*Shell shock was a term coined during the First World War that is now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is a psychological condition resulting from the stress a soldier experiences during battle*
In the war-torn city of Baghdad, the harsh winter brought a biting cold that cut through to the bone. The city's schools continued to function, though sporadically, despite the ongoing conflict. At the Al-Mustafa School, a young boy named Ahmed sat alone during recess on a particularly frosty day.
Ahmed, a shy and reserved 10-year-old, had become all too familiar with the solitude that war had brought. His father had been called to serve in the military on the front lines, leaving Ahmed and his mother to circumvent the hostile streets in a city tainted by war crimes. The school, though still standing, bore the scars of past skirmishes, its walls marked by bullet holes and its windows sealed with whatever materials could be gathered.
As the bell rang for recess, children spilled into the small, muddy courtyard, bundled up in whatever warm clothing they could gather. The chill in the air nipped at their exposed faces and numbed their fingers. The unbridled joy that once filled the air was smothered by the oppressive darkness. His classmates played with a desperate vigor, their laughter a frail attempt to drown out the cacophony of sirens and explosions that punctuated their lives. But for Ahmed, this world of playful abandon seemed galaxies away. He was reluctant to join the raucous games and laughter that echoed through the schoolyard.
Instead, he found a quiet corner where -beneath the boughs of a gnarled, battered tree stood resiliently, its limbs barren and gnawed by the relentless winds of adversity. Its branches, once green and vibrant, were now bare and desolate, just like the city itself. He sat down on the cold, damp ground, his jacket pulled tight around him, offering him scant comfort as he watched his crystallizing into mist in the frigid air, like his dreams of a life unburdened by war.
There, amid chaos and uncertainty, Ahmed found solace in the rhythm of his thoughts. The steel-gray sky hung low, shrouded in heavy, leaden clouds - a persistent reminder of the desolation that had eclipsed their world. He gazed at the gray sky, casting a gloomy pall over the city, hoping for a glimmer of sunlight.
Ahmed's mother had packed a meager offering for his recess: a piece of stale bread and a few olives, but he didn't feel like eating. The bread, a tasteless memory of better days, felt hard and dry in his hand, and the olives, once a beloved treat, now carried the weight of sorrow. His mind drifted to his father, stationed in a distant part of the country, far from their home. Ahmed missed his father's warm smile and the stories he used to tell. He wished he could be here to share a quiet moment under the old tree.
As the minutes passed, a few children, their eyes reflecting the weight of their shared trauma, began to notice Ahmed's isolation. One by one, they approached him, offering their friendship in small gestures. Layla, a girl with eyes that held the wisdom of someone much older, offered him a steaming cup of tea from a battered thermos from the school's makeshift kitchen. The warmth of the ceramic cup against his cold hands sent a comforting shiver down his spine. The aroma of the tea, a mix of cinnamon and cardamom, filled the air, providing a sense of comfort and nostalgia amidst the chill.
Omar, a kind-hearted boy, shared a dollop of his chocolate bar. Ahmed's taste buds came to life as the sweet, creamy chocolate melted in his mouth, a brief respite from the bitterness of life outside the school walls. The laughter of his newfound friends was a bittersweet symphony that rose above the mournful dirge of the city.
The kindness of his peers slowly thawed Ahmed's icy walls of loneliness. A smile cracked through the cold façade of his face, followed by his grim realization that even in the bleakest of times, there was warmth, not just in the tea and chocolate shared among friends, but in the human connections that transcended the brutality of war.
Recess ended, and as the children reluctantly trudged back to the school, Ahmed cast a final, mournful glance at the ancient tree. It stood as a symbol of endurance, much like the people of Baghdad, who had weathered the storm of war. Amid their bleak reality, they had clung to hope, finding strength in the most unlikely places.