“Ya rabb yahminana”
I hear my mother praying, as more and more people horde onto the small inflatable plastic boat. Before every journey, Mama would make my brother and I recite prayers, ‘to ask for God’s blessings to profit the health of the soul and the body’ she would say. However, today, she doesn’t tell us to. Instead, her voice sounds brittle, almost as if she is trying to hide something. I find fear in her eyes. She had always been afraid of water and hated being in overcrowded places.
For a three year old like me, everything seems alien and surreal. This isn’t home, this isn’t my cradle. All the people around me, they can’t be family. These people are crying, talking in hushed voices and hugging everybody who has come to bid farewell as if it is the last time they are seeing each other. Melancholy hangs in the air, sucking hope out of peoples’ hearts. Where are we and why? I hold my brother’s hand, hoping to find comfort in the warmth of his fingers.
They say we are refugees. We are victims of Syria’s Civil War, living under the shadow of death that lurks over us all the time. This war has been raging for over six years now but for us it has been six centuries. We have been living under the threat of bombs and air strikes; we go to sleep every night not knowing whether we would live to see the rosy dawn of the next morning. Shall we be able to see the faces of our loved ones again, no one knows. It is a terrible war, a nightmare that we have been going through every night and day in hope it would end somehow. We yearn for peace, harboring a faint hope of being able to go to schools like children our age the world over.
As my body thirsts for water, every passing moment suffocates me. My three-year old self is unable to fathom the cruelty and barbarianism around. We, the Syrian children, no longer feared the monsters under our bed. Instead, we feared death – though it always brought a lasting relief from this sordid drama of pain and agony.
I lay my head on my mama’s lap and she gently strokes my forehead with her fingers. I feel, somehow, at peace. It reminds me of those Sundays when father would be home and would take my brother and me to the park while Mama would sit under a willow tree and unpack the sandwiches she had brought for us. I would run around and always win races against my father. He would then lift me on his shoulders and the world would seem so peaceful. It had all shattered, human beings cutting throats in the name of God and religion, bringing peace to dead bodies.
‘Mama, tell me a story’ I plead, closing my eyes to draw out the unappealing surroundings. As the water around the boat bangs against the tiny plastic creature, she finds her voice and begins. The story is about a family, a happy family that lives in heaven, close to God. The story dwells on, and the blissful fate of the family lulls me to sleep.
An avalanche of terrorizing screams rouses me. Dawn has spread over the vast sky although it seems devoid of its shimmering rays. Gigantic waves throw the plastic life boat around like a ping pong ball. The boat’s passengers roll over each other, struggling, their faces casting looks of terror across it. The dinghy creaks dangerously as powerful sea waves thrust forward. My mother clings onto my brother and me as we manage not to cry. Had I been a little older, I would have known that the boat was sinking. Imminent death sometimes annuls any iota of fear that may lurk inside. I force my immature mind to think that this is some roller coaster ride and that everything would turn out okay. However, little did I know that I was a Syrian Refugee, and our destiny was not a ‘Happily Ever After.’
The rhythmic percussion of waves does not intrigue me, not today. Suddenly, a violent wave crashes with the boat. I lose grip of my mother’s arm and the sea waves, as unwelcoming as ever, take me in their hold. The water engulfs me tightly and I feel the salt burn my lungs. My vision gets blurry and I cannot see my family any longer. This seems like a part from the bedtime stories Mama used to read to us at night about dragons and bogeymen. “God keeps His children safe from the sea monsters” she used to say, whenever I felt frightened. I close my eyes and pray.
Where is Mama? Why won’t God answer?
I look up at the sky, the sun rising with its golden hue illuminating the Earth. Its soft amber glow spreads warmth and the mesmerizing colors compel me to stare deep into the horizon. Suddenly, everything goes dark and I lose consciousness.
They would discover my body later, on 2nd September 2015, lying on the shore. Waves lapping my cold clammy self repeatedly as if to wake me from this deep slumber. I had at last found some ground, albeit in an alien land. This is what we started for; this is what the refugees would dream about – reaching a ground of safety and a land of peace. Surprisingly the body would create a furor across the globe. Media channels breaking the news to every household. My face and half cuddled body instantly becoming a household emblem of hopelessness and despair. They say I lost my life searching for a peaceful future. I, Aylan Kurdi found peace elusive during my whole life, but found my final abode in Turkey, where my tombstone ironically reads “Rest in Peace”.