He came to us war torn and ragged, the child buried somewhere safe behind dark, haunted eyes. Silent and watchful, he eyed my husband and I without fear, resigned to whatever fate had in store. Found under a pile of rubble from his school in the village of Azaz, he lay on top of a dead classmate, unconscious and bleeding profusely from numerous lacerations. The barrel bomb was thorough in the destruction of the school, with the boy being the only survivor out of thirty children and four teachers.
My wife, Mary and I received a phone call from my colleague, Dr. James Murdock, on the morning of the blast, explaining the urgency of our presence in Azaz. The casualties were astronomical, with hundreds missing and there wasn’t enough room in the hospitals for the injured.
“We need you, Simon,” he pleaded, “There’s not even enough hours in the day to do what we need to be done, it’s unbelievable.” `
“What about the bombing, has it stopped?” I asked.
“Unfortunately, no,” he answered, “I don’t understand the targeting of civilian areas, it’s just horrific. Their using wide area munitions here, wiping out schools and hospitals. It’s all so sad, so very sad. It’s unthinkable the horrors these people are going through, Simon. Unthinkable. I don’t understand the Russian’s strategy. I mean, what good is bombing schools and hospitals? How is this in any way good war tactics?”
“I’ll be there as soon as possible, my friend,” I told him, “Mary wants to go, as well and you’re in luck. We both started our vacations today.”
“So sorry to ruin your vacation with this, Simon,” James apologized, “but I could really use your expertise and support. Thank you so much.”
We were on the red eye that evening, arriving in Aleppo fifteen hours later, hailing a cab to take us to the city of Azaz. I have to say, neither one of us were prepared for the extent of the misery. It looked like a picture of what the apocalypse would be like. The injured walking around in a shell shocked daze as women moaned and screamed over the bodies of loved ones. Buildings lay in heaps of rubble as men and women tried to search through the piles of stone for family members. The tears rolled down our faces unheeded as we watched a small child crying over the body of what was most likely his father. I took Mary’s hand in mine and she squeezed back gratefully.
“Oh, Simon,” she sobbed, “How is it so many people live in fear as the rest of the world carries on as if nothing is happening here? Did we do this, Simon? Did we have a part in this horror?”
“Unfortunately,I’m not sure what to believe,” I told her, “From what James told me, the Russians are blaming us for the airstrikes. But I’m not sure if it really happened. Maybe that’s why we’ve been getting looks that could kill.”
As we walked to the hospital tent, I could feel accusing, hateful eyes trailing after us and felt suddenly uneasy. A sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach made me quicken my step as I grabbed Mary’s by the elbow to hurry her along.
“What’s wrong, Simon?” she asked when we entered the tent, “Did you see something?”
“Didn’t you notice how people looked at us, Mary?” I asked, “They think we’re responsible for this. They know we’re Americans by our clothes. I’m not sure we made the right decision coming here, my love.”
That’s when I felt my wife’s hand tighten on mine as she stopped in mid stride. Curious, I followed the direction of her gaze.
Sitting on a makeshift table was a small child of about five. His face, bloody from numerous lacerations, was white with the dust of the blast, Staring out into space, his hollow gaze was that of someone much older and wiser. His hand came up and wiped at the blood oozing down his cheek and he looked at it without emotion, wiping it onto the table.
I looked at Mary and saw her heart shatter into million pieces, tears flowing freely from her eyes. As if the boy was a magnet, she was drawn to him.
“Simon!” I turned my head to the sound of the familiar voice, shocked at my friend’s appearance. His hair, once the doctor’s pride and joy, was sparse and grey. His face was weary, the war taking its toll on the man’s body. But it was James’ eyes that told the real story. Haunted by unspeakable images of what a bomb can do to the soft flesh of a human body, they lay deep and dark in the man’s head, hopeless and hollow.
“James!” I greeted him heartedly, taking his proffered hand in both of mine and pulling him in for a brief, yet meaningful hug.
“I’m sorry,” I told him, “I had no idea how bad it was.’
“No, it’s okay,” he assured me, “How could you have known? It’s not like the media covers reality. I see Mary found Mahdi. He’s our newest addition.”
“Who found him?”
“Actually,” James explained, “he found us.”
At my raised eyebrow, he continued.
“Mahid, not his real name, by the way,” he told me, “was brought in about two hours ago. The nurses call him Mahid. It means ‘Guided’ in their language. We’re assuming both his parents were killed in the blast as he hasn’t spoken not one word. Simon, he’s the real reason I’ve asked you and Mary to come.”
“I don’t understand,” I said honestly, “I’m not a psychiatrist, James, you know that, and Mary’s an RN. What could we possibly do for him except give him an exam?”
“Take him home,” James said bluntly, “Get him the hell out of this God-forsaken country.”
“Do you realize what you’re asking me to do, James?” I asked incredulously, “we could be shot or worse, beheaded trying to smuggle a Turkish child out of his native country! I’m shocked you would even ask this of us!”
‘I’m sorry,” James said, “You’re right, I shouldn’t have asked, forgive me. Could you at least check him over?”
I nodded, feeling somewhat ashamed at my outburst. James and I were the troublemakers in Med school and I felt like a stodgy old fart. Turning away, I joined Mary who stood helplessly by the silent boy trying to make some kind of connection with him.
© 2016, RissRyker518. All rights reserved.
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