The airstrikes startle her awake just after 5 a.m. Sedrat stumbles across the bedroom she shares with her younger sister and crawls towards the half-boarded window. She can make out little in the darkness, but from the sounds she can gauge that the blast struck several blocks east. There are no red lights swirling in the sky, so no immediate danger.
Living in the war zone that has become her hometown of Aleppo, Sedrat has gotten used to figuring out how close the bombs are falling.
Sedrat’s sister, 8-year-old Salma, is rocking back and forth with her fingers in her ears, singing a lullaby to drown out her brother’s cries. From the neighbouring room, mother and father shush and comfort 4-year-old Abdullah. No longer in diapers, he has wet his bed in fear and is now crying unconsolably.
The eldest of the three children, 11-year-old Sedrat sets off to the kitchen to pour some water, drawn from the neighbourhood outlet. No one will be going back to sleep anytime soon. It’s the third time they’ve woken this way this week.
In the twilight, Sedrat pours the water for her family from their last plastic bottle, catching a glimpse of the sunrise through the kitchen window. She watches each fluted beam of light stream through the cracks in the crumbling apartment complex across the street. A beautiful sight, in its own way.
Sedrat brings the cups to her brother and sister first, who are drying their tears. Her mother and father stare at each other stoically. Something feels different this morning. An unusual anger inflames her mother’s eyes.
“We leave today!” she announces suddenly.
The children look at one another in disbelief. Where will they go? Although Sedrat has felt trapped in her apartment, the idea of leaving the only home she has ever known is overwhelming. It has also been their sanctuary and she can’t imagine feeling safe out there.
She barely has time to absorb the news as her parents scurry about, gathering essentials and stuffing them into the packed bags under their bed.
“There is no room for toys,” their father barks at Salma, who is collecting her dolls. Her parents then hoist two large backpacks onto their shoulders and hand Sedrat a smaller one loaded with food and a small water bottle.
Hurrying the children out the door, Seba stops to pluck two family portraits from frames on the wall. She tucks them into a pocket and sheds a tear as she closes the front door, for what they all know is surely the last time.
Jen Ross is a Chilean-Canadian writer/editor with hundreds of published articles and more than 15 years working for the United Nations. In 2016, she relocated to her husband’s country and took some time off to write fiction. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Guernica; her poetry in The Poet Magazine; her novella was published in the Everlast anthology by Dragon Soul Press; and she has a short story forthcoming in The Global Youth Review.Website: http://jen-ross.com