By Umar Timol
“This isn’t a place, with all due respect, you know, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades. You know, this is a relatively civilized, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully – city, where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen.” – Charlie D’Agata, CBS News correspondent
Every day, this child goes to school with a head full of dreams. He loves to dream as his everyday life is mundane. Life is so hard in occupied lands; the oppressors’ ability to come up with new strategies to make their lives hell is never-ending. Their cruelty is baffling. What goes on in their heads? Why such gratuitous wickedness? For instance, why deprive us of drinking water? Why the numerous electricity cuts? What is the reason for the hundreds of checkpoints other than to make any movement difficult for us? Why forbid us from visiting our relatives? Why treat us and kill us like animals when we are also humans? It’s hard for him to comprehend. Adults are idiots, truly. But he knows he must not spiral in despair. As his parents always say, we must always hope and always dream. His parents are so silly! They are always giving him advice: do this, do that. They are exhausting! But he has to admit that theirs are good advice.
On his way to school today, he closes his eyes and starts dreaming. Everything is possible in the world of dreams. We can change whatever we want, travel in time; there are no limits, no borders. He is thus a superhero who ferociously fights the villains. He has a magic wand, which he uses wisely. A soldier is harassing you? Here, let’s turn him into a tomato. Another one firing on you? A toad he becomes! The bombs which fall from sunrise to sunset become flowers. Those who are killed, and they are in droves, come back to life and start to sing and dance. And the shackles that fetter his people become a rainbow. Everything is possible in this world. He sometimes talks about it with his parents. Say, do you want to come with me in the world of dreams? But they barely listen to him. Like other parents, they are preoccupied with their worries. It’s not their fault but if they could only see that you don’t need much to reinvent nights and days, and the earth and the colours. He sometimes thinks that they do not want to know.
Anyway, today, it’s a day for dreaming. He is not in a hurry to reach school. He has not even done his homework. What will he say to the teacher? Sir, please excuse me, I forgot my copybook, or Sir, I accidentally spilled sauce on my copybook. Or Sir please excuse me, I am a superhero, who is tasked with helping kind people. And frankly, I cannot be bothered to do your homework, which is honestly kind of dumb. Kind of, Sir, not really. Dumb! He bursts out laughing when he thinks of the teacher’s reaction. Adults are so stupid! They take everything so seriously, while you can just close your eyes and forget everything.
He can already see the school from afar. He will be there in a few minutes; he has time for a last dream. He begins to rummage through his imagination. What will he come up with? Of course, the superhero’s new feat! Today, the latter is in a playful mood and therefore decides to transform all soldiers into monkeys. That is so funny! He can’t stop laughing. It’s too funny. His laugh is so vast that time stops, and the universe starts to quiver. And at precisely that moment, a bullet pierces his small heart. A bullet triggered by a sniper, for no apparent reason, other than him wanting to and being able to. The oppressors are all-powerful. Fortunately, the child does not suffer and dies with a smile on his lips. Is there a more beautiful smile? Undoubtedly not.
This dead child is a less civilized child. He is not like the other kids, the ones who are civilized. He will not make the headlines of the international press. His abusers will not be imprisoned. They will not be marginalized by society. The oppressors will not be boycotted. His people, those who fight back with stones, will not be hailed as heroes. His name will be added to those of million others who do not exist, who are trash. And, once more, those who defend the oppressed will stay quiet.
This child is definitely unlike others. The blood that flows in his veins is different. The heart that beats in his tiny body is different. And in his imagination, a different kind of dream prevails. He is a less civilized child.
Umar Timol is a Mauritian artist. Translated from French by Saffiyah Chady Edoo.
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