The loud explosion tore the stillness of the night. Numerous incendiary bombs rained down from the sky, spraying sparks over the small village. Light exploded all around, trapping me in confusion and mayhem.
Then with a frightening suddenness, I convulsed violently, punching a hand on my chest, gripping my red-stained T-shirt. I dropped to my knees.
Explosions. Gun shots. Then an eternal silence. I screamed.
I jerked, turned my head frantically, searching for my parents. It was another nightmare among countless ones that had been plaguing me since I came to this refugee camp. Sometimes, dreams came in waves, up to three to four times a day, whenever I closed my eyes.
Two weeks had passed silently without any news from my parents. Fourteen days ago, on the night of the bombing, my family was still together under the warm dimly lit candle light. Then everything changed with the roaring sounds of the plane engines. Abrupt. Fast. Someone found me lying at the corner of the street, bruised, unconscious and alone.
After that fateful night, I totally lost track of my parents. I had been trying my best to search this vast refugee camp to hunt the smallest piece of information but nothing surfaced. Some said the whole village had been killed in that air raid while others said the survivors were staying in similar camps hundreds of kilometers away. Although one might never find out truth in this merciless war, I always clung to one hope, one belief in my heart – that was, they were alive.
Every desperate day crept by, I always climbed up the nearby bamboo watchtower. From there, I could scan the horizon trying to spot familiar faces, those that now haunted me like ghosts. However, all I could see were thousands, hundreds of thousands of people, like churning brown ocean, stretched out in every direction as far as the eye could see. All of them looked uprooted, hopeless and silent.
The war was overwhelming.
Days passed quickly. For some days, I often buried myself behind a mango tree, watching a family nearby gathering and having their dinner. There were five of them: grandfather, the parents, one girl about my age, and a plump baby. They always sat in a circle, around a fire lit by several gleaming charred wood. Then plates of newly cooked rice and pieces of dry fish or sometimes skewered chicken were passed around. The fragrance of the long-grained white rice drifted in the air, steamy and sweet, mesmerizing me. Everyone was bustling around, fretting, discussing and talking about a peaceful future.
At a faraway corner, wrapped by the dark cloak of night, I watched silently, all alone, isolated, feeling unwanted and neglected. The warmth of the fire could not reach here and neither did the warmth of having a family. The uneaten chunk of rice in my hand felt cold and frozen like ice. It was all that I had for dinner.
As always, I ran back to the tent and wept. All by myself, I could feel the darkness, loneliness gradually intruding my heart. “What if I can never know the truth? What if they are not alive?” I trembled violently, hugging my knees tightly, trying to restrain those bad thoughts but question after question flooded my mind.
Frightening. Desperate. Hopeless.
Finally, I decided to follow a convoy heading for another camp at the south border. The oxcart was cramped with people but I had cleverly taken the front seat in the early morning. In the chaotic crowd of people inundating the gate post, I spotted someone resembling my mother arriving in a convoy from south-west
The familiar voice. The figure that I had been longing to hug so tightly. The moment lasted until eternity.
Is it reality or just another dream?