Yesterday night, a man played violin in the music garden. Around him were birds in elaborate cages. They sang like wounded angels when he played. The man never opened his eyes when he played. He left his eyes closed so he could see:
The crowds that once listened to him in the garden; His parents who watched him in hushed awe so long ago; And the eyes of Assala that studied him as if she was already his.
Yesterday night, a man played violin in the music garden. There were quotes from the Quran etched into the ceramic tiles that covered the pillars. “So abstain from the pollution of the idols and abstain from false vain words.” (22:30) But the man didn’t abstain from the pollution of music. Music was his one and only heirloom from his father. The only gift he could ever give his wife. And the only pride he could bestow upon his mother.
All those people have died in the last five years. Only the music survives like the sole survivor of a dying species. His music was Lonesome George. And no one was more lonesome than Firas.
A bomb has fallen on the music garden this morning. Firas was out at the souk when it happened buying figs and dates from the shelled-out stalls. When he returned home he found the west wing of the music garden completely collapsed. And he felt as though his family mausoleum had been destroyed and he was still alive, still outside the mausoleum. He threw his hands on his head and there was no mistaking the tears that trickled down into his lips.
He didn’t want to go near it. Though he wondered about his violin. His birds. He just couldn’t make the move. It was as if the sky had fallen and all life was the inside of a volcano.
“Help, help, dear God please help!”
The voice came from the rubble. It was hoarse like a seismograph sensing a tremor. Thinking it was someone he knew, Firas ran to the rubble and started digging with his bare, shivering hands. Hands that grew white with the dust, dust that was like the ash of all his loved ones.
“Can you hear me? Hello!”
Firas removed the last of the rubble and it revealed a boy not older than fifteen lying flat, white and red like the flag of war, lying agonized, his arm broken and his face gaunt. He barely saw Firas. Firas, surprised by the boy’s youth, grabbed him from under his arms and carried him into what was left of the garden.
He gave him water from the house. The boy could hardly drink it. He spilled all over him and as the water journeyed down his neck and shoulders it cleaned the white dust and revealed the light green colours of the Syrian Army. Firas muttered curses under his breath. He brought him a pillow and put it under his head. He began to gain lucidity.
“I need a medic.” He said in a mature, sombre tone.
“There’s none here. We’ll have to wait for aid.”
“My arm’s dead. Isn’t it?”
“Yes, I think so.”
The boy was trying extremely hard not to cry. But the harder he tightened his face the more tears were pushed out. But these were tears forced out by biomechanics. Not heart-strung tears.
“What happened?” He asked with a contorted young mouth.
“A bomb fell.”
“Here? But no one is bombing the west!”
“Must have been foreigners.”
“May Allah curse them!”
“And you, what were you doing here? There is no regiment of the Syrian Army present here.”
“I, I was on break.”
Firas went away and looked for his violin. It was intact in the living room that gave out onto the garden. But his birds were killed, mangled, unrecognizable. He tried not to weep. If the boy could hold it, you could, Firas. He took up the violin and began to play the piece he had composed when his parents died. And he cried, cried not for his parents, but for his birds. His damn birds! Those innocent, oblivious companions that kept on singing even as the whole country fell apart like its very own Nuclear bomb.
His parents weren’t innocent, they supported Assad. Assala did too. The birds knew nothing. No Assad. No Daesh. No Rebels. Just songs, songs of love and desire. And now, they were silenced. As alive as guts are. Firas was falling deep into his sorrow. But then the boy shouted out:
“Shoot me, please sir, shoot me!”
Firas went over to him still holding the violin.
“Is the pain that bad?”
“It’s not the pain.” He wept truly, now. It was Firas’ violin. “I deserted. I’m a coward. A weakling. The bomb falling on me was my punishment. Finish it, finish Allah’s Will!”
“Why did you desert?”
“I wanted to go see my family. They’re in Europe somewhere. They escaped. I stayed – I promised them I would see them one day. I turned my back on my duty. For weakness.”
“I can’t shoot you. You’re a child! Besides, I’m not with the Syrian Army. I don’t care!”
“Then take me away!”
“There’s nothing left for us here. Look at your home, it is rubble. Let’s go to Turkey, let’s run away from this hell!”
A bomb has fallen on the music garden this morning. That afternoon, there was nothing left in the garden. No birds. No men. No music. Only the bloody footsteps leading into the rubble and beyond, stopping where the sun sets shadows over the shelled street.
JUSTIN FENECH is a 28 year-old writer from the Mediterranean Island of Malta. He is an author of novels, short-stories, poems and travel-writing. His young career has seen him be a finalist in the 2010 IEMed Sea of Words Competition, self-publish a debut novel Too Many Sparrows In Zaragoza, and publishing short stories in several online reviews. His writing is focused with the themes of finding meaning in a meaningless universe and how the downtrodden and oppressed find happiness in a hapless life. He is also a travel writer with a passion for the hardcore things of life.