Qualified Entry: Non-Fiction Category
By: Hannah Anokye
Drops of rain pour down the landscape like tears. They drench the ground, soaking into stains that cry sin. My people lie cold and forgotten on the ground. My city has fallen, but my tears have stopped.
We used to have peace. I remember running through the narrow streets with my friend Fahran and chasing the town dogs. Ma would call out “Ajmal!” in her lovely soprano voice. Ma used to sing. She sang the Pashtu lullaby to me before I went to bed every night to keep away bad dreams. Her voice was lovely, though she sang sad words. She sang of war, death, and Allah. She knew what was to come, and to a certain extent, we all did. But, we kept on living in peace. I went to school and played, Mamma cooked and sang, and Baba worked. Baba was a simple and pious man. He believed that all things happen for a reason according to God. What then, was God’s reason for what happened next?
“Hey mom, pass the peanut butter.”
“Again, Jim? I thought we were over this. Stop eating in your room.”
“Fine Mom, whatever.”
I sneak away with the jar in my hands and smuggle it into my room. Once there, I suck in a deep breath and look around. Empty milk cartons, old sandwiches, and candy wrappers litter the floor. There was a when time this sight would have unnerved me. I would have scrambled about and snatched up the debris before my brothers could come home to see the mess. This room was once the center of my life. After a hard day at school, I would crash into the bedroom that I shared with my two brothers, Sam and Alec. They were much older than I, but still my best friends. We pranked each other, laughed with each other, and supported each other.
My brothers were my role models. Sam was a basketball player. He had his whole life ahead of him, could’ve played professional ball. Alec had a girlfriend, and a successful career, could’ve had a great life. My brothers were robbed of their chances to make an impact on the world. It’s amazing how one event can change lives forever.
Three years from this day, everything shattered around me. Bullets showered from above, finding targets on everything in sight: my brother’s legs, my father’s eyes, my mother’s chest. Life froze, cracked and shattered.
It was a sunny Friday afternoon. My family and I had just returned from the Mosque where we recited our traditional noonday prayer. My sister, then five years old, skipped a few paces ahead of us and into our home. I ran behind her, kicked the sand out from my sandals, and sped into my room. I was extremely excited because my twelfth birthday was approaching, and my father told me that I was becoming more mature and trustworthy. He said with trust comes responsibility, so he put me in charge of tidying up the children’s rooms. It was there, while sorting my sister’s toys into a pile, that I heard it all. First there was the noise. Just outside of the wall that I was leaning on, I felt loud, violent bangs. Then I heard strange voices. They were alien-like with high inflections and meaningless tones. I sat huddled in a corner gripping my sister’s doll to my chest. Then there was an eerie hush. The silence took over and expanded through my ears and around my body. I felt as if I were glued to my spot for eternity; I felt dead. Sounds of rain, screaming, shouting, and crying filled my ears. “Ajmal! Ajmal! Ajma—“ Ma’s hoarse voice ripped through the pandemonium searching for me. I could not move; I was frozen. I sat and prayed to Allah, my only hope.
The rising sun and the sound of my mother’s voice woke me abruptly. My little brothers clung to her dress that was painted with red, and her face covered in scratches. At first I thought we were dead, but then she spoke to me with a whisper of a voice.
“Ajmal, wake up. Stop crying, Ajmal, I am here. Come with me; we will be safe.”
Her voice was not the same. Its loveliness was stripped away, exposing the truth of the words she used to sing to me. I could not bear to look at my mother so hurt, so as we crept to safety, I kept my eyes forward. Once we made it to safety, a run-down tent in the middle of nowhere, Ma explained to my brothers and me everything that had happened the previous day. The loud noises: bullets. The alien tongue: English. The silence: Death. She told me that my sister, my little baby sister Husna had been hurt yesterday, and passed away just before morning. She told me that my father, hardworking Baba, died yesterday while trying to protect our threshold. My family’s innocent blood lay strewn on the path between the Mosque and our home.
I remember the events of four years past as if it had happened just yesterday:
“Hey Jim, pass me the peanut butter. I’m running a bit late today, so I’ll have to whip up a quick bagged lunch.”
My brother Alec was heading off to his new job location. We were all so excited for him because this day could change his life forever. His new location was in the north tower of the World Trade Center.
“Ok Alec. Cool with me. Here, let me help you with that.”
As I smoothed the peanut butter onto the freshly cut white bread, just like he liked it, I examined my older brother. He was 21, almost ten years older than I, and fresh out of college. With his smooth cheekbones and dark hair, he was also a favorite among females, though he was in a serious relationship with his girlfriend Felicia. I truly looked up to him.
Then he went to work, and I went to school just like every other day. And like every other day, I sat in the back of my sixth grade math class tossing paper balls while the teacher wasn’t looking. Then, halfway through third period, the principal’s voice sounded over the intercom, announcing that tragedy had struck the twin towers, the very same twin towers that my brother worked in. I could not believe what I was hearing. All at once things started to change. The intercom went dead, and for a split second, all was quiet. Afterwards, the murmurs started: people voicing their anxiety, and dialing the numbers of their loved ones. I frantically dialed Alec’s number. 1718-546-1263. No answer. 1718-546-1263. Voicemail. I didn’t know what to do. The rest of the day went by in a blur, but somehow I found myself at home. There, my family crowded around the television and telephone awaiting more information. There was a mixture of hope and despair etched into my mother and brother’s faces, but as the day went on and there was no word from Alec, the hope receded and gave way to despair.
The phone finally rang, its noise reverberating through our chests and quickening our heartbeats. Neither my brother nor mother could reach for the phone, so I picked it up. It was Felicia. I could hear the sobs thick in her voice as she informed us that she received a phone call earlier that day about Alec. Alec had been in the North Tower when the plane hit, but he was only on the 10th floor. He managed to get out of the tower, but later that day, the plumes of smoke coming from the collapsed tower suffocated him. They had just found his body.
I was the one to relay the message to my family, and I was the one to witness the immediate change in our family dynamic. Sam became more serious, and a neutral demeanor replaced the familiar grin on his face. My mother became a worrywart and started paying attention to my every move, never wanting to have to wake up knowing that two of her sons were killed. Regardless of her efforts, we lost Sam to the war almost two years ago, at the start of the war. It seemed as though from the moment we found out about Alec’s death, Sam had been emotionally training for retribution. Now it’s just mom and I, going through the motions, but not truly living.
Every day we live with the knowledge that they killed my brothers: Them, those people who don’t know us but hate us anyway. And so, we have no choice but to hate them right back.
They did this to my country. They killed my father, my sister, and eventually my mother. Now all that remains of my family is my younger brothers and I, and I must protect them at all costs. Yesterday, a man came into our hut and found me lying in a heap of rags. He yanked me by my shoulder and pulled me aside. At first, I could only smell his staunch breath full of smoke and see his gun sticking out of his hip. Then I heard the words that were coming out of his mouth. He spoke roughly and quickly about the war and who “they” are. They are the Americans. They are the ones who Allah needs us to eradicate. They take our land, and kill our people, our family. This man offered me five dollars. He said, five dollars or your family. To me, it was more like five dollars for your family. I need to protect my family at all costs, and joining this war seems the best way possible. I’d much rather die serving my country and Allah, than to die crouching in a corner on stinking rags. I will join this war to protect my family and to serve a God who has forsaken me, but who I have put all faith into anyway. Praise Allah.
My years of grief have evolved into something new, something larger. It is buried inside of me, creating a huge black mass in the center of my being. This mass is urging me to join the war, to protect my remaining family and my country, and to take matters into my own hands. I must do this for myself and for the United States of America. In God We Trust.