Becalmed, the wide rubber raft floated aimlessly on the choppy waters, far from any sort of assistance. Huddled and shivering, refugees and migrants from a plethora of regions rubbed their hands and bodies. Mothers swaddled their children around their own meagre coats, while the irascible captain yelled and cursed at the steaming motor at the back. Holding his walkie-talkie close to his heart like a keepsake, he barked at his accomplices back in their base, demanding to know why his rescue boat had not arrived. Crackling voices responded, urging him to stay calm and wait.
“Hey, Mr Syria!” Yelled a young man, with deep dark skin like a killer whale and piercing eyes; the whiteness shone like the moon in the night. “We have some time. And we hear you can tell some stories….”
Suddenly, a figure turned to the young man and his shivering group of friends, who stared at him expectantly. Behind them, the darkness of the sky and the waters merged to make it seem as if there was no such thing as earth. The figure looked across the group. His body looked like the frame of a boy, perhaps twelve, but his face seemed otherwise. His olive skin was smooth, but his eyes and the scars around his face appeared as if he had lived and fought in the Trojan wars.
“Tell us a story Mr Syria… Help us to forget…” Repeated the same young man.
The stranger inhaled the sea air and took a long deep breath. His audience, which now seemed like the whole boat, hushed and settled. Even the smuggler understood what was going on, and half-listened to his walkie-talkie for any updates and kept an ear to this guy’s story.
The man-boy began.
“Bilal was just a boy in 2019, who had grown up in the war. When he was just a toddler, one of Asad’s snipers shot his father from above, as the families tried to escape through the deserted streets of Halab. The bullet pierced through his father’s heart and back and skimmed Bilal’s temple, leaving a scar. Bilal survived. His father died right there on the ground. When he was around five, Bilal crawled through a mortar hole at the back of an IS house and wandered the plains. His mother had just been raped and killed by an IS monster- she would not prostitute herself for him. Bilal survived again. As quiet as a mouse, he crept along the wastelands, unwittingly venturing into a US base. A female doctor found and took him to their medical room. But while she was away, a US soldier, with an unhealthy desire for children, took Bilal away and hid him in a shed near the base. He was going to come back for Bilal later. Although he was just a little boy, Bilal could see the redness in the soldier’s eyes and realised he was a bad man. Unbeknown to the soldier, Bilal dug a little hole in the ground, using a shovel, and squeezed out of the shed. In the morning, the soldier returned, hiding sweets and lubricants in his pockets. But the shed was empty and Bilal was long gone.”
“Is there going to be any happiness in this story?” Enquired a woman at the back, cradling her dear child, while the waters plummeted below them.
“Yes and no.” Replied the man-boy. “Okay. Well, with regard to the soldier in the empty shed, he started cursing and spitting on the spot and punched the side of the shed. What he didn’t realise was that there an exposed nail there and his fist got stuck on the wall!”
A chorus of laughter echoed and reverberated with the flowing waters. He continued.
“So where did Bilal turn up to next? Well, he was lucky. Some poor Bedouins, who were preparing to go to the camps in Jordan, took him in and fed him. The mother of the tribe took pity on Bilal and threw him into her sling, while she gathered their meagre clothes and wares and began the long walk to the border.
Now Bilal was staring up at the beautiful sky, swinging on the back of this wondrous matriarch, who recited verses from the Quran with a rough and haunting beauty and then she shifted to singing the folk songs of her tribe. Bilal listened to her solid, sea-like beating heart and fell asleep in a truly innocent state of bliss.
But then he awoke, the mood had changed. Now the tribe and the other refugees were standing in a vast tent, flanked by severe looking men, carrying Kalashnikovs and staring like hyaenas at the young women. It was a NUSRA squad. They had attacked a regiment of Syrian soldiers on reconnaissance and were looking for more potential fodder in the area.
The tribe was kidnapped and taken to a NUSRA stronghold. The chief of the tribe was executed for non-cooperation and the women taken as concubines or third wives, depending on their looks. Now Bilal was snatched from his old carer and taken to a cell, where there were two women. A teenage girl who was forced to tend to Bilal, feeding him and cleaning his face. But there was also an old woman, hidden in the shadows in the corner of the cell.
Bilal was still just a five-year-old boy. He was ever so quiet and ever so stern. While the girl spoke to him sweetly and wiped his muddy face, from the shadows, the mirror-like eyes of the old woman shone and reflected.
“Indeed, indeed….” The old woman’s voice rose and fell as she looked at the child. “Yes… Yes… Indeed… Indeed….”
“What is wrong?” The young girl replied.
Bilal looked ahead. He was only five years old but an ocean was growing in him.
“Bring him here for a second my girl, bring him here…”
The girl took Bilal along to the corner where the old woman rested and gazed into Bilal’s face and eyes.
“Hmmmm…. Yes…!” She laughed and smiled. She caressed Bilal’s face and took his hand and kissed it, like she was a dervish and Bilal was a spiritual guide.
She looked into his eyes and face for a long while then spoke: “My dear boy. When it happens, when it all comes up, when it all arises, let it flow like a flood covering the whole earth!”
“Are you mad, old woman?” Replied the girl.
The old woman ignored the comment and continued. “When it happens, be like the flood my boy, be like the flood…” Then the old woman retreated and went silent. You couldn’t even hear her breaths.
The ocean grew inside of Bilal. He was just a little boy, half the size of the girl, malnourished, mistreated, full of misfortunes for a whole lifetime. The ocean grew.
While the unseen ocean filled Bilal, outside the NUSRA base, a team of US special forces were hiding and preparing to attack.
The group leader whispered a reminder. “Remember: we take the target and neutralise everything else…”
“What about the women and children in there?” Asked another soldier to his side.
“Why? You feelin’ horny, brother?” Joked another soldier.
“Okay. Enough of that. Stay focussed. We neutralise everything. No witnesses.” Said the group leader decisively.
In the cell, next to Bilal’s, a Mosad mole dressed as an IS fighter was being manhandled by two NUSRA men. One held a knife to his throat while the other held him from behind.
“So you tell us where the tunnel entrance is… And we’ll kill you quickly here…. We can’t keep you here much longer…”
The fake IS guy tasted the blood from his lips and felt the blade tickle his throat. He tried to remember his training: “I told you… I can’t remember….”
“Okay…” Said the lead guy. And he signalled to his colleague, who threw the guy on the floor. “So be it. This is what is going to happen next.” The NUSRA man spoke menacingly to guy on the floor. “First, me and my friend here are going to pleasure ourselves with the old woman and girl next door. First you had your fun with them, when they were your house women. Now we will. Then, we will come back and teach you the meaning of the pain.”
The fake IS guy spat blood on the floor. “I never touched that dirty, old woman, you dog. She is probably your mother anyway…” At this, the lead guy booted the prisoner in the stomach, winding him. “See you soon my friend.”
On the large dinghy in the ocean, the same woman from the back of the boat spoke up again: “This story is too much for me. I am going to sleep…”
The man-boy looked at the rest of audience: “Shall I carry on?”
“Yes, indeed, indeed.” They echoed.
So, he continued.
“You will not believe this. But on the other side of the NUSRA compound, there was a regiment of Syrian special forces and Russian military. They also wanted to the Mosad mole because knowledge of the tunnel would give them the key to securing the whole area.
The Russian leader and the Syrians edged up to the perimeter fence.
“Remember: there may be Americans there. Be ready and be aware. We take the mole and then the drones do the rest.” The Syrian army team nodded in assent. Some of them whispered to each other: “But they promised us we could take the women and children…” The leader hushed them all.
“Ready?” The Russian lead whispered to the group and spoke into his microphone to the base.
Simultaneously, the US lead also signalled to his troops and base that the attack would begin at any moment.
And just then, the two NUSRA dogs entered the cell where Bilal was and held the poor girl against the wall. The old woman was still in the shadows. The lead guy had her pinned up and was hoisting up her skirt. His accomplice looked on, smiling.
What neither of these men knew was that the ocean had now filled Bilal completely and he could not withhold it. The ocean, fathomless, shoreless, limitless, stateless, flowed through Bilal’s little body and it drowned all his young sorrow, and pain, and suffering, and lost innocence. The ocean had taken Bilal and now Bilal could not hold it back.
The NUSRA fiend had now hitched up the terrified girl’s skirt when suddenly, he was thrown like a rag doll across the cell and he lay dead, in a crumpled ruin of broken bones and limbs on the floor. The girl stood there in shock and straightened her clothes. The other NUSRA guy looked at his colleague contorted on the floor, then looked at the cause. All he could see was the little boy standing straight like a boss, staring at the man’s eyes.
The ocean erupted from Bilal, and he flew at the man, tossed him in the air and slammed him into the prison bars. The impact had been so much that the NUSRA man’s body threw open the cell door while the man’s limp and lifeless body lay on the ground.
The girl heaved and shivered in the corner. The old woman remained silent, but in a trace of light, you could see a wide smile appear. “Let it flow….” She whispered.
Bilal stood in front of the cell. Now the Mosad mole came forward to his cell, dumbfounded by the sight of the NUSRA man, crumpled on the floor and the little boy standing in the passageway. It didn’t matter, now was perhaps a chance to escape.
“Hey, you, boy. Get the keys and give them to me.” He said to Bilal.
Bilal looked at the mole and saw the same redness in his eyes that he had seen in all the bad men he had come across, the American soldier, the NUSRA men, the IS men and all the others. He took no heed of the man.
“Hey, you little Arab rat! If you don’t get me those keys in his pocket, when I come out, I will feed you to the guard dogs outside. Get here now!”
Suddenly, Bilal gave a thunderous kick to the cell bars and whole cell collapsed, flattening the mole under it.
Just then, the Americans outside launched their attack. Snipers took out the NUSRA guards on their side and they advanced. And from the other side, the Russians and Syrians likewise neutralised the NUSRA sentries on their side and made their advancement.
Now the NUSRA fighters rushed towards the cells in the underground complex, guns ready. They thought some of the prisoners were trying to escape. With hand guns and automatic rifles ready, they spread into the passageway which was engulfed in dust. They stood and waited, aiming ahead. The dust settled. The cloud disappeared. All that stood in the passageway was a strange little boy who looked straight at the group of fighters. They looked at him.
“What that hell?” Asked one of them.
Before they could do anything, Bilal launched at large, heavy piece of debris at the men and knocked them all down like pins in a ten-pin bowling alley. Then he rushed ahead like a Tasmanian devil, flying up the stairs. More NUSRA troops came towards him, confused. Bilal grabbed one of them by the arm and leg and hurled him at the oncoming men, knocking them all to the floor. What they didn’t know is that the ocean had taken Bilal. Bilal was no longer a boy, now he was the ocean and ocean flowed through him. He raced out of the hideout, smashing down the door and leapt into the night air landing on the roof a parked jeep. Standing in two lines, waiting to enter the building, stood the American special forces, staring at what had just come from the building.
The leader spoke: “What the F…” But before he could say anything, Bilal grabbed the jeep by the wheel and hurled it at them. They screamed to take cover, but the car buried itself into the front of the building and the roof gave way and collapsed on the American team. They were buried under the rubble.
Then the Russians and Syrians snaked around from the left and right, rifles ready, but they could not see through all the dust and debris. However, they were not prepared for the flying jeep which suddenly appeared in the dust cloud and flattened them all on the left and then the same fate for those appearing on the right.
Way above, US and Russian drones had captured the whole event on camera. But there was so much dust that they couldn’t see the little figure of Bilal appearing from the building and moving out.
Bilal strode away, the ocean flowing through and around him.
More NUSRA appeared, and Bilal knocked them down like the sea engulfing a row of houses. He moved through the land, rapidly, like a flood, into IS territory. And when those human beasts advanced, looking for the enemy, Bilal covered them with their own vehicles and building and weapons, burying them in the ground, like previous nations had been buried way into the ground like worms.
That night, there was a ceasefire. That night, the warring factions went silent. That night, Bilal let the ocean loose and the flood reigned supreme. Then after a few days, the flood receded and Bilal disappeared, never to be seen again….”
The man-boy went silent on the boat.
His audience were silent in wonder. Suddenly, the skipper raised his walkie-talkie with the voice shrieking: “They will be with you in an hour…”
The young man spoke: “that was a powerful story Mr Syria, thank you.” And he patted the man-boy’s shoulder.
The man-boy looked out to the ocean and breathed in the ocean air, feeling the sniper-bullet scar on his cheek….