The Dream Catcher - Chapter 2
April 26th, 2015.
"As'salamu ala'ykum wa-rehmatullah....As'salamu ala'ykum wa-rehmatullah", Ummi turned her face to the right and then to the left, ending her salah. She turned to where I was sewing a button in my shirt. Her face glowed and her eyes crinkled as she smiled at me. "Zuhal, come here.."
I broke the thread with my teeth and stood up putting the needle and thread reel away. "Yes ummi.." I sat down beside her prayer mat. Like always she recited the holy verses and blew over me. "Go call your Abbi.. it's lunch time", she said and went to the kitchen.
Abbi was in the other room. "Abbi.. lunch time", I said and returned to the kitchen to help Ummi. I looked at the food which was clearly not enough for three but said nothing.
It had been days since we were boarded up in our house. I didn't remember which day it was but Ramadan was just round the corner and the conflict in Syria was worsening with each passing day. The global powers were involved now, which meant more destruction caused by a lust for power. The weather was getting warmer and the air was thick with the pungent smell of gunpowder. Explosions and gunfire could be heard as we sat to eat whatever was left in the house. People like us were afraid to go out onto the streets.
"Hussein.. we are running out of food.. there's no milk left and the flour will last until tomorrow only.. there'll be nothing left to eat then", mumbled Ummi.
"Hmm.. ", Abbi didn't say much but concern was evident on his wise face. "I'll go out today", he said silently.
He did go out that day, only to return empty handed. "We'll be leaving tomorrow", his voice was firm but panic was apparent on his face.
"Hussein what's wrong? What about our home? Our belongings?", said Ummi. I stood in the corner watching my parents with a perplexed expression.
"The Freedom Army stopped me at a checkpoint. We have two options. Pick up the weapons and join them or die", his last word resonated in the air and the decision was made.
"Noor, we are going to Lebanon tomorrow", He said. "I have talked to Aamir. They are moving to Beirut tomorrow night. He knows someone there who'll get us visas for Thailand".
Aamir Hafeez was my father's friend and our neighbor. He was in his mid-seventies and lived with his wife, Sara, two houses across ours. He had a son who lived in Athens, Greece and worked for a company as an International Marketing Specialist. I had no idea what that meant but it sounded impressive. Aamir uncle was most probably leaving to live with him.
At the age of twenty, when most girls were dreaming about their prince charming or filling out their graduate applications, I was packing my stuff and was crossing borders as a refugee.
April 30th, 2015.
Abbi and Ummi were dead. And I wished I were too. I was in Beirut with Uncle Aamir and his wife. The blind bullets fired at us missed us by inches, but my parents weren't so lucky. I vaguely remembered being pulled, pushed forward, made to run, asked to hide. I was in a trance. Time for me had stopped and my mind had went numb the moment I saw my mother's lifeless body on the ground.
I was grateful for the chaos outside as it didn't let the reality sink in. But like happiness, sometimes chaos is short-lived too. As soon as we reached the safety of our refugee camp in Beirut, the tragedy engulfed me like a relentless monster. There's something worse than grief: the inability to express it. I could feel my heart bleed with grief but my eyes remained dry. I wanted to shout, cry loudly, set the world on fire, kill myself; but I couldn't.
Quietly, I unpacked whatever my parents had left for me: A mobile phone, some clothes, a pair of slippers, a box of painkillers and a dream catcher.
May 8th, 2015.
Aunty Sara seemed particularly happy that day. She kept on checking her watch every now and then. Uncle Aamir seemed comparatively more composed, however there was something about his expression that wasn't quite normal. It all became clear when a tall, handsome man in his late-twenties entered the camp. He was the most well-dressed person in this camp. He hugged Uncle Aamir and Aunty Sara, who had tears of elation in her eyes now.
He turned and his blue eyes froze on me. He scrutinized me briefly and said in a deep voice, "Selam. You must be Zuhal. I am sorry to hear about your parents. Please accept my deepest condolences."
"Selam. Thank you. Uncle and Aunty have been too kind to me", I said in a low but firm voice.
"Good to know. I am Adam", he introduced himself.
"Nice to meet you", I said and left the recently reunited family. Watching them would have only intensified my nostalgia.
July 22nd, 2015
"This is my house.. You are very lucky you know.. from that filthy refugee camp to this!", declared Adam arrogantly. I looked at him blankly.
"Adam, we should have brought your parents with us.. This house is big enough", I said wistfully. I remembered the despair in Aunt Sara's eyes when we left the camp. He had sent his parents to Thailand. Or at least that's what he had told me.
Adam turned me towards him. "Zuhal.. you are very beautiful.. ", he caressed my cheek thoughtfully. "..but there's something I hate about you: your big mouth!", he slapped me hard. "Try to control it and we'll be just fine", He smiled coldly at me and left the room. I stood there trembling with my palm on my cheek. I was married to this man.
Any girl would have felt lucky to marry Adam. He was good-looking, owned a house in Athens and had a good job. It was perfect. Too perfect to be real. He reminded me of a Greek god: Ares, the god of war and the violence and destruction associated with it.
This was my destiny now. Any hope or desire of a happy life left me at that moment.
January 20th, 2018.
I was terror-stricken as I stared at Adam's lifeless body lying in front of me. What have I done! I was still severely shaken and my head was throbbing. I stood up carefully and breathed deeply for a minute. I sat on the sofa and my mind started reeling.
Adam was dead. I had killed him. This meant I was entitled for life imprisonment under the Greek penal code. This also meant I was finally free from this emotionally and physically abusive relationship. The irony was almost hilarious. I covered my face with palms and rested my elbows on my knees. "Zuhal, God sometimes breaks our heart into a million pieces.. only to make it whole again in a beautiful fashion", Ummi's words echoed in my mind. "When we are left with absolutely nothing and when we feel there's no way out, it is then that God's ultimate plan comes into action for us. Remember, He loves us.. He loves you!", I felt replenished. I stood up with a new resolve.
My eyes fell on my grotesque reflection in the huge wall mirror as I entered the washroom. I hurriedly got rid of my torn, bloodstained clothes and stepped into the shower. The warm water seemed to calm my tensed muscles and frozen senses. I shampooed, dried and combed my thick, black curls that fell to my shoulders and secured them in a bun. I changed into a pair of jeans and a black, long-sleeve crew neck jumper. After applying some concealer to hide the bruises on my face, I tied my hijaab.
Now that I looked and felt a bit sane, I started packing the essentials in a navy-blue backpack which Adam used while travelling. I chucked my passport and IDs, a change of clothes, a pair of shoes, a gold watch, my dream-catcher, a water bottle and my mobile phone with its charger in the bag. I dug through the pockets of Adam's pants and pulled out the stash of currency bills. I emptied his wallet and drawers as well. I needed all the cash I could gather. I placed the credit cards back as they were easily traceable hence it would be foolish to use them. I slid some money in my pocket and secured the rest in the backpack. I had everything I needed.
Finally, I wore a navy-blue coat and sneakers. With a last, bitter glance at the house and its owner's unconscious body, I stepped out.
January 21st, 2018. 03.00 am
The night chill seeped through my coat. With hands tucked in my pockets, I started walking. I had no concrete plan but I knew one thing: I was on the run. The street lights cast their gloomy glow. I took a right and kept on walking. My stomach grumbled reminding me that I had not eaten anything since morning. I knew there was a Syrian Arabic restaurant nearby. I took the next left and instantly regretted it. It was Saturday night and there stood two Greek policemen in navy blue uniforms near their car.
I didn't want to turn around and look suspicious so I continued walking. One of them noticed me and said something in Greek language. I ignored and kept walking until one of them stopped me and asked me to show my ID. I did as I was told. He looked at my ID for a minute and then handed it over to me. I took it back and nodded. I needed to move fast now.
I took the next right and the alleyway was deserted. Suddenly, I heard someone approach. They must have noticed something was off. I should hide fast. I ran towards the only car parked there. It was a black, BMW 330xi and it had a dent on its rear body. Without a second thought, I tried to open the trunk and it was unlocked! I thanked the Heavens for this miracle, climbed in and closed it.
The trunk was not completely shut and I could hear someone approaching the car. My heart missed a beat when I heard someone unlock the car door. The engine roared to life and the car started to move. I held my breath as the car jumped on a speed breaker and my head hit the lid. I was not sure if the driver had heard the distinct 'thump!'
The car covered a few more miles and then suddenly started to slow down. The car had stopped. The door opened and then after a minute I heard a knock on the lid.
"You can come out now. Keep your arms on your head or I'll shoot without a second thought", the man warned as if shooting someone wasn't new to him.
Maybe I couldn't escape death every time. I inhaled deeply and said loudly: "I am coming out". I opened the trunk and carefully moved out with my arms on my head. I looked up at the man standing in front of me.
He regarded me with a scrutinizing glare. For a moment, his eyes lingered on my face and then he frowned.
"What are you doing in my car lady?", he asked gruffly.
"I.. I... I...", I tried to frame a sentence while thinking of a reason.
"See.. whatever you say next will be a lie. Nobody takes this much time to speak the truth when facing a gun", he said while staring at me. Hearing him say the word made me suddenly look at the gun in his hand. He noticed it too. I don't know what he saw on my face but he lowered the gun and relaxed a bit.
"Do you want a ride?", he said gently.
"N..no.. I'll just go..", I said and started to walk. It took me only a second to realize that I was on a highway and it must be 03.00 am. This person seemed like my only option.
"Can you drop me to a bus stop outside the town?"
"Hmm.. I can. But I might have to make a stop on the way. I hope you are not in a hurry", he said thoughtfully.
"Okay. Thank you.", I started to move towards the back seat.
"I am not your driver Ma'am. You ride shotgun.", he said while sliding into the driver's seat.
I looked at him with confusion. He sighed and explained: "Take the passenger seat in front." I hesitated but then opened the door of the front seat and climbed in. The car smelled of Eternity. I recognized the scent because I had gifted it to Adam on our first anniversary, only to find out that he hated it - like he hated me.
The car ride seemed far smoother in this seat than in the trunk. The guy was clearly not a native. He had olive complexion and black hair. His deep set eyes were a darker shade of green. He was wearing a brown leather jacket over black jeans and a flannel shirt. He wore a black huggie earring in one of his ears. He was driving with his eyes on the road ahead.
"Are you an Arab?", he asked suddenly.
"Yes. Syrian.", I said it before I could stop myself. I reprimanded myself internally. I was on the run and it was absolutely idiotic to give away such vital information to some stranger.
"Ahan, so you speak the truth too..", he chuckled. "You know you are pretty bad at lying. And I can tell you this because I have met some excellent liars. In fact I am told that I am one of the best."
I looked at him sharply. He looked back and I had to look away. There was something eerily intimidating about this guy.
"So what's your name?", he asked casually.
"You said you recognize lies so I will simply say I don't want to tell", I replied coolly. I was not afraid of this guy, even though he had an intimidating presence and a gun.
He raised an eyebrow and smiled. "Well, fair enough. I am Serhan by the way."
November 24th, 2018.
The alarm went off and I woke with a start. It was 05.00 am. I climbed out of my bed and went to offer Fajr (the morning prayer). I sat in the same chair next to the window, watching the sky turn from pink to peach to a vivid orange. The sun was rising and I was engrossed in my thoughts.
It was Saturday. I had to meet Serhan today.
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© 2018 Qandeel Saleem