“So you’re telling me that olives can protect you from evil?” asked Jassim, his tone revealing his disbelief. Maryam nodded her head vigorously. “That’s what Grandmother used to say, wasn’t it? She said that if there was an olive tree outside our house, angels would guard us from all harm. And that whenever we were frightened, all we had to do was hold a handful of olives in our right hand. You heard her say all this, didn’t you?”
Jassim merely chuckled, and said nothing. He was smart enough not to believe in such stories. After all, he was almost 13 years old…
“Jassim, go and water the olive tree,” Jassim’s mother said, as she combed Maryam’s hair. Jassim looked irritated. “Why should I water the tree? Cant Maryam water it herself?”
“Jassim, don’t argue. You need to go to the grocery after this. I want you to water the tree immediately.”
Jassim hated watering the tree. It couldn’t technically be called an olive tree, since it was barely as tall as Jassim, and definitely much weaker. Yet, ever since his Grandmother had told them about the story of Olives, Jassim was asked to water the Olive tree. He secretly suspected it was all done just to please Maryam.
It was a sunny, yet cool December morning, and the village where Jassim lived, just on the outskirts of Gaza, looked picturesque. After filling the heavy bucket, Jassim walked towards the olive tree, and was about to start watering it, when he heard odd noises.
Jassim was too young to recognize the sound of an attack helicopter. But as he looked up towards the sky, he saw the imposing mechanical war machine advance towards him. And instinctively, the bucket dropped from his hand.
The water spilled, forming a puddle around the olive tree. Suddenly, there was a loud explosion, and a moment later, the spilled water turned blood red. As the helicopter passed by, Jassim’s uncle ran out of the house, yelling at the top of the voice.
Maryam’s mother dashed towards the window, fear instantly reflected on her face. Thankfully, Maryam was too short to reach the window. She didn’t see her brother lying on the ground, next to the olive tree, blood gushing from his body…
Jassim had never slept so peacefully before. As he opened his eyes again, he felt the soft blanket beneath his body, and immediately realized that he wasn’t lying in his bed.
“Where am I?” he cried out, and looked around. Sitting a few meters from his bed was his mother, her cheeks streaming with tears. A man dressed in white stood over him. For some reason, his smile felt comforting.
“Assalamu Alaikum, Jassim! You’re a very brave boy, do you know that?” Doctor Khalid said.
“Why? What happened?”
“You survived a great explosion. And due to God’s grace, you’re safe. Of course, you’re head must still be paining,” he added, as he saw Jassim touch his forehead.
Jassim fell silent, and merely looked around him. “Where’s Maryam?” he finally asked.
“Ah, Maryam’s fine. In fact, she must be waiting to see you, Jassim. But you’ll have to rest now. You’re in Qatar now, Jassim. Once you’re healthy again, we’ll take you to see you’re sister again. Okay?”
A few minutes later, once his mother had kissed him profusely and thanked God for his mercy, everyone left the room. Jassim slowly drifted off to sleep. He dreamt of returning to his house. Of seeing Maryam again. After all, he had to tell her about how the Olive tree saved his life…
One evening after seeing Jassim fall asleep, Doctor Khalid returned to the Cafeteria. His friend Dr. Thomas was waiting for him.
“How’s the Gaza boy doing?” Dr. Thomas asked.
“He’s doing fine. It’s Gaza that’s in trouble, isn’t it?” Doctor Khalid replied bitterly. Overhead, the television carried images of dead and wounded Palestinians. A small scroller mechanically updated the death toll.
“It’s horrible, the way things are turning out. What about Jassim’s family?”
“His mother and father are here. They’ll be staying until Jassim is completely fit again. Then, I guess they’ll have to return to their village. Or at least what’s left of it….”
“Doctor, when will I be able to return home?” he asked, when the doctor had come for a routine check up.
“Soon, Jassim. Within a few days.”
“Then, could I send a letter?”
Doctor stopped reading his pad, and looked at the 13 year old boy. “A letter? To whom?”
“To my sister Maryam. She must be worried about me. I just want to let her know everything’s fine. So could I send the letter?”
“Why not. I mean, sure. You can write the letter today. And we’ll send it by tomorrow morning, okay?”
As he walked away, Doctor Khalid felt worried. He didn’t know Jassim had a sister. He wondered what happened to her…
Yves Martin, a Red Cross worker, surveyed the town of Al Mughraqa, his face showing signs of sorrow and pain. The destruction was unimaginable, to say the least. In front of his eyes, lay disseminated buildings, fallen electricity poles, and worst of all, limp corpses.
“Jesus Christ!” Yves whispered, as he set out to clear the dead bodies. He reached the rubles of what once used to be a home, and began searching for corpses. As he sifted through the stones and steel, something caught his eye.
Doctor Khalid shook Jassim’s hand, and gave him a warm hug. “It was a joy to have you here, Jassim. May you grow up to be a smart, wonderful man. Take care now. And take care of your mother.”
“I will,” Jassim said solemnly, nodding his head. And then, after a pause, he asked. “Doctor, did you send the letter which I gave you, to my sister?”
“Yes Jassim, I made sure it was sent. Why do you ask?”
“Nothing. She didn’t reply for all these days. I thought she hadn’t got the letter. But now if she has, then…”
Doctor Khalid smiled. “Don’t worry, Jassim. You’ll see her soon. There won’t be any need for a letter.”
After Jassim’s parents had thanked the Doctor and nursing staff, the car left Hamad Medical Hospital. As he saw the car make its way out of the hospital compound, a question entered Doctor Khalid’s mind.
“Nurse, why did you give Jassim those olives?”
“Oh, that!” the nurse smiled, “well, it seems Jassim’s grandmother told him that olives will bring protection from harm and evil. Ever since he was saved from the explosion, Jassim’s believed in the story of the olives. It sounds a little silly, but after all, he’s just a child.”
Doctor Khalid smiled melancholically. “No, it doesn’t sound silly. The olives symbolize protection from harm. It’s a source of hope for Jassim. And when he returns to Gaza, he’ll need a lot of that. Hope. Hope and faith.”
I felt so happy when I read your letter. Thank God, you’re alright. I and Uncle Basheer were praying for your health for all these days. When will you return home? I’m waiting to see you, brother. It’s terrifying here, with all the bombs and helicopters. Uncle Basheer says there’s nothing to worry about, but I see him pray for our safety, late at night. I’ve been saying all the prayers which Father taught us. And whenever I get very scared, I hold a handful of olives. Remember what Grandmother told us? Hope to see you and Mother and Father soon.
Yves finished reading the letter. His eyes fell on the body which lay limp beneath the ruble. As he slowly pushed away the debris, he caught a glimpse of the girl’s clenched right fist. He opened the fist slowly. What he saw brought tears to his eyes. Maryam had a handful of olives in her hand. Just before the bomb landed on her house…
[This story won First Place in a Short Story Competition held by Qatar Cultural Centre recently. The theme was "Sufferings of the People of Gaza". Please let me know your opinion on the story. And yes, please rate the story, if you're not going to comment...]
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