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Hashim left. But only the flag returned. Mother couldn’t bear it, the loss of her only son. She then traded her own life. We ought to be selfish when it comes to matters of the heart. Then there were three girls, deserted in a world that burned by the day and cried by the night.

My mouth went bitter seeing the parade going on in the front ground. The man handed over the folded cloth to the old woman. Her trembling wrinkled hands took the scarred fabric but then I pulled back the curtain. A sight I had painful memories of. Tears burn my eyes, but if they were to spill, so will the honor of my feelings. It wasn’t pleasant but it was something inevitable. In those days only the flags returned. Folded and blood-spotted. Some of them scarred the journey ahead. That wasn't to make for those who did not return but of those who still lived.

Born to a father who was always in the war. I couldn’t recognize him when he first came home. I had only seen Hashim in pictures. Till last year when he broke his arm in the defense. His General took pity on him. I met him for the first time in ten years. And a break of two weeks taught me that he was true to his portrait. Wonderful and handsome as I believed. I had a childish fancy to him even though I was not one.

Days of my childhood were never rainbows and sunshine. None of my sisters had them. I can swear; none of the children of those days did. Nightmares! That's what they were. Not the sun shone like in the books nor the stars twinkled. Instead, there were clouds and storms. It rained every day. Burning metals due to acid downpour. No mornings or evenings. We could only distinguish the fact from light beyond the clouds. The cities were in ruin. And we lived in one.

Men were short on the borders. So the government wasn’t in favor of returning any soldier to the grounds. And our whims of seeing them one last time died themselves.

One dawn brought misfortune upon me and my sisters. It only returned my father and brother’s war caps. If they hadn’t returned, we would be still living. Hoping that one day they would return from that forsaken border. They saved us from the long wait but bestowed us with much more misery.

No news that brought joy. Only forbidden words airing; “The western border captured last night. More than 10,000 casualties including many citizens. Masses are to stay indoors.” Adorn the ruined apartments. Hell! Stay indoors! They would kill us all the same but the Govt. was starving us to death! Death by both fires.

Dynamite destructions turned the border cities into ruins. Damage more than it should have been. Because our government was nice to not defend back her territories. Our luck that we lived in a city that was only 2,500 miles away from the frontier. We saw some of the bigger explosions from our window when it was still there.

It always happens one night when our mind changes. Our minds divert from temporary trivial issues to what is important. And it happened to us.

Seemi?” I heard a feeble voice. I knew who it was. I knew why “it” called me. “Yes?” I turned back. But the look in her eyes made me gulp my words. “You wait here. I’ll go and check. There is still something in my bag.” The drenched face gave a pale flash. Although I knew there was nothing yet I still stood up. There were a few chocolates in the place I least expected them to be. Something in my bag couldn’t escape from me. How could they?

Walking down the pantry and into the lounge, I glanced outside from the giant hole in the concrete wall. And then I shifted my glance from the wreckage of the wayside store to the floor. It was dirty and the broken wall’s debris was enough to stumble upon. I sighed and imagined how opposite it was a month ago. Times were hard but mother made them worthwhile living for us. Something ached in my heart. Not perfect but this place was a haven while she was alive. But it wasn’t the time to reminiscence and cry.

A sudden abrupt noise brought me back. Then I heard muffled sirens, those signaling the army fighter jets. But they were far. I could tell. I hurried my steps. I wanted to be with them before anything could happen to tore us apart. But fate didn’t see what I saw.

Windows rattling, glass crockery shattering. Women and children screaming and the nearby places on fire. These were the last things I remembered before opening my eyes in the dark.

I saw the wet ground. I saw smoke and ashes. I saw figures hurrying here and there. I tried to get up but I couldn’t. Sharp pain flew through my body. I couldn’t make out which place hurt more. Then I felt thick dark liquid flowing from my head to my chin. I prayed it wouldn't be what I expected it to be. I got up to go to the nearby wreckage to find my world that I lost.

I trod down the rubble, fighting my thoughts. Narrowing my eyes for those two. There were rescue men and soldiers. Their red and white uniforms made them prominent in the misty dark. The uniformed warriors sprinting among the destroyed mess. Rescuing people. I admired their agility but there weren’t any foreign soldiers. Their ambush wasn’t strong enough. Humph. But they will return. It is not in their nature, to leave something with such ease.

Someone was lying between the apartment debris. All bruised and scratched, but still-----it was Meena! I ripped a side of my shirt to clean the blood on her face. As my hands were wiping away the thick crimson liquid from her face. She opened her eyes, tried but failed to smile.

Are we still alive?” My hands stopped. Stunned at how deep she could think. Such a young flower. But the cruel era made her little brain so much more mature than it should be. But I answered her. “Of course, we are! What made you think that we would be dead?!” “Because it seemed like it.” The innocence reflected in her eyes as I pressed her hard against my chest. “Come on, it’ll be alright.” I helped her in getting up, and then we started to move toward a rescue helicopter. Because I knew the only guidance I can get in finding Shima was from there. "What happened to your head?” She pointed her finger towards my bleeding head. I chuckled and brushed it off. She wasn’t convinced but went silent.

We passed by a wailing woman who was with a rescue man. As we drew near, I realized it was aunt Nadia, our neighbor. She was crying her heart out. “Why?” “Why isn't she opening her eyes?” She shouted. “You must save her! My dear child, look at me. I’m here.” Her shouts lowered to whispers. She caressed its head and then kissed its eyes. Still repeating. “Ma’am the child has passed away." He spoke in his croaky voice.

I realized it was her daughter, Aberg. Same age as Meena. I tightened my grip on her. I took a step further to console Aunt Nadia. But before I could touch her. The man in the black uniform spoke again. “Ma’am, kindly let her go because we can’t take away extra loads with us.” His voice softened.

My heart sank. What’s worse, living when you want to die or dying when you want to live? The woman who lost her only daughter would like to die and the child who died would have wanted to live with her mother.

I hugged her. She took away her hands from her face and looked at me. For a minute or two, she stopped and wailed again.

Seemi!” Then her breath broke. She took deep and heavy breaths. And within minutes she would wail Abeer for more than 10 times. I caressed her back. “It’ll be alright.” But I knew nothing would replace it. The smallest coffins are the heaviest.

The man took Abeer to a van where his other teammates brought other casualties. Burial in joint graves where no one will ever visit. Where was who? All there, in the dirt where we would all go. Some go first, others may live long. But one day or another, we all will return to the Lord who created us.

We hadn’t been standing there for more than 5 minutes when the same man who took Abeer away approached us. His eyes moved from Aunt Nadia to me. “You’re another one.” His tone became rather sympathetic. But then he noticed Meena who was sticking to my legs. “Young lady, I suppose there isn’t someone left of your family behind. If that’s true we can move on and shift you to the helicopter. Which will be the last one to leave this place forever.” He now looked straight at me. Confirming.

No sir. I have a little sister named Shima, who got separated when the apartment collapsed.” I replied, to his surprise, the opposite. He took a deep breath and responded. “I don’t know the name but we have found four little girls in the whole wrecked place.” He beckoned me to a small steel cabin. After much wandering around the wrecked carcasses. We heard an alert on the megaphone. “All the people remaining here, move into the last rescue helicopter. Within the next minutes. Afterwards, no other will come to this forsaken wrecked place. If any of the victims have lost someone, please check the rescue cabin no.9.”

I hurried my steps.

It was a small rusted place, where there were a lot of people like us. Bruised, burned, scratched and injured. The first girl my eyes rested on was a little flower about 3 or 4 with rust-brown hair. But that wasn’t Shima. The second, gold haired. Not Shima. The other had rich black hair, the same as Shima. But when I came closer, blue eyes! Not Shima Either. My hope for her was almost lost. When I advanced further to the girl who had her face between her legs. With soft hands, I caressed the dark locks. With my first touch, she lifted her head. A dim smile she gave me and cried the word I was longing to hear from her. “Seemi!!” She cried. I did too. We all did. We came out of the cabin as the rescue guard was hurrying up everyone inside the copter.

Dust was flying around by the push of the copter wings. And the night-black was fading, giving way to the light. When a brittle breaking voice disturbed the harmony of the beginning of sad dawn. “It is straight from the central radio station. We have won the war! I repeat the life-to-death battle has ended! It will be light soon! Congratulations to all…” The signals broke but the message enunciated.

A wave of excitement and joy spread over the gloomy faces. It was then when I realized how important freedom was! Tears were running down my cheeks, but they weren’t of joy or sadness but peace! Before boarding the helicopter, I looked for the last time at the place which was once home to me.

There would be a new place and a new home. But most of all, it would be a new beginning! And I know now, "new beginnings are often disguised as painful endings!”


I am an aspiring writer from Pakistan. Started writing short stories and poems in 2016. I was an active user at StoryWars for over four years. Four of my stories were featured in the editor’s choice.

Currently studying dentistry. English is my second language.

I am interested in fine arts, history and poetry. Love the moon and horses. Enjoy spending time with my family. In my free time, I read books, paint incomprehensible art and cook new dishes.


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