My English Will Shine

by Muhammad Khurram Salim

I have not seen any of my family or friends for many days now, but I am feeling better.  Better than when I had a pain in my legs, due to the fall I took after the bombs.  These days, I can barely get myself some food and water, to keep going.  But one day, not long ago, I was a happy child in a happy family, not too far from all this rubble and dust, and the graves of those murdered by the genocide.  “Don’t cry, Ayesha, you will be alright, although you are by yourself,” I tell myself, near the little bed I have, in a broken building.  Above me, passing clouds that make me want to fly away, through the blue above, to any place that is normal and safe.

Yesterday, I met with Asnat, my Israeli friend and she brought me nuts and fruits, milk and blankets.  “You will be cold without these blankets,” she’d said and there was anxiousness in her features.  “These will help you, that is, if the dogs don’t take them away.  I’ve seen a few snooping around and they carry things away in their mouths.”  “No, hopefully the dogs won’t be here,” I’d said with a deep intake of breath.  “They should be frightened of me.  After all, I’m a 14-year-old and have strength enough too ward them off.  I dream I can ward off the bad soldiers, the invaders, those killers who only know how to shed blood.”

“The people who were harassing you the other day,” Asnat had said sitting beside me with a bottle of mineral water which she liked to sip slowly, “they got their comeuppance.  I saw them being manhandled by a tough bunch.  Some people just have to be put in their place.  I spoke to them in English and reported, using some basic words, that the harassers had been bad to you.  The bunch of foreign people understood and gave me some clothing and foodstuff.  I spent an hour with them and spoke to them about life here.  They could understand me, even though my English is pretty bad.  I just have to learn better English.”

We sat going through some of the basic English words as the light wind blew making us feel at ease, and a bird sang nearby telling us a story of its life.  Birdsong is easy to decipher, such pleasant sentiments.  I checked my English and pointed out how some words rhymed, like cat with mat, and dog with bog.  We made tiny English poems, and liked them, although they made little sense.  We pretended we would be able to do all the tasks set by our teacher Mr. Khalil who always insisted we should practice and learn more.  “How do you learn more?” I always used to ask myself.  “Is it by magic?”  I suppose there is some hidden way.  Maybe the genie from Alladin’s lamp can teach me, making my wishes come true.

We’d then gone to buy some biscuits and cake at Necha’s little shop which was partly dilapidated now.  “What will it be, the usual?” she’d asked knowing that we preferred shortbread, chocolate cookies and roly-polies.  We smirked and assented, found out her brother had gone missing, and her supplies were low.  She still was in good spirits when serving us and chattering for a bit, as the sun shone down to warm our feet and hands, necks, and shoulders.  “We were learning English together,” I said to her, when we’d put our purchased items in a bag.  “How good is your English, Necha?”  Necha who was in her 60s, and had lived in various countries, smiled a gap-tooth smile and shook her head.  “No, no English,” she confessed and laughed.  “The teachers tried to teach me, but I was not one to learn.  My mind used to drift, to fairy-tale lands and I wanted to live in my daydreams forever.  Lands where there were never any killings, bloodshed, corpses and untimely deaths.”

We listened to her stories of how she was happy in Cyprus, laidback in Turkey and blissful in Tel Aviv.  Later, when we went strolling through the streets, we came across Mr. Khalil.  “Where are you girls going?” he asked carrying his briefcase and looking busy.  “I know times are tough, but you have to keep reading your books.  Am I right?”  “Yes, teacher, you are right,” I said and told him we had been trying to write poems.  “That’s great, Maash Allah, praise Allah.  I hope you get the time.  The inhumans have killed 25,000 people, many children like you.  But we must be brave.  Use all your time to learn and master English.  It will help you.  One day, you will thank me.”

We promised we would learn English, every day of our lives.  Then I saw the sun high in the sky.  “My English will shine,” I muttered to myself looking up at the lit-up deep blue firmament.  A high bird circled as if to show assent.