Some said it was a miracle Yatimah lived at all, others whispered it would have been a mercy if she hadn’t. Umayma saw only the will of God, and the love of family. And the sightless eyes which recognized her in dreams, the voiceless mouth which spoke to her in those same dreams.
Umayma woke suddenly, her heart pounding, sweat beading her forehead. She listened intently but heard nothing out of the ordinary. Her father snoring in the next room, the kitchen clock ticking. The tinny sound of the old refrigerator. Yet something…..there it was again. A helicopter. A helicopter, and a whooshing noise, very loud…
….she had no memory of being pulled from the rubble along with her mother, only knowing what she’d been told of the events which followed immediately afterward. The hours of waiting at the checkpoint, her pregnant mother’s trickle of blood increasing in flow till she began hemorrhaging, agitated Arabic voices contrasted with bored Hebrew speech. As the pregnant woman’s heart stopped and her life slipped away, a medical student performed his first surgery – a caesarian which brought into the world a damaged child, a child whose only living relative would christen her Yatimah.
Aid workers thought the child might live a year at best, but Yatimah surprised them. Umayma bathed her sister and fed her, sang to her and slept beside her. In nearly six years of life she had never made a sound, yet the unseeing eyes tracked her sister. Yatimah seemed to hear quite well.
Umayma had been a good student who’d hoped to be a doctor one day, a choice of career in character with her propensity to bring home sick or injured animals to nurse back to health. A baby bird fallen from a nest, an abandoned kitten, a grasshopper missing a leg – all were loved and cared for. Her nature made her this way, and it was why she willingly and gladly raised Yatimah.Perhaps it was this nature which guided her dreams.
Yatimah glanced shyly at her sister, waiting for her to ask what the surprise was. Umayma pretended not to notice, wiggling her toes in the cool water of the brook. She munched on dates until she could no longer hold back her giggles. Yatimah joined her big sister in laughter then opened her hands to display a butterfly with wings of purple and gold. Raising her arms as if in offering, the sunlight glinted off the butterfly’s wings as it took flight, night quickly descending as the butterfly began to glow and rose to take its place among the night stars. Both girls hugged each other and spoke of secrets only the two of them understood.
Yatima’s skin was yellowish now, cool to the touch. The girl had eaten nothing for days, only taking small sips of water. Umayma brushed her sisters hair then changed into bedclothes, lying next to the younger girl. Gradually her breathing slowed.
The sisters held hands, tall trees murmuring greetings as the pair walked into a meadow. One dipped its branches to the girls, each of them selecting a piece of ripe fruit before sitting on the lowered branch of another tree. An owl seated on the same branch regarded them amiably before taking flight. Taking her beloved sisters hands in each of her own, Yatimah gently explains that she will not be returning this time. She will remain here.
Stricken, Umayma bows her head and begins to cry. The little sister whispers words of gratitude and courage, strength and hope, drawing wisdom from those gathered nearby, visitors and residents now visible to her but unseen by Umayma.
Following the burial and funeral service are days of solitude, filled with prayer and thoughts of her sister. Soon the mourning period has passed.
The teenage girl walking up the road was a real beauty. The soldier returned her smile as she approached, belatedly realizing she hadn’t turned away from his tower. He frantically gestured for her to halt, the combination of a backpack and an odd smile causing him to panic. He fired two shots, one at the ground and one into her chest.
She reaches up to grasp Yatimah’s extended hand, gazing into eyes filled with adoration. Her soul rises up to greet her sister. A young man kneels next to her, finding no sign of a pulse. As the young man closes her eyes, he hears a voice whisper ‘Umayma‘.