget a day that repeats. It’s hard to forgive an action that persists.
The carnivorous birds appear only on blue-sky days, the boy learns, so stay inside until the sun turns grey. They cannot see anything then.
Every blue sky lassos another loud purr, another steel bird, another broken childhood. Damaged, crumbling, and gray. Just like the concrete and bricks smashed underneath the steel birds’ explosive metal crap. The boy is just a bit older now, and a terribly amusing thought comes to mind.
“My life is being shat on”
For the first time in a while he laughs breathless laughs, he can barely breathe when he tells his friends and soon they are all breathless with him. Devastatingly true laughs accompanying a devastatingly true joke.
“There are men” The boy is being taught, “guiding the drones. And they are miles away. Never having to live our reality.”
Argue with me if this is untrue.
The boy imagines these men’s realities. To him, they sit on golden thrones downing cold water. They eat warm bread with smooth butter and go to sleep on soft beds that have a million pillows. Then they wake up and press a button, destroy a city, and are given a medal.
They are terrorists, he thinks. And with his reality, who can be surprised he thinks so?
A freshed faced 15 year old is given a rifle, a pat on the back, and is sent off to war.
“God is good” He is encouraged.
To us it sounds like a threat.
The boy fights in destroyed and devastated places, with destroyed and devastated people. Sometimes he would smile. Sometimes. But it was a Mona Lisa smile, never quite reaching his eyes. Remaining guarded, alert, untrusting. Yes he was a fine soldier.
He is now 16,
They call him a man now but he’s still just a boy. They are all still just boys, on either sides of the barricade.
A reporter comes bearing questions. She brings no cameras and sits on a wooden stool with nothing but a pen and a notebook. Her Arabic is fair, though she has a thick accent when she speaks that is sometimes difficult to understand. She asks the boy his age, he is not sure. He says maybe 20, though he knows he is probably only 18 or 19. But he lies because she’s pretty and has heard she is 23.
They boy and the girl talk until their mouths are dry and their water is gone. Though she is the journalist, he wants so badly to ask her some of his own questions.
He thinks: Why have you come here? Why are you not afraid? How can you be a terrorist?
She comes bearing questions. She brings with her no cameras, only a pen and a notebook. She struggles with her Arabic, the dialect is different from what she has learned at University. She questions a young man.
“How old are you?” She does not know why this is her first question
“I am not sure, probably 20”
She stumbles over her words, drinks all her water, she wants to ask so much more than she has prepared.
She thinks: Why have you come here? Why are you not afraid? How can you be a terrorist?
The reporter is allowed back only one more time, a few more questions and a few more answers. She sits on the wooden stool and writes down the words of many different men in front of her. She offers a “Thank you” to the general and she and her companions are escorted out by the boy. The rest of them climb into a jeep while the girl faces the boy alone as says to him,
“I finished the paper two nights ago.”
Her arabic sounds rushed and broken. She looks back, the rest are distracted.
“Then why have you come here again?”
“I wanted you to read it.”
They are standing so close together. She is almost whispering. For the first time she seems afraid. She looks over her shoulder again.
“I can’t read very well” he stalled. Don’t leave.
“You are smart you’ll find a way” she entrusted. Don’t stay.
In a lower voice now, “Where?”
Leaning forward, she calmly wrapped her arms around his neck. Chest to chest, her heart beating so hard it left a tattoo onto his skin. A ruffling, a small paper, and they pull away.
No one noticed, he tells himself.
She climbs into the jeep
No one noticed. Hoping, promising.
The jeep pulls up to the guards
No one noticed, they’ll let her pass.
The jeep turns down the road, the only thing chasing it being dust from it’s own tires
No one noticed.
He can still feel the paper. It’s hidden in the breast pocket of his uniform. He hasn’t dared to look at it yet.
She must have done this sort of thing before, the boy tells himself. How could she not only hug him, but slip the paper into his shirt, so discretely, without causing suspicion? She’s a terrorist. He’s a traitor. He tries to throw the paper away. He cannot.
When was the last time the boy had been hugged? He swears he can remember a stout woman, soft and warm holding him.
He waits until the sun has barely risen to unfold the paper, but the words are strange. They’re not written with swirls and loops like he expected, but instead a thousand combinations of straight standing and curved lines.
Her native English, he decides. There is not a single word he can decipher
You are smart, you’ll find a way.
Blue Skies: A paper by Ms. Ryans
...We live through an unexplainable pain, having to send our family onto battlefronts. We tell ourselves that they are brave, that they are smart, that they are fighting for our freedom. They are protecting us from evil, from more unexplainable pain, from horrible people bent on destroying us. But what we all fail to see is that the very people we fear see the same horrors in ourselves. We bomb each other’s cities, we murder each other’s people, we destroy each other’s childhoods. Both our brothers and sisters are thrown into steel-barred dog match arenas to fight for… for freedom. The irony is palpable and it tastes like blood.
You and I and them all remain distracted by the glory of heroism and the fear of losing loved ones. It is stitched into our brains that this is why we fight. For God, glory, and country. For family, freedom, and love. For a million reasons and people and things we all value. But what I have found is that we are fighting for the prejudice and hate of old men, whether those old men wear robes and thick beards or suits and thinning white hair, or a million other combinations. We are fighting wars of pure malice and hate, that has been so cleverly disguised as loyalty.
And I fear at this pace, there will come a day when we are all afraid of blue skies.