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Chapter 1

She had always maintained a fondness

towards diaries. Commencing from school diaries replete with assignments and duties, that she performed with meticulous detail, and which left her with a profound sense of accomplishment, to discrete diaries in which she scribbled her thoughts, hopes and ambitions. She even occasionally

confessed to some flaw, and thus by confessing swallowing her ego, which was by far anyone’s most vital flaw. At this moment her diary is concealed by her bio text book, as the professor drains on about the sliding filament model Talj had no interest in. She was quite the writer, and perhaps, had her life been more interesting, or her whereabouts more captivating, her work and writing would have been topnotch material. She is counting down till the bell, although very much aware that the next period is even more boredom inducing, with a monotonic voice lecturing about middle eastern studies in just the right pitch to lull her to sleep. Yet she looks forward to the end of bio. She proceeds to draw an analogy between school and life: it is human nature to always look forward to the future, despite ones awareness of the effort and fatigue, and disappointment one is destined to experience.

Persistent hope, she murmured, that’s what keeps life propelling. And man’s bad memory, she

concludes. If people remembered every chunk of their life with atrocious detail, life would be miserable. At least she had a reason for this firm conviction of hers.

To pull through the next three hours, she starts analyzing the different personalities of her peers, and while they were not numerous, she was a very thoughtful person, compiling pages and pages on each character, and thus had enough to keep her occupied. They were far from numerous, a mere 8

in the whole junior year. In the current egregious economic crisis of their time, attributed to the political instability, few had the capability or the means to attend a private institute. Mentally, Talj generated reports on each person around her, starting with herself. Talj was one of the most fair-skinned persons alive, so white that the literal Arabic translation of her name was snow. Her heart, along with her infraction and detention records were white as well. And so was her notification bar, seeing that she was an utter introvert, favoring paper over people, ink over mascara, and smudged blotches and smears on her fingers over perfectly applied eyeliner. She was a writer, having

assembled a huge arsenal of ideas from the

hundreds of books she had devoured over the years. Being the introvert she is, she was reluctant to share anymore about herself, so she turned over the visual page to the next, opening the chapter of Lisper.

Lisper came to mind, and in paraded a list of adjectives, dancing on the page. Smart, technical, and kind-hearted. The person who’s always around to help, the person who has explained to her the application of the right-hand rule this morning outside the examination hall, expending time he could’ve used to revise, not that he studied anyhow.

As she thinks, she glances over to his desk. He’s sketching bizarre letters; they probably correspond to some videogame he’s obsessed with, she

figures. If only he studied a bit more seriously, she thought, he would surely be valedictorian. Lisper was way too busy, however. Between gaming,

building and designing, exams were the least of his concerns. Both ways, he’s bound to achieve

greatness, she concluded.

She then shifts to the real valedictorian-to-be, Egia Shiba. Egia has always been a source of motivation to Talj and everyone else. She was definitely smart, but that isn’t what Talj attributed Egia’s success too.

It was, on the other hand, to her perseverance. She was tenacious, the type of person that would stick to a problem till she extricated it. A glance at Egia’s perfect A’s would evoke images of the stereotypical nerd, but that was far from the truth. While Egia was not a frequent party goer, well she was not a frequent goer in general, she had a sly sense of humor, a strong personality, and a beautiful smile that resonates in and impacts one. She lacked the tinge of social awkwardness that characterized nerds in general, and was very much more

outgoing, although always committed to her studies first and foremost, being the only person in class that comes from a poor background, and in need of the financial assistance academic scholarships provided. She was the perfect model of a goody two shoes, disentangling herself from social life the week before and during examinations, and devoting her free time to volunteering around town. She was also the ultimate book worm, having a renowned love for classics, always carrying around a copy of Walden or crime and punishment or some other highly celebrated publication.

The bell rings, and Talj is overwhelmed with a sense of relief. She makes significant effort to swallow a chuckle at the teacher’s exasperated face. The biology professor is always behind, sprinting to keep up with the pace. She worries too much, Talj notes. Just as she envisions herself flipping the page, a panting Marat walks into class, looking sleep deprived. Marat explodes into a tale of how she overslept, having went to bed at 5:00 AM the day before, and in the sleepy phase she must have been in, forgot to set the alarm.

“Choking ant emergency? Or was it a lady bug this time?’ demanded John, the class clown. Talj was never fond of John, his crooked sense of humor was outrageous, and what she despised even more was the way Erosce burst into fits of laughter.

Erosce was undeniably beautiful, well-off, and possessed an ego Talj despised. Both Erosce and John could not comprehend the way Marat

sacrifices her free time, social life and sleep to serve the community around her. Misfortunately, in this era, there were more needy people than there were helpers, and Marat seemed to condole herself by doing the work of three.

Talj shot Marat a look of sympathy, but there was no need for it. Marat was never defensive, she merely smiled at John, remarking,” Close guess” with a smirk, and proceeded to recount yesterday’s happenings as if reciting, “But truth is I was volunteering with Green Future cleaning the lake when I noticed mutant and dead fish. I then proceeded to hike the area with the help of lanterns to spot any violations or leakages to justify the mutant fish, and after a long uphill hike with a fellow activist we spotted a purple stream intermingling with the river far north, 15 kilometers from the site where the fish was spotted. We then proceeded to trace the stream to a weapon factory, and reported it to authorities, by then it was well past midnight.”

She was exhausted, but her eyes gleamed with self-satisfaction. John was silenced.

Shab chuckled, for he too could relate to Marat, being often tormented for spending more than half his time on the basket-ball field.

Talj’s imaginary book flipped upon to a page dedicated to Shab. National basketball player.

Athletic. Lowest cholesterol level. Always recovering from some sort of injury or another. Talj awakens from her daydream to find Middle Eastern studies class commenced, Talj having not noticed the teacher’s entrance. She forces herself to focus, taking notes and refraining from doodling teddy bears with slogans imprinted on their enlarged stomachs. As the bell rang, and she readied herself to depart, Marat took the stage again, with a serious look on her face. Alarmed, Talj stayed behind to listen. So did everyone else. Even Maria, the musician, who always strode towards the door to arrive to piano lessons in a punctual manner, remained glued to her seat. Marat commenced reading, a news article from her smartphone.

“ They’re arriving in ships, with few to no possessions, from countries all over the middle east, fleeing the atrocities of wars caused by the Arab spring to live in the atrocities of being right-less, not provided for, with no government able to accommodate them. They’re dispersed in camps across an unclaimed land between Lebanon and Syria. They’re homeless. They’re injured. They’re exhausted from demanding their rudimentary rights.

They’re tired of their screams going unheard.

They’re humans we’ve abandoned.”

Marat puts down her phone, and turns to everyone, her eyes heated coals. “This is outrageous. I just found my summer plans. I’m spending summer up north, in the midst of this camp of theirs.” She then goes on into a passionate monologue, of how those people are citizens of the global community everyone is all part of. Of how the class has a moral obligation towards them. Of how the class’s capable beyond doubt of helping them.

They all glance at each other, then at Marat, dumb founded. She’s crazy, she’s definitely insane.

Spending 2 afternoons a week working with NGOs to propagate a change is one thing, but spending two months camping with refugees where

conditions are insanitary, dangerous and cryptic is a whole new level. She has a fierce look of

determination plastered unto her face. Talj admires her audacity.

John whispers into Erosce’s ears. He says

something inaudible to Talj, but she’s sure it’s something along the lines of: Marat’s completely mad.

Her humanitarian purpose was commendable. It was no one’s place to discourage her from an ethically correct decision. So they proceeded to voicing out concerns about her personal safety and well-being.

It’s hell up there.

Disease is more common than alimentation.

Blood is a more common sight than drinking water.

The people are uneducated, some are aggressive.

They are in need of professional help. From certified physicians to psychotherapists.

They need balanced meal plans formulated by a dietitian to battle malnutrition and starvation.

They need teachers and listeners.

Talj is surprised to hear her own voice amongst those of the Protestants. So is everyone else.

Marat radiates even more confidence as she

speaks up:

And none of their needs will be fulfilled. What you listed above are not reasons to refrain from participating. If anything, they should be our incentives. This is our calling. We are capable of making a change, although not armed with a

doctor’s education or an engineer’s ingenuity. We have our humanity, fuelling us. It is not those refugees we should fear; on the contrary, it is our leaders’ materialism and inhumanity.

Egia’s stern voice replaces Marat’s.

Undeniably, Marat’s actions are noble. What she says is idealistic, true, but nevertheless righteous.

Talj finds herself straightening her back, ready to contribute to the conversation. Always slouching was a characteristic of hers.

“The incongruity in personalities amongst us is beautiful, philosophically speaking. Being a passive observer, a strange wallflower, a weirdo, call me whatever you want, I’ve noticed the extent and variety of talents dispersed throughout our 3×4

class room. Where one lacks, the other fills in.” Talj always dragged herself down, an act she had to get rid of.

“A child’s dreams’, remarks John.

“OMG, we can make a difference, and we can even expand to Africa and satisfy all stomachs and establish world peace,” says Erosce, her voice dripping with satire. It’s John’s turn to giggle.

Talj feels herself flush, feels heat radiating off her cheeks. A prominent voice in her head urges her to speak up, to strengthen her personality. She struggles to formulate a strong response, but her chain of thoughts is cut off by Lisper.

“If you two invested your sense of humor into something useful, won’t the ambiance in the room be a better place?” he chimed in, obviously irritated by their arrogance.

Talj knew this was her chance to reclaim herself.

“Like making a child laugh till he forgets pain.” She always came off as cheesy, too angelic to be truthful.

Marrat’s eyes enlarged as she tacitly nodded approval. She then shrieks, “Talj is right. I can imagine it already, a perfect vision where each of us fulfills a role they excel in innately. ”

Egia adds in a robotic voice, “fun fact: the only proven definition of a leader is a person with a vision.”

It was magic. The way it all came together. Missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle flying in, positioning themselves to formulate a fully functional unit.

Reluctance turning into hesitance, hesitance into determination. Shab announced how he’d cancel basketball camp. Thoughts oscillated in Talj’s mind, all about how she’d contribute. From a distance, it looked foolish to some, hilarious to many, and naïve to the majority. Those kids were too young to comprehend the requirements of their plans, to shallow to understand the politics behind war, the plots behind actions, and the intentions behind killing. They were too unexperienced to realize the null probability of success, they had no one to implant realistic pessimistic thoughts into their susceptible minds. They were easily moldable, but the sculptor was not around to carve out their dreams, to remove excessive optimism. Thus, they had no limitations. A typical adult would easily dismiss any idea of this sort immediately, not allowing it to germinate, not investing time into expanding on a thought that is undoubtedly

destined to failure. However, adolescents were yet to be tarnished by the cruel truth of the world. Yet to restrict their belief in their capability. Yet to limit their options and filter out such world changing thoughts.

Even Erosce and John were eventually absorbed by this sponge of eagerness. The kids have molded themselves into an agent of change.

Their plan was not intricately complex, but rather quite simple. They decided early on in the planning that they lacked the experience and qualifications to help refugees directly, but what they could do was create a stream of propaganda and publicity. They hoped to spark protests about the gruesome living conditions worldwide, by shedding light on the stories, untapped potential, and personal

experiences of refugees they’d meet and interview.

They were to awaken the humanity that they fiercely believed in. They were to pressure surrounding governments to open their borders. Wealthy

countries to donate. Advanced countries to offer academic scholarships. Agricultural cities to export alimentation. They were to start a legacy. They will not carry out anything concrete, but merely be the spark, merely supply the activation energy for a complex reaction mechanism that will astound the world. They were bound for greatness. Talj was particularly keen, finally sensing a feeling of belonging to a purpose larger than herself. Finally she was sharing thoughts, choosing social

interaction over doodling, choosing actions on the field over words on paper. Those people had stories, itching to be told. They were to be the voice.

Talj gleamed at the thought of finally having material to write about. They reveled at the enormity of the change they’d cause. They could feel it already, a standing wave of reviving energy whose antinodes were those 8 fools, as seen from an adult’s perspective, at least.

Complications to this severely idealistic plan soon began to arise. They were Lebanese citizens, nevertheless, crossing the border to a camp where living conditions were wretched was accompanied with formidable risk. They had parents, guardians who were not as shallow sighted as the group members were. To succeed, they had to find

loopholes. They were fuelled by an idea, an ambition, and a vision. All that was left was figuring out the means to accomplish this noble cause. Their goal was simple: to them the improvement, in the living conditions of several people, is to be attributed. They were to pressure governments to take in those refugees. To ameliorate their lives and reinstall in them an enjoyment of the subtle joys of life.

Chapter 2

Talj’s mom’s laughter filled the room, hearty chuckle after hearty chuckle.

Talj eyed her mom incredulously, the latter occupied with the letter Talj had handed in earlier. A 2 month boot camp invitation. WC: writer convention. A fool proof invitation, designed and made believable by Lisper’s arduous efforts.

He had pulled off the right excuse for all 8 of them, thought Talj, evoking a mental list from memory.

Talj: writer convention (He had even designed a LOGO, extended a formal invitation, and composed an itinerary, including lectures by prominent authors and tours of Sierra Leone, where the WC is to be held. Pretty impressive)

Talj only had a brief idea of the others’ ruses.

Egia: leader ship camp

Marat: orphanage monitor volunteer

John: Lebanon’s next top chef. (What Talj had left out in her earlier description of John, was that he was a glutton, a hopeless explorer of food, and a talented chef.)

Erosce: beauty pageant, regional, competitors from around the Middle East

Lisper: computer camp, workshops on game and web design, along with computer hardware


Shab: basketball camp, no alterations from his original plans.

Maria: music camp

Shab and Maria’s schemes were by far the easiest to pull off, due to how naturally they synced in with their characters.

Talj is knocked back into reality by her mother’s concerned voice.

- Are you sure you’d enjoy this? Lots of social contact, not much personal time to recharge.

Too many field trips, and nature visits. (Again proof that lisper knew barely anything about her; she had a renowned hatred of the


- It’s a challenge, true. But I think it’s also a change to grow and learn. I’m tentative myself; however, I am not to let my fear stop me, for that would be a sign of weakness, will it not?

Her mom smirks, and Talj knows she had won her over with her rehearsed argument to an expected question.

She then remembers an important aspect of

Mjarrad, the camp they’re going to be attending.

No connection, and possibly no Wi-Fi, unless Lisper works some miracle. She decided to just find a way out immediately, regardless of what happens at Mjarrad.

- Mom, I almost forgot a vital aspect.

- Yeah darling?

- It almost escaped my mind, but one of the most interesting restrictions at camp is no


- No technology? It’s impossible to avoid

technology, honey. Technology is too integrated into our daily lives.

- Nope, no technology

- And the irony, that they used the world wide web and email to inform you of that restriction.

- The actual camp is different, Mom. All authentic writers hate typing unto computer screens or otherwise contacting technology during periods of creativity they sink into. They are attached to the smell of paper and ink blotches, and they believe that the familiarity of writing as opposed to typing brings forth a swarm of ideas.

Talj looks up, wondering whether her mother was buying any of this information. She

seemed to be processing it.

-so at Sierra Leone they hope to engrave in you century old traditional writing by depriving you of technological devices?

-I’m assuming so, she says in a composed manner.

Funny story, actually, the founder of “Racing Pens, the host company of the convention , once had a book draft deleted to a technical malfunction, and his trust in computers and softcopies has been shattered since.

Talj is surprised by the calmness and composure of her voice, and the aura of confidence she exuded as her brain formulated manipulative untruths.

She still did not understand the enormity of what she has gotten herself into.

The next day, Talj and her friends all confirmed having a 2 month excuse to leave home. The

parents, on the other hand, celebrated the

wondrous opportunities the school had offered each of their progeny. A perfect fit to each character. Remarkable.

A cunning principle Lisper had used was including inflated fees in all their letters; all parents were willing to finance their children wholeheartedly.

Thus the children amassed a larger amount of money. However, it was not enough.

- We should find jobs.

- In the midst of this crisis, no one is hiring.

- We should hold a fund raiser.

- Who is to donate to a non-certified NGO?

- Bake sale?

- Not bad, build on that.

- A bake sale to celebrate the end of the school year.

- No way, too cliché. We need a charitable


- A bake sale to finance a heart surgery.

- A congenital heart disease patient.

- Adorable face, a mere 2 months of age.

- Needy parents

- Named Russel

- Strong publicity

- Inflated cupcake prices

- Brain storming sessions over. We have our fundraiser.

Displayed above is the efficiency by which they worked, the utter cohesiveness of the team. They would brainstorm impeccably fast, weeding out the mundane ideas, arriving at something believable, doable, and profitable. They planned the bake sale.

It all seemed credible. But deep down, they all felt a familiar sting of a guilty conscience. What they were doing was wrong. But the cause was worthy. Does a noble cause justify this course of action?

Chapter 3

This sudden bond that has arisen between the formerly incompatible personalities throughout the class room was bizarre and unexplainable to a passive observer. They now had a common

goal whose attractive force overcame the

repulsive force of their difference. They learned to filter their thoughts, purging themselves of any thoughts of failure. They forbade their

imaginations of formulating gloomy, despondent possibilities. They had made a commitment. And Talj was sure that the fear and anxiety she felt were common to all of them, and perhaps if they shared those feelings and confessed to them, the plan would have crashed immediately. Thoughts always seemed more absurd when they’re

pronounced, and those being aware of this fact kept them reticent when it came to those rational insecurities. Instead, they kept themselves busy, too occupied for their brain to race forward into the future, too occupied for their imagination to be active enough to scare them with possibilities.

That is why Talj currently stood a few desks away from Erosce, watching her while nibbling on a leftover cupcake.

Erosce was recounting their profit, and as she neared the end her voice escalated.

“Two million and five thousand, two million and seven thousand, two million ten thousand liras, and a 250.’ She concluded. Together with the money they’ve procured under the “I have to go to the camp of my dreams” excuse, they had

accumulated enough for a three month stay, even more than they would need. Financial security, however, did not provide the feeling of safety they were yearning for, and did not out shine the onus of guilt at having stolen money from the

neighborhood and visitors who showed up.

Talj and Erosce, despite their differences, seemed to have common worries, and Talj felt flushed and surprised when Erosce spoke up, reading her like one read a book. This former simile, the book comparison added to the burden as she remembered Sierra Leone and the fancy intricate lie she has fabricated and lisper has executed.

“Don’t worry about in, in the big scheme of things it will seem negligible in comparison to all the good and change we brought about it.”

Maria has sneaked up from behind and caught the essence of the conversation. She added,

“And if that thought does not brighten you up, simply imagine Russell, the little refugee from some corner of the MENA region, who currently resides in Mjarrad and suffers from congenital heart disease.”

“And remember how we will have contributed to his health and happiness by causing some

developed country to accommodate him, and

treat him.”

“Pump the health back into him.’’ John added, smirking at his pun.

Talj smiled through their talk, partly because of the lightheartedness of their comfort words, and mainly due to the happiness she felt at the established congruity between them.

Lisper sensed the insecurity rippling through the group, by raising his coffee mug and toasting “ to mom, when she finds out her secretive donation, so secretive she herself is unaware of it, has been a vital contribution to our yet to be named but auspicious NGO.”

Talj bit her lower lip, while smiling simultaneously.

She could toast the same to her mother.

How do we leave the house? The debate was

smooth flowing as always.

- We can have our parents drop us off at the airport, have them leave us there using the, we’ve grown up excuse, you have to trust in our ability to find our way around.

- Lisper, did you schedule our flights on the same day?

- Yes, a six hour gap between earliest and last flight to eliminate suspicion in case our parents meet up in this tightly-wound community we


He brings his hands together, intermingling his fingers as a display.

- Genius

- So we meet up at the airport?

- Terminal 7. 5th floor.

To Talj, the prospect of the airport meet up seemed very simple, the easiest of all the tasks she had committed to. After saying her farewells to the family, she and her mom headed out to the airport.

Talj realized that this is the first time she is to fly.

That thought lingered for a nanosecond, however, before Talj realized that there was no flight. She was not really headed to Sierra Leone. The “I love Freetown” shirt she had bought was utterly useless.

While her stupidity in forgetting the truth terrified her, the fact that she has been excited over her first virtual flight a minute ago relieved her. If she had convinced herself so deeply that she is ought to go, her mother must have no doubts.

As they arrived, Talj was ready to open her door and remove her suitcase from the trunk when she realized her mother’s fingers have also shot to her respective door handle.

“Mooo-aamm,” she whined, “I’m old enough to find my way throughout an airport. Especially one as small as Lebanon’s.”

“I know sweetheart, I never doubted your navigation capabilities. It’s just that I want to spoil you a bit before you’re away.”

“Nahh mom, I’m not the out of sight out of mind person.”

“Actually, you are. With the absence of

technological facilities, you don’t have a choice”

The irony, thought Talj. An attempt to get rid of future trouble backfired, causing her trouble now.

Mom can’t be comforted with the prospect of skyping diurnally, nor will she rest until she watches me climb the staircase to a virtual plane that will take me to Sierra Leone, that does not hold any writing competitions. She has plunged into an endless chain of lies, she realizes with a tinge of remorse. By now they were making their way to the main gate, having parked the car and procured a parking ticket.

Talj’s mom reawakens the conversation. “I googled running pens yesterday. Not one result.”

Talj would have loved to freeze time for a minute, act like in a movie. She wants to be able to eye the audience with a help me now what look, and add an overall demeanor of drama to the act. But that was not an option. Nor was wasting time wishing that she had ended up in Hollywood. Unfortunately, she only had Sierra Leone. Correction: she had Mjarrad, the suitable name for the strip of land with the abandoned refugees. A literal translation from Arabic is bereft, empty, and infertile.

She inhales and begins, summoning the creativity that never fails her during writing dates she scheduled with herself.

“It is only logical that running pens won’t have a website.” She asserts, surprised with this sudden influx of creativity and confidence. “It goes against their belief system. Personally, I would feel a double-standard being employed had they designed a web page. This is proof of the equity they employ.

If students can’t surf the web, neither can they. And that extends to a no-advertisement policy. In fact, the letter they sent me even had a typewriter font. It was expected of them to revert to how it was in the old days, a silent yet formidable act of defiance to this whirlwind of change we are acting to defy.”

Her mom beams, “and those beautiful words, my dear, are the reason you’re about to board a plane to a leading institute for young writers.’

As they approached the gate, Talj was hit with three realizations. Firstly, they were foolish to park this far away. Secondly, a flashback from glimpses of movies reminded her that there are always multiple large screens with all scheduled flights listed.

Thirdly, she must be grateful they parked so far or else she would have remembered two when it was too late.

Talj was on her nerves. She had never expected this part of their complex plan to be difficult be any standards. At that moment, she was bombarded by self-doubt. She quickly improvised a plan. Act hungry. Act like you’re craving whatever it is that the most distant and remote restaurant has to serve.

She dictated to her brain, fearing that it will fail to act in this consequential hour. Her heart skipped a beat while her brain skipped to her friends’ and their sufferings.

She looked up, spotting Macdonald’s on the last floor. She removes her phone and texts her friends.

-where is every1

-Third floor, coffee shop. Egia replied in a matter of seconds. Concise and punctual. Exactly what Talj needed at this nerve wrecking hour. If her mom finds out about the virtual flight, if her mom so much as glances one of the boards, their vision and dream in life for the past months will be flushed down the drain.

Talj formulates a plan. Go to MacDonald’s. From there, inform mom of how all her friends were gathered down stairs at the coffee shop. Then, excuse yourself and proceed to the coffee shop. Talj is quite pleased by this abrupt decision-making skills she has never been aware of, perhaps because she was never in such positions. She has felt a sting throughout the whole journey, and now as her mind clears up due to her newly established confidence in her newly established plan, she has time to think about other matters. In particular, the sting. No matter how tenaciously she would like to deny its existence, no matter how powerful this banishing agent she was spraying generously throughout her mind and heart, the sting remained, an extinguishable fire that represented, undeniably, the guilt she feels towards her mother.

-Mom, I’m hungry

- Don’t you worry honey, we have plenty of time for food. Where would you like to have your last meal in this country?

Talj does not waver before announcing

“McDonald’s, 4th floor.”

Her mom looks confused, “nonsense, I insist you chose Lebanese cuisine, a final memory of home.

But before, I have to fulfill my motherly duties.” No way, thinks Talj, virtually embracing herself for what is headed her way,

“As a responsible parent, I have to do this kiddo.

Suppress that appetite as we quickly visit your terminal to ensure all is in alignment, before we return for food.” Talj is amused by her mother’s tune, and she is suddenly flooded by overwhelming emotions towards her mother. Those emotions fog her thinking for a second, slowing down the process by which Talj comprehends the implications of her mother’s statement, and thus slowing down the consequent shock. She succumbs, realizing that even her first plan that seemed groundbreaking a few minutes ago is definitely not foolproof. Her mom had eyes two, and even if she dropped Talj off she would have passed by a terminal, she would have contacted a board. In Arabic, “my eyes” was a nickname for a beloved one, but Talj was not literally her mother’s eyes, and her mother would be able to read and look around meticulously in Talj’s absence. No blindness, Talj mentally screams as she reprimands her preposterous plan. Talj looks up at her mother, who was gazing at a large LED

screen suspended from the ceiling. Lisper has done a fantastic job with the invitation letter, VISA document, ticket and all other travel documents that would remove all doubt of unauthenticity from any guardian’s thoughts. Lisper however has failed to envision this particle scenario, and while Talj has dodged a few bullets so far, there is no way out at the moment. There was no way out. Had Running Pens been virtually established in Dubai, for example, following her scheme would have been possible. For a millisecond, Talj imagined Sierra Leone was replaced by Dubai. She had jumped into an action plan, whereby she bribes the person in charge to let her on the plane, just so that her mom would be able to wave from a distance, hold back tears, mouth I miss you already from a distance, and have all her doubts erased. Talj was not acquainted enough with the procedure to envision details, but she reasoned that she could relatively easily then get herself expelled from the plane by refusing to buckle up, acting intoxicated or perhaps getting into a fight. She was midway through justifying getting into a fight with a poor stranger with her ponderous conscience, quoting how

desperate times call for desperate measures. She traced all the blame back to LISPER who just had to locate this organization in an insulated end of West Africa.

Running Pens should move to Dubai, who has a stellar frequency of flights. How unfortunate Lisper’s creativity is. She is still waiting for bewilderment to sweep across her mom’s face, but so far, all is mundane. She scrutinizes her mother’s complexion, waiting for her to read and complete the list and realize the absence of Sierra Leone. Then, as she amounted the courage to face the screen, she was overcome with shock. True, there was a large pile of Emirates scheduled flights. But that was not what caught Talj’s attention. Sierra Leone was on the list.

Scheduled right on time.

Never doubt Lisper, she chanted to herself. Never doubt Lisper’s ingenuity. Lisper never fails you. In a matter of seconds she withdrew her membership from lisper’s virtual fan club she had founded, and forced herself to think clearly. The battle with this obstacle was almost over. She had made it this far, and had to clearly extricate herself from this quagmire, this gravity sucking her down, testing her.

Russell’s weak heart was weakening with the second, as he clung on to life, she reminded herself. Shortly afterwards, she also reminded herself of Russell’s non-existence. Either way, the heroic vision of herself saving fictive Russell was motivating. She readied herself to follow the same plan she had formulated for Dubai earlier, on how to get abroad and then be expelled. She was then hit by the utter absurdity of this bribing an aircraft personnel. She was shamefully influenced by the corrupted ways of the environment she inhabited.

She pulls out her phone, shifting to plan 1. She reprimanded herself for even considering it plan 1, for that would be disappointing to admit to. She called it the zeroeth plan. Firstly, because it had a null probability of achieving realization. Secondly, no one ever asks about plan zero; hence she would never have to admit to it. It was a comforting thought.

Relieved, she pulls out her phone, texting her friends. “I need a real ticket to Sierra Leone.

Lisper’s counterfeit ticket won’t make it through.

Someone buy a last minute ticket while I distract mom. Don’t mind if it’s overpriced or first class, we’ll refund it later. Be quick. Text me when it’s ready.”

She sends. Then adds as an afterthought. “Except if it’s a million bucks. We don’t have a million bucks.”

- Who are you so busy tapping away to?

Talj is startled by her mother’s voice. She quickly reverts her phone, hysterically pressing send and locking it. The swoosh sign symbolizing that the message has been sent extinguished the fire of anxiety.

- Just responding to some messages wishing me a safe flight. Mom?

- Yeah dear

- Can we go grab a bite? My stomach’s

rumbling. She pouts, her lower lip inverted downwards.

- Dear, I need to confess something. I have a work meeting in half-an-hour, and I know how you claim I prioritize work but…

Talj can’t believe her luck. She has an

unmistakable sense of where this conversation will lead. She extracts her phone, texts her fellow outlaws that there is no longer a need for an authentic plane ticket, and that they should be expecting her arrival in a handful of minutes.

Talj hears her mom finalize her flustered

speech at how she has to leave, how it was an emergency email she has received while Talj was recovering her luggage from the trunk of the car, and how she was awfully sorry they could not have the dramatic teary moment prior to plane departure in movies they often joked about.

At that moment, Talj invested into putting on a disappointed front, then shifting to her

calculated I’ll be fine, don’t worry face. She embraced her mother tightly, watched her head off after ensuring her that she’d find her way around adeptly, and in a matter of minutes was pulling open the coffee shop door.

She took a minute to recollect her thoughts, and absorb the incredulous luck that had

accompanied her throughout the past hour. It was unbelievable, finding its roots in some fairy tale. It was like satiric action movies were a main character survives miraculously after an hour of blindly running away from bullets

emerging from a ton of sources, all aiming at him. She was that over exaggerated character now, and sharing her story aloud added more faith in her conviction that they were destined to know the truth about Mjarrad, by discovering it firsthand. Her experience also shook her faith in how success was the sole result of hard

work and perseverance, as opposed to luck,

chance and superstition. There was no pigeon waste remnants deposited on her auburn hair, but today, luck was on her side nevertheless.

Sitting back with her friends felt like a return to reality. They have committed, all eight of them. Talj eyed each and every one of them in turn, searching their faces for signs of anxiety or worry. Naturally, she found them replete with nervousness. There was, however, a distinct feel of excitement vibrating through them as they conversed. They had rented a bus to transport them to the border, and it will be arriving shortly.

- For a few minutes I had lost all hope of

success. I kept on imagining a meeting

between my mother and your parents.

- That would have been terrifying

- And very entertaining to watch. I can imagine it all unfold.

- I’m expecting that none of you was aware that our courageous yet insane children were

planning on visiting the most crude and

dangerous of places.

Erosce takes over, tapping her fingers together playfully, eyeing them with her beautiful hazel enlarged eyes, taking over as chairman of this roleplaying occurring in the far left end of the coffee shop that had a retro feeling to it, with paled colors and seemingly archaic tunes.

“They were taken in by some illusion, some ill thought plan that had zero to no chances of success.” She talks in a low voice, that escalating up and down.

“They thought they had it all figured out. What sounds credible, and what is utterly unbelievable.

What we parents would permit, and what we

would prohibit.”

She reaches the pinnacle of this improvised monologue “but we are brighter, we are smarter.

We have banned them from throwing themselves into a labyrinth of pain, a maze of mystery and a land of injustice. “

A pause, and she terminated by “or so we

thought”, ostensibly pleased by the murmurs of joy and hushed snickers travelling through their table for eight.

Lisper barged in, back from his phone call. “While I admire how you’ve twisted Talj’s tale into an award-winning dramatic performance, we have a bus awaiting us.”

They ascended excitedly, invigorated by the motivation and energy they absorb from each other’s company. Had it not been for the bulky suitcases, they would be sprinting. For now, however, their main concern was steering the miniscule wheels and overcoming the struggle to maintain balance despite the bags’ straps relentless attempts to send them plummeting unto their faces.

They mounted the bus like kids on a fieldtrip would, chanting the latest hits and preoccupying

themselves with games, riddles and a restricted from of charades due to their inability to move freely.

Talj exerts effort into going along with their attempts to entertain themselves, but her thoughts where in a faraway land, the faraway land of Mjarrad that would soon enough not be faraway, let alone away at all. She had her suspicions that this sudden feat of happiness was no more than an attempt to battle fear and procure victory over internal conflicts, between arrogant voices located at opposing ends of their cerebrums.

After two hours, they proceeded to ready their equipment for arrival. They had stopped at a store to buy food and essentials. They had all travel essentials, toiletries and clothing packed away in their backpack, and Talj hoped that the weather in Mjarrad would resemble that of West African Sierra Leone she scrupulously prepared for under the careful supervision of her mother. Heavy rainfall, contradicting high temperatures and humidity levels.

Lisper and his choices. You can’t doubt them, but you can despise them.

They bought freshly prepared loaves that had a month to expire, many cereal boxes that were a compromise between their conflicting tastes, dried fruit, a notable amount of canned goods, and smaller quantities of fruits, meat and other items that would expire/rot away soon. They were all set, a glance at Talj’s rubber hard-duty watch revealed it was 6:00 pm. On those long summer days, the sun would set at 8:00 pm, and it was a shared and severely strong preference to be settled in by then.

They approached the border tentatively. A huge fence that seemed to extend up, left and right infinitely. They were sure it had deep roots downwards too, or at least some underground defense system for anyone who tried to dig their way in, or more commonly, out. Mjarrad was a wall away. A thick wall, but nevertheless a wall.

Maria envisions herself back home, in her

philosophy of music school, as the professor poses a theoretical question.

“You’re walking and you reach a wall. A wall that is infinitely wide, infinitely long, and infinitely thick.

What do you do?”

Maria looks around the class, not doubting for a minute that their answers will be the basis for a deeply rooted philosophical discussion about to erupt. Some said they’ll turn back, others refused to believe in infinite dimensions and decided to find the end.

Some arrogant boys seated way back, who took pride in their physique, stated they’d push their way through. Maria simply said she’d dig her way under.

The professor went on to draw analogies between life’s obstacles and the wall, and congratulated Maria on her diplomatic approach, by which she’d make it to the other side without causing damage to her opponent, symbolized by the wall. However, digging was not the solution this time, for their government would have been outsmarted months ago were passageways and tunnels possible.

Shab was enraged, and exhausted, pounding his fists to the wall of blue bricks they have reached after walking a few kilometers. They were all panting, having treaded through difficult territory to reach this destination, overloaded with bags and supplies.

Talj was sweating heavily, and newly formed armpit stains extended down her t-shirt, replacing the ones formed after this morning’s airport nerve wrecking session.

Heyyy! Cried Erosce to Lisper, who she has caught smiling. What are you beaming at a time like this?

She sounded annoyed and exasperated, her voice having a new raspy edge. At that moment, she sounded nothing like the girl who has volunteered to give up her summer for a charitable cause.

Egia spoke up, “while you were all busy looking ahead, it never hit you how we’re going to make it through to Mjarrad to start with. Let me take a wild guess, you all imagined we’d cross some red line, to be applauded by an intensely eager crowd, who have gathered to watch the arrival of their promised heroes to return them to a land of prosperity, opportunity and ever lasting peace.”

Talj was stung by the heavy satire evident in the reprimand, but was simultaneously relieved. From her voice and choice of words, Egia seemed to disentangle herself from the guilty crew, hinting that is she had realized that this is to be a problem, she undoubtedly would have seen it through and fixed it.

Egia motioned to Lisper, as if giving him the floor to speak.

Lisper, however, has always preferred action to words, and thus carefully put down the cartoon of ripe tomatoes he was cradling. He walked 15

meters east to a large oak tree, and from there worked perpendicularly to the wall. He then started shifting his hands along the brick and cement amassment he has arrived at, evidently searching for some undetectable device.

A large voice boomed in the air, sending goose bumps down Talj’s arms and chills through her spine, cooling her down after the tedious work.


“You have successfully reached Uriago 1,

camouflaged in the southern wall of Mjarrad camp.

Please complete the questionnaire sent to you.”

They worked out Uriago is some sort of advanced camera, possibly even one possessing self-awareness.

They look at each other. All perplexed. Some amused. They then heard the rough sound of rock scraping rock, to find out that a square of rocks has freed itself from the wall, leaving a large niche as it moved 1 meter away from the wall. Lisper shrieked as he saw it move towards him, and John intuitively grabbed him by the arms and dragged him

backwards, as they watched the huge stone bridge reach static equilibrium. A sudden glow appeared from behind it, and crossing to the rift between the wall and the square, they detected a large touch screen. All squeezed in to read and decode it, except for Egia who stayed behind, a severe sufferer of claustrophobia.

There were many checkboxes, and lisper’s swift hands got to work.

He checked the Lebanese box for nationality, 8 for number of people, and so on… Talj reveled at this mind boggling technology her nation possessed.

Finally, lisper reached the most important part of the document, and immediately Marat’s fidgety hands extracted her phone from her back pocket, powered it up and set to work, as her sudden occupation was met with flummoxed glances of anxiety from

perplexed faces.

You request entrance as:

o Refugees

o Government officials

o International humanitarian NGOS

o Journalists

Marat took over. As she would explain later, her sister, a journalist, had pervasive influence and has earned them all journalist privileges through unlawful means. It all clicked. Marat’s humanitarian activism had been shaped by a

deeply rooted genetic history. A family of truth seekers and justice cravers, a family of

lawyers, journalist and judges.

Marat checked in journalists and entered a pin code she copied off the afore-mentioned

phone. They were to act like certified

journalists. They were to be held responsible for every decision. They checked the maximum stay time, for 2 months, and Uriago demanded they also be ready to leave on the 28th of

august. He informed them that the pin code

they entered was valid, and the system would accept it one sole additional time, which was destined to be upon their exit, after which it will independently expire. There is an analogous tree planted on the opposite side, contained in Mjarrad, which is where they’d assemble,

After that, Uriago was quiet for a while. None of them had a problem with the heat any longer after witnessing the last procedure. They now felt rather chill, anticipating Uriago’s next move. The equivalent square, the other half of the wall that was ejected earlier, was now

ejected inwards, creating a passage way

through. For once. They did not wait for

Uriago, and John, who was the last one in,

immediately felt the walls lock after he

surpassed them. Their entry had taken quite a while, as they had to transport dozens of bags inwards, from bulky suitcases to light grocery bags.

Before they have time to look around, absorb their surroundings and accommodate to this

stench of sweat and blood that attacked one’s nostrils upon entry, Uriago’s voice boomed

again, speaking a computerized Arabic.

A kindly reminder of the privileges of these eight journalists. All refugees are requested to cooperate with them and answer any inquiries willingly. They are to be treated with utmost request upon risk of expulsion. They are to be escorted immediately to the camp site

reserved for journalists, next to Nakhla Abu Ali’s camp. That was the first time any of them heard of Nakhla, though they were destined to come in contact with her sundry times during their stay.

After Uriago ended his request that those eight be given utmost privacy, Marat spoke up. She hated the hostile, superior image of them

Uriago had formed, and was sure his pompous announcement have left everyone with

resentment towards the eight of them. She

clears her throat, introduces herself, opening the door for all of them to say them to say their introductions, then proceeds to give a quick glimpse of what they plan to do and how they plan to help induce a change. Diplomatically, she withdraws with a polite good night,

informing them they have had a tedious

journey, although leaving the specifics to

themselves. An old man showed them the way

to their camp that contained 10 elevated

mattresses. As they were all too tired, and feeling encompassed by security following

Uriago’s public warning, all eight dumped their belongings on the two free beds before moving into the other eight. They barely had time to absorb their surroundings before dozing off.

They have made it.

Chapter 5

After last night’s incredulous adventure,

adrenaline was still pumping through John as he arose the following morning. Instinctively, he checked the camp for any signs of an intruder, any missing items, any proof of plunder. None that were outright noticeable, he decided with a sigh of relief. He was anxious, for ever since their arrival, he had a feeling of uneasiness that seemed likely to accompany him until he is

back home, a safe haven compared to the

abject conditions surrounding him. He sets out walking, convinced that the others will be

asleep for another hour or so. He has his video camera hanging around his neck, and is

acutely aware of its gentle back and forth

swaying. The winds are picking up, he thought, hoping for this storm to be mild. The conditions around here are dire enough already. As he

strolls, he passes by a ramshackle hut, with the door open. A few meters away from him, stood a women, obviously an inhabitant of the hut, boiling hot water over a fire. She was

surrounded by 5 children. As most the Arab

countries were agricultural as opposed to

industrial, most fathers deemed raising large families pragmatic. A child can start helping out on the farm since the age of 5. No schooling required. No workers required. No salaries.

Simple foolproof plan, until war breaks out and the men are recruited into armies, leaving

helpless women to provide for several kids, single-handedly. He readies his notebook and then decides against it. It’s too early to set out working; for now, he was simply intrigued by her story. He yearned to know her background, her routine, and her journey to this

disappointing destination. It then hit him that she might not be able to provide a full account of it herself. She most likely has no idea of her husband’s fate, or her eldest son’s if she had one. He clears his throat. After greeting her with a traditional “Salam A’alayke”, they sink into conversation.

- Are you always up this early?

- It varies, depending on how merciful the kids feel. Sometimes they decide to let me sleep.

Other days they break into fits of moans. To be honest, my first thought every morning is: did I beat sunrise?

He chuckles. She was quite sociable, and even friendly. His theories on how the cruelties those people have been through would harden their hearts just like they calloused their hands was proven amiss, or she was an exception.

- Why do they wake up so early?

- Hunger, is my first guess. When you’re hungry, you’d think you’d sleep to conserve energy, but the perpetual stomach ache renders sleep


She talked in a factual manner. She seems to have accepted her conditions, no remorse


John notices the liquid being heated is not water, but a pale yellow liquid.

-and this is?

He nods towards the liquid, so she can

evidently see what he’s referring too.

- This is how I keep their stomachs full. I call it egg soup. I just hatch an egg, or two,

depending on the day and chicken yield, stir and stir it in approximately a liter of water. It’s so dilute it tastes almost like water, and it’s almost nutritionally bereft.

John is taken back. She notices.

- It’s a psychological trick I use on the kids when we’re running low on food. As far as they know, they devoured a cup of soup, a meal. Thus

they should not be hungry. Convinced by this logic, they don’t feel the hunger.

John is astounded by her strength, by the way she relates this story with without faltering once. He is tempted to ask how she deals with hunger, having outsmarted the psychological trick she uses on her children. Using his better judgment, he decides against it. He

approaches the kids, well aware of their

smeared faces and dust covered skin. Talj

comes to mind immediately. She is by all

standards an absolute clean freak. He wonders how she is to deal with contact with those

refugees. He decides it will be a good laugh in the near future. He approaches the kids, who are suddenly very polite and well mannered.

Despite the circumstances, the mother has

evidently done a great job raising them. They line up horizontally, neatly like the first row of a church’s choir, and introduce themselves.

They’ve obviously grown accustomed to and

perfected this routine. John’s mind races to the various occasions the little ones have done this, probably in front of security guards, aid officials, news reporters…

He returns to the camp site, after bidding

Nakhla, the mother, farewell, to find that

everyone was up, having arranged themselves into a flattened circle. Expectedly, Egia and Marat have taken lead, while Lisper was caught up in a whirlpool of wires.

They shut themselves in their hastily

assembled camp site, and set out to work.

He arrived at the midst of a heated discussion between Egia and Erosce, over, from what he gathered, whether Marat should right down the information and code or keep a sole softcopy.

Egia’s argument was that Mjarrad was

renowned for its electricity shortages and

power cuts, and the phone’s chances of

surviving was null, and thus a hard copy was more stable and psychologically reassuring to them all. Eventually though, Erosce’s argument of the utter openness of their camp and the ease by which the code could be stolen by

refugees aiming to gain entry to Lebanon won them over, much to Egia’s disappointment. She looks down feeling slightly defeated, and John innately flashes her a smile, mouthing “don’t worry” in her direction. She smiles back, and for a nanosecond, John swears he read more

into that beam of hers than a mere reassuring smile. He notices, and appreciates, for the first time, how steep her smile is, extremely

concaved, so as to give it a sense of

inauthenticity. Nevertheless, it had a tinge of adorableness to it. John is surprised by the path of his thoughts, as he mentally reprimands himself and shifts his attention to their mission.

Focused, John relates the tale of Nakhla,

stressing on the egg incident. It’s clear to the rest he’s hinting at donating some food.

Marat speaks up, “everyone expects I’d be the first to advocate such a plan, but the

alimentation we carry is barely sufficient to sustain the eight of us for a month.”

Erosce adds, “it’s not like you john to be so altruistic. If we really want to help those refugees, we have to focus on initiating the international movement we have discussed. To focus, we need to keep ourselves alive”

Lisper looks up from his intricate wires, and adds, “we’re aiming for more lasting results than a onetime meal.”

John ultimately decides he’d sneak Nakhla

some food later; she’d be a sole exception to the no sharing policy.

They have a long, weary meeting that day, the details of which are complex and tedious. It is easier to think in that make shift campsite than it was in their comparatively luxurious

classroom. They were living the dire conditions too, and from there surrounding conditions they withdrew energy to proceed. They wrote the

equivalent of job descriptions for all eight of them. The ultimate result was as follows:

They founded an NGO. It occurred to Talj how any organization on these grounds was

technically an NGO, as there was no

government to start with. Anyhow, back to role distribution:

Egia was unanimously appointed the brains of the project. She would conduct surveys, and statistical analysis on the population dispersed throughout this area, assessing their needs and states, in addition to her role as a medical consultant, due to her stellar knowledge in the area of medicine and biology.

- Lisper: required to set up a website. He had procured satellite internet through the use of a modem, a decent computer, a satellite dish, and an ISP. Equipment all 8 of them were now familiar with after the trouble their bulkiness has caused throughout the journey. Anyhow,

lisper would set up a “recruitment website”, making profiles for all families, and the physical

/ technical capabilities and professional

qualifications of the parents. After inciting protests and pressuring governments,

governments, companies and firms can use the website to scavenge suitable fits for any job vacancies/ work forces and hence offer those stranded people a fresh chance. The website would even include statistics on the relative help each country provided, creating cold

wards between dominant powers in a race for international recognition as primary beneficiary.

To no one’s surprise, Talj was designated as the writer. The journalist. She was to write heart wrenching accounts, tug on their audience’s heart strings, and incite them to take action.

Erosce was to be the interviewer, news caster, as befitted her firm voice and strong poster. Shab was appointed photographer, his strong physical build that has resulted from years of strenuous exercise, enabled him to ascend heights and monkey around to take the best possible shots. Besides, anyone who has perfected the proper shooting angle to send balls swooshing through hoops must be able to pull off taking shots, with a camera this time.

Reluctantly, John agreed to play housekeeper and chef. This made his scheme easier.

Maria, on the other hand, was appointed as

the graphic web designer, along with other

minor duties. She is to compose the

background music that is to accompany all their documentations, music to touch the hearts of the audience. Music to awaken their humanity.

Music to send shudders down their spines and send Goosebumps down their skin.

Marat was deservingly appointed CEO of this little firm they’ve started, and was set

responsible of coordinating activities and

maintaining both progress and high hopes.

What was left was what they’d call themselves.

Maria: the difference

John: we need a stronger word, something that would stick in people’s minds. Something that would motivate, and inspire.

Egia looks up, after having been preoccupied watching a butterfly flutter away.

Metamorphose. Bring about a change. That’s

us. It’s a verb, an imperative. A demand. A Call for change. Metamorphose. Sounds just right.

She turns to examine their faces, exhilarated by the nods of approval. Metamorphose, they repeated in unison, as if in a chant. Usually when a coincidence of that sort happens,

they’d burst into fits of laugher, rushing to proclaim jinx first, but not today. Today, it did not feel like a coincidence; it was more like fate or destiny. They felt bound together by some brotherly emotions. They were officially

cofounders of an organization. Or at least that’s one way to explain the long lasting silence. The other is fear, fear to admit to the folly they’ve dragged themselves into. Fear to admit to the infinitesimally small probability of success.

And thus metamorphose was established.


The next few days were a perpetual buzz of

activity and productivity. This liveliness

dispersed through their camp could be

attributed to many causes. Firstly, everyone, excluding Marat, was becoming gradually

acquainted with the beauty of serving others, of performing an action solely to help others, and this previously unfamiliar sentiment filled them with joy. Secondly, they were motivated by a resilient fear of failure, and finally, it could be interpreted as an understandable excitement that accompanies the inception of any project.

They had already divided the camp into 4

parts, each encompassing an approximately

equal share of the 5000 residents. They knew what they needed to do. Expose the truth of the quality of lives of those 5000. Evoke feelings of outrage worldwide at their deprivation of even the most rudimentary of human rights. They

would target social media, and websites most frequently visited by youth. They were ready to use every resource at their hands, to spread themselves thin to ensure that their voice is heard. They wanted to use bizarre methods of attracting attention. Erosce suggested they start by explaining the utter weirdness of their current situations,

She suggested: “let’s make it one of those

articles whose title is so catchy it draws you in, although the actual content is mundane and

bland at best.” That was the way Erosce

functioned; she could not let a remark out of her mouth without a criticism of some kind.

Egia picks up, “and what do you suggest?”

Erosce answers, “a group of well off teens

willingly choose life in a horrendous refugee camp over their former luxurious lifestyles.”

“Absolutely not,” says Talj, obviously infuriated.

“We can’t let anyone know we’re not where our parents and connections think we are.”

She can tell everyone else is on the same

page. To ease off the tension evident between her and Erosce, she jokes, “As far as I know, Sierra Leone is a beautiful country.” Everyone laughs.

The discussion drags on.

- We should just be an anonymous group,

unidentified faces. Under the name of

metamorphose. That aura of mystery it creates is exactly what will attract the attention of the public. The media craves for such stories.

- Okay, so everything we do is under the name of metamorphose.

- And for the first time, GPS and tracking is on our side. If they track down our location to Mjarrad, it will be totally convenient, adding credibility to our story.

- We need a face for the campaign.

- One person?

- Or a family. A family that is a paragon of the struggle ignited by the Arab spring.

- The irony. An Arab spring. More like a winter. A never ending perpetual winter.

- Totally.

John sparks up. “You said a family, huh? I know just the right people.” It was evident he was referring to Nakhla and her military style-raised children.

We have two weeks to gather information,

Marat mused. She assumes her serious face

as she stands straight behind the imaginary podium, and breaks into a speech.

“This website is our product. It is to be perfect.

It is to speak to the reader and urge him to take action. But equally important is its credibility.

We need an information page where we list the facts, untarnished and unmodified. The number of widows, orphans, and injured. The number of needy and hungry. Personal stories of those that are willing to share and disclose memories.

Documentations. We are yet to hear the

catastrophic stories. We have a lot to see and examine. We have to use every tool in our

possession. We are on the way to starting a global movement.”

It was at times like these that everyone valued Marat’s presence. She had a way of removing their doubt. She was the only one utterly

convinced of the righteousness of the path

they’ve chosen. She was the only one who had no doubts of the wide range of the change

they’re going to cause.


She had been overwhelmed for the past three weeks, and has surpassed the deadline for her report. She has been overworking herself,

having started from scratch. The data collection being done by her peers was sometimes

superfluous, like when John decided to prolong an interview with a beautiful girl and ended up asking insipid questions. He had even noted down her shoe size, having convinced her of a seemingly strong correlation between

malnutrition and shoe size. She remembered

laughing heartily as he related how an

eavesdropper left on spot upon hearing this, afraid his peers would associate his remarkably large feet with an endless supply of unshared food. Egia noticed how much John stressed on this girl’s beauty, and while she knew she

should not read nonsense into his opaque

intentions, she could not but help feel a taint of jealousy, and she could not confirm whether that was John’s original goal to start with.

These days having hidden food was a crime,

an outrageously inhuman act, at least in

Mjarrad. Back home, thought Egia, an excuse as simple as, but I love food, or it’s too good, or come on man it’s merely chocolate would get you off the hook. This was not the case in

Mjarrad. As John recounted those journeys,

she’d imagine how she, up to their crazy plan, had barely known anything about him. She had always dismissed him as a careless, lazy bully.

After mission Mjarrad’s commencement, she

has started to see him in a completely different light, and she was utterly aware that the others have started to take notice of those two’s

increasing number of solitary hours. They were soon to bring it up, undoubtedly.

For a few days, life was an endless process of interviews, date collection, data entry, and statistics. They planned to work in silence, and not announce or introduce anything online until sufficient work has been done. They did not want the fits of passion they hoped to arise in their audience to seem sporadic. They did not want to announce the NGO, for example, and

then have to implore their audience to be

patient for another month to hear updates. It seemed that the excitement of an

announcement would be annihilated by the

dullness of the wait. Instead, they aimed for activeness. Wave after wave of

announcements and news, constructively

interfering, and escalating to reach the pinnacle of humanitarian activism.

Thus, it was sometimes difficult to stay

motivated, as the results were not immediate and direct. It was more like writing a book than performing. The applaud does not come

instantly with the big feat; on the other hand, it arrives gradually after all the task is completed.

They’d spend their days in routine. And they were thankful of the cooperation of the

refugees. They’d share some food with them

occasionally, but alimentation remained to be an area of alarm to all of them. They had all lost some weight, having unconsciously started eating less being surrounded by the suffering families. Life has started to take on a timely sense of regularity. Surely this harmonic yet dull situation could not prolong, not so?


Since their arrival, he had not been exactly the most productive of people. Perhaps it was

because his share of responsibilities was minor at best, but deep down Shab knew that was not it. No one was sticking to the cheesy job

descriptions they have written during their first meeting anyways, as those scribbles on paper were now dismissed as a pretentious and

unsuccessful attempt at professionalism.

Professional or not, however, they were getting work done. Just that morning Shab had lent his credit card to Lisper who had begun the

domain registration process. Soon enough,

Metamorphose.com will be the talk of the town.

Shab would spend his days strolling through the camp, and he was by far the most familiar with and the most exposed to the camp around him. As opposed to Egia, who was investing

enormous chunks of time indoors to shape a

reliable data source, Shab spent the day

mingling with the dwellers. He has also gotten to know Nakhla and her family, and has also advocated them as a choice for the face of the campaign. Combined with John’s, his argument sounded along the lines of: “open not discrete mother, along with 5 adorable kids who are

easy to manage and have easily heart catching faces, with a dad whose fate remains a

mystery.” It was easily the image of the family they aspired to build, the image that would tug on everyone’s heart strings. Nakhla had

maintained growing relationships with them all, and remains by far one of the most open and accepting among the crew.


Although the trees in this stretch of land had never swayed to the soft vibrations of a guitar string, nor had the birds chirped to a piano melody, Maria could not help but love Mjarrad.

She was the artistic type and the only one who was stricken again and again by the poetic

beauty of the actions they have committed, and the heroic idea behind them. She even loved her job, which she had expanded to include

recruiting singers, dancers and craftsman, who could help her build instruments, although

primitive, but functional nevertheless. She would spend her days experimenting with

strings and occasionally would help out with the interviews. Egia needed her often, especially when adults refused to communicate or share.

Egia had taken a habit to calling after Maria in these sticky situations. Maria was particularly adept at all such actions, mimicking the

gentleness of the tunes she played in the voice and attitude she used in explaining to the

refugees that they had no political affiliation, they were not sent on a publicity scheme, and they merely wanted to raise awareness about their conditions to incite protests and secure them access and job opportunities worldwide.

“na3am 3ammo?’(Yes sir, in Arabic)

-this is outrageous. I am not forced to share my struggles, poverty nor non-existent ambitions with a group of teenagers who gained access through fishy means and whose mere presence amongst us is a sign of egoistic audacity.

Maria would let him rumble on, releasing the tension and pressure that has been

compounding inside him, escalating by the day.

Obviously, this man has been through a lot, and his ostensible hostility was totally

understood and expected by Maria, who

outshone Egia in such matters of treatment. As in the case of the man, all that was needed was lending an ear. She sat down and pulled the words out of him, feeling like she was

extracting an extremely long multicolored rope from a magician’s hat, and the hat was putting up a fight. The rope reminded her of childhood, its innocence and lack of responsibility. The lack of responsibility she yearned for as she struggled to keep up with deadlines. Maria would role play as Freud, imaging the man

propped on an archaic beige faux leather

coach, his bulky figure squished, his feet

dangling off one edge. On the outside, she was itching with humanity. What thoughts ran

shaded with opaque curtains, now that was the question. Maria parted with the man, and

shifted her attention to Egia, who apparently was also in need of some therapy. She whined about seemingly insignificant matters, and had Erosce been around she would have filled her storage on manners and issues on which to

tease, irritate and humor Egia later on. Just a few hours ago, Egia had burst into a fit of frustration. Her calculator battery was giving up on her and so was her memory as she

struggled to remember statistical formulas she has crammed on a moonless night some three

weeks ago. The term average was haunting

her, becoming intermingled with the air she breathes, food she eats and walks she takes.

On a happier note, she relishes her newly

formed muscular biceps. For some reason, this stay has achieved their fitness resolutions, as they all toned up from all the walking, and lost weight as they lived off canned tunas, and

sardines, in addition to fruit and vegetables the villagers have taken to planting. They were away from the triple chocolate crepes, triple burgers and triple cheese pizza they would

indulge in back in their safe havens. Home

seemed light years away, thought Maria, as

she evoked images of her opening of the

wooden, firm front door as she entered the

house to wafting smells of traditional Lebanese cuisine, and the occasional burgers. She thinks of humus, a staple in all Lebanese diets. She thinks of her brothers, and how luxuriously they live in their two story house, tucked away in a quiet semi-urban suburb of Beirut. Living here has opened up her eyes to countless realities that have escaped her before then. She would carry out the most tedious duties while

simultaneously overwhelmed with a perpetual feeling of gratefulness. A gratefulness she found bereft in others, a gratefulness she

traces to the day she spent shadowing Nakhla, a profound gratefulness that John only shared a superficial understanding of. An hour listening to Nakhla’s stories shrinks in comparison to spending the day with her, a privilege only Nakhla had taken advantage of, so far.

Chapter 7

It was an early morning, a Sunday, if Maria recalls correctly. She was taking a stroll, cherishing the utter silence reigning over this little abject kingdom, as she passed by

Nakhla’s ramshackle hut, surprised to see her up and awake, their door open, their fire

whirling, flames swaying gently. Nakhla

appears at the front door immediately, waving Maria in with an energetic gest and a beaming smile. Despite the trouble and hardship Nakhla has been through, her beauty remained, a

constant sign of revolt against the utter

wretchedness that was her destiny. Nakhla had took a liking to those eight, and was never wary about their intentions since the commencement of operation save the day they were committed to. In her strategic position directly next to the journalists’ tent, she had come in contact with all sort of reporters. Some were greedy for information, waiting impatiently to receive information that would enrich their article and get it published. Others were on a propaganda mission, trying to enchant her into thanking some or other nation, party or organization for their help, offers or services. She was almost always the target for documentaries, being in possession of a beautiful face with hardened features, who could win over the pity of even the most hardened of temperaments. Her story was a perfect fit: single mother, mother of five, singlehandedly works. Thus Nakhla constantly caught the attention of journalists, who deemed her the perfect object for their articles, the best subject to veneer, polish and mend for the

international recognition and journalist of the year awards: the ultimate prize. But those eight individuals had gained her liking and affection by the utter nobility of their cause, the complete lack of materialism, and high ethics and morals they would never forsake. They were different.

They were better. That is why she rushed in Maria, who had always amused her five

progeny with the attractiveness of the tunes she plucked on her guitar, sending vibes of relaxation and happiness along with the sound waves she issued.

“Hi Maria, how’s the work going hear?” and so begun the conversation.

After discussing the formalities, Maria posed a question that took Nakhla by surprise. She

asked about the dad of those five darlings, about the man that Nakhla chose, out of the undoubtedly many that were allured by the

beauty of Nakhla’s full features and the

kindness her eyes radiated. Of course, those eyes now convey a sense of sadness, but

Maria was sure that was not always the case.

Nakhla broke out into a tale in a slightly

patronizing voice, the voice she’d use while teaching, or reprimanding, her son. Maria

understood it’s because she was now the

equivalent of a child, when suffering and

hardship are concerned. After all, she had less than the average child’s share of suffering, having been born with a silver spoon positioned in her noble mouth.

“I am not of Syrian descent. I originate from the gulf, where exactly I will not share.” She said with a despondent ambiance.

“I was born into a wealthy family, and I see a bit of myself in every one of you. A bit of the jubilant, carefree girl I was. I would showcase my beauty, take pride in my full lips, my perfect curls, my seemingly impeccable eyebrows and the row of pearls contained in here.” She

pointed at the rotting, incomplete set of teeth, with two incisors missing, the remaining ones sun yellow. Maria did not find the irony

amusing, rather outrageous. What had life

done to that princess of a figure? Maria’s

imagination was racing, evoking images of

young Nakhla.

“I was so innocent, so naïve. Life was a dance, of which I was always the center of attention, swirling at the center, in an overpriced dress, the pride of my parents who would always

introduce me first, always fulfill my needs first, always take my opinions first, constantly

favoring me over any of my siblings, and trust me they were many. I was my parents shot at royalty; I was the daughter that would make them proud, raise them through the levels of social hierarchy. The daughter that was sure to win the heart of a prince, a charming beautiful educated and talented prince. A prince I’d see the likes of in movies my dad would treat me to.

Of course, those movies were edited beyond

recognition at times, eradicated from the dirt of western society, but nevertheless they were movies from around the world, a privilege my beauty had entitled me to. Since I was 13, our door was knocked by gentlemen trying to be

introduced to me, to court me, to enchant me and win my favor. They all fed my ego; none winning my heart or my father’s favor. I was always awaiting my prince, baba was always

awaiting someone higher up the ladder. Deep down, I knew the truth, and deep down I would pray that the man would fulfill both our

standards. I would never marry someone whom I loved but of whom my parents were not fond. I would never marry someone of whom my

parents approved but of whom I was not fond.”

A nostalgic smile settled comfortably on her lips. A smile that was there throughout her childhood years.

“I was gullible, thought I had a choice. My parents found their one way ticket to the most elite level of the society we belonged to, and it was too tempting, so tempting they’d sacrifice my happiness to be escalated to the cherry-on-top.”

Maria was too taken by the story, and hence only acutely aware of the tears swelling up in her eyes, as she anticipated what comes next.

“Let’s call him Stain for the sake of simplicity, and discreteness.” She pauses, the adds,” and for the undeniable blotch, the deep stain he left on my life, and my otherwise impeccable


At this point, it’s no longer professional

storytelling, as information bursts out of

Nakhla’s mouth, as she seemingly ails with

every fact she recounts, with every deeply

buried memory that resurfaces. Maria is

shocked at this unexpected outcome of her

morning stroll, and overwhelmed by the

closeness she feels to Nakhla, feeling satisfied in her current position as Nakhla’s confidant, and much needed friend. Lending someone an

ear can go a long way, she noted.

“He met all my parents’ needs, and exceeded all their standards. Not only did he belong to the elite, he was just short of controlling them.

Not only was he wealthy; he had investments that were certain to quadruple his wealth in a near future. Not only was he looking for a bride, youth and beauty were his priorities. I was his perfect fit. The first time we met, I could imagine him ticking off every condition from his imaginary list. Beauty. Check. Youth. Check.

Innocence. Check. Shyness. Check. Calm.

Check. Parents easy to get along with. Check. I was her. But what is truly appalling is what “her’


Maria. Are you ready? Her was the 16 year old bride to be, the fourth wife of a sixty year old.”

Nakhla chuckled to herself, obviously lamenting her fate.

“He was the most materialistic of people. A business monster. A social master. He won my parents approval with a heartbeat, as I watched appalled, waiting for dad to protest. Waiting for dad to inform him that he was undeniably wrong for dad’s

precious ruby. His Gem was too young, too lively, too adventurous and life loving for a sixty year old who has had his share of the fun of youth. None of those words were uttered. The tables turned. I went from being the child that was envied to the child that was pitied. From the most fortunate to the least fortunate. From the throne of superiority to the floor of inferiority and humility. I was to be dispensed off like a piece of land, to serve my dad’s goal of financial and social gain, to fulfill a lifelong lust for power.”

Maria was speechless, having expected an

adorable account of a love affair in some peaceful village, followed by a cruel separation due to war recruitment.

“Nevertheless, none of dad’s fantasies were fulfilled, though. The lenient child soon rebelled, in the most silent and discrete of manners. I climbed on a petroleum ship, on a night I was supposed to be out shopping, roaming the streets for the perfect garment that would wrap my delicate figure and compliment my beauty. I succeeded, with the help of my sister, my sole confidant throughout the whirlwind of events that occurred in that abject month of June. I got off at a port in Egypt, after crossing the red sea on a fisher boat, with the assistance of a kindhearted fisherman who felt bad for the weeping mess of emotions the figure in front of him was. I entered Egypt, inhabiting a hostel for a few nights, having bribed the employer to grant a 17year old girl a room, an act against their protocol.

In the Arab world, young girls have to be

accompanied by a guardian, be it a parent or a husband. I was an emotional wreck at that time, always questioning my decision, always imagining the look on my mother’s face when she finds out about her canny daughter’s courage. With all honesty, however, I truly doubt she felt heartbroken, not because she felt she was lacking in her affection towards me, of which was abundant, but because she was unhappy with her role as a wife in the unmentioned country we lived in. She had lived her life being looked down at, being treated as inferior and insignificant, being treated, well, as a woman. I have escaped what would have been a similar fate, and she would not mourn me for not following in her footsteps. Actually, she would rejoice that I managed to free myself from the lamentable fate of a housewife in country x.” Nakhla talks with a sad smile, as she undoubtedly evokes image of her mother. “I don’t resent her a bit, for she had no power. Completely helpless as I am.

Anyways, back to Egypt. I was originally seeking employment as an elementary teacher. I had a profound knowledge of the sciences, and would be an attraction to all schools, despite my lack of an official diploma. Most teachers lacked an official diploma back then. However, nothing ever works out as planned. On my way to my first school I bumped into my man. Let’s call him detergent.

Detergent wiping the stain Stain had left on me. He was ineffective detergent, but he was detergent either way, and his mere efforts to cure me pleased me and won over my affection. I bumped into him while awaiting a cab. He was in a shop by the bus stop selling his merchandise, which was composed of, fruits and vegetables.” She said the last part with a pretentiously excited tone, as if the answer to detergent’s occupation, a farmer, ended the suspense that was building up for ages.

“He offered me the sweetest apple, inquiring about my name and occupation. Of course, I fed him utter lies at the time. However, in the frightened, fragile and confused state I was in back then, I yearned for love and affection. He came in just the right time.

He ended up inviting me to dinner, and in defiance to my parents who would be utterly outraged, I agreed wholeheartedly. His parents were never fond of me, a mystery girl with no background nor connections. I was polite and beautiful, but the list ended there for them, at least. Detergent saw me in a whole different light, and after that dinner all my doubts that abandoning my country was the right decision escaped me. He was here, and it was only logical that fate would lead me to where he was. He had never received a proper education, but the flagrant number of books he had read compensated for that lack of diplomas. He was exactly what she wanted, and the exact opposite of what her parents would deem suitable. He was well-off but not possessing of any prestige. He was educated with no papers to prove it. He was a noble gentleman with no acclaimed ancestry to rely on. He was, however, real.

Shortly thereafter, she disclosed everything to him, revealing insight he could use to send her back home, return her to her rightful fiancée. She was completely sure, however, that he would never betray her. He loved her in a way she was never loved. He loved her for what she was, not for the connections, potential and hope she provided, as was the case with her gold-digger of a father. A wedding, 10 years of agriculture, and 5 kids later, war broke out in Egypt. Detergent joined the army, fulfilling his patriotic duties, while Nakhla retraced her steps up the red sea, the journey she had taken a decade ago. This time, however, she was

stronger, harder and more tolerant. She and her children mounted a boat to Mjarrad, where she has lived ever since.”

As expected, Nakhla currently worked on the farm, ensuring they take full advantage of every seed at their dispense. Her farmer boys would help her, after she filled their stomachs, some way or another, with one fifth an egg or otherwise. They had been chubby once, even cuddling the border between chubby and obese, and now they stood extremely thin, soon to look emaciated. The produce was scarce, and it was to be distributed over them all. Since their arrival, all eight members or metamorphose would constantly sacrifice an admirable share of their fruits, denying the privileges they have attained through the superior title of journalist. With that title, however, came increased responsibility, and need to be meticulous.

They have only recently discovered that Uriago 2, a security system as formidable as the one located on the camp’s entrance, was so inconveniently and strategically located in top right corner of their living room. The discovery did not frighten them as heavily as it surprised them, for their daily lives were know objects of scrutiny, a phenomenon that fed their egos, definitely, but also made them promise to the solemn voice in their respective heads of how utterly discrete they will be.

Chapter 8

Their daily duties have begun to shape a routine, hovering the line between productive and inefficient.

That line was particularly vague for Egia, say the least. It could be argued that she spent surplus time dolling herself up, as much as seemingly possible in their current location in the literal middle of nowhere. While Egia was not the least liked among the villagers of nowheredom, she hinted of being shallow and superficial, plucking her eyebrows while the rest scurried for food. Egia, however, took care of herself from even more personal reasons.

Surely, looking presentable on future documentaries is an additional benefit, but not her primary nor ultimate goal. Perhaps, due to the scarcity of gentlemen, an external change, or a personal character modification towards less humility, an internal change, or a disproportionate

amalgamation of both, she could not specify. What she was affirmative about was her undeniable fancy of john, his manners and jokes, his cuisine skills and the lightheartedness with which he accepted a seemingly demeaning job. They often spent the sunny afternoons chatting away, at a time everyone else fell asleep to the gentle feel of the sun soaking their skin and stroking their bodies.

John’s hands were behind his back, as his

somewhat stubby fingers fumbled to undo the apron knot. He chatted away with Egia as he erased the traces of the mess he has caused in the kitchen, while preparing dinner. Dinner was a favorite of this new family they comprised, a time where they relaxed, celebrated this day’s success, recovered from its failures, and supplied each other with motivation to stay on track. Now, everyone was wrapping up their duties, as Egia set the table, across from John.

- Ironic, I travelled miles north, risked tarnishing my parents’ lifelong trust, and dedicating my summer, why? To be a chef. To make fairly

reasonable meals out of rudimentary supplies.

- While we’ll be crafting our CVs with jaw

dropping job descriptions, you’ll recount how you cooked apples with chicken and onions.

Egia teased, her eyes on the pot on the make shift stove, her nose crinkled to show her

blatant disapproval.

Egia inhaled, taking on her serious demeanor, as she broke into recital mode.

I worked as lead mastermind on the mission

that saved the world. I Egia was part of the initiative, the action, and thus reaped a portion of the success. View my exquisite reporting skills, along with my incredible improvisation techniques, on the numerous and diverse links appearing on the bottom right hand of the


John was laughing, watching Egia flash smiles in a perfectly composed manner.

She flashes a smile at john, adding in a tone heavy with satire, “and let me shed light on John, the person who ensured I have the

rudimentary food supply to achieve the

greatness marking my destiny. I emphasize on rudimentary, never less, and affirmatively, due to his bizarre cooking skills and misleading intuition, never more than rudimentary.”

- Yet again, you never fail to amuse me with your sharp sense of humor Miss Shiba.

- Aww Johnny, drawing smiles on the less

fortunate faces is in my job description.

- I did not realize I had discrete beneficiaries.

- Well you do know, the best in the country. I mean, the best in the non-country.

- Now if you’ll excuse me witty Miss Shiba, how anticipative are you of tasting this brilliant mixture of the finest ingredients.

- You know what they say, apples are made to be served by chicken.

- Excellent choice, not so?

- I most definitely agree. I am willing to bet it was the hardest of choices, choosing amongst this astonishing diversity.

She nods her head to the now empty fridge,

bereft of material substance with the exclusion of morning cereal and their last bottled fresh milk container. Soon enough, they’ll make the shift to a powdered version.

- No brilliant achievements were ever achieved easily, young Egia.

- You talk like a connoisseur of success.

- Most definitely. Same applies to my passion for food.

- Connoisseur of food? Hmmm. Who are we

kidding here, you’re more of a glutton, a hyper glutton.

Egia says, between fits of laughter.

John pats his belly, which has been shrinking on a daily basis, due to the absence of the large caloric intake his body has grown accustomed to.

-call it whatever you want, I take pride in it.

They had taken a habit of conversing in such a pretentious approach, a habit tracing back to what now seemed enormous sweeps of time away. Back then, John found Egia pretentious, throwing multi syllable words into her personalized dialect, using archaic words in the wrong century. She was out of character, and was far off from the main stream teenage girl’s image. He had adopted her pompous style of talking with time, finding how she squeezed sophistication into every sentence she formulated funny, and something purely Egia, a unique

characteristic of hers.

- Now, honestly john what were you thinking.

Apples and chicken? What’s wrong with

chicken soup followed by apples?

To add her tinge of sophistication, she

deliberately adds

“The populace will soon be enraged.”

“Ahh how misfortunate that my gourmet food

does not meet your fancy. Let me inform you, fair maiden that chicken dishes exist outside the world of burgers and sandwiches.”

“The word gourmet is too gourmet for you.

Please, refrain from the usage of such haughty terms that give off an insincere ambiance of pretense. I’d much rather feel overwhelmed

with a feel of authenticity in my diurnal


John stares at her disbelievingly, smiling at the absolute non-sense of what she has just

uttered. Girl’s good at her game, he thought.

Raising his hands high levelling his head, in a lucid attempt to show he surrenders.

‘I hereby relinquish it all to the queen of pretense, and pomp. Not exactly an exalting title, but a title nevertheless, a title Egia will always hold, as I am the sole competitor to that position, and I am by far more inferior in my fancy linguistic abilities. No living being would ever waste his time on such a futile act.”

Egia bows as she gently places a plate down on the table, flanking its sides with utensils neatly. She takes a seat as John excuses

himself. She has always daydreamed of her Mr.

Darcy; she has always imagined herself

dragged into witty conversation. While she has abandoned the longing for royalty that

characterizes all girls’ childhoods, she had never let go of her love for elegance. She

relished the past conversation. Someone she has unexplainably become attached to was

helping her achieve her lifelong dreams of

elegance and prestigious exchange, and her

English fantasies were fulfilled, ironically in the middle of a wretched refugee camp. She was

ecstatic, though she took considerable

measures to hide this shot of jubilance. John was a person she has grown up with,

simultaneously experiencing all the hills and climbs, the pits and the valleys of childhood through adolescence. Now, as they were on the verge of taking the leap towards adulthood, she has begun to perceive him in a whole new light.

She had always had the highest standards

when it comes to men, as she dreamt of the

overachiever who would exceed her own

remarkable achievements. The scientific brain that would engage her in the most thought

provoking of discussions. The muscular and fit man that will motivate her to get moving. Her impossible standards have never been met.

John, however, was an anomaly. He did not live up to any of those standards, but yet again those standards are never in mind when he

fogs her thoughts. She evaluates him on a

completely different scale. His

kindheartedness, his easy going temperament, and how he is perfectly content directing than acting, having no penchant for attention

seeking or recognition. He reminded her of how materialistic she sometimes is, prioritizing achievement over nature, acclaimed worth over personal traits. There’s more to the world than certificates. There’s more to a person than his score reports. Egia resides on the make shift dining table, carefully assembled from two

wood stools topped by a plank of wood, with a rugged uneven surface. She is lost in

pleasurable thoughts, and unconsciously killing mosquitos that plagued them in this hot

summer weather. She feels content, ironically.

Surrounded by people in wretched conditions, she knew she ought to wipe that smile off her face. But she could not. For once she had

found happiness in something other than

achievement. Something free, something

unexpected. Something that, unlike all the

other happiness-promoting activities, for once came with no perseverance, no hard work.

Perhaps, she thought to herself, that’s what all refugees needed. A John. Maybe that’s what

kept Nakhla going through those tedious times and incredulous misfortune. She was too

arrogant to admit her feelings to John, though.

She had Elizabeth Bennett’s pride, and now, she was experiencing the anticipation and

excitement that had accompanied Elizabeth on her own journey.

John, while a bit more discrete at containing this newly found happiness, nevertheless had an equal, if not larger, share. Egia was any one’s dream girl, and this incessant spark that has evolved between her and him, specifically out of the sundry men who would scurry to her company had they not feared the humility of rejection.

At first, he tried to go against his intuition, convince himself that any mutual fondness they shared was a gracefully founded fragment of his imagination. He tried to persuade himself that Egia was simply extremely friendly with everyone, something that had escaped him

before they moved to a remote corner of the world, and were left to converse and befriend, due to the scarcity of individuals of a common mentality and vision. However, he knew, and this knowledge of his soon solidified into firm conviction, that there was more to the mute giggles and discrete looks than circumstance. It was not merely because they were confined to this room, john playing chef while Egia and Lisper drowned into their respective screens, screens of laptops that looked eccentric and precocious in their fifteenth century hut.

He had to act like a gentleman. He could not let this keep going with neither of their affection expressed or there true feelings admitted too.

He had to take action soon enough, much to

Marat’s disapproval at the unwelcomed

impediment to progress. Marat has picked up a managing role, and her success was

astounding and inspiring. She was their source of motivation, as she never crossed the line between arrogant and confident, between

leader and boss. She would keep them all on track, redirecting their resources to the one most in need of it at any one time. She would go around buzzing, complimenting Erosce

humbling down her outfits, pushing Egia to

submit results, teasing John about the

absurdity of last night’s dinner, and providing an upbeat atmosphere throughout. Lisper was done with his website, having designed it in a dull yet appealing way, to sadden and draw

attention simultaneously. It will most definitely be a hit, she acknowledges. Constantly

reminding everyone of the enormity of their accomplishment.


“ We live among them. We know their stories.

Stories of people who escaped war and death to a more demeaning hell, at least back home they had perpetual hope, but now? Unlike

them, we came here by our own personal

choice, to restore their hope. This is their hope.

Don’t let it run out. Don’t let humanity run out.”

They had this under “about”, short, concise and goose bump inducing. It was being shaped

perfectly; everyone spending all day bustling around, consumed by to do lists, deadlines and work in general. They had a vision. They had adopted, “Don’t let it run out” as their catchphrase, keeping it ambiguous as per

Egia’s request, a lover of ambiguity and

surprise. John had mocked this pretense at

secrecy, reciting “ I’m abashed Egia”, flicking his hair, mocking her repeatedly, using terms she has adopted since she’s signed up for

advanced English.

The mission was almost complete, the crew

having swept through seventy five percent of Mjarrad’s population, interviewing, recording, listening, and most importantly sympathizing.

This work they’ve undertaken has impacted

them all, opening their eyes to the outrageous injustices dispersed throughout the mountains, through the shorelines and valleys.

John and Shab hiked upwards, towards the plot of land Nakhla and an energetic team had

invested in, taking advantage of the fertile soil.

As villagers, they had a claim to a scanty

portion of products, which they hiked upwards to obtain. That proportion could easily be

doubled had they resorted to the journalist pass Marat had procured, but out of respect towards and empathy with the rest, they had forsaken their privileges.

- It’s a beautiful feeling. I always feel uplifted, never down. I seem to have this unlimited

source of positive energy coming my way.

- And Egia? What makes you so sure she feels the same way? A clue? A hint?

- We, my friend, have surpassed that stage.

John exudes confidence, as he pauses with his arm resting on his chest, a profound expression settled unto his face.

- Yup, definitely. Who can resist that arrogant, irritating demeanor? Shab raises his eyebrow, questioningly.

- Dude. I’m happy, exhilarated, with a stupid smile plastered at all times.

- You really are cheeky. Here you stand,

boasting your happiness surrounded by the

most tragic of people. Genius John.

They pause repeatedly, as per Shab’s request.

He insisted on capturing every heart-wrenching scene they passed.

- We’re off duty. You’re paparazzi job released you an hour ago.

- The more, the merrier. I love my job. It engulfs me in a feeling of duty and achievement.

- Someone does not regret withdrawing from

basketball camp.

- That statement can safely be made.

- So back to Egia, what’s your plan?

- Umm dress up like an English man, borrow a stallion from a good old mate, and invite her to the fanciest ball dance? He talks bereft from emotion, in a as a matter of fact matter as his straight face could pull off, in light of the absolute ridiculousness of the words he


- She would love that. Although I’m currently imagining the absolute fool you’d be making of yourself, she’d probably let you down so

politely you would not recognize that you

should be experiencing embarrassment and

the hot rush of flushed cheeks.

- Ohh not the dreaded polite let down.

Shab laughs, inhaling the fresh mountain air as he caught a glimpse of the farm. He’s

contemplating over the perfect ego breaker to send John’s way when suddenly, his chain of thoughts is cut. An object is descending.

Twirling, racing, an undistinguishable blurry elongated pitch of black. Twirling, twirling, and nearing them. John notices it to. John inhales, screaming at his legs to move. Screaming for Shab to retreat. Screaming at his nerves for refusing to comply. Screaming at his own legs, control over which he has lost. Screaming.

Simply screaming as he watched the object

reveal itself. It quadrupled in size. It gained stamina as it freefell. The blur has banished revealing the missile. Finally his legs were complying. John feels Shab tug at him. They run, not looking back. Seconds till the blow.

Maybe even less. Maybe a fraction of a

second. The screaming continues. It’s no

longer heard, replaced by a sudden boom.

Booomm! Booom! Shab is acutely aware of his legs losing contact with the ground. A

nanosecond later, an excruciating pain

originates from his spine, spreading through every limb. It’s a fire, growing and growing inside him. Cracks and cracks due to impact.

Crunching sounds of friction. A fire of pain engulfing anything and everything in his wake.

He experiences pain like never before.

Stabbing and penetrating, through every

ligament, every tissue, every one of the billion cells merging, fusing into this fireball of pain. All he wanted was for it to stop. He could not care less about john or any other person’s fate. He prayed for this bone crushing feeling of piercing to stop. And courtesy of the human body’s

ability to endure a certain threshold of pain, Shab blocked out, with the smell of his

mother’s coffee, reminiscent of a home distant in both space and time, in his nostrils.

Chapter 10

He could not quite put his finger on the exactly what had occurred. Everything around him was a wreck, and he himself felt worn out and

emaciated. He had woken up in a daze.

Looking around, he began to fear the story, the extent of the dire consequences, and the

possible and probable ramifications for the incident. He drags himself unto his feet,

wincing in pain, desperately trying to overlook the shooting pain in his legs, and the bloody state of his skin. He’s scavenging his memory, trying to detect any hidden information that had escaped him. Due to the absence of bodies, he figured that he must have been alone,

fortunately. However, further inspection of the surrounding area revealed traces of blood,

sometimes marks sometimes heart wrenching

puddles, that were too distant and too much at times, to have splattered from him. Whoever went down alongside him must have been

carried away. What partial treatment, unfair indeed.

Shab drags his hands behind him, his palms

gently lying on the mountain grass. He peers at a speck of grass in the stretch surrounding him.

Green grass, untarnished by the seemingly

incongruous surroundings. Green grass,

exploding with tales of vivacious life. Isolate that piece of earth, and no one would believe that the larger, more comprehensive image it belongs to, is, in reality, a bloodbath. Bizarre.

Shab tries to pull himself upwards, to a semi-sitting position. Pain explodes throughout his arms, so he relinquishes, grimacing heavily. His torso hits the ground with a thump, and the newly incited pain sends him back to


John. The name popped into Shab’s mind,

accompanying his journey back to

consciousness. He was conscious, but more

importantly he was aware. He was with John

prior to the explosion. John was dragged away.

The villagers were dispersed too. Maybe from the impact of the explosion. Maybe they too were dragged away. Shab starts to

overanalyze, and before he was aware of it, his mind was rushing into conclusions he feared were the truth.

Had John been alright, he would have never

left solely. Had help been available, this

charitable third party would have tended to both their needs. Unless. Unless john was worse off.

Maybe the extent of John’s injury was too large in comparison with whatever ailed Shab

currently. They must have been overwhelmed

with John. They must have ensured Shab was

all alive and well, and scurried off cradling john.

This reason comforted Shab, as he went on to picture poor John in recovery, thanking God that this known aggression passed by with no severe implications, and comforting himself with how John was escorted to care in a rather punctual time. Surely, he was not neglected.

Any minute now, someone will be arriving with a hot thermos of tea and a loaf of his mom’s golden bread loaves. Any minute now.

He went on engulfing himself with this warm blanket of reassuring thoughts.

Why not surprise his friends with his stalwart courage? He’ll make his way to camp on his

own, relieving all their worries. Slowly, he grabs unto a dislocated tree branch, after stretching his arms out considerably. He manages to get on his feet this time. All that time he spent sleeping must have helped him recover

somewhat from his undiagnosed injuries.

Chapter 11

He walked slowly, and as steadily as possible with unanticipated pain. Pain from his muscles, his tissues, his cells. But more importantly pain from his vision. Emotional pain. It has

deteriorated. The incredulously vile conditions had worsened, an act no one imagined

feasible. There was a severe stench that now diagnosed the camp. There seemed to be less people around. Those he spied him were

seemingly in a hurry, scurrying to get

somewhere, or perhaps to escape him. He

glances at his blood splattered feet. He must be quite a sight. Or perhaps they were in

despair, under the illusion that they’re hurrying towards some exit, some way out of this cursed plot of land in the heart of the geographic continents.

The camp wreaked badly, a smell more

gruesome than any he had previously known. It was getting hotter, he reasoned. Too much

sweat. Too little water. Nature was changing, and only in this human dump was the beauty of season change and progression not acclaimed, not welcome, but merely recognized, noted as a further reason for despair and demise.

By the time he arrived at camp, his ears itched to hear frequencies enlightening him with the truth of events. A profound change has taken place. Instead of being greeted by an odd yet inciting smell of food, his nose was

overwhelmed by a smell of rotting fruits, sweat and uncleanliness. John was out of sight. Gone were the days of arriving to Egia and John

futilely attempting to hide their mutual affection.

Gone were the quiet snickers of Erosce

hunched in a corner laughing at their childishly innocent relationship. Gone was Marat

speeding through errands and Lisper sprinting to catch up with her demanding requests. The familiarity of the camp was gone, and he felt estranged from all the gloominess. Where is the motivated team bursting with passion for humanity and outrage at its violations? Where was the song they hummed to and the dance

they swayed to? Where was the enthusiasm

with which they have so delicately coined the term metamorphose? Where was the unified

beating heart, of which they have been the

chambers? In cardiac arrest. That’s where.

That’s the first term that came to mind when he saw them all there, huddled around, barely

breathing. Inaudible respiration.

Chapter 12

He has no idea how long they’ve left him laid on the fortunately not-too-steep mountain. They were all here, neglecting his presence. He

suddenly felt heat burst through his veins, suddenly felt himself redden. All of a sudden, he was angry and outraged. There they were, fighting inhumanity, acting piteous. Yet, they have abandoned him, left him on a mountain

for God knows how long. They feigned morality, sacrificing their summers to help the world while all in all they cared not if a needy friend lays easy prey, wounded and weak, incapable of either self-defense or escape. He stood

there, leaning unto the debilitating tree branch, torn away due to the intensity of the explosion.

He could have as easily lost an arm of his. As easily as the sturdy tree lost a branch. Yet, they did not seem moved.

Clouded by the anger, he failed to notice the absence of John.

Analogous to this was how, a mere two days

ago, clouded by shock, disbelief and

lamentation, his friends failed to notice his own presence on the field.

His presence next to John. Who laid there,

motionless like a tress. Who laid there, with a missing arm just like the tree. Who laid there, a memory of greatness, benevolence and

warmth, just like the branchless tree.

Chapter 13

They should’ve known better. At their time, the mere condition of the world wreaked of

pessimism and obscenity.

And perhaps they were the worse off, the arrogant bunch called the high middle class, an endangered class that apprehension and fear control. Fear of failing. Fear of demotions. Fear of falling down to the ever growing majority, stumbling down the social hierarchy, upon a path from which there was no return. This class has long grown in fear, and this fear has isolated them, hardening their hearts.

The longer they managed to maintain this position of theirs, surrounded by the ravenous, the

emaciated and the poverty-stricken, the more their confidence in their abilities escalated, while their clinginess to their now older and more profound posts escalated as well. Thus their ego grew, an unfortunate byproduct of success. All the while their readiness to forfeit humanitarian principles in the face of tempting humanitarian principles grew. And grew. And grew. Since their arrival, Talj would fall asleep relishing in the beauty of their will and ambition. She would drift the ocean of possibilities, exploring all perspectives on and interpretations of their discourse. She saw beauty, and humanity.

Now, after the incident, her perspective on life, on them, has been altered. Where she once saw

possibility, she now saw as naivety. What she deemed ambitious was rendered greedy. What she deemed a human act she now saw as an act of arrogance. Who are they? What egoistical thinking convinced them that they had the ability to induce a change internationally? They were fools, dominated by an indomitable believe that they were different.

They were to solve the refugee crisis eating away on nations’ economies. They were the chosen ones to appease the rage taking the world by storm.

Thinking this way, clearly and open-mindedly, Talj no longer found outright injustice in the incident. On the other hand, the outcome syncopated with the world’s logic. One simply does not do what they did.

The fact that they escaped, got away with this ill-thought plan, resulting from increased levels of unrealistic motivations charming them with the idiocy to carry out such a plan, was itself incongruous with the natural flow of world events.

Every mention of the plan brought with it a gush of memories and shudders. How fast has her insight changed? Had an outsider even glanced at their mission, he would have immediately dismissed it.

Fate played a trick, and they paid the price. The smoothness of their escape, arrival and entry. The utter absence of hindrances and obstacles, the ease of it all were never the optimistic signs sagacious Talj interpreted them to be. They were snickers of destiny’s mockery, building them up to watch them free-fall, their fall as unopposed as their rise. They know saw themselves for who they really are. For once, the mirror was not clouded by thoughts of superiority, or otherwise. It was absolutely crystal clear, and they saw right through it. No refraction. No reflection. No distortion.

If only they could have unblemished the mirror using anything other than the blood of a friend, a brother and a lover. What a price.

- We’re sorry Shab. We checked that your pulse and breathing rate was fine, and then we

scurried over to fuss over John.

To the utmost surprise of Shab, it was Egia that spoke up.

Not Marat, who had years of dealing with death and sicknesses through her involvement in

charitable causes, who had a huge arsenal of experience to enable her to act.

Not Erosce, who excelled at softening up the ambiance.

Not Lisper, who was the least emotionally

affected among the group.

But Egia, the person who has grown more

attached to John than she would ever have

disclosed. The person who for the past two

weeks had blurred the borderline between

reality and fantasy, skipping into what awaits her and John. Depicting scenarios in which

they admit to the gush of emotion. Analyzing the expected reaction of the team to this shock of an announcement. Envisioning the overall joy she ought to feel. She’d anticipate getting to know John, his secrets, memories and

ambitions. His deep thoughts, diary entries, and most profane regrets. She’d love to hear his stance on the most pragmatic government systems, the best era to have inhabited, and the veracity of history. He was gone now. It was all buried with him. His life was ended by a blasphemous trick of fate. A misguided bomb.

Targeted off by 15 kilometers, just enough to cross into Mjarrad, to land in just the right position at just the right intensity to deprive John of his life. Frightening power, to end lives and bury hope. All in the hands of savage,

bloodthirsty creatures. Who don’t even know how to aim strategically.

Then and there, it hit them. They were no

longer fighting for an abstract and distant, though noble, cause. They were no longer

fighting for theoretical Russell and his

impalpable congenital heart disease. They

were now firsthand victims. They were now

fighting for John. Their motivation had doubled, tripled even quadrupled. While it was once

fuelled by outrage at inhumanity, it was now fuelled by something way more powerful. An

interminable energy source. Endless bonds to break, endless exothermic reactions. All of which John’s decease has sparked.

Unleashed. Released.

Simultaneously, however, their confidence in their abilities has crashed. Gone were the

teenagers who were shooting for the limits of the expanding universe. Au lieu, sat a group of adolescents who an outsider would mistake for a depression support group, or at least, a

depressing failure of an attempt at a

depression support group.

Maria sat there silently. Among the group, she had been the most distant to John, though she by no means was short of devastated by his

death. She stood up, strolled to the other

corner of the room, at a snail’s pace. It seemed like she struggled to coordinate the movement of her body, the lamentation pulling her down, a parasite of energy and activity.

They were all watching her movements, her

being the only non-stationary aspect of the room. For them, her movement represented a

slow and not composed, rather chaotic,

procession. A procession of grief, intermingled with thoughts and sentiments of failure,

obliteration and termination. What will they say to the mom? The dad? Or the sister awaiting her box of Swiss chocolates? How will they

break the news to their school, teachers and own family? How will this be justified? But most profoundly, how are they to deal with

themselves? Their consciences? They could

not. Not today, not tomorrow. Not in a few

years, let alone in a few months. They would never be prepared. But, yet again, they should not be allowed to prepare, either way. Why are they to have any advantages, to show

themselves any leniency? Is john’s mom going to be prepared when they break the news to

her? Will she be composed and anticipative

when they inform her of the utter gruesome

death her son has suffered? Then why should they, an undeserving impulsive crew who

leaped into a self-chosen abyss be allowed to escalate back up smoothly? Be allowed to fully recover and reassemble their stamina? A

privilege they all yearned for, but all lacked the flagrant audacity to demand. They had to go back. There stay here posed a threat to each one of them. Yet what lay ahead was


All those thoughts spanned their heads, in

different forms, different ideas, but all revolving around the same idea. John-centric.

Maria arrives to her bed, grimacing at the

overwhelming closeness of John’s. That bed

was now made into a makeshift tomb, topped

by planks of wood and stone. Lisper had

invested notable effort into its formation, an effort equally divided between the strain of collecting raw material and performing manual work under a ruthless sun, and the challenge of remaining not inundated by tears and emotions despite the purpose of the tomb unwaveringly omnipresent in his thoughts. The tomb sharing the throne with an undulling image of John, smiling, a crooked smile with various

implications, with sublime hints at anecdotes and inside jokes. Eyes that disclose untold tales and stories.

Chapter 14

Maria picks up her banjo, drops to the ground rather clumsily, with a light thud upon contact.

Her adept fingers find their positions on the strings rather gracefully, and seemingly

instinctively. They commence playing a melody that sparks everyone’s recognition in a matter of nanoseconds. Growing up as kids, they have always mocked musicals, demeaning the utter pretentiousness and implausibility of a group of amateurs, and friends spontaneously and

simultaneously, breaking out into action,

singing in unison, all words perfectly committed to memory, all dance moves perfectly

coordinated. It was this seeming perfection that tarnished the authenticity of the movie,

transporting the watcher from vicariously living a high school life perspective to imagining hours of tedious rehearsals required for such levels of perfection. Never after a perfect scene of dancing and giggles would they be

convinced that the actors coincide with their roles, and this whole sense of disbelief strips the movie of its credibility, ruining its ultimate purpose.

However, today, they were the ones breaking into action. A depressed, broken act yet an act.

The banjo shook the air with a hectic

frequency, sending the melody of take me to church whizzing through the rooms, resonating with their voices as they all sang along. They jumbled up the words. They were out of tune and sounded disgruntled, the sounds echoing from their voice boxes’ resembled whines and moans more than they did resonant sounds,

but nevertheless, aware of all of this, they sang on.

‘We were born sick,’ you heard them say it

My Church offers no absolutes.

The only heaven I’ll be sent to

Is when I’m alone with you

I was born sick,

But I love it

Command me to be well

Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Take me to church

I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife Offer me that deathless death

Good God, let me give you my life

Take me to church

I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife Offer me that deathless death

Good God, let me give you my life

They chanted for a while, voices varying from loud to low, high pitched to abyss deep, and strong and assertive to barely audible. As they sang, it became harder for each of them to

remain emperor over their reign of a diverse populace of emotion overwhelming them. Talj cried though the song, weeping and wheezing, adding melody to the chorus.

It was like letting go, allowing oneself to erupt into the volcano of awakened emotions.

Marat was screaming, eyebrows furrowed, fists clenched as she replayed in her memory the

Oscar winning monologue she had preached,

persuading them all to come here. Persuading John to join what back then seemed like the most righteous act of humanity, but today, in retrospect, seemed to have a tinge of peer

pressure, luring him into his death. She played that one scene over and over again, laughing at her very own naivety. She has grown up and digested so much since then, and only now did she perceive the inevitable danger of a

misguided adolescent with an immaculate heart and noteworthy intentions. She felt like she has rediscovered perception, just like she felt like she has been reacquainted with sight after

propping her eyeglasses on her nose for the first time ever. Comfortably seated on her

advantageously crooked nose, her glasses

allowed her to rediscover the beauty of sight and detail. And now, comfortably resting on a ramshackle tomb, John’s corpse allowed her to rediscover perception, and for the first time in months did she wholly comprehend the

situation they were displaced in. Perhaps, she thought, this was the appraised process of

growing up, of maturing. To her, growing up was coincident with seeing the whole picture.

The baby giraffe of her brain had just had a growth spurt, its elongated neck now enabling it to crane its head in all directions, finally processing the ultimate picture, its width, height, and the gravity of its deepness.

They finally plunged into the grave

conversation they have been adjourning by

instinct, through the most bizarre of methods: strolling at an injured turtle’s pace, dancing, shrieking and singing wildly, passionately, all the time bereaved and apprehensive.

Chapter 15

- We have to fulfill our duties towards him. He has to be taken home as soon as possible.

- Get packed everyone.

- No.

- No? Who had the rudeness to say no?

- That’s definitely not how we fulfill our duties with him. He does not want us weeping over a collection of water, death and minerals. He would hate to have been the end of


This is Egia. Her voice is growing more

assertive exponentially. He wants to see this mission end, but successfully, not from

lamentation but with happiness and results so effective they’re seemingly tangible. We have a month to spare, till August 28th, and there is so much more we have to accomplish.

-We have to send him back to his parents. We have to be present at his funeral. Can you even begin to comprehend what our absence at his funeral would signify?

- Oh so we let his death be in absolute vain?

For the past month, none of us having been

living life fully. During this month, John had not one hug shared with his mom, not one heated debated with his father, and not one meal that actually filled him up. Marat, strengthen up. It’s not your fault John came here. It’s no one’s fault, so if all of you decide this will be the trigger to the chronic depression that will be your most faithful accompaniment that is a

personal choice. A very absurd and ill-thought decision, but inarguably still a personal one I cannot influence and disrespect out of respect.

John had passion for this cause, and if I were him, I would certainly hate my destruction to be the consequential destruction of my cause.

This is the cause he had adapted, and to him this cause is distinct from his feeling of

belonging to us or his inspiration from Marat.

It’s separate from all of us. And ever since he came here, his attachment to this cause was only nourished and fostered further. He

sacrificed all he had for this cause, and who are we to obstruct the completion of a dream he initiated?

- He did not lose everything Egia. He has been living fully. He had you.

That was Erosce, the person who exhaled jokes, adopting a serious demeanor, investing into relieving the now weeping Egia, who had not even attempted to deny the latter statement.

- So we send his body home? Make sure it


- We can attach a letter, an explanation. It was his destiny after all.

- Thus giving off a horrible image of us, and exposing ourselves to our parents who

affirmatively will be informed of this ground breaking news

- Lisper?

- Yeah dear?

- What was John’s story?

- Culinary school if I recall correctly. Switzerland.

Food Explorers. Fancy and appealing.

- Don’t even think about it Erosce. No incident at culinary school can break ones bones, limbs and wound one so badly. It is ethically wrong, and besides we’d be tarnishing the reputation of an amazing, though imaginary, school.

- Oh imagine the utter delights of his parents when they are told that they can’t file a law suit against Food Explorers because Food

Explorers has yet to be established.

- The lawyer would probably compliment the

name though. It’s appallingly creative.

- Hilarious, Lisper.

Says Erosce, her voice hostile and cold.

- I’m just trying to ease up the mood.

- Give up on all your umm…. Failure of attempts, if you will.

The ambiance was tense,

As they released all their frustration by

targeting each other, each of them was

internally flooded by sentiments of rage,

insecurity and shock. It was not every day that they were exposed to such blatant injustice.

They were in the inevitable process of

shattering the laminated image they had

formulated of this perfect, idealistic world where success is an inevitable ramification of

perseverance, where justice reigns, where

wars end and conflicts are resolved. They had committed to hard decisions that were notably onerous to teenagers of their age, and specially their generation who has not had acquaintance with arduous hardships. This feeling of

helplessness was not a sentiment they usually welcomed to their port, but today they all

harbored it, and not merely harbored it but gave it dominance, unwillingly. The tables have turned and everything was changing. As much as the death of John was appalling, their

reaction to it far transcended the grief and bereavement that accompanied a sudden

death of a close one. It had more significance, more depth. Ever since the occurrence, his

death has been associated with other

phenomena, transforming it from a mere

incident to an omen, an omen of the ultimate failure of their plan. An onus that will burden them for an indefinite period. A mistake that will forever have its repercussions. A plan that, although eventually will be dismissed as a

manifestation of children’s recklessness, will have its superfluous share of criticism. Their insights have grown and developed, expanding from purely optimistic to including pessimism.

They now had a holistic vision, embracing the two antipodes, the positive and the negative, the good and the bad. And investing their newly acquired approach, they set out analyzing their options, weighing the pros against the cons, a method they have failed to input into their former decisions and brainstorming sessions.

Yet, these skills were still insufficient to extract them from this boggy quagmire of

helplessness. They had no idea how to act, too inexperienced with the issues of death and formalities, too sensitive to be in control of their blighted emotions, and too bereaved to be

thinking straight and smart. Undeniably, none of them was at her/his sharpest.

They set about with their analysis.

They had two goals that were mutually

exclusive. Two choices that could not happen simultaneously, two choices that belonged in parallel worlds, each evoking an endless list of possibilities, ramifications and reactions. They had to give John the funeral he deserved, and as hastily as humanly possible, for disregarding and delaying a funeral was not just disgraceful and disrespectful but also ethically immoral.

What has the world arrived at if one is too occupied with material trappings, too

overwhelmed with work and duties, and too

materialistically motivated to make time for an event as profound as a funeral of a friend, comrade, and fellow journey taker?

Simultaneously, Egia has awakened them all to the importance of living out the legacy and fulfilling his dreams with tangible and fruitful results.

It was a dilemma. Neither of those duties

towards John could be disregarded, and

neither could be fulfilled in the presence of the other. Mutually exclusive yet jointly vital.

- When a soldier dies in battle, after having fought with a celebrated courage that borders recklessness, pouring all his resources into weakening the seemingly impenetrable and

impervious enemy, what does one do? Surely, they don’t end the battle and proceed to bury him honorably, though never denying his rights at a suitable funeral, which eventually will be held to commemorate his memory.

- So you’re implying we take the same approach with John?

- It seems reasonable. We can delay a funeral to one where we’d announce the astounding

success of the cause John committed to. At

least we would have achieved one goal and a marginal part of the second. A funeral, though not punctual, would allow us to patch up

metamorphose. However, directly heading

home and declaring mourning our new lifestyle would inevitably be analogous to giving up, failing and announcing an utterly futile death.

Marat beckons at Lisper, and they both excuse themselves. Egia, not in the mood for accusations, pretends to not notice. A curtain of silence falls on the room as they await the return of those two. They were all too weighed down to think into this move or offer interpretations. Surprisingly for this bunch of seemingly perpetual enthusiasts, the act of patience now came easily.

Everyone turns around as Marat reenters the room, her steps light and barely audible. Her rangers’

soles are heavily worn out, and her walk does not give off the radiance they have grown accustomed too.

- Debate’s over, friends. We no longer have options; we’re staying here. Egia I owe you an apology; we should’ve heeded your advice on writing down the code, the one Uriago stressed the importance of.

Lisper’s low pitched voice replaces Marat’s now, adding seriousness to the discussion.

Erosce snickers, evidently displeased.

Everyone else is silence, steering away from being the first to complain.

He points at the two beds at the corner.

Evidently, they are Marat’s and his own. While we were all sinking in our grief over John, surrounding him back on the field leading to the mountain, a passerby broke into the house. He swept away my laptop and equipment, and

Marat’s phone from the bed alongside mine.

How we let ourselves be this careless, how we let our guard down so recklessly, still escapes me.

Egia runs unto her bed, not to burst into tears, a possibility in the minds of the many watching her……., but to scavenge through her meagre

belongings. She turns around, after having her head dug into a pile for a while, and announced that her laptop was missing as well. Hours, days and weeks of statistics down the drain.

- We all left to see John for ourselves, letting down our guard, used to John being home

humming and singing, integrating surprises into dinner. Not that time though. Not ever again.

Instinctively, tears start streaming down her face. She does not invest any effort into

stopping their uninterrupted, unhindered flow.

They keep descending, as she drowns into a

puddle of her own, both physically into her tears, and mentally into a puddle of emotions that groped her heart strings, as she struggled to talk, struggled to make her voice heard and her words understandable, for she was finally letting her guard down for good, and pouring out secrets she has shoved in, deeper and

deeper, this past month.

- I loved John, in a way I never knew possible.

Before Mjarrad, my life was focused around

me, solely me, my achievements, and my

merits. My whole world has changed its path, from revolving around me to revolving around John. He changed my orbit, my path. And now we let him down completely. I feared he would die for a cause that is never to bear fruit, and it seems my fear was never misplaced. My only

wish since I heard about the incident was that his death be not in vain, a wish typical of me, is it not? My whole life revolves around

achievement and praise.

She’s crying rigorously now, a big soggy mess.

Maybe I should not be so crushed that we let him down already. We let him down the

moment we so idiotically let our emotions get a hold of us, and left this place that

encompassed everything meaningful and vital.

He was never like that, her lips concaved

upwards at a mention of him, he was always so composed, so collected. But perhaps, or

maybe I could even venture and say

affirmatively, that I should not be unattractively sobbing right now, because after all John’s last wish would never have coincided with mine,

right? Her voice is rising. Tell me he would not have wanted the success of the mission, as I would have wanted? Tell me he did not

measure life with success? She feels Maria’s arms around her as she releases it all, a

tornado that had built up in her, gaining

momentum with every bit of news, every crash and fall. Gaining energy, spinning more

rigorously, winding and turning, working its ways up from her shattered heart to her mouth, releasing whirls of pain, hurt and emotion

splattering through thin air. It was a face of Egia no one had ever been acquainted with, but yet again, in her defense, death was a face of life she had never acquainted, specifically death of someone so close, specifically a death so

unexpected, sudden and unnerving.

Chapter 16

It was finalized. A concession reached relatively easily, maybe because they were all depleted of energy, fatigued mentally and physically. They decided that the norms of their society is not to affect them. The atrocity of the theft is not to affect them. They are not to overthink the message fate seemed to be blatantly screaming. None of those were bad omens. Who said one had to be given a proper burial? Would one be more ingratiated by friends who ensured his now futile body is properly and prestigiously propped into the dirt to decay into indistinguishable fragments, or by friends who scavenged through the de-energized remnants of their jolly spirits to find the scrapes of initiative to give the shot of achieving his legacy one final try?

One Egia reformulated the task at hand in the afore-mentioned manner, the answer came naturally, with neither confusion nor hesitation. They knew that maintaining realism at this critical point was of utter vitality in maintaining their sanity. Lisper, acting the manly role Shab relinquished in favor of spending time mourning and self-reflecting on the incident, relied on his appreciation of nature and the physical sciences to explain this realistic factor.

Hold up this magnet, he displayed using a chunk of rubber as a substitute. Magnets were a rarity, seeming superfluous in this land of deprivation.

Magnets always have a positive, a north, a red, connotation does not matter, merely a matter of convention. However, there is always a negative, a south, and no matter how many times you slice the magnet, a monopole is unreachable. This negative aspect is equally as strong, and one that cannot be disregarded, a mistake that is potentially

dangerous, as we have first handedly experienced.

Don’t get me wrong; I, like the rest of us, appreciate that we as youth have yet to be tainted with cynicism, but we have to maintain a realistic view throughout. One last try. Two weeks to make an impact, a tangible one. This time, we will not have the monopole approach. We have tried to bridge between the burial and continuation, but that is no longer our focus as we have abandoned our former and ominous view point. He shoots each member of their ramshackle origination assembled at a ramshackle table a critical look, to ensure there is no outright disagreement, continuing on, he brings up a sensitive topic they all solemnly wanted to avoid, a problem they all eventually succumbed to pondering over, a problem they’ve twisted and rotated until they were showered by mental

dizziness, and yet found no solution. The body. The body. The body. A physical embodiment of the extent of their mess-up. Marat finally contacted her sister, who had accepted to journey north and enter Mjarrad. In the meantime, they’d wait. Discover, enlighten and be enlightened.

For a few days, they would just wander around.

Though comparing one to others is the ultimate recipe to satisfaction, they decided that, though greedy and inhuman, comparing the twist of events to the catastrophic stories yearning to be heard, told and exaggerated might be deemed beneficial.

Lending an ear while tweaking their perspective.

Seemed tempting, an act that could help them metamorphose, make the dreaded transition, while living out the dream of a lived-out life. To john, they toasted, recklessly clinking together fragile cups of artificially flavored apple juice, sachets of powder a hundred percent incongruous with the juicy sour apples their newly stained teeth would dig into back home. With a flood of nostalgia, john’s image unwavering in their minds, onerous grief hindering their thinking, they empowered each other into one last attempt, violating science, validating how the sum can be more than the individual parts.

Chapter 17

Maria picks up her banjo, and breaks into

motion. She was always a country girl, deriving power from nature, feeling closer to the world’s energy while lying on the ground, to the dread of her mother who was now a neighborhood

expert on dealing with muddy dirt and

persistent stains. Her feet lightly tread the dry soil, depleted of moisture by the scorching sun.

She hums to herself, an inaudible tune. Since childhood, she had found a friend in nature.

Having been born in the countryside, the drag of urban life did not appeal to her. It took a dominantly artistic person to truly dig into the beauty of nature, carving off the superfluous, seeing through it all to reach the core, and continuing on to admire the bare bark, the

snake’s shed scale, the age of a deer from its protruding antlers.

She reaches a plateau, a beautiful canvas of randomly dispersed color and petals, unfitting with the surrounding ambiance of

despondence. Before she knows it, she’s

seated, legs crossed for comfort, fingers

crossed for luck. She plucks on her strings, a playful tune to elevate her from her

demotivation. She closes her eyes, lost in the melody. She plays wholeheartedly. Her fingers pluck on string with blazing passion. She plays with vigor, finally stopping when she could no longer tolerate the strokes of pain prancing around the extension of her finger nerves. She had always exploited her hands, palms

calloused from being nature’s girl, her nails ended abruptly, wretchedly bitten, her

personally abused stress balls. She yearns for her guitar teacher’s reprimanding tone.

Her eyes are still shut, as she’s absorbed by her thoughts. She inhales, her eyelids relaxed.

They’re no longer tense, no longer irritated by the extenuating sun light. Wait a minute, the sun has set. How long was she lost between

playing and thinking? Two complimentary

processes in her persona. She opens her eyes to applaud, engulfing her, a circular wave

moving in. a circle she seemed to be the center of. She’s surrounded by children, their eyes beaming at her. She eyes those faces, and

breaking the ice, introduces herself.

They look at her reticently, pondering over how to approach her.

“Hi teacher,” one of them ventures.

Her dry lips curl upwards, into steep concavity.

She chuckles.

- Teacher? No way, I’m a handful years older than you, perhaps even less.

- Okay teacher.

- Noo, I’m no teacher, I’m still in school.

- So? You seem good at music.

- And English. One of them adds.

- Teach us.

Maria recognizes she has no idea about the

educational system at Mjarrad, and whether

they had one to start with.

Please teach us. She’s overwhelmed, as kids ran away abruptly and returned with scraps of paper, outdated newspapers, pens, pencils,

and in eccentric cases thin blocks of coal, perhaps charcoal.

She has stumbled into every teacher’s dream class, at least when it comes to enthusiasm and valuing education. It all starts with the youth, an empowering voice whispers into her perplexed mind, as her aching fingers protest to her picking up her guitar and recalling the childhood tunes she marveled in.

She plays for a while, an Arabic tune most of them were familiar with. It was a kid’s song, with no notable characteristics, but

nevertheless they sang it wholeheartedly,

providing an upbeat beat. They cheered her on, and for the first time in day, happiness

reclaimed its throne in her despondent mind, as deceased John’s heart wrenching image

commenced to fade away, shade by shade,

flagrant colors dispersing, diluting and thinning in the sea of memory. Or perhaps it was just temporarily overshadowed.

Her hands had just left the resonating strings when the kids asked for more. Some wanted to be taught the rest of multiplication they had commenced, before war disrupted all aspects of their education, growth and personal

development. They were eager, ravenous for

education. They felt deprived, and sought each chance to reclaim what has been snatched

away from them. Of course, as in the non-ideal classroom, not everyone shared this outright passion, some kids shying away, some

standing rigidly along the outer circumference of their far from ideal circle, the outskirts of this educational pool through which waves are

rippling, each eager boy a new wave front.

Voices escalated, some demanding science,

other poetry. At that time, she had no idea what she was doing. Pairs and pairs of enlarged

eyes prancing with innocence, beaming with

enjoyment and admiration to this teacher from heaven, who had extensive knowledge on all

kindergarten material, an angel’s voice and adept fingers! One could only begin to imagine what angle they viewed Maria from.

Maria was overwhelmed by their presence,

taken aback by the extent to which they

valued their education. Perhaps it

transcended a mere love of learning or a

thirst for knowledge, maybe it symbolized

a beautiful childhood where school was a

mere part of a more elegant livable life.

She might have evoked images of smiling

teachers back when all way joyous and

jolly. Whatever it was, she could sense

that she had inspired them, and could not

afford to disappoint those whom held her

so highly, bestowing upon her titles that

rendered her sullen cheeks crimson.

It started out as a discussion, children

yearning to be heard, others too withdrawn

to voice out their concerns and inquiries.

Some where young and naïve, others

bordered the line between childhood and

adolescence, some were even on the

verge of adulthood.

Sitting there, she had a vision. A vision that complimented her thoughts and

imagination, an amalgamation of her

ambition and humanity. She is to impact

those around her, dragging them from the

egregious world they inhabited to the

beauty of awareness and education.

In them, in the 34 kids and 78 power

sources of eyes, she saw engraved

potential. This number was increasing,

exponentially, and the stretch of green was no longer the spacious vacuous field she

had marveled in hours ago. Not only had

they the will, they had the need. Need is

the main initiative behind invention and

breakthrough, and she set about to extract

their potential. A pillar she would build. A pillar upon which they will tap into their


Throughout history, a somewhere without

a school was frequent, but unprecedented

was a nowhere with a school. Mjarrad had

just earned credible distinction. Team

Mjarrad, she pondered with a sly smirk.

Before she knew it, men and woman,

middle aged and undeniably aged elders,

former teachers to former accountants

were inundating her with their services, as she inundated herself with the workload of

organizing classes and tailoring to the

needs of those children who were deprived

of their most fundamental and rudimentary

of rights. Her whole purpose has changed,

from trying to have countries

accommodate these children and educate

them to making Mjarrad self-sufficient, at

least as long as education was concerned.

Throughout the days to follow, Maria was

in a daze, struggling to make ends meet,

organizing in a few days upon intuition

what school principals invested a few

masters and a PhD to master. Undeniably,

she had so many shortcomings. The

attendance was a jungle of missing

names, new names, alternating names. A

notable chunk of the teachers was

bordering the line between competent and

underqualified, and a few others have

already made that leap. To say that she felt weighed down by innumerable burdens,

stressed to the point of broken nails and

withered hairs, and driven by a bulky fear

of failure was not short of the truth. She

might now have had the most organized

classes nor the most decent supplies. But

she has supplied the spark, and soon

enough she was passively watching the

chain reactions and interconnected

ramifications of this educational

conflagration she’s started. Soon enough,

buried talents and experience began to

surface in their adults, and before she

could swallow the enormity of the

happenings, former teachers were

reclaiming their long neglected passion.

Maria was lost in the nuances of meaning

shading these recent updates.

For once, she saw a glimpse of hope, a

bubble trapped under yards of cold sea,

paving its way through an egregiously

wicked path.

Lisper was her backbone recently, purging

her of those thoughts of failure. As typical of him, he drew on technological

breakthroughs to comfort her, reminding

her how the person initially credited with

the computers birth had produced a pitiful

model compared to the contemporary

sophistication of technology, yet he

remains the innovator, the inventors, and

the rest who escorted his creation to

prominence through modifications remain

mere proofreaders, adding toppings to the

frozen yogurt they’ve been embarrassingly

craving in this austere land. He thus

planted fanciful images of herself as an

initiator in her head, keeping her going

through the stream of obstacles typically

expected to oppose a seventeen year old

girl’s attempt at establishing a school in an authority free land of refugees who have

long been out of school trying to evade

streams of bullets, both physical wound

inducing bullets and figurative bullets as

referred to the non-ending dilemmas

they’re pulling through, the boggy swamp

they tread. To keep herself going, Maria

devised several techniques. Among those

were avoiding phrasing her current

situation as mentioned above, and

avoiding getting too emotionally

intermingled with the current situation back in their home adjacent to Nakhla’s.

Chapter 18

In the weeks leading up to the John tragedy, a euphemism for his wretched death and brutal fate, Marat would fantasize over coming home, being deemed a hero, blushing over

compliments, effusive smiles and nods of

approval. She would imagine hugging her sister tightly, and telling her how much she has missed her.

- Cheggie I missed you so much. I’m never going to leave you to save thousands of lives, solve a refugee crisis and overall make a difference in the world ever again! She pictured saying in as unattached and matter-of-fact way as possible, emphasizing the dual importance and

impressiveness of her achievement.

Above was part of her daydreams as she went about running her errands and playing boss, back when Metamorphose was up and running.

Never would she have imagined their reunion would be anything similar to that morning’s crude encounter, as Cheggie arrived at camp flustered.

She gathered them together, and broke into a harangue dipped in sour criticism and hot

flustered anger, as they related their plan to stay.

- I’m the fool here; I feel like I was a murder accomplice, and I’m already weighed down by the burden of having a life on my shoulder’s due to my idealness and idiocy. I can’t leave any of you here any longer. I have my identity which you all could use, as we leave


POSSIBLE. We need to bury John, and you’re

all coming back home. End of discussion. I’m already justifying letting you up here, I’m glad you’ve been applying anti lice but that does not keep the bullets away.

- No way, we are already deep into a pit and we’re not moving until we make a difference.

Cheggie. You have to trust us. Take the body with the letter and go home. Please please

please. John’s already dead; no incident now will reduce the shock or otherwise majorly

exacerbate it. As long as I’m aware, no minor incident overshadows what had already


- It can’t get worse. Let us at least have a chance at microscopically tipping the balance in our favor through an achievement notable enough to be considered worth the ultimate


- You can’t oblige us to go.

- We’ll stand first hand witnesses at your restless and tireless efforts to drag us home.

Egia was silent, lost in a world of her own construction, no longer the perfect world that adhered to the principles of justice, but

nevertheless a world she solely conjured.

At this point, Lisper and Maria find their way back, hurriedly moving through the serpentine paths, attracted by the commotion and Uriago’s welcoming a journalist onboard. Had they not been expecting Cheggie’s arrival, they would have been utterly lost by the utter idiot who would come down here by will. They’re hearts would have distended in pity towards him/her.

Their mindsets have developed so extensively from those of the eight teenagers who had

been similarly announced a few weeks ago.

Cheggie was prepared to attack, her anger and frustration an arsenal of chastising ideas and reprimands. She was not herself, and Marat’s heart clenched at the thought that everyone else she held of highly and loved so

passionately would view and treat them with such indignant disconnectedness and anger.

Cheggie did not cease to sharpen her mental spears, each intended to hurl a wave of realism among those adventurers inhabiting an

intermingled version of unicorn and fantasy land. She had feared they’re losing contact with reality, and this strident suspicion was

confirmed when Lisper and Maria walked in,

with announcements that confirmed her doubts.

- Mjarrad’s school. An existent school in a nonexistent land. We did it.

They’re voices did not have the utter tone of satisfaction, as John’s memory still dominated their thoughts, but for the first time their voices could be distinguished from those of weeping, mourning kids being reprimanded by a cranky mortician.

Cheggie utters a laugh dripping with mockery, obviously she was simultaneously entertained by the humorous outcome of her thoughts, and yet worried sick over John’s death and the fact that his mom still countdowns to the day he is to return from the Swiss culinary school and take over meal preparation for good. She was tired of cooking for such a food critic.

- Do you even hear yourself? Are you that

desperate? This is preposterous, absurd. I

know I’m talking in Egia’s pompous manner,

and can u feel how pretentious I sound? So

does your plan. What are you trying to do

exactly? If you want to play with refugees and teach them to count till five, feel free to do it as of tomorrow. Tomorrow when we’ll all be home.

ALLLLLLL of us. Actually, your itineraries’ are booked for a funeral and tedious police

investigation tomorrow. And perhaps a juvenile jail sentence to compliment it. And some

beautiful welcome words from your beloved

parents that will not come close to a

compensation. And my fate is equally

intermingled with yours so yaayy.

All the girls burst into tears, vehemently crying.

The dam walls have cracked, instigated by the sharpness of Cheggie’s words. A dam that has consumed their stamina that they have built to resist water whose intensity increased every day, waves that rose higher with every failure, and emotions that were triggered by a death so brutal it would affirmatively haunt them

indefinitely. Even Shab had to excuse himself, to which Cheggie insisted, go on cry, cry, cry for only real men have the audacity to do so.

Real mean cry. She said, her voice not so

pushy any more.

All the while, they had maintained that it would be worth it. But today, reality came crashing through, the walls that towered over, protecting them from the crash they so heartedly wanted to avert were broken, occupied, seized and

eliminated from the picture. All they saw now was real life. They saw it with a coldness that was heartbreaking. All they could do was build one last wall, whose aim was to prevent their mind from venturing forward, into the dark days that lie ahead. Slowly, robotically, they began to pack the now scanty belongings. Cheggie

excused herself, partly out of respect for their privacy, and partly intrigued by this camp that sparked the sympathy of all journalists at heart.

For metamorphose’s members though, their

feelings had far transcended mere affection.

On the other hand, they were now

interconnected by ligaments of empathy.

Empathy and mutual understanding, fear and

tastes of the world’s injustice that sent

shudders down their undernourished spines.

They had gone from strangers to peers, peers in this class of world injustice and cruel reality.

From their current perspective, trepidation was all they could glimpse through their heavy

eyelids and vague vision. They maintain

silence, working slowly, sometimes even

carelessly. They had to restrain themselves from wincing as particular objects came to

sight. They could not afford to be submerged in a flood of memories. Detachment was the way to go, then and there.

Chapter 19

Cheggie crumbled into a state of self-criticism as she made her way through the camp. Sights that would usually tear out her heart did not exactly affect her today, perhaps because she now

shared a tantamount onus herself. A prisoner is not quite pitiful of another prisoner, is he?

She saw visions that would have sent the

journalist in her scavenging for pen and paper that would have sent her swirling into

documentary mood. Today, nothing affected her.

Nothing but what she witnessed at Nakhla Abu Ali’s camp. Despite the bulky effect Nakhla had on them all, it was still unexpected that she would penetrate Cheggie’s seemingly impregnable state of sullenness.

One however should not hurl all the credit at her.

Perhaps other factors should be given

prominence. Like how the incident at Nakhla’s was directly related to the matter at hand.

Chapter 20

“ Mom Mom think fast!” cried out an overly

energetic child. His hyperactivity would perhaps border on being irritating had he not been


What’s zero times zero?


Zero plus zero?


Zero minus zero?

They’re all zeros Amir; this is getting boring.

Zero divided by zero?

Zero, are we done?

Haha! You fell for it mom. You lost focus.

Nakhla’s young Amir turns to his 4 brothers.

“Guys, be careful on next week’s exam, we can’t afford to lose focus.”

Nakhla both intrigued and amused, felt compelled to ask further.

- What is it?

- No one knows mom. Maria described it as

undetermined. Maria said even the smartest

people won’t figure it out.

- Not the answer, silly. The test

- Yes, I meant the test. But on another note, the same could be said about the answer.

His little brother Daniel pitched in.

- Useful answer. Like the quote we talked about.

Two stones. One bird.

Nakhla hides her laughter, extremely pleased by this sudden thirst for knowledge, and

amused by how her youngster messed up a

long celebrated quote.

Ali chimes in, “Mom, you had to see the way she played the banjo. She told us her family were mostly writers, and her dad saw no use in her trying to play. He said that if she were to pursue an art, let her at least be a writer at least that could be a source of income. She saved for the banjo herself.”

- It would have been such a shame had she

listened to him. She would have lost her talent.

A few minutes later, they were settled trying to agree on their homework assignment. Each

family got one paper and a miniature pencil.

Lisper handwrote them all, and today he had asked them to make sentences with afore

stated words.

A few minutes later, a tentative hand wrote on ridged paper.

Thank you Lisper for investing your time. He underlined invested, delighted by the looks of approval from him brothers.

He abruptly crossed Lisper. And wrote Nakhla instead.

Nakhla had welcomed a perplexed Cheggie in

some minutes ago, expressing her love for her sister and stressing on the invitation. Cheggie was on her way home, and Nakhla’s invitation was a relief to her. She was not ready to face any of them, and she was conjuring up some

strength, attempting to appear composed when Nakhla’s hospitality came to the rescue.

Cheggie now realized how mistaken she was in accepting this. Before she absorbed the

ramifications of following her intuition, she burst into the camp.

Had the walk been a bit longer, had the

children been a bit less adorable, perhaps she would have realized the preposterous nature of her actions.

She barges in, and as expected, is greeted by cold demeanors and hostile glances.

“Please no one protest. I’m taking the body, my hand bag and leaving. I’ll cook up a flimsy plan and handle the responsibility. Or whatever. I just want you to stay here till august 28th. Make the best of it. Take care Marat. And everyone.


One minute later, she barges out. Then back in.

Her facial expression an amalgamation of

frustration and exasperation.

- Shab, Lisper, follow me with the body to the damn wall.

Total utter confusion sweeps through the room as Cheggie repeats her dramatic exit through a more flagrant demonstration. Stomp stomp.

And she’s out, leaving behind teens ready to relinquish and surrender.

Chapter 21

Egia barges out, finding no reason to formally excuse herself. Excuses are used when you fail a person who had high expectations of you. Excuses are used when you fail to live up to a commitment.

Today, however, she realizes that misfortunately, none of those two applied to her. There was simply no need, and perhaps that’s when one notices that he/she has taken a wrong turn, deviating from an initially ill-thought out plan. She takes a journey, that to an outsider would be reminiscent of the one Maria took a few days back, or was it a week?

Egia contemplated over the school idea. True irony lied in the fact that she would have immediately been selected as most likely to open up a school.

She was the perfect teacher, having more in depth insight than all of them in arguably all topics, not to mention her innate love for knowledge. Her

advanced calculus would never come in handy here, though, and she came to accept the fact that the real deterministic factor in refugee education was empathy as opposed to breadth of knowledge, in which case Maria one in a landslide.

She however, was by no means bereft from

empathy, she realized, as a piercing cry sent her storming in the direction of a girl’s voice.

Panting, she arrived to a small hole a girl had tumbled into. The girl was still screaming, and once Egia saw how shallow the pit was and how easily she herself could extract the girl, she had to control the urge to reprimand her for her overdramatic response.

Instead, she sent out an arm, and pulled out the shrieking girl. She was in her adolescence, but Egia could not tell if she was 13 or 18, due to the malnutrition faced and its consequent effects of proper development.

-There you go, out you went. Learn to toughen up.

Mjarrad is the last place in the world to act like a spoiled drama queen. This is not a musical.

Egia silences herself. This girl is not to be prey to the buildup of anger inside her.

She then notices the girl pointing at her leg, where a snake bite had risen to prominence, and it all made sense now.

- You were bitten? What? God we need to go

find help? Since when do snakes reside he?

They were definitely attracted by the bare land.

Or the flimsy figures. Or perhaps the sound of starved stomachs.

Egia is babbling, confused. When will the venom set it? She feels her legs striding vigorously, and her voice vibrating through the air.



She’s blurting out nonsense in all directions, using her most definite outside voice. She attracts attention as she scurries off, from ex-nurses to ex-therapists. Her most honest self doubts that the therapists came to cure the girl. Maybe someone else was in need of treatment, through their critical eyes.

Suddenly, the girl speaks up. She has a nurse crouched over cleaning her wound, when she

spots the predator.

- Over there, look. That’s the snake. Not a triangular face. No circles for retinas but slits.

It’s poisonous.

Says a nurse, and clumsily seating himself next to her, begins to withdraw blood, spitting out diluted dense blood, repeating the process


- This is not enough; she needs antisnake.

- Where are we to procure antisnake?

And hence shabby looking people came

together, as absconded humans broke into


No matter how many lives have been lost, life still mattered. Egia rejoiced in this as she watched people run through, desperate to find someone that can help. Finally, a Palestinian pharmacist came through. He wreaked of

sweat and Egia did not feel comfortable with his long gazes and contorted expressions, but he had the potential to save. She disliked him immediately; there was something about him

that alerted her, simultaneously filling her with trepidation, a frequent sentiment nowadays, perhaps a bit too frequent. Her mind races

back to days when she would wear

accessories. Mood rings. She was sure had

she had it know, it would swing between two colors incessantly, swaying between the

indicator of love and that of fear, failing to reach equilibrium.

He along with the chemists left off, and Egia directed them to Metamorphose’s joke of

headquarters, insisting they use it to their utmost freedom.

She was right; the bite was poisonous. They however, managed through an intricate array of herbs and pills to create some painkillers, and had been monitoring her through supportive

treatment, debilitating symptoms as they appear.

They had carved into her skin, trying to utterly remove the poison. It would have killed her, and they saved her. Their actions were expected acts of a human towards another, but in Egia’s

thoughts they had further implications.

A taint of jealousy towards Maria and her school implanted in the back of her mind, Egia

immediately glimpses the potential in the

emergent assembly of staff.

There was a time when education was not

rudimentary. It still is dismissed in abject places of Mjarrad’s caliber in wretchedness.

But health facilities? Now those are undeniably rudimentary.

With a victorious smile, and dismissing a minute pang from her conscience, she thinks Egia 1.001.

Maria 1. She never denied her competitive

temperament, rather embracing it, her present thoughts a mere example.

She inhales deeply, organizes her thoughts, composes herself, and gestures for this shabbily dressed ensemble of helpers to follow her.

She walks, intending to transport them to camp to assess them and the services they could offer.

As they walk, Egia halts, her limbs loosen, and finds herself stranded on the floor, as she is hit with a wave of recognition. This was the meadow John last breathed in.

Her minds scream for her to toughen up, and she sees she has no choice. This is no place to be a spoiled drama queen. Maybe she needed an

indignant snob to remind her, the role she had played with respect to snake girl.

She shifts her plan, asking the perplexed group to assemble in a circle, acting like a kindergarten teacher, though faced by people 20 years her seniors.

- Okay so as I understood, you here were all prepared to provide your services in face of this crisis.

She stressed on crisis, giving rise to a few chuckles.

- However, at many times, Mjarrad citizens’

please go unheard, sometimes this lack of help is lethal, as was the case with a friend of mine.

She struggled to enforce a siege on her tears, urging them to not expose themselves. No one takes a broken hearted teenager seriously,

especially when her plan is inherently

incredulous and doubt drawing.

Sometimes people are too not energized to ask for help, at other times they stop caring,

desperateness turning into hopelessness,

relinquishment to the inevitable death. You have all been in the medical field, from what I have gathered. This place has no official

health. One can’t nationally license a national facility when there is no nation. And in an unlicensed facility, the lack of licensed

professionals does not add much to the already hectic state of anarchy. Thus, any action is excusable, and we all can work, making scanty health improvements at first, then broadening up to something measurable. I spotted you all stranded, killing away time, while others are desperate to fuel life into theirs. If I recall correctly, you were tearing apart leaves, and you, she points at a chubby old man, were

bickering over a pitchfork-like twig with a kid. I don’t say this to humor any of you, she says over the sound of giggles. On the other hand, I just want to hint that you all try and establish some kind of health facility, and try to gather supplies.

- I was a third year medical student before a bomb landed straight on our professor’s seat, annihilating the building, sending

indistinguishable pieces of carcasses flying, included was the hand that grade my

announcements ruthlessly and failed me


- Ummm, sorry for that. But all in all, do you think you could do it?

That question could easily be passed as rhetorical, as Egia mentally added her name to Mjarrad

nations’ founder.

Health initiator. Yay.

Chapter 22

“So Egia, would your highness be interested in explaining the relentless bustling of people in our space all day?”

Lisper and Maria were school establishing, and Shab had taken to running. Marat was lost in her thoughts these days, having become quite distant after the memorable family reunion.

Shab shoots Erosce a look, reproaching her tone.

“I’m establishing a hospital.” She says with firm conviction, paradoxically to the doubts whizzing through her noisy mind. “None of you realize that those people have so many abilities, they’re numerous and learned, most of them lived fulfilling lifestyles, and some of them even stride and scream of nobility. Nakhla being prime example. Their only problem is a lack of faith and a deathly

demotivation. They need guidance.”

Marat chimes in, “or job opportunities. With national social services. In an actual nation. Like the original perfect plan.

Egia rolls her eyes, not bothering to convince any of them. Saying her thoughts aloud benefitted her, however, as she admitted to the firmness of her conviction in them.

They call it a night; each of them ensuring the other hears them grumble.

Everyone just had to make their dissatisfaction known.

They slept angry, and angry did they wake.

“Who is knocking at this time of dawn?” screeched Marat, as she walked to the door, enraged by those audacious actions.

She opens the door, ready to attack whoever woke her up. From a nightdream to a daymare. A

transition she despised, especially when it was made so abruptly.

She was greeted by a scary tall man, and her nose immediately crinkled. They lived in a whirlwind of smells, but this particular one stood out from the crowd, a stench too heavy and dismal.

He cradled a makeshift box, landed it on the ground, and left.

It was the Palestinian pharmacist, and Egia was completely right in mistrusting him. Inside the box lied their laptops, fully equipped. Marat smiled.

Metamorphose was back and running, and Marat beamed with excitement towards reclaiming her throne and regaining Cheggie and her friend’s respect.

Everyone else has went back to sleep after the pounding suddenly stopped, too indulged in the rare rest of sleep to care about who tamed the beast.

Marat however was too revived for sleep; she was overjoyed.

They woke up to find her perched on her bed, smiling effusively.

Would you look at that, our Marat’s back.

Not only her, but also our laptops, data and ambition. Metamorphose is back.

What? No. No way. We don’t need it anymore. We never did. The refugees are done investing hope in an external world, an eternally self-centered, greedy world. They are fed up trusting promises and pleading for aid. Who are we trying to motivate to make a difference? Some countries. Some

governments. But what are governments anyways?

Marat borders on the line of falling back into her grumpiness and demotivation.

I don’t know, those people’s chance at a better life in a place where their life is not threatened diurnally.

Where they can afford to feel a mere glimpse of security and sense of protection only peace provides.

Yet you stray away from the question. The way you talk about governments paints images of monsters, or dreammakers, or some mythical creature that embodies hope and ambition. You tend to forget how they are just people, in particular people with infinite knowledge on the world and its working, on the refugees and their conditions. Do you think only we know about Mjarrad or its people’s whereabouts.

Everyone knows. Fifty reports are issued on their utter wretched lives, as their shortcomings are molded into prose and poetry. As writers show off their humanity and magical working of the pen on paper, fingers on tabs, to produce a beautiful piece of literature, drawing motivation from those refugees who move them, and influence their susceptible nature to explore the deepness of their creativity and extents of their beautiful expressive talents. But they always fail to induce a change, because they are always dependent on governments, who in reality are mere people, who are if anything more consumed than the regular person, more captivated by their lucrative careers and least influenced by the writing or website of activists. Though a story of a few teenagers who ventured out might strike their interest.

We are going to be different. we are not going to depend on other people, for we believe that one’s destiny cannot be interconnected nor

interdependent to someone else’s, on a mere human’s shoulder.. Our approach was mistaken, and perhaps the stealing of the laptops was exactly what was needed to free our lives and allow us to further contemplate on the long run consequences of such actions.

Marat is back to the optimist, not at all reluctant to embrace the ideas that attack all she has stood for.

She put on quite a brave and open front as her dear metamorphose was criticized and her master plan dismissed as lack of guidance and juvenile thinking.

She begins to relent, as she forsakes to their opinions. She has been changing, this stroke of arrogance and stubbornness fading away, as they adapted.

Talj takes note of this, quoting her favorite physics teacher on how intelligence is the ability to adapt.

So, what’s our new mission statement? Says Marat, reassuming her position as leader.

What our vision is undergoing metamorphosis too?

Jokes Shab, a twinkle in his eyes as he restores the humorous ambiance that was long gone.

Equipping Mjarrad citizens to live and grow without the need for desperate pleas for help from minds behind governments, people behind social media and journalists behind the pens.

That established, they realized the beautiful path they have chosen. In this path, they will be faced with appreciation and cooperation. They would play the role of the leader, modelling the way then stepping out. They already had a hospital starting to form, and they knew how easy it was to learn online, due to the manipulation of Lisper’s stealthy fingers. Furthermore, a perk of being nowhere is that you need nothing to do what you want to do.

They were not going to produce top lawyers any time soon, but they could live. Nakhla had already been investing this approach in her farming, and they just had to expand it, apply basics principles to all they deemed essential.

So their remaining week, they decided, would be a week of training. What they would do was equip and guide, rather than work and control. Farming techniques and surgeries, all courtesy of the internet. Worksheets and books, text book

downloads for free illegally. That brings them back to how there was nothing legal in the absence of a legalizing law to start with.

There was a buzz of excitement through the office that week, as people came in and out, and to Egia’s surprise she has become quite close to the

pharmacist who know played a major role in their original process. He had been so all along, having euphemistically borrowed, Egia did not like to think she was friends with a stealer, the laptops as a favor to an ex-surgeon, who had to extract an infected appendix and needed guidance and a reference. There was so much that went on in those camps no one knew about. Stories untold, and stories that should stay that way. Had Egia heard about a surgery performed so primitively

beforehand, she would have scurried to document it and recount it in the most affecting way possible, but those days were over, for she know realized that those people are best left to themselves, tending for themselves, growing and ameliorating day by day.

Mjarrad will stay isolated, and prosper at its own pace, and technically it might be centuries ago, a misfit in today’s world, but the metamorphosis in mentality its members underwent is centuries ahead. Metamorphosis has long begun, as people relied on themselves inherently, and despite how this nation was centuries backwards, it was built on people who had witnessed what’s blatant and wrong, who had suffered from injustice and war, and whose reluctance to govern in the first place provided prospects to a rather auspicious future.

Those people have been victims of the greedy and the bloodthirsty, the ruthless and the power-hungry, and they were unlikely to retrace the paths others have taken, paths that would have cost them their lives.

The world has forgotten about them, and they had commenced to forget about it, relishing in the slow pace of a fulfilling life. Undeniably, to many, their lifestyle is austere and stern, their approaches not understandable nor desired, but they had found peace in this austere lifestyle, where everything edged among the lines of rudimentary, no surplus, nor greed.

Maria and Talj sit on jagged rocks in the end of a make shift class with virtual boundaries and supplies, but filled to the rim with the realest of students. They all circle around their radiating bonfire of a person, around Nakhla, who

demonstrates how to plant seeds.

One last bit of news, I have lentil seeds for everyone. Plant your lentils, tend for them, and finally after a particular time interval elapses, I will measure progress. Play fair children.

Talj nudges Maria, who is taken by the display of enthusiasm and excitement. Their plan was shaping off neatly, and as the two tread away along paths they have explored, they are indulged with

satisfaction, convinced that bringing out the best in those people is way better than eliciting the best offers for the people. They don’t need governments, no need to be sucked up by the endless chain of works, the whirlwind of progress and pressure, greed and misleading ambition. They chose this slow path, for after living hectically and

unfortunately becoming too familiar with adventure and exploration, surprise and impulsiveness, a dilated rhythm was the perfect diagnosis for their needs.

Chapter 23

August 28th,

They all work in silence, scanning through all the items they chose to leave behind, taking only what they affirmatively needed to survive the journey back home. They have lost contact with the world for two months, yet none of them yearned for home.

They would never fall back into their old habits after this life-changing experience. Lisper could never imagine being incited by a new phone or gadget ever again, and Talj could not envision herself craving the new hardcover or latest release. Their perspective was altered, softened, all impurities extracted as it was molded into firm iron, alloyed into steel with the best of additives, from humanity, strength and sympathy to awareness, resilience and responsibility.

Responsibility, the bulky term resonated through Marat’s head. They all think of poor Cheggie and what plot she engendered or ploy she has conjured up. Whatever it was, she was soon to be acquitted, for they were to fulfill their moral and ethical duties to the highest fringe of the spectrum, and behold the whole responsibility, sharing it as if they were all one whole. And in a way, they were.

Chapter 24th

Two weeks later.

Growing up, Talj was like any other kid. Showing off her miniscule bicep bump and flaunting her

strength. She however gave in to one tiny

admission, her only pitfall. Police headquarters.

Images of herself as a youngster keep her occupied as all seven of them shoot each other a heavy glance. No words are spoken as they prepare to enter the place that would send shudders down baby Talj’s spine. Today however, Talj has matured and firmed her grip on emotions, so had everyone else.

One meaningful glance, that could be a snapshot of a starring contest, they share.

Whatever the sentence is, it was worth it. Definitely.

They’d do it all over again.

They’d blindly succumb to the process again.

Their transition to adulthood was not biological. It was mental, and emotional, but most importantly, immeasurable. Neither qualitatively not


They had changed, they note, as their legs stride forward with perfect synchrony.

They marched towards their fate; their steps syncopated to the tune of victory.

They have metamorphosed.

The end.


A merge of two worlds,a clash of fiction and nonfiction, Metamorphose recounts the story of eight adolescents, the likes of whom are found in every class. This book delves into the world of adventure as the reader accompanies the transition into adulthood of those eight typical students. This transition is not a biological one, but it is a mental one, as they opt to spend a summer volunteering in a non-existent land a place called Mjarrad in the geographical heart of the continents, supposedly bordering the line between Lebanon and Syria. The book is narrated from alternative perspectives, as those children are acquainted with the difficulties of life, and hardships. They hear heart-wrenching stories and learn the ramifications of impulsive decisions. They bond with refugees from regions infected with war, and as their number dwindles, they all grow on an individual level. Metamorphose commences as a name to an ill-thought out NGO targeted to attract external aid and support to elevate the abject lifestyles. However, as their vision fades into something more applicable, metamorphose comes to represent the change in themselves and the refugees around them, as they weave the chaotic ramshackle foundations and broken spirits into a self-sufficient government rendered reluctant to even ask for and accept support. The book encompasses their shortcomings and at first naïve view of this world, and proceeds to show how they managed to go through with their plans, becoming slightly tainted with cynicism and its compliment, realism, throughout the process.

  • Author: rachel jaber chehayeb
  • Published: 2015-10-03 14:20:10
  • Words: 30385
Metamorphose Metamorphose