by Omobolaji Ibadi’aran Omotade
In Bristol, United Kingdom, lives a young man of about 35 years with his wife. Their tale is of love and grace. The man’s undiluted love filled with warmth and happiness is overpowering and genuine. Though they do not have children yet, their first is on its way. The thought of how much love he will shower on the coming baby when it arrives made him smile while enjoying the neck massage his wife gave him.
Sometimes he lies awake, watching her sleep, mesmerized by her beauty while silently pledging to always protect her. At thirty, he had taken the vow with her when she had been twenty one, and now, their union is five years of age.
Their story however dates back to Tehran in Iran during the Iraq-Iran war on the 22nd of September, 1980.
At the height of the “First Gulf War” or “Holy Defence”, a young boy of twelve years who had been recruited to carry a bomb to be detonated at the Jahan square, ran away. The horror he felt he would see at the beautiful busy square, full of innocent people going about their day’s work to provide for their daily needs burnt to ashes, motivated his action.
The only thing on his mind was to get to any kind of safety and out of the godforsaken place. All his life, he had been well acquainted with strife, struggles and hostilities. His parents and two sisters had been killed in cold blood in an attempt to make him join the movement. His eyes had seen a lot for a twelve year-old that could and should have made him ruthless,wicked and mean. But that would have made him no different from the ones that rained down the terror on his land. Rather, he became shrewd, guarded and sad.
The war was not fought with the grey swords; there was no combining of swords with the dance, no hand-to-hand combat moves for a ferocious battle; but it was with shower running loaded guns aiming at everything that moves; young, old, the upright and the crippled. Bombs and grenades were thrown at will. People, things and places were blown up and shredded to pieces.
This was the life he knew.
As he ran, he had remembered his elder sisters who had been brilliant and witty and just could not understand how life could be cut short in its prime. In school, he had been able to tell by looking at the faces of his friends, the ones that had joined the movement, ready to give their life to blow places up. Their faces had given nothing away.
He kept running, dodging and docking away from flying bullets all above his head. Houses shattered behind him as he passed through maimed and lifeless bodies all over the place. How hopeless this land is, he had thought before he saw her – a little bundle huddled up at a corner of the street. From afar, he could see her shaking, probably praying for a miracle or waiting to die. In his torn clothes, he moved closer to her, lifted the ivory colored hijab and there he saw one of the most beautiful little humans he had ever laid his eyes upon. She was there holding her hands to both of her ears in an effort to drown out the sound of the war around. When she opened her eyes, it was the strangest: they were blue and green but now filled with brimming tears from a tiny being of just about three years old.
Without much thought, he scooped her up and continued his mad run towards God-knows-where with several bullets escaping his ears by threads.
Then they hid under a tent-like shed for some time where she asked for water.He looked briefly around but could find none. Her patched look had made him look once more and saw some cartons of sealed bottled water which he quickly opened and gave to her to quench her thirst. That was when he noticed that she had no shoes on her feet. After a while, he wrapped her up and scooped her up once again, and resumed the run for their dear life.
His legs grew weak, his arms ached and his head pounded in rhythm to the fast beating of his heart, but he could not stop running. After a short while, he came across a tall white man who had two cameras hanging from his chest, though he was recording with his pocket camera. He was heavily built, with blond hair, hazel eyes and a tanned body from staying long under the sun. He stopped them and asked him what he had in his arms.
“My little sister”, he responded. “She is all I have, everyone else is dead.They killed them, all of them; our dad, our mum and our elder sisters.
Later, he found out that the man was a British reporter from Bristol. He was really empathetic towards them, especially to the little girl shaking with fear. He could not possibly leave them now, knowing he could have helped them; they had survived this long and had made it this far. So he swung into action and took them with him, breaking into a mad run again but this time to the British embassy and from there to Bristol in the United Kingdom.
Both were minors when they left their father land and so needed full care and attention.
The British Government gave them a home, enrolled them in school and put them in the care of guardians of which the photographer was among. Social workers were also made to check their well being every now and then.
But then, it was never the same again. The little girl was haunted by nightmares as she constantly saw her mother crying and calling her. The boy’s night was not any better. Flashback to the men who strapped bombs on him and how he escaped them always filled his mind and before long, developed insonmia.
Time went by, and by 22, he graduated from the university as a trained surgeon. He also grew to become a skilled pianist, financial analyst, guitarist as well as a good chef. The little girl was 13 years then, a year three high school student and as expected, her look dazed all the young boys around her. The beautiful eyes and pointed nose, rounded at the tip on an Eastern face, well hid the trauma she had faced in the past. Though she was three during the war, she never forgot for a moment all that happened.
“I remember”, she told him once, “How you carried me from the war away from death and the bad people bombing the whole place. You are my brother, but you are not only my brother, you are my angel, my saviour because you kept me alive. I do remember my dad and my mum too,” she added when he kept looking at her. “They seem so distant now, but I remember them”.
She was 16 when she started fighting all his female friends, messing up all his romantic relationships and eventually causing rifts that led to breakups. This was not one-sided as he also took offence at the slight admiration of her by his friends. They would tell him “She has got the most unusual eyes, one blue and the other green. Look at how breathtakingly beautiful she is”. He always felt angry at comments like this and ended up ignoring them.He had thought he felt this way because he took her as his sister, but she had envisioned him as her future husband.
By the time she was twenty, they both concluded they didn’t want to be siblings but mates forever and by then she had become a computer guru and an excellent chef among other skills she had acquired. So they took a trip to the embassy where they finally told their full story.
“I was fleeing from being used as a terrorist to bomb the Naqsh-e Jahan square,” he told them, “when I saw her on the street huddled in a corner, covered with her hijab. She is not my sister by blood, but I said so then because all we had was each other.”
Surprise registered on the guardians faces when they heard this, but they granted them permission to date and court each other openly if that is their wish as they were not related by blood. Theirs was a match made in heaven as they already knew each other like the palm of their hands having lived for a long time as brother and sister..
All their friends couldn’t believe it at first, but everything made more sense to them: why the supposed sister was always at loggerheads with her brother’s female and girlfriends, and why the supposed brother was always overprotective of his sister. So much became clear.
Sometimes their home country, Iran, flashed through her mind – how she had escaped death when she had gone into an uncompleted building to ease herself; how her mother had been calling her to hurry up, only to come out and meet her in her own pool of blood along with her father. She had touched them, shaken them and couldn’t believe they were no longer moving and had become disturbingly silent. It was then she had huddled herself to a corner of the street while waiting out of panic for the cessation of gun firing.
The war had ended on 20th of August 1988 when Iran accepted the UN-brokered ceasefire. Iraq had wanted to replace Iran as the dominant Persian Gulf state, and was worried the 1979 Iranian revolution would lead Iraq’s Shi’ite majority to rebel against the Ba’athist government. The aftermath on children had been devastating as they suffered neglect and abuse. Having lost their parents, their primary provider, most of them had to drop out from school and eat from waste bins. 10,000 children die in Iran yearly with over 39,000 children living in abject poverty. Child labour is also a norm.
Back in Bristol, our wonderful couple had a baby boy in an environment filled with happiness and love. Though they had a rough beginning, they made a good life for themselves. The ones who brought them up under the British government consider them a wonderful gift. What more grace could they have received to escape the cold hands of death, find love and have children of their own to shower it on?