I remembered like it was yesterday, the cool breeze on my skin, the sun about to set behind the buildings disrupting my horizon. It was the day my cousins died. The day was so perfect. I never could have expected anything to go wrong. But that’s how Allah works sometimes.
We had heard there were going to be some Israeli rocket attacks in the region that day, but for some reason I didn’t pay them any heed. I mean, I couldn’t live my whole life in fear. People can get used to anything.
Just about to walk the steps up to my uncle’s apartment, I heard a loud explosion. I instinctively hit the floor as fast as I could, covering my head. It was what I was taught to do, and years of practice had paid off. Second nature had kicked in.
My ears were ringing. Everything after the blast was so quiet. Rubble fell around me and on top of me. Small pieces of brick and mortar. Concrete. Maybe even pieces of my family.
When I couldn’t hear or feel anything falling around me anymore, I stood up, shocked. I didn’t have any idea what to do. I knew what had just happened. A rocket, or some kind of explosion had torn through my uncle’s apartment building. And not just any apartment. It had torn through his apartment.
Looking up at the hole and residual smoke and dust filling the air, I decided I needed to get inside. I needed to find a way to get in. I knew my cousins were inside. We were supposed to meet here before we went out together. My aunt and uncle would have just finished making dinner, placing it on the table. Awaiting their guest to arrive. We would say our usual prayers and enjoy the food, grateful for Allah’s blessings.
Climbing up the wreckage, I tried to find the stairway. Their apartment was on the second floor. I need to get in, I kept thinking. Finally I saw them – the stairs. I ran through the cloud of dust and smoke, smelling burnt hair and dirt. I climbed the stairs faster than I ever had before, like it was some olympic competition, and I, the gold medalist.
Once on the landing of the second floor, I saw what should have been my uncle’s apartment. What should have been his kitchen. What should have been the dining room. Where the table and food should have been. Where my family should have been sitting, awaiting my arrival.
Uncle would have been sitting in front of the television, cheering for his favorite baseball team.
He loved American baseball and nobody knew why. “New York Yankees are the best!” He would say. Auntie would have been busily scurrying back and forth between the kitchen and the table, adding more and more food to our already generous feast. And my cousins would have been waiting, hanging around. Maybe playing on their cell phones, texting their friends, or laughing about some joke my oldest cousin had told.
None of them were there.
None of the rooms were even there.
Waiting, I half expected that they would all magically reappear from somewhere. The walls would go back into place, my cousins would have peeked from around the corners, saying, “Joke’s on you!” But it didn’t happen. I just saw rubble. Dust. Smoke. Emptiness.
Tears fell from my eyes and I let out a wail of anguish. They were gone. I had realized it was true. They weren’t coming back. Falling to my knees, I felt my tears mix with the dry dust that had accumulated on my face. I wiped them away angrily and saw the tears then mix with the dust on my hands. The taste of dirt filled my mouth. The sound of silence filled the air. I can still remember how it tasted.