Preparations are in full swing for the fast forwarding of what appears to be an overwhelmingly large and sudden consignment of freight. Workers in the stations are connecting night with day to ensure that this perishable shipment reaches final destination overnight.
While workers are still slaving away to clear the awfully jammed premises, a truck pulls up. Pieces of freshly slaughtered meat are stacked one on top of the other, each waiting its turn to be handled urgently.
To the side, still wearing their pyjamas, a boy and girl, both no more than four years old, are placed head to toe, each waiting to be slipped into plastic sheeting. “When the workers picked the boy’s tiny body, and looked at his eyes—their unblemished lids trimmed with fine, long lashes—it looked as if he might still be asleep”.
Consignments bills are being prepared, as the final stages of labelling the shipments start:
Consignor/s, (Collective): Perpetrators of Collateral Damage, Users of Human Shields, Suicide Bombers seeking so-called Martyrdom, Establishers of the New Middle East, Those Consumed with the Arrogance of the Able, Insurgents, Wreakers of Cruelty and Injustice, etc…etc…etc…
Intermediate stop: Mass burial in graves
Contents: Freshly butchered meat of fledgling kids
Country of origin: Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Syria, etc…etc…etc…
Packaging: Bundles of plastic sheeting, tied off at each end with sticky tape, on which a name is scribbled
Names are being ticked off, as consignments are placed alongside one another at the back of a refrigerated lorry normally used to distribute stock meat from abattoirs.
Scene No. 2
Somewhere, up there, in the blue dome...
Two angels are standing guard, in front of a narrow gate, seemingly the gate of heaven, keeping the evildoers and sinners away…
Enveloped with heavy dust, some moving shadows are approaching from far…
Once within eyeshot, the shadows unfold hordes of weary kids of different ages, ranging from infancy to early adolescence. The kids seem to be moving uncharacteristically slowly, leaning on each other for support, and dragging jaded and fatigued legs. The oldest of the children are carrying infants who are wearing shorts over nappies and colourful teddy-bear vests. Some of the infants have dummies tied to blue plastic chains round their necks or pinned down to their singlets. Their smooth baby skin looks mottled and purplish with bruising. Concrete dust covers their faces and hairs.
Badly wounded, some of the kids are walking heavily with immense pain, while others are limping and sobbing inconsolably as they rub their blood-caked foreheads, or wipe, with the back of their worn little hands, trails of blood flowing from their small beautiful noses.
With their clothes torn out and their hair dishevelled, the children appear haunted with consternation and terror, as if their eyes have iced-up before a horrendous sight that must have been far beyond the comprehension of their blamelessness or seraphic innocence.
Shocked to see the dog-tired little faces, the two angels bolt hastily out to the assistance of the unannounced comers, surrounding them with enormous love and tenderness, as well as much concern.
One of the angels hastens to a huge golden trumpet, and blows sounds of alarm. The place instantly jam-packs with angels of many colours, races and genders.
The narrow gate magically widens, allowing the impeccant arrivals to pass easily through, free from the arduous atonement that adults usually undergo before being allowed in.
Not only is mercy abundant, but love and kindness also permeate them. The crying infants are lovingly calmed, the wounded are rushed hastily off, while the grieving and tired assuaged. And the place overflows with much-needed love, diffusing reassurance and restoring serenity into the dismayed little hearts. The warmth of the place encourages the children’s wondrously timid smiles, and the babies’ endearing gestures. And The blood in no time springs back to the blanched countenances of these exquisite little angels.
Having been comforted and medicated, as well as fed and cared for, the children are all taken en masse to meet a very kind and merciful man, who is dubbed the head angel.
The amiable countenance of the old man greets the children with a comforting smile, which warms their little hearts, as their mothers’ smiles would have done once.
The venerable sage of the white hair and beard descends from his lofty place and blends in within the crowd. Patting gently the shoulder of this child here, or touching tenderly the head of that one there, while kissing the cheeks of one of the babies that is delivered gently to him by one of the angels, the old man seeks acquaintanceship, eager to hear from the kids and get to know them better.
With blatant ebullience, Michael cries out, introducing himself, “I’m from Palestine”.
“Me too”, echoes Mohammed, with endearing spontaneity.
With arms flung round the shoulders of those two talkers standing on each side of him, Cohen adds, “And I’m from Israel”.
Smiling light-heartedly, the old man turns to some exuberant voices coming from behind. “And I’m from Lebanon,” Maroon shouts jubilantly. “So am I”, says Shalhoob, and Haashim follows suit.
While stroking gently Shalboob’s small head, the old man’s eyes fall upon a large gathering of kids, standing to one side; their aloof dignity strikes the old man’s heart such that it upstages the newcomers. Eyes welling with tears, they reply to the query of the old man, “We’re from Iraq”. The old man’s heart goes out to these kids, as he bestows on them no less of his love and tenderness.
He returns back then to his elevated seat, and stands for a while, surveying with immense joy and admiration, the buds of kids staring back at him with equal gratitude. And he addresses the children with a broadening smile, “What made you come back so soon my dear youngsters?” He asks them with a calm voice that failed to conceal its evident surprise, “Was it the place that you didn’t like?”
The moments of intense silence are finally broken by the sound of heartbreaking cries from one of the infants. Another infant copies, and another child follows suit, and also another, all sniffling and whimpering and weeping, as they call out loudly for their mammas.
The angels set hurriedly about, calming down the youngsters, and dispersing further love and affection.
Soothed, comforted and pacified, the gullible hearts encircle the old man, overwhelming him with numerous accounts that their artlessness breathlessly recounts.
The more the old man hears, the more his venerable face is overshadowed with grief, and also with agonizing sadness, and rage, too, which he assays hard to hide.
Privileged seemingly by his age, one of the older children begins to recount the events that had precipitated their return: “We were happy and euphoric, and we played a lot and laughed a lot. But our play was disrupted one day by some games that some grown-ups decided to play. The ground shook, and buildings fell, trees were also burnt and people hurt. Mum hugged us, my brothers and me, as we panicked. ‘Have no fear my dearest sons’, she said, ‘for these are mere fireworks. Our neighbours are celebrating the establishment of a New Middle East’ ”.
“ ‘But mum’s face was blanched with anxiety’ ”, added the young lad. “My mum’s face was blanched too,” cuts off a younger chap with such an adorable naturalness as to arouse the emotions of the honourable man. “And she shivered”, he carried on, “and dad smoked a lot, and he wouldn’t talk or joke, as before, or even laugh. His face looked depressed, and he, who shaved neatly every day, grew a long beard”.
With evident resentment, another child added, “And I wasn’t allowed to go out, or play on the road as I used to do before”.
Having heard what he heard, the old man stumbles as he attempts to reach his lofty seat. He sits down wearily, and, with evident sadness, he gazes down at the world below, engrossed in deep thinking as he strokes his white long beard. Then breaking the silence, he nods to one of the angels, “Take them all in. Make sure they are loved much, well-cared for, and allotted the best places”.
With visible pain, the old man carries on in an undertone, as if he were addressing himself, “The cruel and callous world down there is undeserving of such grace”.
Scene No. 3 takes us down there again.
The show is still underway, with mounting force … the uproar is deafening. The butchery is busy, sending more flesh and blood to the freight station. But recent loads are accompanied with big streamers of different colours and languages:
“WE ARE UTTERLY SORRY FOR THE CASUALTIES AMONG CIVILIANS”
I looked up the dictionary, trying to find a suitable word to express how I feel these days, but I failed. “Appalled” would be an understatement.
Children of Lebanon, children of Israel and Palestine and Iraq and every other inflamed spot in our demonic world:
You are far more sane and humane than we grown-ups are.
Please accept our apology for letting you down.
Ishtarria is sad, enraged, and in a state of mourning ......