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Syrian Rebirth - Book III - Chapter 1

As soon as Rashid answered his phone, Fatima heard Ahmed shout, “Rashid, Rashid. Turn on the TV. Any news channel. Do it now while I wait.”

Rashid stammered. “What? Ahmed, why? I need my morning coffee first.”

She heard Ahmed reply, “You won’t need coffee when you see the news.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll look. Talk to you later.” He put the phone on the coffee table.

Fatima wondered why Ahmed had bothered to phone Rashid. Ahmed and his family lived directly below her in the small block of apartments in downtown Karachi. But whatever had excited him, he had been bellowing.

        Both Rashid and Ahmed worked for the Syrian Free Council in Karachi. They joined the council a little more than three years before. Their wives, Fatima and Karima, weren’t employees, but they often sat in on discussion groups as their female opinions were seen as being necessary and very useful. The council’s office building was attached to a small block of apartments, where the Syrian members of staff lived with their families.

Intrigued by all the excitement, Fatima stopped preparing breakfast and watched her graying husband. She leaned on the counter top that separated the kitchen from the family room and looked toward the TV screen. Rashid fumbled with the remote before the screen lit up. A scene of emergency vehicles with flashing lights surrounding a junction under a freeway. Fatima called over the sounds of sirens. “Where do you think this is?”

        “Not sure.” Then the camera turned toward a group of nearby military officers. Rashid recognized the background behind the group. “It’s Damascus, on the north eastern side.”

       The commentator on the TV was saying, “.. no doubt, among those killed was President Bashar al-Assad’s son, Hafez al-Assad, the president’s driver, and maybe one more. Rumors have it that President Bashar al-Assad himself has been airlifted to hospital in critical condition.”

      Rashid spun to face Fatima as his hands shot up towards the ceiling. His feet started to dance as his body seemed incapable of staying still. Fatima rushed out of the kitchen to grab her husband. She joined his joyful outburst. They danced around, knocking over a table that sent a lamp crashing to the floor. 

Their noise caused Tahira, their daughter, to sleepily wander from her bedroom. “What’s going on. You woke me up.”

       Fatima broke loose from Rashid and grabbed her daughter to lift her up. “Oh, you’re getting too heavy to lift, even though you’re small for being 14 years old. But this is special and you deserve to dance too.”

        “So what’s going on?” demanded Tahira. “Why are you so excited?”

        “The news report says that al-Assad was seriously injured in a traffic accident in Damascus.”

       “You mean the dictator who Father and Uncle Ahmed have been fighting is hurt? Can we go home now?”

      Rashid laughed. “I’m not sure about that. We need to gather the facts and not what the press has been told to say. Firstly, we need to confirm it was the real al-Assad. He had quite a number of doubles who substituted for him at certain events.”

       Fatima asked, “Do you think Jamal or Ahmed will have any contacts who can tell us?”

      “I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m sure they’re reaching out to ascertain the real details, right now.”

     Tahira sat on the sofa, studying the TV. Deep lines crossed her forehead as she took in every word of the report. When Rashid wanted to switch to another channel, Tahira made it clear that she wanted the channel to stay where it was. Rashid put the remote down and walked into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Fatima joined him. “If this is really true, how will it change what the council’s doing, here in Karachi?”

     Rashid’s face contorted slightly. “Again, not sure. If this is true, then the next few hours may be crucial in how this all plays out.”

      Fatima took some cereal to Tahira who was still engrossed in the TV. Fatima said, “Eat up, please. You need to get going soon.”

      “But, this is important,” complained Tahira.

“Indeed it is, but school work is more important. You don’t want to be late and upset poor Mustafa, do you?”

       “No, Mother.”

      “Good girl.”

    As Fatima stood up, Rashid’s phone buzzed. She grabbed it and saw a text from Jamal, the head of the Free Syria Council where Rashid worked. She carried it back to the kitchen and offered it to Rashid. “I think your boss needs to talk.”

      Rashid smiled. “I wonder what Jamal has found out.” He scanned the message. “Well, it looks like it could be a busy day. First reports indicate it was al-Assad himself as well as one of the doubles, the driver and maybe one more. Interesting.”

       “When did it happen?”

       “I think it was about dawn, so lighting may have been a factor? I had better skip breakfast and take this coffee down to my desk.” He kissed Fatima and left the kitchen. He said goodbye to Tahira, who sat absorbed in the TV reporting.

      The report ended and the news program returned to the military standoff in eastern Ukraine and along its border with Russia. Tahira turned to Fatima. “Why can’t they keep the program on Damascus? I want to know what happened and what will happen?” Her words became choppy as she ended her sentence. Recognizing her daughter was becoming upset, Fatima walked to the sofa and sat down close to Tahira.

      She took Tahira’s hands. “Look, there are many details that are as yet unknown. We need to wait to hear what an investigation finds actually happened.”

    “I want to know. I can’t go to school unless I know.”

        “You need to focus on your school work. Everything else will become clearer in the hours and days ahead. Now, go, get dressed and pack your books.”

      “Can’t I stay here and wait?” A scowl crossed Tahira’s face.

       “No, you need to focus on your school work. The only details that will be on TV for a while will be suspicions. They are not to be trusted. I’ll keep you informed of any new facts as they are released. Okay?”

       “Thanks, Mother. I’ll get ready for school, but tell me everything that you hear.”

       Fatima and Tahira joined the other couple of mothers and students in the apartment building’s lobby, just as Mustafa parked outside. Both the mothers and students talked about the news. Nobody could believe it or begin to comprehend what such news really meant.

     Mustafa greeted the group. “Good morning to you all.” The small cadre of students shuffled forward to be close to Mustafa who was a popular member of the community. The mothers stood back, confident their children were in safe and responsible hands. The children waved as Mustafa shepherded them toward his new gleaming car.

     Afterwards, Fatima invited her best friend Karima to join her to see what the news had to say on the incident in Damascus. They brewed more coffee and Fatima sliced some leftover coffee cake. The TV report had an update, which confused both of them. Apparently, a drone had been seen flying close to the accident site at the time of the crash. It had disappeared immediately afterwards. The authorities were seeking the drone and whoever had been flying it. 

      Karima asked, “Wasn’t Rashid playing with a drone in the past? I think Nasir was helping him.”

      Frowning, Fatima replied, “I think that was what he had in the garage for a while. It was actually nice to have both Rashid and your husband Ahmed out of our way for a few evenings.” Fatima sipped her coffee. “You don’t think they had anything to do with this, do you?”

        “Do you think they’d tell us, if they did?” Karima laughed. “It’s not like what they were doing in Damascus, fighting al-Assad’s forces, directly, and not telling us.”

     “I’m sure they had nothing to do with this. Rashid is technical, but he’s not into this modern technology.”

       “Okay. I won’t say anything.” Karima took a bite of the coffee cake and frowned. “How long have you had this cake?”

      “Sorry. Is it stale? I grabbed what was at hand. I was distracted by this news. Al-Assad may die. Can you believe it?”

 

After lunch, Fatima joined several other mothers on a field trip with Tahira’s class. She felt distracted during the trip with her thoughts flitting between many scenarios about what could be happening in Syria. She tried at one time to call Rashid to hear of any updates, but he failed to pick up. After the trip, she hurried to return to the apartment, almost forgetting to say good-bye to Tahira before she returned to class.

Settled back in the apartment, Fatima turned on the TV and sat on the sofa. Her general state of nervousness caused her to feel hungry, which she decided would have to wait. But her hunger wouldn’t be quieted. She moved into the kitchen, where she could prepare a snack while watching the TV.

     News reports indicated that some journalists had heard gunfire in the area around the Presidential Palace. However, it was unclear what was happening, but one report said that one small armored unit had been seen heading toward that part of Damascus. The news was very inconclusive and frustratingly vague.

      Fatima called Rashid again, only to hear the call roll over to voicemail. Her call to Karima did the same.

Why can’t I reach anyone? Has something else occurred?

       She stood in the kitchen, trying to ignore the news report as it repeated the same storyline. Frustrated, she stormed into the family room and turned off the TV. As she dropped the remote on the coffee table, her phone rang.


Contd…


Barry D. Hampshire



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