العيد الميلاد سعيد! كيف الحال؟
أنا جدا. ذهبت الشرم الشيك مع إمّي و أبي.
Layla stared at the delicately ink-written script on the yellowed parchment paper. The Arabic was sloppily written, almost like a three year old wrote it, but there was love behind the letters that older people often forgot—the world in general forgets. She had grabbed out of the paper machete shoebox and almost forgot this letter existed; she smiled though it had been a bittersweet find.
“Layla, look!” Lana giggles and her toothless smile lights the dimly lit classroom. “I did it! I did it!” She was so proud and that made a seven year old Layla proud. Layla had been writing for two years excelling with the s’s and t’s, a perfect smiley face that smiled proudly back at her and the swirls of the s made her dizzy with joy. Although Layla loved writing and reading Arabic from the Qur’an, Lana was far behind in writing and reading.
“That’s great, Lana!” Layla smiles back with a similar toothless smile. “I’m happy for you.”
“Layla, now that I can write pretty like you, can you teach me how to read?”
“Sure, Lana. We’ll start with the Qur’an.” Layla once overheard some adults express concern over Lana’s ability and feared for her soul.
Her phone had buzzed. Layla grabbed the phone from her beautiful denim jeans. The screen with the picture of Sami Yusuf in the background read that it was March 10, 2012. The day had been a quiet day, almost eerily quiet, but Layla was thankful all the same. Insha’allah, she thought to herself. “U ana ajmal sha5s bietmana bi mishwari isharekne,” her attention was diverted from her phone to Nancy Ajram’s angelic voice that rang out of the speaker—for four days only static, black and white scribbled static. This has been the longest, at least in Layla’s memory that spans twenty years, which the TV had been blacked out by crisis; though this had been better than watching the carnage and mayhem that was taking place in Syria and Egypt.
“He sends… Layla, what’s this word?” Lana struggled with the Surah.
“He sends down the angels, with the inspiration of His command, Lana. C’mon, this is important. You need to try,” an inflection of anger and annoyance is in Layla’s voice. Being a teacher is hard, she thought.
“Please, pretty please with a cherry on top, be mad at me, Layla. I’m sorry,” Lana began to cry.
The pleas of Lana mixed with tears touched Layla’s heart. Maybe it isn’t a big deal that she learns it all, it is hard. “I’m sorry, Lana. Let’s continue,” she looked through the Qur’an for an easier passage, “here, this one is easy.”
Layla looked from the brand new TV back to the shoebox; she would listen to Nancy Ajram while she paged through memories that were, or seemed to be, buried for years.
خلق آلسّموت وآلآزض بألحق تعلى عما يشركون ۳
The paper was beginning to fade, but the blue ink looked perfect. This had to be the best Lana had ever done.
“This is my special paper, be very careful,” Layla instructed Lana carefully. “I want you to write one verse from Surah Al-Nahl that you like.”
With quill in hand, Lana picks it up and began to carefully write her Arabic script. “I like this one Layla. I love it!”
“What does it say?”
“Take your time.”
“Very good, Lana!”
“the heavens and err-th en true-th. High is Allah above what they… Layla, what’s this word?”
“Associate. Sound it out. Ass-oh-sea-ate.”
“Ass-oh-sea-ate with Him.”
“Excellent and what chapter is it?”
“Very good!” Lana then hands Layla her special piece of ivory parchment paper. “And your script looks beautiful. You’ll be well prepared for school tomorrow.”
العيد الميلاد سعيد! كيف الحال؟
أنا جدا. ذهبت الشرم الشيك مع إمّي و أبي.
There was something about Lana’s first letter that drew Layla back to the yellowed piece of parchment. Sharm el-Shiek, described as heaven with the land jutting out into a crystal blue sea, had beautiful and very friendly people. Mosques with the crescent gold top lined the skyline and so did churches with their crosses on top; both Holy places shone like glitter and is such a beauty for the eye to see. They weren’t angry with Allah. Why should they be? Layla always pictured it as heaven; free from the threat of suicide bombers, missiles and a corrupt leader. When Lana came back, she said it was a quiet place free from the hustle-and-bustle of cars, but who knows if it was true. She did say there were good restaurants and museums devoid of bullet holes and graffiti. Layla longed to go—she wanted to escape this hell.
Bzzz, errrr, the siren’s droning began again as Layla sat glued in the blue chair with her notebook and pencil sitting in front of her. She wasn’t paying attention to her teacher’s lessons, probably on English, but what was going on outside was probably better. As she looked out the window, the sky was a greyish colour and it lacked clouds. For some reason, this terrified Layla. When she wasn’t paying attention to her English lesson, she would escape to the outside world and daydream about the clouds in the sky—their shapes and what they resembled. Once she saw a bee.
“Layla, why is the bee so important,” Lana had asked on that beautiful day in April. “I mean, the Qur’an has a chapter dedicated to it and all and I wanna know why.”
“I heard that the bee is a miracle because realistically a bee shouldn’t be able fly. But, with the act of Allah, it magically does. It also has determination and faith, which is what we all should have. I guess Allah is trying to say that we should try and have faith in him.”
“Bees scare me, Layla. They sting.”
“I know, I am sometimes afraid of them too, but I remember how important and beautiful they are. You should too.”
“Layla,” the rapping of the ruler diverted her attention back to her teacher. “pay attention! This is important!”
“Sorry Miss Samira,” and she turns her head back toward the blackboard with A’s and B’s and C’s; Cat, Apple, Boy written in white. Miss Samira goes back to the board and begins to write with her chalk—
Miss Samira, like a feather in wind, fell delicately to the floor as she screamed at a blood curdling pitch. Suddenly, it was silent and a figure dressed in black with a ski mask draped over his face was staring at the class.
Layla couldn’t remember if he said anything or not, but he might have said something in Hebrew or an Arabic she didn’t know yet or couldn’t understand with a thick accent or English, things happened too fast.
The gun echoed as the bullets torpedoed at students. In a moment of panic, Layla was surprised she didn’t freeze up—she hid under a desk. Some of her classmates bullet riddled bodies laid bloody on the tiled floor. “Ah,” she let out quietly, but remembered she had to be quiet. “Please, Allah, please help us.”
Hearing the combat boots take to the floor, she heard chairs moving and more bullets being fired.
“Please, please, please don’t,” she heard Ahmed scream. Bang and he suddenly went silent.
It went on for an eternity, or what felt like one to Layla. More screams, more bangs and clinking as bullets hit chairs, desks and whatever else was in the way in the classroom. Suddenly, she heard silence, then a door opening and combat boots walking out. Still hiding under the desk, Layla closed her tear filled eyes.
“We have one over here, she looks to be still alive,” she heard someone say. Her heart began to flutter. Did that monster bring more people to finish the job?
The desk was moved and police officers stared at her. They didn’t say much; they wrapped her in a blanket and carried her to an ambulance to be checked out.
“Where’s Lana,” she screamed over and over again as a honey bee landed on blood spattered and grimy face with tear streaks, but instead of shooing it away; she screamed some more. However, the paramedics and doctors scared it away before they sedated Layla. Later she found out Lana was one of the first students to go.
Another suicide bombing today in Palestine, the TV rang out, it was back to news programs again. With tears in her eyes, the tears fell on the parchment and made some of the ink smear. Rustling the paper impulsively, she threw the letter back into the shoebox and slammed the lid shut—it was enough of those memories for today. It reminded too much of Lana and the moment she became an atheist. Allah might have created us, her thought after that sad day in April ended, but He easily takes things away. He could care less about us!
“I need to get out of here. I once said to Lana I’d go to Sharm el-Sheik. It’s now that time—for Lana!” She walked out the door, slamming it as she moved about. It was time to book the next flight out of Palestine.