Yesterday, as the war finished its first day, we became refugees. The fires, air raids, bullets, and bombardment ruined many homes and burned many crop fields. They drove us away in the middle of the night like a nation of terrified deer. We all knew that someone wanted us dead yesterday. So we ran to the caves and then through the fields that would take us to the second day, and to a road through which we could cross to safety in a neighboring country.
But the road was empty except for the fierce June sun that pierced my face. I asked that I sit. My father instructed that I must remain standing and ready to run. But my feet had gotten bruised from running without shoes yesterday, and I could not stand. When the sun centered in the sky and my noon shadow pooled like the blood of a butchered animal below me, I fell to the ground, asleep. Mother, who hovered over while holding my infant sister to her chest, and my two brothers frantically shook me and pinched my cheeks until I woke up again.
"No one can carry you," Dad explained as he skinned off a piece of cucumber and rubbed it on my face to further awaken me. He had carried the cucumber to replace water at Mother's urging last night.
"Do you really think it can replace water?" he had exclaimed in the darkness before we fled. 'il imagine so," she had replied.
"Imagine" was Mother's favorite word. In Arabic, she would say Batkhayyal, which also meant "to see the shadow of a thought," as if one is separated from it by a thin cloth. Mother seemed to dwell behind this veil, gaze through it, and long for uniting with its other side. Mother could imagine solutions to many problems and would pop them out of her mouth with the ease I popped my Bazooka chewing gum.
Now, standing only one step away from my mother, I could see that she had slipped into the other side and the door was shut behind her. My heart pounded at the barrier and begged that she come out and see me. But her gaze only floated afar on the horizon. When she finally spoke, the words were not directed at me.
"I hear something in the distance," she said quietly, as if not to disturb the spider-thread perception connecting the sound to her ear, "perhaps an engine."
A fierce look covered my father's face. He closed his eyes, cupped his ears, and opened his mouth, as if to swallow the sound upon capturing it. He asked us all to listen; then he instructed that we hold hands and run behind him.
If it's a vehicle, I will stop it no matter what that takes," my father vowed.
At the center of the road, Dad flung his arms across his chest. He was ready to embrace a broad destiny. He wailed after the men to join him, and many answered. Dad and the men huddled and, like magnets, stuck to one another's bodies. They formed a tight,knot barrier. Terror was the mortar that held them together. Their heads faced to the inside, and they looked into one another's eyes to fill each other with courage. Everyone seemed to understand the strategy, and in no time other men formed new knots along the road. The noise now became increasingly louder, its diesel hum madly goading everyone's desperate hopes and deepest worries.
People spoke words of solid anger as they fought to get closer to the road. They pushed and propelled one another in every direction, like marble balls in a child's play. My brothers and I knew to plant our bodies where we could see our dad: We were a compass needle, and he was our North. Our mother, a tall and astonishingly strong woman who relied on her hands more than she ever relied on words, was always behind us and making certain we stood ahead of the crowd.
It was a white water tanker that emerged from the silver spot on the horizon. People cried out to God in gratitude and jumped high in the air as if to deliver the words. But the tanker increased its speed as it approached a group of men that blocked the road. They all dashed to the side at the last moment, and the tanker went through like a comb parting hair.
The tanker then came closer to Dad and the barricade of men that formed with him. The men raised their voices and
promised that the tanker would not go through. They chanted that God is mightiest. They asked for His help, which seemed to be as near as the end of the heart-wrenching screech that brought the tanker to a stop. Dad dropped to the ground in immediate prayer; the men formed a circle to protect him.
Quickly, people stuck themselves to the tanker like ants on an abandoned candy bar. Men climbed on the tank. Women, almost all of them carrying children, cried as it was apparent that the tanker could not transport all of us. Mother instructed that my brothers and I must respond to all of her directions at a bullet's speed. The three of us, who had become more like soldiers than children that day, nodded our heads in compliance.
The directions were given upon hearing Dad's voice, which came to us shredded by noises. But Mother could understand every word. Dad was asking us to move closer to the tanker's door. Mother immediately commanded that my brothers climb up the tanker, find a way to fling their bodies on the windshield, and block the driver's view. She then pulled me up by the arm and ordered that I squeeze myself among the bodies or, if I must, seep through them like water, but get myself to stand on the doorstep of the tanker, hold its handle, and not let go. She said she would be right behind me and watch each of my steps.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Shattered by Jennifer Armstrong. Copyright © 2002 by Jennifer Armstrong. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.