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The Bread Line MAG
At dawn, the sun rose powerfully, illuminating a land it remembered to be barren. Its rays swept over the rows of tents that now occupied the area, penetrating their feeble fabric. A five-year-old boy frowned as the light pushed against his eyelids, urging him to wake up. He yawned and squinted. He saw the light reflect onto a glass frame attached to the tent and onto the ground, where it created a beautiful rainbow. The boy sat up and looked around to show his sister, but no one else was in the tent. He stumbled outside and stood looking up at the sky. With his natural innocence, he welcomed the day.
The boy was oblivious to the hardships of life at the refugee camp. He skipped toward the well where his sister was struggling to pull up a heavy bucket of water. She pulled it up and dropped it to the ground. Deciding it would be fun to impersonate his father, the boy held one handle and pointed to the other. Laughing, his sister picked it up, and together they carried the bucket back to their tent.
They washed their faces and drank a few cups of water, and then she took him into her lap. Playing with his hair, she said gently, “The bread truck is coming today.” She paused and looked at him. He looked back in understanding. “You have to be strong and make sure you get a bag, then hold it tightly so the other boys don't take it from you.”
He nodded and muttered, “I can bring the bread.” He wrapped his small arms around her neck and lay his head on her shoulder. This reminded him of his mother, whom they'd had to leave behind in Syria.
The boy ran to meet a friend, and together they raced to the edge of the camp. There, parked in a long line, were big white trucks with a huge red crescent painted on each one. The boys knew that these trucks carried good food, clean water, toys, and clothes, so seeing them triggered excitement in the children crowding around the vehicles.
As they waited, the boys kicked bottle caps as makeshift soccer balls. Their voices rose in enthusiastic shouts. The boy grinned and ran around blindly. Suddenly, he felt someone push him, and he fell. He found himself lying facedown in the dirt. Sitting up, he noticed blood running down his leg. He stared as the bright liquid trickled onto his foot and was absorbed into the ground. Then he threw his head back and cried “Mama!”
A woman jumped out of a truck and tried to calm him. She spoke in an accent he did not understand. He tried to crawl away, but she held him firmly and dabbed at his knee with a wet cloth. Then she pressed on a bandage. The boy lowered his screams to whimpers. He put his small hands in the woman's hands and allowed his tears to run freely. His mind wandered back to a time not long ago at home in Syria when his mother would sooth him after he had scraped his knee falling off a bicycle. Her tone was filled with warning, but her eyes were shining with relief and amusement. “After all,” she had said, “you're not a true biker until you've fallen for the first time!”
Speaking slowly and clearly, the woman told him to go back to his family. He shook his head. “I want bread,” he explained. She looked at him sadly and jogged over to the truck, returning with a big bag.
“Here,” she said. “Now go!” He felt the gazes of the other boys follow him as he stood. He clutched the bag tightly and hurried in the direction of his tent.
The boy stopped and turned around. An older boy was looking at him. The boy recognized him as one of their old neighbors from Syria. The boy smiled and waited for the older boy to approach. The teenager extended his arm, and the boy did the same. They shook hands.
“How is your father?” the older boy asked. The boy nodded timidly in assurance that his father was fine. “How is your sister?” The boy nodded again. The older boy noticed the bag. “I see they gave you bread early. Is it fresh?” The boy shrugged. “If they've given it to you first, they were probably getting rid of the old bread. Eating this could make you sick. Let me check the date for you.”
The boy hesitated. Then he remembered his father saying that they should always trust their neighbors. He handed over the bag. The older boy turned the bag over. Squinting at the tiny label, he said, “Fresh! Made just today.” He smiled at the boy. “Thanks!” he said, and jogged away.
The boy ran after him in a panic. “Wait!” he shouted. “That's mine!” The people around him stopped to stare at the five-year-old chasing a fifteen-year-old. The older boy pushed the boy down. “Go home,” he growled. The boy howled in pain as he struck his hurt knee on a rock. The bandage was ripped off, exposing an even deeper wound.
The boy put his hands on his knee and ran as fast as he could back to the trucks, arriving just in time to see the last one leave. He chased it as fast as he could, but he ended up back on the ground, staring after the trucks as they disappeared.
Limping, the boy reached the tent in tears. His sister greeted him with concern. When he recounted what had happened, she hugged him and waited for him to calm down. “Never mind,” she said gently. “We have some canned beans left.”
His father arrived as they were about to eat. He looked at his children with weary eyes. The sister looked down at old beans in poorly hidden disgust, then at her brother in fear of what the future might hold for him.
The boy, however, regarded the night as a feast. He laughed when his father told jokes, and jumped around energetically as he described the soccer game from that morning. His five-year-old joy had helped him forget his pain.
When it was time for bed, his sister sat next to him until he fell asleep. “Remember,” she said, “you're not a man until you've fought back for your right for the first time, and that's what you did today.”
The boy smiled at her with shining eyes. “I'll get the bread tomorrow,” he murmured sleepily. His sister nodded, lifting a finger to her lips to remind him that his father was already asleep.
“By the way,” he whispered. “This morning, the sun made a rainbow on the ground. I wanted to show you.”
“Show me tomorrow,” she said. “Good night.”
The boy looked up. He could see the outline of the moon through the tent fabric, shining brightly. He raised his arm and waved, as if bidding the moon farewell.
“Good night,” he said to the moon. He closed his eyes, looking forward to greeting the sun again.