One City One Story 2017 Writing Contest
High School category
Grade 9, La Canada High School
Summary: The narrator recalls a haunting memory of travels in Syria and the moment a bomb is detonated.
They say traveling the globe is peaceful, inspiring, jaw-dropping. And it can be, if you choose to avoid basic things in life along with those wonderful moments. You need to embrace the darkness, the destruction, the pain in order to fully grasp the lives of the people in the places that you travel. Let me take you back to June of 2013, Syria.
I was resting in my small hotel room. It wasn’t much. A desk. A bed. A lamp. I lay, stretched across my bed, uploading the pictures that I had taken that day onto my laptop. I leave my room for a moment to use the bathroom down the hall. A nervous woman wearing a jet black Abaya walks past me, and we make eye contact. I smile, nod, like any courteous person would. Her strikingly blue eyes contrast her dark skin tone, and I stare. She nervously averts her glance from mine and continues to rush down the dim hallway.
I shake my head and smile, wondering if my foreign appearance or my staring scared her away. Perhaps it was a combination of both. I shrug, shake my head again, and step into the bathroom.
Like my room, it isn’t much, but it is something. Two small stalls, one dirty sink, a cracked mirror, one flickering overhead light. Luxury is just a material thing that many people cannot afford in Syria. I don’t mind, though. I proceed to turn on the sink and splash the frigid water into my travel weary face. I turn off the sink, lean heavily on it, and look in the cracked, dirty mirror. I wipe the grime off of my face with my t-shirt and head back to my room.
Once I enter my room, I hear yelling in Arabic originating somewhere in the street outside my window. This is common in Syria, so I pay no attention. I check my laptop, which tells me that it will be another twenty-seven minutes before the pictures are burned onto my computer. I flop onto my bed and close my eyes. The yelling gets louder and louder, then a woman’s voice joins in. Screams of terror flood from building to building. I snap open my eyes and race to my window. I throw the ratty shade to the side and look out my window.
There, in the middle of the dirt street, a woman in a black Abaya stands. She appears to be arguing with some men in front of the hotel. I fling open the window and startle her. The woman’s hand pulls back a flap on her Abaya, revealing a small device. I cannot tell what it is from my vantage point, but my flinging open of my window has caught her attention. She stares at me, her hand hovering above the small device. The striking blue eyes that I saw in the hall stare back at me. I see torment, inner conflict, hesitation… a plea for help. My brow furrows. I open my mouth to talk to her, and that is the moment I realize. It is also the moment she pushes the button on her suicide bomb.
Ceiling panels begin to fall to my feet and the lamp flickers, once, twice, before cutting off its light completely. I cower under the desk, covering my head with my hands. Once the initial shock wears off, I hear screams and crying. I have to help. This is my immediate thought, but it takes a moment before my trembling limbs realize my brain is yelling, Move, move, they need help!
I will the strength back into my body before pushing myself past the rubble and out the door. Mothers crowd the doorways with curious and frightened children hiding behind them. Fathers speak rapidly in Arabic, only worrying about the protection of their families. Then there are the few foreigners like me that seem shaken. Everyone seems all right.
I push my way through the growing crowd in the hall to the stairway. I shove open the door leading to the staircase and pound down two fights of stairs. I race to the area where the doors to the hotel once stood, where there is now just open air. I sprint into the street where the woman was. Everyone is coughing, debris is falling; buildings are collapsing. Please please please. Please let her have survived. I prayed to whatever higher power would listen. She needed help; I could see it in her eyes. Let me help her. Please please please.
A young man stumbles by me with a young girl, most likely his sister, limp in his arms. An old man’s leg has been crushed by a piece of debris that has fallen from the building nearby. A child screams for its mother, waiting all the while. Dust clogs the air, leaving those on the street coughing vehemently. I push these images to the back of my mind, a memory of pain, of suffering, of anguish. Something that will haunt me forever.
I finally reach the crater in the street caused by her explosion. I fall to my knees and peer over the lip, looking for any signs of life. The dust is still clearing, but I can see a dark form at the bottom, not moving, not breathing. The dust soon clears enough that I can see her lying at the bottom. She is missing her body from the legs down. I begin to shake uncontrollably. My trembling hand covers my mouth to keep me from throwing up. I look away and clench my eyes shut. But for some reason I force myself to look back into the ditch.
There the woman lays, the remainder of her body spayed almost gracefully in the dirt. Her body is covered in dirt and dust. My eyes slowly venture up to her exposed face, a face no longer covered by her Abaya.
Her striking blue eyes stare into mine, but this time, they are content.
To view the list of the contest winners: OCOS 2017 The Traveler Contest Winners