Once there was and there was not
a place. a time. a man. a woman. a child. a robot.
The medina was a maze of alleyways and shops largely unchanged for centuries. Until this one. Saad, Buchra, Abbas and Rafik sidled through the dark, narrow footways lit only by their piezoelectric clothing. Fleeing the most recent roundup brought on by the latest outrage, they sought sanctuary.
A place of peace. Of acceptance.
The four afoot were guilty only of existence. And resistance. They had souls—all of them—so of course they resisted. Saad held Buchra’s hand and Abbas held Rafik’s. They did not speak until Rafik said, “Here.”
There was nothing but stone walls and silence. The hour so late, the medina so empty. Buchra frowned at Rafik, who in reply, pointed up to a barely perceptible iron ladder halfway up the ten meter wall.
“How?” Buchra said as she gauged the height of the first rung.
Rafik squatted directly beneath the ladder. “Saad, climb on my shoulders. Buchra, you then climb on Saad’s.”
“What about Abbas?” Saad asked looking not at Rafik, but at Abbas.
“The little lion will know what to do,” Rafik answered still holding Abbas’s hand.
Saad marked the squeeze Abbas gave to Rafik’s hand. He quickly climbed onto Rafik’s shoulders and squatted. Abbas knelt on all fours to help Buchra climb up next. “You are a little lion,” Buchra said as she clambered up and crouched atop Saad’s shoulders.
As Abbas stood up to watch, Buchra slowly straightened up, balancing with her hands against the stone wall. With more effort, Saad did the same. And then Rafik carefully stood.
Buchra’s hands clasped the first rung.
Footsteps echoed from deep in the medina’s crisscrossing ways. Boots. Many boots.
Rafik found the soles of Saad’s sandals. “Saad, you must climb over Buchra to the ladder and then she can climb up after you.”
“Abbas must climb us first,” Saad insisted.
“There is not time. They are coming.” Rafik did not wait for a response and extended his arms, pushing Saad up so that his hands reached Buchra’s waist. He grabbed hold of her djellaba. Buchra tightened her grip on the rung. “Climb,” she commanded her husband.
He did and when his hands reached the rung with her hands. He kissed her and hung from one hand. “Up,” he commanded his wife. She spied Abbas below—once again holding Rafik’s hand. She heard the urgency of the boots an alleyway away and pulled herself up. Saad followed her and the old iron ladder groaned with their combined weight.
They made it onto the flat roof and dared not shout down to Abbas and Rafik. Their pursuers were close.
Rafik crouched to look Abbas in the eyes. “Our turn to pounce, little lion.” Abbas grinned. Rafik turned and Abbas locked his small arms around Rafik’s neck.
“Tight as you can,” Rafik warned. As Abbas’s grip tightened, Rafik leapt. An impossible leap. Abbas squealed. Buchra bit her lip. Saad’s heart missed a beat.
Rafik’s hands clamped onto the lowest iron rung. The ladder groaned and loose mortar sprinkled to the alley below. Rafik climbed. When Rafik neared the roof, Buchra and Saad helped Abbas from Rafik’s back. They hugged as they backed away from the ledge.
Below, the boots echoed past.
Above, the stars slowly wheeled.
Near dawn, Rafik led them across the roofs of the medina to a tower, long abandoned. It would lead them to safety.
“How do you know of this place, Rafik?” Buchra asked
“I know of persecution. Today it is your kind. Yesterday it was mine.”
Abbas squeezed Rafik’s unbreakable hand. “You are my kind. A lion.”
Kan, ya ma kan. Once there was and there was not
acceptance. sanctuary. peace.