Another bomb explosion, I realize as I feed my son the last piece of bread. Hiding underground is going to get harder, I think to myself. Do I stay here and die or go out there and risk dying? I’m lost in my thoughts when I hear Tyler say, “Dad, can we play a game?” I reply that of course we can. As I count to three and open my eyes, I know this is now or never.
“We’ve never played this game before. Did you make it up?” Tyler asks as I help him climb up our little headquarters. I know that we can no longer stay here; it’s just not safe. This doesn’t make it any easier, though.
“I want to try something new, Ty,” I say as nonchalantly as possible. I kneel down to face him, knowing this could perhaps be our last time together. “Now remember, our mission is to cross the field without getting hit. You can do that, you’re my brave soldier.” Tyler confirms excitedly and I give him a tight squeeze before pushing the tile up, exposing the raw battlefield. It is complete mayhem; there is blood everywhere. Bodies lay down on the ground with their weapons untouched. I see tankers coming from afar and quickly nudge Tyler to move faster. Cries of help fill the air, winces and groans are persistent. The air is foggy, I can hardly see anything. We stealth across and my body freezes as I hear a gun load on my head.
“Who are you?” an armored man asks with contempt. I cannot risk exposing my identity, they would chop my head off there and then. I feel Tyler creep behind my legs. I panic.
“I’m a person who only wants to protect his son. Please let us go.”
“Where did you come from?” I see him investigate my body and my heart beats faster and harder; if he sees the tattoo on my am, he’ll figure out I’m a refugee. Before I can even think, my fist collides against his face – I carry Tyler and bolt forward, never looking back. There is a fence far ahead. If I can make it there, I am safe. Tyler is safe. That is what I’m thinking when I fall upside down into a ditch – not now, I say to myself and I hear Tyler whine in pain, do not stop now.
“Dad, I’m scared. I don’t think I like this game.”
“No, no, son this is just a little detour. You see that wire fence over there? We make it there and we win.”
“What will we win?”
“A huge reward. Now, I need you to be strong, young man. Whatever happens just don’t stop running.” I see him nod as we fire along in midst of war. The fence is becoming larger and I feel a slight relief.
Suddenly I hear a siren. My heart sinks when I realize that’s the siren of surrender. My mind races but I keep running. I can’t stop, I won’t stop. My eyes blink faster as I begin to see the glass shed moving down to barricade the fence. “Run, Tyler. Before the shed closes, we have to make it,” I scream with all might. It is chaos. I can hear defense vehicles moving away, the firing has stopped.
The war is over.
But my war has just begun. We reach the fence and I throw Tyler across. He holds out a hand and as I try to reach it, I trip. The shed is inches away – I hear Tyler shout: “Dad! Dad, get up!”
I see it then. I see the look on his face. I see the horror he feels and remember how I’d move oceans to restore a smile on his face. They can do anything to me but I won’t let them hurt my son. I crawl as fast as my body allows me and the shed closes on my legs. I wince; it is painful, it is intolerable. I try to squeeze through…it doesn’t work. Then I feel a weight pulling on my opposite side: Tyler. He falls as he pulls me towards him.
“Oh my boy, my brave soldier.” I envelope him in my arms, scared to ever let go. We stand up and see a barren field, the smell of dry blood and smoke hovers over our noses. I locate airplanes flying overhead. At least we made it out alive, at least we made it out of that warzone.
“Is it over, dad?” Have we won?” I take his hand to support myself and whisper yes. In my heart, I know this is just the beginning.