As Zehra lay on the bed observing the lofty fan rotating on the flat wooden ceiling, she waited patiently for the clock to strike eleven-thirty. Her mother was going to take her shopping today at the main market and that was indeed a rare treat for Zehra. Her mother, a prudent and diligent lady, struggled to keep the family of two afloat: on weekends, she worked overtime at the Khan’s mansion as their maid to earn enough to sustain herself and her six-year-old daughter. Although she exhibited a strong yet benign and jovial composure, the young girl knew that her mother was dejected and depressed inside. For Zehra was an unforthcoming girl, she never revealed to her mom that almost every other night, she would peek out of the room to see her mother weeping silently on the patio while gazing at the stars, as if longing for something that she just could not acquire.
Zehra was not mature enough to understand a lot about the things happening in her country but whenever she turned on the decrepit television, most of the TV channels showed people getting killed, small children getting kidnapped, blood-covered people being scurried away to the hospitals and families crying beside the dead bodies of their departed family members. Whenever she asked about her father, her mother said that he has gone to serve his country fighting the enemies and not expounding more, while the truth was that her father died of wounds on the battlefield. Her father was a vague figure to her and his absence did not bother her much because the last time she saw him was around two years ago when she was only four. However, she did envy her friends whose fathers would take them out on rides to the main town while she stayed in her house completing the work her mother assigned her as she was being homeschooled.
“Are you dressed for the shopping, dear?” her mother exclaimed. Her beautiful, faint voice filled vehement excitement in her as she ran out to meet her mother who just came back from work. Fortunately, her mother earned enough this week to take Zehra out shopping to get her favorite toys that she had been yearning for over three months. Her exhilaration could not be more transparent as she sprinted to the small courtyard, all dressed in her best-loved blue frock, with her hair raised in a pony-tail, beaming at her mother who was delighted to see her daughter so excited for the trip. As her mother locked and bolted the door to their brick-built, dilapidated house, both of them made their way to the main market. The fifteen-minute walk to the market street was indeed cumbersome and drained most of Zehra’s energy but she was rejuvenated as her eyes laid on the conventionally paved, narrow road that led to the main market street, her excitement inflating like a balloon inside of her.
The street was packed with street vendors and customers; It appeared as if some hidden, powerful energy was unleashed as shoppers fought their way to the main counters, bargaining on every other product, vegetables, and fruits that they purchased. The satisfying dominating aroma was a concoction of concrete, food, and desserts that Zehra took great pleasure in as she walked behind her mother, clinging to one part of her mother’s shirt to avoid getting lost in the crowd.
As the afternoon approached, bringing along the scorching heat of the sun, some shoppers made their way back to the houses with scores of shopping bags, easing the strain put on the chaotic but lively street. After walking for a couple of minutes, they finally reached their intended destination: a small store no bigger than their room stuffed with children’s toys. To Zehra, this one compact shop housed the biggest collection of her dream toys: toy food, plastic trains and trucks, stuffed animals, and dolls. Motioning her index finger towards her precious, much-longed miniature, she looked at her mother who, with a broad smile on her face, approved the specific toy and requested the vendor to bring it forward.
The old man with his deep-set eyes was just about to reach the small bag of various plastic toys when suddenly a strong gush of air accompanied by a loud bang threw Zehra on one side of the street. She did not know how long she stayed under the rubble of metal, glass, and concrete for she opened her eyes to the paramedics carrying her towards the ambulance. With the deafening cries of the panicky, injured people conjoined with the sirens of the ambulances blanketing the street, Zehra caught the sickening stench of metal and blood. Unable to contemplate the surrounding, she helplessly asked the two paramedics about her mother, but they continued striding along the street carrying her towards the ambulance. Getting dizzy with the pain in her head pricking like needles, she wailed in pain until she fainted as the paramedics cleaned the blood off her legs and arms.
Every passing day, she stared hopelessly out of the hinged, double-glazed window of the room, waiting for her father to come one day and take her out of this horrendous place. She could not fathom the children’s laughter as they played with either an amputated arm or a broken leg. Maybe they had gotten used to the grim reality of their lives. She lived in a house that was smaller than this depressing place, but that was home; that was a place permeated with her mother’s love and affection that she could not get anymore. For the first two weeks, she could not wrap her head around the devastating reality of losing her mother. She kept crying her eyes out as she yearned for the mere presence of her mother: her laughter, her jokes, and her politeness. She only stopped shedding tears when she had a beautiful, yet heartbreaking dream. With her mother standing on one side of a deep, fast-flowing river while Zehra waited impatiently on the other bank for her mother to come to her. She was not able to do so… The river was Zehra’s sadness, and her overflowing tears made it hard for her to wade across, and be near her daughter.