In the Fire

By Mozhgan Mahjoob

She woke up earlier than usual and after praying she picked up her school bag and put a pen and some paper along with her math book inside it.  It was her last exam at school. She came to the hall. A young woman came out of the kitchen and told her, “I prepared the breakfast Setara, please eat something before going to school.”

Setara said, “thanks mom, as soon as I’m done with the exam I’ll come back and eat breakfast, but right now I don’t want to eat.”

The woman took a piece of bread and spread a little butter on it then said, “now that you will be graduating from school I want you to get married and settle down. As long as I am alive I want to see you wearing white, a bride’s dress.”

Setara smiled, “come on mom! I want to become a pharmacist and find medicine for incurable diseases. I want to graduate from my favorite childhood dream university— Oxford—and serve my people. It’s too early to think of marriage.”

“But we are in a war zone, nothing is predictable. Anything can happen anytime.”

“Mom, if we keep thinking of war then war won’t ever end. Let’s think of peace that finally would overcome it. The war will end one day and the world is changing anyway. I am going to school now, otherwise I’ll be late.” Setara replied.

“Take care daughter and come back soon.”

Setara reached the school. Today was the happiest day of her life and she felt that she was one step closer to achieving her dream. All her classmates brought different homemade foods to celebrate graduating after their last school exam. Some of her classmates still did not have plans for the future. For some it depended on the entrance exams at university; others wanted to get married and settle down. But Setara had already decided to study pharmacy at Oxford university.

From the first grade until the twelfth grade she was the top of her class, having the highest scores in the whole school. She could speak English fluently and had always wanted to become a pharmacist. After finishing the exam Setara felt nervous and a little bit afraid, probably from the stress of the exam she thought. She handed in her paper and said goodbye to her teachers and classmates while the others stayed to celebrate the last day at school. As Setara stepped out of the building suddenly everything turned black and she only heard an irritating and loud sound. She had no idea what had happened. She felt severe pain in her hands and feet, and it seemed as if she had been thrown inside a volcano and its fire was burning her.

Black smoke and dust covered everything in sight; everywhere there were men, women, and kids screaming for help. Books, notebooks, pencils, pens, and bags were burning in the fire. Setara felt very thirsty as she looked around. She tried to get up but she couldn’t. A stream of blood flowed on the ground. Nearby, people were on fire and shouting in the flames. She could hear their shouts: “hurry up there was a terrible explosion…” and “Uncle! Please help and call the ambulance!” “Bring the car and let’s take the injured ones.” “My daughter? Where is my daughter?”  People’s screams and shouts echoed in Setara’s ears and the smell of gunpowder, fire, and dust filled her nostrils.

“An explosion?” she thought. Where? She tried to lift herself and shouted: “water!” but no one could hear her voice among the people’s noises and shouts. Slowly the ground and rubble, the people and the fire, vanished and she fell deeper into darkness, remembering her last words to her mother: war will end one day and the world is changing… No words came after that. War had ended for her, and she closed her eyes forever to become a star in the sky of the dark world of bullets, blood, and fire.

29 September, 2023