Author: John Sibley Williams
Location: Wilmington, MA
Recently receiving his master's in writing, John has enjoyed creative writing since childhood. Presently residing in Massachusetts, John is in the process of compiling a book of poetry and art, as well as beginning his first novel. John’s previous publications include: Black Rock and Sage, Language and Culture, The Leaflet, Main Channel Voices, The Lowell Sun, The Campus Report, Collected Stories, Poetry Motel, Typically Unusual, Voices,
and The International Library of Poetry.
I saw a boy shot yesterday. It’s not the act itself that bothers me, for my tears have long since dried up like our sandy well. But, since we have no discernable authority at the moment, the body remains covered only by a thin layer of sand, beckoning to all passersby with a message that we’re simply too tired to hear. Since yesterday’s sandstorm has subsided, Kablai Street overflows now with people young and old who must skirt around the body in order to go about their daily routines. From out my window, I can see hundreds of people: merchants huddled by their fruit carts, slapping the hands of children who try to escape with a hidden orange or mango tucked inside their loose sleeves, young women no longer donning their traditional scarves, slender arms loaded like a mule with hand-made home goods, older mothers, in fact my wife Mitra over there, having to literally step over the body as they attempt to return home. I almost feel for these women, for, since their eyes always remain upon the path before them, they must shiver a bit as they pass over the parched, cracked lips, and hardened gray eyes of young Nima. However, yesterday, before its aged, rotting smell cut through the marketplace, the body, cocooned in sand, accepted a different role in my life, that of momentarily bringing back to me my lovely daughter.
The gunshot rang distinctly in my ears, like the chiming voice of Allah, and everybody within earshot cocked their heads instinctively toward the familiar noise. The sudden, deafening silence that followed the shot reminded me of something from my past, though my heart raced too fast for my mind to hold onto the memory. A dusty gunpowder scent combined with the swirling sand that stung at the flesh like a swarm of wasps, until my nostrils couldn’t decipher the smells. A slight sense of vertigo washed over me.
With an impenetrable cloud of earth separating me from the attacker and the victim, I began to feel secure and lose interest in the scene. However, I attempted to glare through the thick air in a vain attempt to discern which flag the shooter adorned. The wind may have obscured vision, but even its unholy howl, which echoed across the flat landscape like a child crying, could not keep from my ears the metallic clanging of a decorated uniform. The shuffling sounds of ruffled fatigues mixed with the perfect rhythm of a pair of marching boots kept a precise melody, reminding me of the days I spent practicing the sitar in my youth. When taken out of context, any sound can resound with beauty.
Once the street quieted to a whisper, I cautiously approached the fallen body. At first, its proportions and identity remained hidden behind the veil of distance, but, with every step, a new characteristic emerged. I realized that the flaccid body was too small to be that of an adult man or woman. Another step revealed that the child’s clothes bore a certain resemblance to a neighborhood boy I knew. His gray tunic and mismatched pants fell a bit too long at the ankle and wrist, likely because the clothes had been passed down from his older brother. Now only a few feet from him, I recognized the slightly hooked nose, vibrant brown eyes, and shaggy haircut of Nima. His body laid flat, arms fully outstretched on both sides, like a bird soaring through the stratosphere or a crucified Christ. The single shot had apparently pierced the boy’s breast, for a bright stream of wine red blood painted his tunic and, given the overall color impression of the red blood, gray clothes, and orange sand, appeared as eloquent as one of Gauguin’s island women. Given my forced military service about twenty years ago, I had to respect such a good shot under such appalling conditions. I had a sudden urge to take off the boy’s clothes, as if, by placing him in his natural state, the sandstorm would simply kidnap him from my sight. After all, I had many errands left to run before the angry sun extinguished the day’s light.
Nima’s skin seemed paler than usual, to which I blamed the sudden loss of circulation, but his earnest expression, which all the neighborhood parents respected as a mark of future maturity and perhaps even greatness, remained frozen in time, as if it were the one thing that the bullet could not steal. However, the almost transparent layer of sand that covered Nima’s corpse, a kind of earthen bed sheet, momentarily struck me with déjà vu. Why? Had I felt a certain empathy in life with Nima? Oh, yes, the boy had attended the same secret school as my daughter, Zarrin, in those tumultuous years during the first Western war, during which even I had to pick up a rifle to defend the devil from his makers. Since then, the home, whose basement served as a classroom, has been gutted and hollowed, an empty vessel replacing what once strived for life. An empty vessel, like Nima, like us all.
I recall that night vividly now, though the details have escaped me for many years. Five years and four months ago, I believe it fell on a Sunday, the sky collapsed upon us in a barrage of the senses. Mitra and I awoke to a deafening noise, as if a metal monster had pulled the roof off our house. A blinding smoke, similar to the blinding sandstorm, filled every corner of the room, flaking gray ash upon everything, as if a volcano had erupted. A harsh burning smell surrounded us in milky waves, striking and then retreating in a fencing pattern, and the reverberations from the monster’s attack muted all noise. Little could be seen, smelled, or heard. The dry, bitter taste of man-made death choked our throats as we tried to scream.
We could not hear our daughter’s screams in the din. Without the benefit of sight, I rushed to her through the yawning hole that once separated our rooms. Through the smoke and ash that burned my eyes until tiny rivulets of blood formed at their corners, I could make out only one thing clearly. The ceiling had dropped upon the bed of my four-year-old daughter, my little heavenly Zarrin, Allah rest her soul. Apparently a bomb had been rocketed at the adjacent building, which was believed to be a weapons manufacturer but which, in fact, served as a hospital. Instead, only half of the hospital was razed, and half of our home. As my eyes fixed upon her body, the only color that brightened the gray air poured red from her face, cascading down like a brilliant waterfall, and traveled down the thin bed sheets that had covered her slumbering body. Suddenly all grew quiet. Suddenly everything became nothing.
As the memory dissipated back to whatever dark corner it had hidden in before, the vertigo began to subside. Once Zarrin and Nima cordially agreed on many things, and now their bodies forged a pact. Both resembled paintings, framed portraits belonging in the Louvre, as they hollered out a message received by deaf ears. There are no feelings, no judgments. I’m tired and disinterested. Nima lies in my path home, I had realized, and I must step over his corpse, with the stained red bed sheet of sand lulling him off to sleep. Through the haze, I noticed bright blue graffiti newly etched upon the clay wall beside Nima, a blue crayon still in his reaching hand.
Roughly translated it read:
At last, out from under the heel
The past, we can now finally heal
Taking Allah’s caring hand
The freedom to truly live will spread across the land
The words meant little to me, so I quickly passed over Nima and walked home.