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The Boy From Aleppo

Greg spent 10 years in the US as a foreign student, growing up during turbulent times and falling in love with the people and the country.

How do we explain to kids the reasons for war? Who will look out for them?

“But you said they made it out, Michael, I heard them moaning and crying, and then I heard them moving around in the rubble, “ said Francis.

“But you said they made it out, Michael, I heard them moaning and crying, and then I heard them moving around in the rubble, “ said Francis.

Francis regained consciousness in the darkness.

With his right hand, he slowly wiped the dirt and rubble from his face, surprised by the amount of debris that covered him. The room was full of a choking dust cloud that made vision difficult.

All around him were the muted sounds of people moaning and crying, mixed in with the more distant sounds of people finding and rescuing them, lifting the injured and bringing them out of the darkness and into the glare of emergency lights.

The rubble was slowly being carried out with shovels and buckets while the sound of jackhammers kept up a noisy and persistent background. The night was lit up haphazardly by strobes and lamps while above them, flares and sirens kept up a distant reminder to everyone of an ongoing untiring war.

Francis’s memory slowly returned and he vaguely remembered being in a classroom when the building suddenly shook from the sound of explosions and collapsed amidst the sounds of screaming children and disintegrating concrete walls and beams. Where were all his classmates? Where was his teacher, Patrick? Deep in his heart, Francis feared that his friends and teachers had left him and that his loneliness would once again return. His heart felt empy and cold, bringing back painful memories of a time when his infant cries were left unheard.

As a baby, Francis had lost his parents in the early years of the war and it was in the orphanage where Francis learned to smile and laugh again with the children and the caregivers who befriended him, all of them looking for love and affection in a country at war with itself. The orphanage was run by a few religious volunteers and medical personnel who tried to do their most for the children. It was the only home Francis could remember.

When Francis tried to stand, his body failed him. His legs, which before had carried him running through the corridors of his school countless times with his friends felt pinned under a massive weight, motionless. His left foot ached. He was trapped!

He struggled to say a few words, “water…please...”

In the darkness, he saw a flashlight flicker on, and the silhouette of a man approached him. Quickly, a plastic bottle was brought to his lips, and he felt water slowly enter his mouth, quenching his thirst while a damp cloth started wiping off the dirt and grime from his face.

“Hello Francis, my name is Michael,” the man said “I’m here with the rescue team to try and get all of you out. It seems like your building was knocked down when the shelling began, most of the survivors have been evacuated. Your floor is the last one being checked for anyone still living.”

“Thank you, Michael. I can’t move my legs…..” Francis replied. “My arms hurt…..”

“Don’t worry, son, I’ll be staying with you until it’s time to pull you out. Your section of the building is trapped under heavy wreckage and debris, so the rescuers may need to use some heavy equipment to lift up the rubble before getting you out.”

“I feel cold, Michael” Francis said. Michael quickly unfolded a lightweight shiny blanket from his pack and started wrapping it around Francis’s exposed limbs.

“Michael, please look for my classmates, they were all around me when the building fell.” Francis remembered to tell Michael, before a lethargic dullness overtook him, and he started to close his eyes.

“Close your eyes and get some rest, Francis,” said Michael. “I’ll be here the whole time watching over you,“ he continued, holding on to Francis’s hand. His voice was so reassuring that Francis fell into a sleep filled with dreams of children playing.

Sometime in the night, Francis felt the pain leave his body. He excitedly opened his eyes and the darkness of the night did not seem as black as before. He saw Michael still smiling at him and holding his hand. He stretched his muscles and suddenly, Francis felt his body regain its previous strength. His legs, which before were prevented from carrying him, now lifted his body effortlessly and his arms, which did not respond previously, were now holding him upright. He was free!

“I feel as if I could just walk out of here, “Francis said, glad to be out from the wreckage of stone and concrete. “Let’s go, Michael, where is everyone else?”

“They went out ahead of us; we are the last ones out. I waited for you.”

“I can’t wait to tell my classmates about my rescue, “Michael, it will be the longest story…….

“I hate to tell you, Francis, but none of your classmates made it out of the building alive.

“But you said they made it out, Michael, I heard them moaning and crying, and then I heard them moving around in the rubble, “ said Francis. Tears started to run down his face.

“They aren’t in pain anymore, Francis; they’ve been taken to a better place.”

“And I…..?”

“I’m here to bring you out, Francis; no one is ever left alone in darkness and in pain.” Michael lifted Francis with one arm and brought him snugly to his chest.. “Now hold on tight,” Michael said, “I’m taking you home.”

“Will I see all my friends there?” Francis anxiously asked. Hope had started to grow in his heart. Stronger than any darkness, it lit up the wreckage of the room till it was so bright, he could hardly see past Michael.

“You will see everyone, Francis, and your parents are waiting with Him for you.” Michael said with a grin that spoke of an eternal promise.

Francis closed his eyes and felt the rushing wind speed past him, beyond the darkness of the night the emerging brightness brought forth the sound of children’s laughter and gaiety.

He was going home.

© 2020 Gregory Floro

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