#ChroniclesOfWar: Children of War

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Children of War

When I grow up, I would like to be a doctor. I would like to be an engineer. I would like to be a lawyer. Responding to this question is the most joyful session in every classroom setting. Young and full of energy, vibrant and enthusiastic. When I grow up, I would like to be the president. When I grow up and get money, I will help all poor people. Buy them food, and clothes, give them the best education and buy them big houses. The responses are unending. This is the best moment for every teacher in that grades one, two or three. It never ends; hearts melt, cheers and applauses as the sessions are filled with unmeasured happiness. It is break time; the children are in the field. At a distance across the school fence, a truck passes by. What does the future hold for them? What awaits in the outside world?


Mama, Papa! Mama Papa! 'Today, our teacher taught us how to prepare for our future.' Mum would be happy for her ten-year-old. Dad is sitting in a corner with a newspaper. Listening to lunchtime news as mum prepares some soup—the magazine, the radio, all about something sinister. Brewing in the East. The North is in battles. The president has ordered army recruitment of all youths. It is just in the news. Dad passes it off. The little one rushes off to call the brother for lunch. Maybe he has taken a stroll or just away trying to find himself. He never misses lunch, a big fan of mum's food; only the mother understands that. "When I grow up, I would like to be like you, Papa. You are energetic and have always loved and protected us." Dad smiles and, too, brushes it off.

How long will it take you, father, to realize that your son is gone? What other evidence do you need? The war is here; you are just 55 years of age, not spared either. Your daughter was taken away while on a visit to the in-laws in the East. The news was altered to please your ears. What does it take to save the family that you have at hand? The sun goes down; what does the night hold for you? Trucks have been passing by recently, and the insurgents have been lurking in the night. The dens have been closed; your beer supply has been cut. The little one notices the changes in Papa's brows; Mama is always holding onto the Quran, humming silently. What is there for the little one? Who is going to spill it all out? The tension never ceases; the little one misses the sister's lullabies. Finally, everyone is off to bed. "When I grow up, I would like to be a soldier and remove all the bad people."

Confusion and tension everywhere, bundled up, dusty, dizzy and still unconscious. Looking around, yelling and calling on Mama and Papa. No one is around. Instead, it is the voices of many others. A similar age group. All confused and longing for someone to hold on to. It is all the same; all the voices are calling out for mum and dad. Some are too tired to cry anymore, holding on to the others, hungry and starving. The bigger body you have, the more responsibilities you have. The younger ones see you as hope. Where exactly has everyone gone? Where are mum and dad? It doesn't take long before you realize that you have to survive; you are all alone. The sun is blazing hot. The small girl nearer is seeking shelter in your oversized shirt. The boy next to you is trying to catch some sleep; the eyes can't hold any longer. Maybe sleep can take away hunger.

The day gives a longing for the night. The bitter wind just won't stop biting with the sand. The previous day, a shelter was at least available, better than the present. A place to call home, a family to hold on to. Someone to smile at even if, deep down, sorrow loomed. The times you played ball with brother and sister. Brother would always win. Sister would get annoyed, and you'd tease her till she laughed, and brother promised to let her win the next day. Mama would be watching from a distance, smiling at the wonderful family. Dad is always at the bureau, seeking his benefits for the time he served in the military. Before his platoon was sacked. For suspected leaking information to the rebels of the East. How does a young one, ten years of age, the others around are even younger, hold on to this? The victims of a war that started while they were never planned. Now hitting and biting onto their faces is the evening wind. Did they even realize they had been moving? Shoved and bundled up in a truck. Left in the midday sun. An abandoned place, the location gives no room for picnic viewing. 

Dusk is here; better still, the sun never stops shining. Mama is almost coming from the market. What does the basket hold? But no, the soldiers are here. Are they rebels or the army? It is time to get moving again. The legs get weaker and feeble; sore is their barefoot. No one cares. The faces behind are dark. Maybe too, hiding sorrow, guilt and shame. That is what they are required to do. Pleas of hunger and thirst are everywhere. Some are too weak to go on. The moment you sit down for a break. A whack on the back! Continuing is the only option. How many have given up along the way? How many started off? What of the ones that are sick? Who cares for them? Who is to their aid? It is time you come to your senses and realize that you are all alone and whoever you see around you is the new family. Whatever it takes, you have to be strong. Big brother always said that. Sister would mock you if you cried. "In this pain, in this situation, how would one be strong? Crying is better even if you mock me, sister. It eases away the sorrow. It takes away the pain. Soon, it is going to give joy."

Victims of war, children of fate. What do the nights and days hold for you? Death is everywhere, like flies. One just falls down, and they are taken behind the bush and come back, yelling move on. What if they are just unconscious due to tiredness? "When I grow up, I would like to be a doctor and treat all the sick people!" What happened to humankind? What happened to the strong wills that man held on to? The gods are against us, the West African would say. Buddha has forsaken us, an Indian would shout. Allah is no more into our pleas; Mama would incarnate. It is the time to reach out to the supreme. It brings consolation and peace of heart. Every time during the sabbaticals, the priest would teach us to love one another and live in harmony. For this case, it was different. Now is not the time to think back. The present has no hope. The future is long lost already. The thorns are pricking hard. "The child who was bitten by a snake died early in the morning, and they buried him in the send." A whisper goes round. It doesn't change a thing. After all, there is no destination for the walk. Hiding and moving at night is all that is done. Many join, and many depart. The horror is engraved in mind.

A life lived in fear and uncertainties. No one cares. Just a tap of a button and everything is blue, left alone to fend for the self. Who knows what has befallen the loved ones? Who will break the news? Who will own up? Who will come to the rescue of that young soul? The subconscious mind never stops haunting. Instilled, engraved and stereotypically incorporated into the brain. How do you turn off the misery? Help forget, pass it on, live another day as nothing happened before — the cries, how do you turn them into joy, cognitively affected and disturbed. "When I grow up, I would like to be a psychiatrist and help my friends forget the effects of the war."

Life as a young person is always filled with joy and laughter. Play, eat and sleep. Contrarily, here, a little slumber, a little folding of the arms to forget, and your friend passes away without saying goodbye. For how many generations is the earth going to be in turmoil? Bombs and gunshots are like music to the ear. A day never passes without being moved to a new place. No food, the water truck is history, but who cares about how people feel. A future that is held at stake, more are being destroyed, cut short of realizing the magnificence that the earth was meant to live up to. It holds no hope; the earth is all turned down. No one can help the other; it is all the same. Everywhere is death and fear. As a child of war, war is part the humanity, but there is hope. Not all is lost. Hold on for the night. Tomorrow may be different. Just dry your tears, children of war. Have hope, hope, just hope.