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  • Writer's pictureBarry Hampshire

Extract from Chapter 12 - Syrian Rebirth

Updated: Jul 8, 2022

Rashid and his family decided to move to London. Captain Peterson, US Special Forces, made arrangements to smuggle Rashid's family out of Beirut in small groups. Rashid was the last one to leave.

After about half an hour, a passenger van pulled up alongside Rashid. Frank got out and beamed. "I didn't have anything more important on my schedule this afternoon. So, a short time ago, Captain Peterson suggested I may enjoy driving you to Tripoli. Later, I can bring the van back." They clapped each other on the back. "As you're leaving us, this'll give me one final time to question you about the English soccer leagues. Now, we should make this trip appear like Captain Peterson planned. I'll drive out of the city while you hide in the luggage area in the back. Your suitcases are on the seats in front of you. I threw in a bag with a flashlight, water, and snacks. And, lastly, if needed, you'll find an automatic behind that panel. Pull on those grips to access the opening. Got everything?"

"Yes. And several cushions for my comfort." As Rashid clambered into his quarters, he asked, "So, I'll be stuck in here for a short time?"

"Hopefully. I only need to create the impression I'm alone, running errands picking up some purchases."

They spent about an hour driving between several stores at which Frank bought various small items. After the fourth, he announced, "Alright, I reckon we're ready to head North. I'll let you out in about half an hour when I can find a stretch with no traffic."

"Great." Rashid said with enthusiasm. His confinement began to feel unnecessary.

Later, after Frank failed several times to find quiet stretches, Rashid knelt to ease a cramp. Frank checked all around him and turned his attention back to the road, before saying, "I just checked, I cannot see any traffic on the road, but there's a tractor and a couple of workers out in a field on the other side of this dry wadi. I'll wait until we go over the next rise." Rashid saw Frank turn back to the tractor before he sat back on the cushions again.

Frank yelled, "Shit."

Machine gun rounds peppered the driver's section of the van. Frank screamed as the van suddenly swerved to the right, rolling down into the wadi, crushing in the roof. Rashid was thrown around in the confined space. He hit a hard object and lost consciousness.

When he came to again, he tried to fathom why he lay in the dark. He finally determined the van lay on its flattened roof. Rashid quietly called out, "Help, is anyone out there?" Nobody responded.

The chugging sound of an engine drifted across the field, his foggy mind suspected the sound was the tractor. In his confused state, he couldn't locate the pocket with the automatic, so he found a space to hold still. The tractor stopped on the other side of the wadi. The men from the tractor cheered as they clambered over to inspect the wreckage. Several commented on all the blood dripping from the driver's side door area. A couple of them mentioned his name several times, he held very still to listen to what they said.

They wondered how Assad would reward them for killing him. They'd played their part.

Rashid heard them climb back on the tractor. As the tractor rolled across the field, more rounds of machine gun fire hit the front of the wreck. The men on the tractor shrieked with delight as they riddled the vehicle. Rashid balled himself in one corner to avoid being hit by several rounds, which penetrated his blackened space. He waited fifteen minutes after all went quiet again before he dared move. He fumbled among objects lying around him until he found the bag Frank had pointed out. Inside, he found the flashlight. With some light, he arranged everything, which shook loose in the crash, and spied through the eight-inch gap between the two sections of the rear seats. At first, he observed a lot of blood, Frank's bloodied shoulder and arm, and utter destruction. Rashid sensed his trousers binding on his leg as he crawled around. When he shone the flashlight across his legs, he found blood and ripped material. A six-inch slash down one of his calves seeped blood consistently. Rashid felt around his head with his hand, he sensed where he had hit his head and discovered blood in several areas. He suspected one arm would be well bruised. He used a piece of rag to bind up the slash on his calf to slow the bleeding.

Rashid returned to the task of escaping and pushed his arm through the gap to try to reach anything. He found nothing except shards of window glass and debris.

Wait. ... a car passing on the road? ... another one ... I wouldn't check out a still smoking wreck. Am I going to die here, alone? Nobody knows I'm here ... Fatima, I love you. Mohammed, I may soon join you ... Allah, I seek your mercy, please bring one person to help me.

In desperation, Rashid pushed his head through the gap in the backseats with the flashlight in his teeth. Frank's hand-held radio lay close to the top of a seat, but the radio lay too far away for him to grab. Pushing his right arm through the gap, he pulled several bags closer, to open them. In one bag he found what he needed, a metal hanger, which he bent to form a hook at the end of a straightened length. He practiced hooking objects before he pushed it through the gap and tried to hook the radio. On the second try, Rashid sensed he had snagged an edge. He pulled gently until he lost contact. When he checked, he found the radio had only swiveled around but not moved. After a number of frustrating tries, the radio was closer but stuck among more debris.

A few more inches. But the radio lay positioned at a bad angle... What else could he try?

Rashid rummaged through the luggage with his right hand until he felt what he hoped to find, a weighty item of clothing.

He tossed one end of the cloth toward the radio and drew it back. After a few tries, Rashid sensed the weight of the radio as he pulled it ever closer. He leaned further through the gap and retrieved the radio with his outstretched hand.

"Alhamdullila," he cried. "Allah, may it still work."

Lights glimmered on the radio when Rashid pressed the power button. He jabbed the 'Talk' button and yelled, "Help. I need assistance." Only static noise came back. Rashid checked the back of the radio. One label read, 'Emergency,' along with an arrow pointing to a small metal plate, which he pried open. In the exposed space lay a recessed red button, which he pressed. The button flashed with a slow rhythm. He waited, nothing. Rashid turned the radio over to avoid the blinking light, which illuminated his hope, his disappointment, and his despair.

Rashid fretted about his predicament. Realizing night time approached gave him no reason to think he would be rescued soon. The people who did this had known which vehicle to attack. I pray they didn't know the cars taking Fatima and Dareen to Tripoli. I should be with them by now. Surely, the alarm has been raised as I haven't arrived in Tripoli.

He arranged some contents from the luggage into one corner of his space, trying to be more comfortable. He pulled the snacks and waters out of Frank's bag to check how much he had to survive on.

Might last a few days.

Daylight began to fade. Rashid glanced again at the radio. The emergency button continued to blink slowly. He tried the 'Talk' button again, resulting only in static. Turning off the flashlight he lay among the clothing he'd pulled from the suitcases. He tried to sleep but his mind churned. He didn't dare check the time, the prospect of a long night, trapped, overwhelmed his failing spirit. Would tomorrow be another day of confinement and mind-numbing frustration?

He listened as cars drove by, he realized nobody took their foot off the accelerator. People saw, and apparently ignored, the sight of another wreck, never thinking there might be someone trapped and in need of help. He was so close to people but so hidden from them. Would he die while he lay so close to people? He drifted but wasn't sure if he was asleep or unconscious due to blood loss.

A car drove along the road and continued on. Rashid listened to the noise of the engine as the sound waned.


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