Aftertaste by Khuloud Hussain

They used to wake up the sun with gleaming above their heads, promising days of fortune. Now they wake up to glum, grey clouds that tower over their lives, closing in on them. They used to play with flowers, and now they tackle with Russian bullets. They used to play in the streets with colors painting their bleached notebooks. Now they run from collapsed boulevards into nothingness. Their home became a field in which nothing grew but the echoes of anguish, for the soil was unyielding for anything hopeful. They are word-bound. They are helpless. All they can sense is the beacon of death that arose from the weapons. 

Babies born to the sounds of souls being taken, destined to be just like stray dogs. Mothers searching for whatever is left of their children’s bodies. Fathers getting tortured as their daughters get raped in front of them. Houses being burnt down as ashes of sorrow fill whatever was left of the past. Tears that can’t even fall down because they are trembling with fear. They wanted salvation, but all they received was annihilation. They wanted prosperity, but all they got instead was cruelty.

Everything they ever stood for – their honor, their respect, their beliefs- became nothing but shattered images from the past. Things that never even crossed their minds became part of their daily lives. What was once a safe haven became an arena where blood is shed every moment. The hue of inflamed, bitter rubies splintered amid the ground painted their sketchbooks. The stink of smoldering corpses whitened by the faint flakes of snow. A contrast in color and in shade, and yet it seemed perfectly normal.

They are taunted by the mere thought of having to live through the day, knowing that neither their death nor their survival will really be of any good. Whether they die, or live, it doesn’t really matter anymore. In times like this, one can either die or survive. Or, if one’s fate is to be doomed for eternity, then they would be taken as prisoners and hostages to places that can never cross the mind. But all they really want is an easy death. Or an easy Life. Anything would satisfy them, as long as it doesn’t include the anguish and despair of war.

Their tears of desolation became the anthem of their hearts. Their lives became nothing but collateral damage and numbers on a screen. They are too many to be remembered by names and of too little importance to those don’t know them. So they just become part of the news that shall soon become history kids learn about in schools. Maybe in twenty years or so, a movie will be made about their lives. People will wonder how humanity let such awful things happen and then move on with their lives. Like always, humanity stands and watches while history repeats itself and great empires fall. But as they say, civilizations rise and fall. Maybe it was time for theirs to fall. Or not.

They never knew what they had until they lost it all. They remember what it was like to complain about the slow internet and the long car trips. They remember what it was like to lambaste about the daily two-hour power outage. They remember what it was like to censure about the lack of entertainments in the rural areas and countryside villages. Yet, somehow, it feels like these memories are nothing but legends that were made to fritter away time. Voices quivering with fear, they found themselves searching for a way to wake up from this endless nightmare; a nightmare that had no mercy even for the youngest of children. Anything that would return them back to the life that they had once taken for granted. A life that now sounds like a sweet, far-fetched fantasy.

They are left to ponder about what could have been and what would have happened if all of this ceased to exist. Would their cousins and siblings still be alive, had they not lived there? Would they have been able to build a house for themselves with their long-awaited degree? Would they still wake up to the smell of jasmines permeating, as birds guzzle the globules of water? But none of this really matters because in reality, they are still stuck in a theater of war where only the vicious gets applauded for and triumphs the ultimate medal of survival. Only the vicious who murders and kills will be able to live. They will soon, however, be taken by the suffocating darkness of death. If not theirs, then the deaths of the people they held dear. After all, life for them became nothing but an ultimate sacrifice.

It was the aftertaste of despair. It was the aftertaste of destruction. It was the aftertaste of war.

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