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The Fight

by Tim Boxer 9 months ago in humanity
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Abdul in war-stricken Yemen and Ashlyn in middle class England both face life-threatening circumstances amid contrasting and surprising wars, from which only one emerges.

The Fight
Photo by Alexey Demidov on Unsplash

Ashlyn, 20 weeks

I move in sync,

with my world.

With the ebb and the flow,

from my home.

I float in here,

so each step is soft.

Held as one,

swish swash, swish swash.

When I sleep,

I rest in the pulse of our place.

When I wake,

my eyes see a clear haze of red.

A new day begins!

What will be today?

I can feel us move,

I cannot wait!

What will I hear today?

What hum or hint or growl?

What will I hear today?

~

Abdul, 13

I am Abdul, and this last week was very hard for me. I mean terrible. I thought I would die. I might still, but I'm writing this, so thank God.

The saddest thing that ever happened to me was losing Tishna, my sister. She was only six.

What?!

Oh God - how are you good?

Are you even there?

I cannot write this without my eyes turning to salt, but at least my hands have stopped shaking. My ears are screaming, and it’s growing louder like the echo of a gunshot that never fades.

She’d only gone across the yellow dusty road to grandma’s, and she was allowed to do that.

“Run to the tree and wait,” I said, smiling. “You’ll be fine!”

Her little bare feet scampered over the open road and into the shade of a cypress tree. She turned and beamed at me, flicking back her brown locks.

“Yes!” I shouted. “You did it!”

She was so excited, but I wanted her to run over the next road to grandma's. I knew she should keep moving, but she kept smiling and mouthing words at me.

“Keep going, Tish … don’t stop. Run to grandmas!” I said, pointing.

But she didn’t. Instead of running the next twenty metres to the safety of the concrete flats, she stepped out from the cypress’s shade and tip-toed forward, eyes narrowing and grinning, back toward me.

“No Tish! Get back!” I shouted. “You can’t stand there. Remember? It’s not safe!” My stomach flipped, and I could hardly breathe. She took another step so I dived forward reaching for the white tassel on her dress and yanked her behind the rock pile.

But it was too late. Beady killing eyes had seen her fumbling and chosen her as their target. But why her?! Oh God, why not me?

I barely heard the vacant crack that threw little Tish into me and sent both of us out of sight, a crumpled mess. I pushed her back but her pretty face flopped backwards and my hands were red. Then I knew what happened.

I don’t feel brave enough for this.

Why should I live, if I do, when Tish didn’t make it?

~

Ouch.

They press me!

Push and squash,

my head and chest.

Now my back,

my spine!

This is not my world,

this is not right.

And now between my legs,

but why there?

At last, relief,

it has gone.

My world is on the move,

back where I should be.

I am sore,

and tired.

I want,

I want.

To go,

to go.

In beat,

in pulse.

To sleep,

to sleep.

But I cannot!

We’ve gone still,

turned in two.

What is this? I cry.

A voice says, “No!”

“No, just no!” It says.

And my world coughs and groans.

I know we must be sad but I can’t get out.

I push the walls, and they are still.

I think we are okay.

~

The man with plastic goggles is leaning over my head again, peering down at my stomach. I’ve never seen someone so white - head to toe. But I am blue - they put me in this earlier and I feel so silly!

“Hello,” I say, and smile.

He jumps - I think he thought I was asleep!

“Good morning, young man,” he says, taking off his goggles to show his round blue eyes. Ah yes, I remember those, how could I forget?

His goggles slide back on and still smiling he goes back to work on my tummy where I was hit. Thank God for this place and this man from wherever he said he’d come from.

I hadn’t realised I was shot until Tish’s body fell onto me and I heaved her off. It must have been another round but I didn’t even hear it. How is that possible?

It feels like being kicked in the stomach with a sharp boot; a dead weight to wind you, followed by blunt pain like you’ve never known all down your legs, around your waist and shooting up your back.

But the needle goggle-man used when I arrived here made it all numb and I fell straight to sleep. It comes back, but each time they inject me the pain fades. How do they do that?

Dad ran out and took away Tish’s little body - I can’t bear to think about it. I’ve had to blot it all out. Dad’s heavy sob, and her pretty face, all lifeless and limp, flopping around in his arms as he strode across the safe zone to our yard. But I couldn’t do anything. I just had to wait for Mum and our car to get us here to the hospital.

I don’t know what he’s doing under the thick bandage down there, but I can’t feel a thing.

I think it’s time to go soon. Mum said she will be here when they put me to sleep.

I hope they can fix me.

Yesterday, they thought I was asleep, but I heard what they said. It was Mum and goggle-man with two others who were talking about me. A nurse from Taiz and another white man with a clipboard.

“I’ll be honest,” was the phrase that snapped me out of my dose - that, and a creeping stomach ache. I kept my eyes shut.

“Abdul is very unwell. He has a perforated bowel and a lot of trauma in that area … which mean his chances, even after surgery, are quite low.”

Mum was crying - sobbing like I’d never heard before, and I tensed. I didn’t want to be a part of this.

“I am sorry,” I whispered to myself. And then: “We’ll be opening him up … and to prevent sepsis … he will be with us for a long time.”

The clipboard man took over now. He was from wherever goggle-man was from - I could tell by his accent.

“Listen, it is a complex procedure, but one we have done before, even here at this hospital. Abdul probably has an equal chance of surviving this as he does of not surviving.”

I open my right eyelid and peer through my eyelashes. Mum is looking down at the floor, almost still, as the three talk at her. They are trying to help, I can tell, and the nurse is putting her hand on Mum’s shoulder and rubbing her gently.

“These are the best, you know,” says the nurse, smiling. “We’ll get Abdul out. I know we will.”

~

Touch!

My hands, feet and face.

I feel, I move,

I move, I’m sure!

I hit the wall,

to say I love us!

And then a weight, a rub

from outside of us.

With it go low notes,

ones that are good!

I know I am safe,

when he is here too.

But when my world talks with him,

it starts to go sad.

And then the voice goes loud,

and I tense, and then hit.

And when it does,

I feel unsure.

Am I good?

Am I safe?

But I know we are tight,

soon all will be well.

Ready to go?

I don’t know!

But then, one day, we are back;

the place where they push me.

I can smell it,

feel it, see it.

I don’t know what’s wrong,

but we keep getting fast.

The voices sound different,

same mouths but cold and hard.

No pushes and prods now,

just words from the three.

My world, him and them,

but its too long.

It feels wrong.

My world is in awe,

of these voices.

They know too much,

and can, "Do it".

But as they speak,

I feel alone.

My world and I,

are further apart.

Is this war?

We fold up and I hear:

“Yes, we can do that.”

What though?

“It will have to be surgical removal at this stage.”

We go still,

but inside its too fast!

“It’s your choice,” I hear from my home.

“We’ll take care of you.”

That sounds good.

“And this will be over.”

~

My blue gown was loosened around my stomach so they can open me up.

I thought this plastic mask would feel horrid, but the nurse adjusted it to feel comfy. She is so nice! Then she took my arm and asked how I felt about Tish, but I knew she was distracting me while sticking in another needle. I said I didn't want to think about it, but was thankful me, Mum and Dad had made it this far. I did tell her I was angry, but she'll never know how much and quite what I think of the Houthni now. Call themselves fighters; they are cowards! What did Tish ever do to them?!

“All set,” says goggle-man. I can’t see his face because he’s covered head to toe in a green robe and full face mask, but I imagine he is grinning again. Nurse rolls my trolley forward and I feel Mum squeezing my other arm. Her face is dry now and she is trying to smile at me. I know she wants to be brave, but it must be so hard - she might lose her boy.

We’re passing a set of double doors, me on the bed with the nurse pushing and goggle-man leading the way, his friend walking by my other side. As we enter the theatre, I see a bright photograph stuck on the small square window of the door. It is a picture of goggle-man standing with a woman and three children on green grass in front of a swing set. Just underneath, printed on white paper it says: ‘Dr Nott’. Goggle-man has a name! This photo must be his family! I didn’t know he had a wife and children, but I can see they love him, and they all have those blue eyes.

So why is he here, I wonder? In Taiz? This must be the worst place on earth. I guess I do trust someone like this. Someone that would give up so much to be in this god-forsaken war zone.

The bed has stopped and the nurse says, “Are you ready Abdul?”

“Yes,” I say. “I’m in good hands.”

~

“Are you ready?” says the voice.

Is that for me, or you, Mum?

I am ready, if you are.

But what is this,

change in us?

"Ash, I'm sorry," I hear,

through the wall.

We’re not right,

I can feel it.

Mum?

Dad?

She coughs and shakes,

coughs and shakes.

Now the voice again,

the one that's cold.

I thought he’d take care of us?

But this feels bad.

Too fast!

Can’t keep up!

What is this?

Where are we?

Mum?

Mum? Why cough and shake?

Mum, there’s a pinch on my toe.

And it’s not us.

Help!

I can’t keep up.

I need to go.

Is it time?

Is that why?

Can you stop this?

A scratch on my back,

something is here.

Pinch!

It is time?

It can’t be!

This hurts.

I cannot go on.

But I won’t let go,

I will save us!

I kick and hit,

I think I can save us!

But I can’t stop it,

I have to move back.

Sorry, I can’t stop this any more.

I can only hide.

But this place is too small, and it is coming again...

Trying to reach for me?

Our world has gone bad,

we are being invaded...

The flow has all gone,

I don’t think we’re one.

It is fast, too fast!

I will be left behind!

I think we are breaking up.

Or is it just me?

Can I sleep?

No! It is coming again.

I can’t get why, can you stop it?

Dad? Can you help?

It’s got me now,

my head and neck have gone.

That is it.

I love you, Mum.

~

I can feel my toes!

“Abdul,” cries a voice. “Abdul!” A hand slides over my forehead and through my hair, and I pull open my heavy eyelids. Mum’s face is very close and she is crying and laughing.

“Abdul, you made it! I love you!” She grabs my arms.

“Ouch!” I say. “That one hurts!” She loosens her grip, laughs again and strokes my arm and shoulder. My eyes close and I hear myself say, “Mum, I love you. So I made it then? Did it work?”

I heard only fuzz and wanted to go back to sleep, but managed to pull open my eyes once more and stare down the length of my bed and I see my whole body laid out, covered in white sheets. My feet are poking up and I see my toes wiggling. It was them I could feel!

I am alive!

I look up and see Dr Nott for the first time without his goggles. His tie is gone and the top three buttons of his shirt are undone. He’s leaning against my bed and in his right hand he is sipping from a blue mug. He looks like a fighter, victorious, but exhausted after a long battle, which I guess in some ways is true. I have no idea what he's done inside me, but I'm sure he was fighting for me. And Mum.

I am so tired, but just before I fall to sleep, I see the words on Dr Nott’s mug and I think it says, 'Training War Doctors; Saving Lives', and I realise I was right when I said I could trust him.

humanity

About the author

Tim Boxer

Tim is UK-based writer of all things family, faith and adventure.

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