A beautiful blue Sunbird flew above the lush fields of Beitunia on May 15th, the sun was beaming down on its valleys, and the air was hot. Beitunia was a lot quieter now in comparison to the earlier hours of the day. The sounds of gun shots and sirens have vanished into thin air, the chaos had faded, and the only thing to be heard was the sound of the olive and almond tree leaves swaying in the breeze.
Beneath an olive tree, the boy sat with his back resting against its aging trunk. The sunlight warmed his handsome face and made his rich brown eyes shine it its presence. His youthful face was burdened by tiredness and exhaustion. He wore a grey cotton T-shirt, and he had a kaffieh around his neck, with his school bag resting beside him.
The Sunbird was intrigued by the young boy; he lowered his wings and landed beside him, whilst feeling the earth beneath his tiny feet. The sun seemed a lot lower in the sky now and its orange and yellow shades were reflecting upon the fields and the valleys making the place seem majestic.
The sunbird’s colours were piercing yet delightful. His feathers were a mixture of royal blue and turquoise, he was beautiful to look at the boy thought, and he now felt more at ease with a little company. He smiled at him and remembered that this was the first time he smiled all day.
‘You know you ought to be getting home boy, it’s getting dark soon and it’s not safe for a guy like you at this hour.’
‘I can’t go home. I’ve been robbed of the opportunity to do so I’m afraid’. His face was full of youth but he spoke in a way that made him seem old.
‘A lot of people get robbed of all sorts in this place. Where are you from? You don’t strike me as a village boy’
‘I’m not, I’m from Ramallah.’
‘Beautiful city, I’m from the North. I live in the mountains of Nablus but I fly to Ramallah a lot, it’s always buzzing and vibrant, and I’m always drawn by its pleasant weather and pretty lights. How old are you?’
His face suddenly hardened. ‘I’m 17.’
‘Ah, to be that young again, with the rest of your life lying beneath your feet. How I miss those youthful years! So full of spirit, yet so reckless and naïve with a lot yet to see!’
‘What’s it like? To grow older’
‘I can’t tell you that I’m afraid, you’re a mere lad of 17, you’ll find out eventually. Besides no two people growing up are the same, everyone’s journey is different. That’s the beauty and misery of life!’
He seemed a little disappointed and saddened by that answer, he turned away from the Sunbird to stare at the valleys that looked so exquisite now. He remained quiet for a little while and the only thing that spoke was the expression of anguish and pain that was written across his olive-skinned face.
Across the fields appeared a group of boys of a similar age, they wore red and white football kits but they weren’t playing. Nor did they have the energy or spirit one would expect of teenage boys. They were walking in a slow pace whilst the breeze was brushing across their faces. They eventually found a spot on the ground, and sat down in silence.
His rich brown eyes were fixated on them now. There was a hint of envy and longing in them, when suddenly silent tears started streaming down his face. ‘You see them over there? They’re my friends, every Thursday we come here after school to play football away from the city, I was supposed to play with them today but I can’t.’
‘Missing football seems like an odd reason to cry my boy.’
‘It isn’t when you know you’ll never get to play again. Look at them, they seem miserable. I can’t even imagine how my parents and brother are feeling. They must have found out by now that I will never be going home to them again.
My mother didn’t want me to go today, but I didn’t listen to her, I hope she forgives me.’
‘Mothers always forgive; they love you unconditionally from the second you’re born. Just one of life’s many miracles.’
And with that he felt a little bit of ease and comfort, he smiled at the Sunbird and wiped his tears with his hands. ‘Thank you, I must leave soon though, they’re waiting for me.’
‘That’s a shame; I was beginning to think I’ve made a new friend’ He suddenly felt sad at the thought of parting from the boy.
‘You are my friend’ He said smiling, it was a sad smile, and the Sunbird could see his face more clearly now, he had a kind face, and a warm presence about him.
He began to stroke the Sunbird’s beautiful feathers and suddenly he was really glad that he wasn’t alone.
The boys across the field have now started to walk back towards the village, and the fields were empty again. The air had gotten cooler, and he boy started to shiver, he looked scared and unsure. Across the Valleys, the sun was beginning to set, it was a beautiful sight and both of them sat gazing at it for a while.
‘I really can’t bear to leave; I’m going to miss this place with all my heart’. More tears started to fall from his eyes.
‘Goodbyes are never easy; I try to avoid them if I can… Tell me friend, what will you miss most about this place?’
He let out a huge sigh in a way that suggested that the weight of the world was resting on his skinny shoulders and hallow chest.
‘My mum, she was there for me from the minute I was prematurely born. There wasn’t a day in my life when she didn’t give me her all. She looked after me in every way a mother could. When I was in a car crash a few years ago she stayed by my side until I was better. I’m going to miss teasing her too, it was so easy to do, and when she’d had enough and grew angry and frustrated by my silliness, I’d give her a hug and say something to make her laugh and so we’d both end up giggling. I’m going to miss hearing her laugh and seeing her smile.
And my dad, I’m going to miss him always giving me life lessons, and helping me with my homework. I’m going to miss all those hours we wasted watching TV, talking about school, and gossiping about relatives, how precious those times were. He was supposed to help me choose which university to apply to this weekend.’
There was a long pause as he was trying to compose himself and regain his strength, but there was nothing he could do to hold back his tears now and his voice grew weaker with grief and heartache, but he needed to get it off his chest, it was his last chance to do so. The Sunbird was now resting on his shoulder and listening intently to what he had to say.
‘And as for my brother, well, to know that I will never get to beat him at FIFA again…’ Tears turned into little sobs now. ‘Had I known that it was our last game yesterday… I would have let him win, even if the little sod did pick Manu’. He let out a tiny laughter at this sweet memory, but the tears quickly returned with the realisation that that’s all it’ll ever be now, a sweet memory.
‘I don’t understand my dear friend, if you love your life here so much, then why do you have to go and leave it all behind? You seem like you have a lot to lose by leaving and a lot to live for if you stay’.
He then unzipped his dusty black school bag and pulled out the bullet, he said nothing, he didn’t have to. He just held the bullet out whilst looking at his friend with a face full of pain.
‘My name is Nadeem Nawara, today I was at the Nakbah demonstration, my mum told me not to go but I didn’t listen.’ His voice grew stronger and clearer now, and was talking in a fast and frustrated manner.
‘I wanted to go because I needed to protest against the illegal occupation, I needed to tell the world that I and everyone here deserved better. I needed to tell the world that I was fed up of my land being stolen, and that I was fed up of living in an outdoor prison. Today I wanted to tell the world that I want to be free, so I went to the demonstration and I marched. I marched for me, for my family, for my friends, for Palestine. But as I was walking back home, they shot me. Look.’
He lifted his T-shirt and the Sunbird could see the hole the bullet pierced through his chest, and raptured his young kind heart. And so the Sunbird too began to shed tears from his small twinkly eyes.
His face was now hot and wet, and his breathing was heavy, he felt betrayed and abandoned by the world that he was born into, and killed in. He felt helpless and sad; he longed for his heart to beat again so that he can carry on living on this earth that he had every right to be in, the earth that he was robbed from, and go back to the family he longed to see again.
‘So tell me dear friend’ His voice full of sorrow. ‘Tell me what’s it like to grow older, because I’ll never get to know, I’ll never know what it’s like to hold a driver’s licence, or graduate, I’ll never know what it’s like to fall in love and get married or have children, I’ll never know what it’s like to be a grown man.’
‘But now you’ll know what it’s like to be free.’
‘Freedom tastes bitter alone’
‘Listen to me carefully’ he spoke softly. ‘I have lived for many years in this holy land and I have witnessed things no bird ever should. This world is cruel, good hearts like yours die young, whilst the evil ones grow stone cold and strong, making sure they destroy all kinds of beauty around them.
But don’t be sad, for you were destined for better things and a purer world, a world in which kind hearts run wild and free forever. And just remember my boy ‘Death is not but the next great adventure’.’
‘Thank you’ his voice softened along with his features. ‘You’ve shown me kindness that this world so clearly lacks. I feel ready now. I must go, my adventure must begin.’
He was ready for them now, and felt grateful that they’d let him stay for as long as he did. He finally stood up tall and strong, ready to face the unknown. He looked around one last time; the setting sun was reflecting its rays upon Beitunia now making it seem golden and divine, and he made sure he captured that moment in all its glory.
‘Dear friend, may I ask one thing of you?’
‘Before you return to the mountains, fly over Ramallah and stop by my house, you’ll know which one it is. Please stay by my family’s side tonight for they could use a friend like you in these harsh times, especially my mum’.
He felt honoured. ‘I promise you my dear friend, that for as long as I have my wings, and for as long as I shall live, I will visit your house every morning and every night, and I will stay by your mother’s side and sing her a song every day until her tears dry out’
‘I can’t thank you enough, I’m truly grateful’.
‘You’re the bravest young man I have ever known, it has been great pleasure knowing you. Farewell my friend, until we meet again.’
‘Until we meet again’
Those were his final words before he started walking towards the sunset. Suddenly the wind began to sweep him off his feet. Flying free in the sky, he felt happy, and for the first time in his life, he felt peace. The Sunbird watched him disappear into the sun, and all that remained of him on this earth were the memories of his short-lived life.
The fields, the valleys, and the hills that looked so glorious moments ago, suddenly looked hollow and empty. They were no longer filled with the warmth of the sun but with the chill of loneliness. There was nothing left but grief, and a promise to be kept, so he flew.
He flew beneath the crescent moonlight, he flew above the village and its people, and he watched them go on with their lives like nothing had changed. Little did they know that on this day, they had lost one of Palestine’s hidden gems, a gem stolen from them in broad daylight. He flew with the wind brushing against his wings, he could see the city of Ramallah now, he could see the tall buildings resting on its Mediterranean hills, and he could see its lights that were shining like stars in the heavens above.
He didn’t have long to go now as he was flying over the checkpoint that sits on Ramallah’s borders. He could see the separation wall filled with the graffiti that was pleading for humanity. He could see the electric fences, the metal barriers, and he could see the heavily guarded gates of the outdoor prison that is the West Bank.
The moonlight lit up the dark streets and he could see the heavily armed soldiers at the checkpoint. The sight of them filled the Sunbird with grief for his friend and he started to sing. A sad but beautiful song, the kind of song that seeps deep into your soul and pulls on every single one of your heart-strings, except for the heart-strings of those whose hearts have sealed with hatred and greed.
As he was flying above oppression, singing that beautiful song, he heard a terrible sound and before he knew it, a bullet pierced through him changing the colours of his feathers from the exquisite royal blues, to the deep dark shade of red blood. As he was taking his last breath, he thought of how the cruelty of mankind knows no limits or boundaries. He thought of how it cannot spare the life of a young lad, nor can it spare the life of a singing Sunbird in the sky.
His ending was bitter-sweet. The realisation that his promise would remain unfulfilled made him feel bitter inside, but he could taste the sweetness of death for it would reunite him with his friend once more. The beautiful blue Sunbird now understood, that on this day him and the boy were not only destined to meet, but were destined to never be apart.
(In the memory of Nadeem Nawara)