By Megan Bekkedahl
As I walked down the long dirt path that led to the local market, I couldn’t help but smile. My sister and I met every Wednesday morning for our weekly shopping trip and it was always the highlight of my week. Between endless chores and a demanding husband, there wasn’t much else.
The hem of my long, flowing burqa caught my right foot and I stumbled to the ground. I stood and brushed the sand from my dark blue garments, cursing them under my breath. How I wished I could be free of them. I longed to be uncovered; to feel the sunlight on my bare, olive skin and the gentle breeze through my long, black hair. It was something so natural, yet so forbidden.
The market came into view as I reached the top of the hill. That’s when I saw her. Ara was sitting on a bench in front of the fruit stand that was to be our meeting place. Only her black eyes were visible, peeking out from under a veil of deep purple. She waved as she saw me approaching. I’m sure she was smiling as I was, but I suppose I’ll never know.
With a deafening bang, there was a blinding flash of white and I found myself flat on my back. Stunned, I tried to catch my breath. When it finally came, it brought the smell of smoke and ash pouring into my lungs. I sat up, coughing violently. I looked on in horror as the fireball that engulfed the market raged on. People were screaming and running in all directions and still more lay motionless in puddles of crimson. Before I could comprehend what was happening, a strong pair of arms hoisted me into the air. I turned to see a blond man. He was young and his light blue eyes twinkled against the soot that covered his white face. He was American. My mind raced as I thought of the fate that awaited me. Surely, I would be spared from death and made into a slave since I was a woman. That would be a whole new kind of misery. The soldier carried me away from the crumbling buildings and dropped me gently in the shade of a large Truck. He spoke as he handed me a bottle of cool, clean water. I couldn’t understand his words but they were gentle and his smile was sympathetic. He squeezed my shoulder and ran off toward the burning wreckage. I watched him carry a man to the shade I occupied. He gave him water and smiled his kind smile. I couldn’t take my eyes off him as he ran back and forth, carrying my countrymen away from danger.
When I finally did break my gaze, I noticed there were more like him. These strangers, clad in gear and guns, were all around us. My fear faded into hope as I thought of Ara. The Americans were not here to capture us. Instead, they were bandaging and tending to the injured and I prayed they would be able to help her too.
I climbed to my feet and searched for Ara under a black, smoke filled sky. The sounds of people crying for help rang through my ears and the sight of blood and mangled bodies invaded my eyes. Tears soaked my veil as I forced myself to keep looking. As I wandered through the haze of chaos, I stepped on something small that squished beneath my foot. I looked down and my heart stopped. It was a hand. A dainty, female hand that wore Ara’s blue lapis ring.