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When home becomes the scattered limbs of your mother’s body, the screams of your sister as savages rip her apart and missiles raining fire on the streets, you will run. Feet slapping against rubble, glass, sand and the fires of hell itself. You will run and run until you’re breathless and your knees give way and then you will crawl because somewhere deep down you know home is more than just the rattle of machine guns going off instead of a wedding march.

When the ground calls out the names of your families and the wind cries for you, all your feet want to do is run back to the comfort of belonging. But you swallow your sorrows and set fire to your citizenship. As you watch the embers scatter to the four winds, you will be reminded of your people drifting aimlessly from shore to shore in search of a home. When you yearn for the welcoming arms of a mother from your country, you wrap your arms around yourself and become your own anchor.

You pray for the day the city borders open and your people find their homes.

You knew death before you knew how to smile at your mother. You had to teach yourself words of farewell before you learnt your ABCs because first it was your mother you buried, followed by your sister, your neighbour and the boy who always shared his candy on the bus. You think of the children that enter the world in silence in an act of solidarity for the dead. By the time these children turn eight, their school is one half of a building surrounded by the bones of their friends. Their playground is now a make-shift graveyard, echoing not with the laughter of carefree children but with their dying screams.

The boy who climbed trees and swung from the highest branches will sit in a room all day, unable to move his body because the last time he climbed the tree in his backyard, he saw the soldiers slaughter his family on the street. The walls of his childhood home will have bullet holes decorating them in place of crayon drawings and he will go to bed at night with nothing but the acrid smell of burning flesh to kiss him goodnight.

The little girls who saw men come in truckloads and take their fathers would cower each time the roads rumbled. Heavy footsteps make their little hearts falter because men who look so much like their fathers have abused their mothers, their sisters and their friends. The boys they admired from afar have a sharp blade poised at their jugular and they hold guns instead of a football.

Your heart will ache and your bones will shudder but you will persevere.

The first time you saw the ocean, you refused to go within five feet of the waves, the endless expanse of God’s tears causing anxiety to claw through your heart. Two months later, you heard of how the slender fingers of violence have reached even further into your home and torn out the heart. No one leaves home unless home chases you, fire under feet. The ocean is a scary expanse that will never end but your city’s bones creak in agony as she sobs for her children to leave. There are bear-traps in the form of landmines and fireworks in the form of grenades. Surely, the midnight storms and the sharks cannot be much worse.

Salt stings at the multitude of cuts that crisscross down your pockmarked body, but it is easier to ignore this pain as your eyes fall on the new Garden of Eden. Cold wind nips at you, whispering in a foreign tongue and it sounds so much like arms reaching out for you. So when the tide rushes in and pulls the flimsy vessels bursting with human life ashore, few onboard can remember how to twist their tongues and force the word marhaba out of their hoarse throats. You marvel at the soft syllables, wondering how people who only knew to voice farewell managed to find the gentleness in them for a greeting.

At this moment, it is neither the bodies left behind nor the bodies thrown out to sea that cross your mind. It is the living, breathing families beside you that remind you that you’re still alive; fragments of porcelain from Damascus and Al-Hajr Al-Aswad to Douma and Qudsaya, all molded into one conscious mass of survivors.

When faced with the lowest levels of hell, one will always choose the less painful.

You are greeted with slurs and guns aimed at your head. Shivers run down your spine as you see the same faces you saw growing up stare at you from behind the barbed wire and home feels too far away. They shove you into carriages and drive you off to more bare lands. With your heart in your throat, you wait for the girl who held back your hair as you threw up over the edge of the boat. Her screams echo through the night, mixing with the screams of a hundred others as a dozen men lurked between their legs.

You convince yourself that this is better than being back home where the ground shakes throughout the night and the screams of a thousand oppressed voices echo endlessly. But no skin is tough enough to withstand oppression after oppression. No child will know how to smile when their homes have been reduced to rubble, covering the bodies of their families under ashen dust. You may have made it onto land but home is still far away and sometimes, breathing in the dusty air laced with chemicals feels easier than this because at least you were human back there.

Being human and being humane are two entirely different things.

I understand that now as I watch you beat on relentlessly through the stormy nights and my breath catches in my throat as I see you stumble to the ground. I fear you will never push yourself back onto your feet but you do, and with that my heart soars. People make promises they never keep but I promise you this: I’ll keep pushing against the city gates so you may find your heart again, nestled safely next to mine. And with it, you’ll find home waiting for you with tears staining her cheeks. I will fight tooth and claw to see the barbed wire burned down so that you and the children behind you can light up the skies again not with the fires of destruction but with the myriad of colours that are buried deep in little graves one ocean away.

And to the men pulling the strings, I beg of you to let them in and remind yourself that they too bleed red like the rest of us.

Our hearts have grown cold; our faces are nothing more than putty in a child’s hands to twist into plastic smiles.

Let them in and let’s open our hearts to humanity. --- 

"We were both 9 when I first met her. Her indignant voice carried across the classroom and I found myself staring at her long after she'd stopped chastising. When I told my mother about the girl with the sun-kissed skin and fiery eyes who confronted a boy twice her size for not apologizing to her friend, a knowing smile spread across her face. The next day, I shared my sandwiches with her and watched as she pulled out the tomatoes and thanked me with a smile that threatened to consume all the negativity in this world. That marked the beginning of what I believed was a future of only everlasting joy.

At 10, I saw her starry midnight eyes light up as the little squirrel in the playground came searching for bits of her lunch left out specifically for him. I learnt of her avid interest for animals from the way she glared at the older boys for throwing rocks at the alley cat before running inside, furious. The next day, I found a bird that was smaller than my fist lying abandoned in the snow piled up by my gate that I took to her. The softening of her features as a smile found its way onto her lips had me grinning all week.

For her 13th birthday, I bought her the final book in the Harry Potter series and she hugged me so tight, I think I stopped breathing for a few seconds. I couldn't wait for the day she'd come rushing into class late because she was up the previous night finishing the book. The day of my birthday, she slid into her seat a minute before the bell, excitement emanating from her. She could barely sit still as she gushed about the book and how it was the epitome of perfection, earning us both detentions. The next day, she apologized sheepishly for forgetting about my birthday but I didn't really mind at all. Watching her talk with that fervid look and the hint of a laugh to her voice had been good enough a gift.

When we were 14, she told me she liked my best friend. When word got to him, he laughed at her and ridiculed her at lunch, asking her why a cow should be eating at all. I saw the hurt flash in her eyes a minute before she rushed out of the cafeteria. He saw my fist coming for him a minute too late and neither of us was in school that week. The next week, she came back with a brick wall around her and diet plans in her mind. 

Her 15th birthday rolled around and I took her out for lunch. She ordered a salad that she barely touched before pushing it away. When I asked her what she wanted, she said, 'to be small'. The conviction in her eyes shook me to the core, scaring me despite it being the first time in the past few months I'd seen any emotion there. The next day, I came across her looking at thinspo with fervor in her eyes reminiscent of the time I gave her the bird. 

When I turned 15, I called her up for old times' sake and she cried the entire night for help. I had no fallen birds or books to give her this time and I watched the girl I love merge with the grey walls and
disappear.

We were both 16 when I confronted her again because I couldn't deal with the manic obsession she had for bones. The passion I'd seen in her that made me fall in love with her at the very beginning had turned her into a living skeleton. The conviction in her eyes returned as she promised to change and a hesitant smile crossed those lips. The next day, the relief I felt clouded the frenzy creeping back in, clawing its way out with every snide remark and passing mirror. 

At 18, she was free of the cancer plaguing her mind and distorting her vision and it was  supposed to be for the both of us. At 18, I was diagnosed with a cancer in my body that eventually stole an eye.

Her 19th birthday was spent in the hospital with her twin. It was the trigger for her downward spiral into the second madness that brought us here. Cancer ran in the family, we joked on good days. First it was the cancer in her mind that made her destroy herself. Then it was the cancer in her brother that killed him. And finally, a new cancer in her mind that drove her to insanity. Her bipolar disorder was scary. She was unpredictable, reckless, even suicidal at times and my heart stopped every time I said goodbye, afraid that it would be the last time I would see her. I didn't know much about it at the time, but I knew I still loved her.

We were both 21 when I accidentally confessed to her. Maybe a little tipsy too, from the freedom of living alone that neither of us had before. That winter night outside her apartment made me want to give in to the nagging hope of a happily ever after.

She should have turned 22 in two weeks, but I'm standing at her funeral and trying to find the right words to do justice to the girl at 9 that stood up to bullies and to the girl at 10 that had a love that kept on giving to every living being and to the girl at 13 that believed in and resonated with characters as if they were her own flesh and blood. I'm trying to understand how someone with a mind once full of passion for life could turn into something so vicious and take her life." 

- An eulogy to the girl who was larger than life itself