He fired twice, crumpling the silhouette on the roof. Anders hoped that the intermittent gunfire around them had effectively camouflaged the weapon- at any rate, the dumpsters no longer served as sanctuary. He climbed out into the alleyway and crouched down to one knee.
The father was cradling his child, his instincts muted into oblivion as all thought settled on his son’s face. The son’s face was buried in his father’s chest, his muffled screams rising and falling with his ragged breaths. His left leg was in pretty bad shape, but Anders knew with a glance that the kid would live if he received prompt medical attention. He glanced around the hell they were in, and for the first time noticed he was covered in filth. Good luck with that.
Anders cautiously approached the father. We gotta move, guy. That man up top has friends, and I’m sure they won’t be happy when they find him there. The man snapped out of his reverie and began to stand up but realized he would have to leave the child. He began rattling in a foreign tongue and dragging his child down the alleyway.
The child, eyes wide, turned to his father and began speaking in their ancient language. His father glanced down the alleyway at the trash and broken glass and slowly nodded his head. The boy turned to the soldier.
My father no good at English. He too old to learn. I know you American and not hurt us. My father is old and too weak to pick me up. If you will carry me to house, my father and I will hide you until you get to safety. This I promise. His voice gasped and ratcheted as he spoke, occasionally stopping in a fit of pain.
A mortar shell exploded around the corner in the street and Anders said okay and walked over, locked eyes with the old man, and slowly picked the boy up. Two years ago I was mulling over college choices and now I’m burying friends in garbage bags and negotiating with eight year old boys. Talk about your wrong turns.
They moved slowly, the old man leading the way and Anders following closely behind, eyeing the rooftops for another sniper. After ten minutes or so, the old man pointed excitedly at a small doorway to the left. He rapped on the old wood twice. It creaked open an inch and a brief amount of feverish words were exchanged before the door shut quickly and then reopened. A young woman woman ushered Anders and the boy inside. She spoke quickly to his father, who retreated further down the alleyway and into the darkness.
I still can’t believe human beings live like this, Anders thought as the woman latched and bolted the door behind them. The room was roughly twelve foot square, dimly lit, and smelled of incense and melted wax. The young woman pointed to a lone mattress in the corner and Anders lay the boy on it.
Will he live she stated matter of factly in perfect English.
Anders checked the wound. The boy was easing in and out of consciousness from the shock. A small hole in his upper leg oozed blood. There was no exit wound. Blood loss is not as bad as it looks, so it seems to have missed the major arteries. Either the bullet was small caliber or it hit the bone. I can stop the bleeding, but he’s at risk of infection. He needs to get to a hospital to have the bullet extracted and get on antibiotics.
There is no hospital she said.
What did they want from him he thought, I’m not a medic. And there’s no way in hell I’m going to cut this kid open- at least not right now. Better he live a few days than I nick an artery and watch him bleed out on their bed.
You speak English well, he said, choosing to ignore the implied question.
The woman had poured a glass of water and was trying to get the boy to drink. Finding him unresponsive, she dabbed water on his lips. I studied in America to become an interpreter before coming back home to help my grandparents. This is my nephew, Ameer. I have lost my husband and three children to this war- I will not lose another. She spoke with certainty, as if daring death to take the child.
Ander’s mind wandered back to the alleyway and Stockton’s corpse. If Ameer had not been there, the sniper might not have revealed his location. At best, he would still be stuck between the dumpsters. At worse…
When and if I get back to my side of the lines, I’ll see if I can get Ameer some help. That’s all I can do.
That’s not… The woman’s voice was drowned out by a sudden relentless pounding on the door. Multiple voices began to shout as a massive thud hit the door, almost lifting it off the hinges.