Monday, February 27, 2006


She has not been able to sleep well for the past few days. It wasn't just because the baby was starting to kick more frequently and strongly. It wasn't just because Shah was away on business and the kids were sleeping in their king-size bed with her, either. She just felt restless, anxious ... she felt like something was about to happen.
Maybe she had been watching too much TV. The news, to be exact. The news are filled with nothing but stories of attacks and bombings and riots and insurgencies. When she was back home in her own country, she wouldn't have batted an eyelid at this stories. She would've just tsk-tsked at the news and be glad that nothing like that ever happened in her country.
But now she is here, right where everything is happening.
"Life is safe here", one of the expatriates told her. "We live in a compound.. there's security everywhere. We don't even lock the door sometimes."
She always locks the door.

She heard something. The drone of vehicles.
Her unit was the closest to the main gate, so sometimes at night, when everything is extra quiet and you can hear even the tiniest noise, she could hear the conversations of the army personnels stationed at the gate. She couldnt understand any of them, of course, because most of it were muffled, and because she doesn't understand arabic that well.. only sprinkles of words. 'Ashrab' for 'drink', 'Khalas' for 'done' or 'finished' and sometimes she'd hear them call each other 'ya habibi' and laugh a lot. Tonight they were particularly quiet.
It's not unusual to hear the sounds of cars coming in and out of the compund in the middle of the night. Shops don't close till about midnight in this country, and some of the residents prefer to do their shopping in the evening, when it's not as hot as during the day. So she is used to hearing the drone of vehicles whenever she found herself awake in the middle of the night.

She reached out for her mobile phone and touched one of the buttons to activate the screen. 2:20am, it displayed. That's pretty late for shoppers.
The low growl of the engine didn't sound like a car either. A heavier vehicle. A bus? Or a truck? 2 trucks?
Then she heard shouts.
Then the loud rat-tat-tat of the machine gun.
She sat up in bed. Her heart beating so hard she was starting to get a headache.
She turned on the bedside light and looked at her kids sleeping beside her. Halim was snoring. Hassan's body was contorted and tangled in sheets. Hannah had one of her hands sprawled over Halim's face, almost like trying to stifle the snore.
Shouts. Rat-tat-tat and bang-bang of a smaller gun.
Oh she've watched enough Discovery and CNN to tell the difference.

She jumped out of bed as quickly as she could with her huge belly and headed for the window. She made the tiniest crack in the curtains and peered outside.
Drat. She couldn't see a thing from her window. Only other units, and part of the road from the main gate, but not what's going on outside the gate.
More shouts, more sounds of guns. She could see lights turning on in the other units and curtains pulled aside.
She was breathing so hard, steam was bouncing off her curtains and warming her cheeks.
Then the gunshots stopped.
She heard the drone of vehicles starting up, and saw two trucks driving in from the main gate.
They were not service trucks. And the people in the back of the trucks, do not look like the gardeners and plumbers that service their units. And those things they're holding, do not look like hoes or tools. They looked like guns.

Oh No Oh No she thought.
She looked at her kids.
She thought as fast as she could.
What would they do to us?
They would shoot us.
What could we do to not let them do what they want to do to us?

We run.
Run where? We're in a freakin compound. There are high walls with barb wires to prevent people from sneaking in, which also means there's no way we can sneak out either. Anyways, with a big belly, she can't really climb anything and neither can her kids.

We call for help.
Call who? Dammit. Shah is at least 3 hours' drive away. She can't even remember the number for the police. Would calling the receptionist at the club house help? She was sure that the receptionist on duty would already be aware of the situation by now. The club house would be the first building they see once they get into the main gate.

We hide.
Okay, that's a good idea. Where?
She got out of her room and scanned the house.
Downstairs? Too close to the front door. Besides, the store room and the laundry room are the only ones with doors and they don't have locks.
Uh oh, her living room light was on. She always leaves it on, to indicate someone's home. Perhaps that would not be a good idea now. She goes downstairs, fleets through the front door and switches the light off. Maybe if they think no one is home, they won't even come in. Pray to God that they have not seen it on yet.
She went back upstairs, switching off the lights as she scanned the rooms.
Spare room. Children's room. All no locks.
Closets could be good. She had always found comfort in closets.
The spare room's closet had their suitcases. Damn.
The children's room's closet was too small to fit her and her kids.
All that's left was her closet. She opened it. She had her spare comforter and bed linen at the bottom of it, so it could be comfortable.

She started hearing bangs on doors.
Quick quick.
She pulled her kids off her bed. Halim first, and he started protesting.
"Shhhhh" she said "Halim, I need you to get into the closet. Please just do what I say"
"Arrrgghhhh mom...!" Halim complained.
Halim gasped.
"Please Halim, we need to be really quiet and hide" she tried to tell him in her calmest voice. It wasn't really convincing.
Without a word, Halim obeyed her. Even in the dark she could see the whites of his eyes.
Hassan is next. He didn't make much noise, just groggily got up and went to the closet to sit beside his brother, and went back to sleep.
She didn't know how she did it in her condition, but she lifted Hannah off the bed and laid her in the closet. That girl.. she could sleep through anything.

She ran to the door to close and lock it, but decided not to.
Let's pretend we're not home. The car is not in the driveway (because Shah is using it), maybe they'll really believe no one is home.
She quickly made the bed.
She took her mobile phone, went into the closet, closed the doors and sat quitely.
She felt Halim's hands grab her arm tightly.
"Mom, I'm scared" he said.
"Shh.. it's okay. Let's pray that God will protect us.", she whispered back as calmly as she could, but the trembling in her voice and the sweat that's starting to bead on her forehead betrayed her calm.

She heard more banging. Shouts.
And now and then, sounds of pleading. From women and men. And the cries of children.
But no more gunshots.

Then it came, the banging on her door.

I could continue.. but then it might get anti-climactic.

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