Children. There were so many of them, I couldn’t count. Under the sky that looked dark, hopeless of the sun. There were no trees, no bird flying, no rocks, and no water. It was just a vast expanse of ruined desert with no sign of life. And there I stood, barefoot; worried about something I did not know. I stood alone. All I could see were children, rather a sea of children. I looked around to comprehend where I was and why I was where I was. My mind was struggling to think why I was encircled and surrounded by so many children.
My thoughts felt foggy, my eyes hurt. Before I could speak to anyone of them, a child from the crowd walked up to me. He looked very weak; eyes sunken, ribs almost visible. His arms and legs were all bones with hardly any flesh. His hair was sparse, and blond. He wore only lowers and nothing on his chest. He walked to me, looked into my eyes. I looked back trying to remember if I knew him. He began to spread his hands, asking me for food.
I haven’t eaten for five days; I heard his broken voice speak to me. I have nothing on me; I thought to myself and wanted to tell him so. I tried to move my tongue but, I couldn’t. Something stopped me from speaking. He kept asking for food again, I fought to move my tongue. Anticipating an answer, he held my hand and pulled me down. He vanished.
The sight of children was suffocating. As far as I could see, there were only children of all colour and race, some sleeping, others looking up towards the sky. Some were fighting for their last breath, others were already dead.
I looked around to see where he had gone. It was then I felt someone pulling my leg. It was a girl, roughly 6 years of age. Her hair was long and black but, frowsy. Her clothes were torn. There was blood over her face and her torso.
She looked me in the eye and asked why she was bleeding. How would I know? I wanted to ask her who she was. I tried to touch her and embrace her to give her comfort. She stood quietly there, waiting for an answer. Suddenly she too disappeared.
The sea of children around me continued to swell. How it happened I did not know. I tried to walk away from them. But then I stumbled on an infant. He was not more than two-year-old. His face was white, his cheeks red as if burnt in the sun. He wore a red T-shirt and a packet was tied to his back. He had no shoes on. Tiny blisters dotted his small feet. He slowly lifted his head and began to ask, where is my home? He was all wet, his clothes, his hair. His lips were thirsty. I wanted to know who he was. But my tongue wasn’t moving. I again failed to speak. My chest grew tight; I wanted to talk, I wanted to scream.
The sight of children was suffocating. As far as I could see, there were only children of all colour and race, some sleeping, others looking up towards the sky. Some were fighting for their last breath, others were already dead. Some children looked at me in silence from afar. They were stone faced. It appeared they had not felt happiness before. There were no traces of smiles on their faces nor tears in their eyes. They look tired, angry, sad, forgotten, hopeless and devastated.
As I tried to make sense of all of it, I saw some boys with bloodshot eyes walking to me from afar. Their sight began to scare me. I knew I could not face them. I tried to run. I turned around and quickened my pace as they kept coming close to me. Soon, I was running as fast as my legs would allow. I ran over the sea of children, helpless children. Some screamed and shouted, but I pretended I heard nothing. I ran faster without looking back. I did not know where I was going. But I did not stop. I kept racing. I was sweating, my heart pounding, my body shivered as I opened my eyes.
I lay on my bed. I was having a dream.
— Sana Altaf is a Dubai based freelance writer