An ear-splitting scream pierced through Amal’s body. She sat up quickly, her eyes filled with terror and fear. Her 5-year-old brother screamed and ran toward her bed. Her 2-year-old brother wailed like a siren. Then suddenly, gray dust and little pieces of metals rushed into their room. Amal protectively hugged her brother. She could feel the metals scraping against her skin, and dust blowing into her eyes. Her brother let out a horrifying screech that split the air. The wail from her baby brother got louder. Amal closed her eyes and squeezed her brother tighter. Soon, the air got quiet. Amal stumbled and tried to get herself up, ignoring the pain from her body. Just then, her grandma burst into the room, short of breath. Her eyes were filled with worries. “Amal! Sahir! Walid! Are you all okay?!” she shouted. She ran toward them and tightly hugged them all. The smell of her grandma relaxed Amal. She let out a tear of relief. She whispered, “I’m glad you are okay.” Her grandma squeezed them tighter in response. Then suddenly, a fearful thought passed through her head. Amal quickly broke away from the group and ran out of their room and hurried down the hallway, her eyes wide. Trails of metal debris and dust were scattered near her mom and sisters’ room. She quickened her steps, her hands trembling. As she turned around the corner, she let out a shriek. The walls of the room were blown up, and a pile of metal debris lay in the middle. The furnitures were all destroyed, and there were little pieces of broken glass shattered on the floor. Heavy dust was floating in the air, and up ahead, she could see the collapsed building next to their house. Panic rose up inside her. She screamed and ran toward the pile of debris, calling for her mom and her sisters. “Jamal! Amira! ‘umi!” She hysterically digged through the piles, ignoring the pain that was coming from. Her sisters and her mom was nowhere to be found. Only piles of metal and remains of other furnitures. She could feel the lump in her throat. She couldn’t breathe. Her eyes welled up with tear. ‘No! This can’t be true!’ She denied and kept digging through the pile. But she slowed down as she listened to her grandma cry silently. Her grandma muttered softly through her cries, “Why? Why? Why? Why did the god abandon us? Limadha tarakna allah?” Amal collapsed to the ground. Her hands were trembling, and her eyes were out of focus. “No! No! NO!” She screamed. The world around her turned blurry, and she couldn’t think straight. ‘What am I going to do now? This can’t happen! How am I going to live now?’ A bit of dust floated down in front of her eyes. ‘What if I turned into a dust, just like this one? What would happen? Everything would be much easier.’ Just then, a tight hug brought her back to reality. A reality with a dead mom and 2 sisters. A reality with a dad who has gone to a protest movement and has never been heard from. A reality with nights filled with gun shots and bombing. A reality where everything was destroyed. A reality where she didn’t want to go back. She blinked her eyes a few times. It was her grandma. There were still pools of tears in her eyes, but a look of determination was on her face. She gripped Amal’s shoulders and looked her in the eyes. “Listen. You are Amal. The one with hope. You must live your life ahead of you. Spread your wings wide and soar through the sky. Dream your dreams. You must not stay here and let that bitch Assad crush you. You must go out there.” She then led Amal and her brothers into her room. She flipped open her carpet, and pulled on a handle that was attached to the floor. Amal never noticed that before. The floor creaked as it opened up. It contained few piles of money and several coins. All the money that her grandma owned. She took out a few pounds of Syrian money and set it aside. Then she took out the rest and firmly pressed it against Amal’s hands. She looked her in the eyes and said, “Run, Amal. Take your brothers with you. There are smugglers with trucks near the alley behind the market place. They will take you to Turkey. Be safe and always have hope in your heart. Amal.” Amal was stunned. She sputtered, “But, but, what about you?!” Her grandma spoke in a gentle but firm voice. “I lived here in Aleppo for 79 years. I’ve lived my whole life here. It contains so many memories I’ve had since I was a little girl. I cannot leave it. Besides, I am too old and weak now to try to escape. But you, you have a whole life ahead of you. You have to escape.” Amal was speechless. Tears welled up in her eyes. Grandma hugged her tight and said, “Remember, be safe and be Amal. Be hopeful. I will stay here and wait for you to come back when everything goes back to what it used to be. And when you do, I will be standing here with my arms wide open for you.” Amal stuttered, “But, but..” Just then, loud noise of unified footsteps filled the air. Assad’s army. Grandma’s eyes were frantic. “Go! Go! Use the back door! Run to the alley and don’t look back!” A drop of tear rolled down her cheek, but she nodded and picked up her brothers. She looked back again at her grandma one last time before running out into the dark street.
The sky was colored bright pink and orange, and the sun was just peeking out. Amal’s whole body ached from running in the cold last night and from being crammed in the back of the smuggler’s truck. There were over 50 people crammed in, and Amal and her brothers were one of them. The air was hot, and her body was sweaty. But that didn’t matter. What mattered the most was the fact that she and her brothers were safe. And together. As she watched the pink sky and beams of sunlight, she could feel hope bubbling up inside her. Maybe we can make it to Turkey safely. Maybe I’ll be able to live my life. She never felt this hopeful before. With a smile, she closed her eyes, with hope in her heart.
A loud sound of a gun-shot shook her body. She suddenly opened her eyes, terrified. It was almost twilight, and they had reached the border between Syria and Turkey. She could see it, but it was completely surrounded by a group of armed soldiers. Assad’s army. People were running in and out of the truck, some trying to cross the border, and some hiding behind the truck. The soldiers were shooting at anyone who tried to pass the border. People who were running toward the border started to collapse, coloring the dirt around them red. A little girl that was on top of the border got shot and fell helplessly to the ground. Sounds of gun-shots and people screaming filled the evening air. It was a total chaos. Amal’s eyes were huge, filled with panic and fear. Suddenly, a bullet shot just past her right ear. She screamed and protectively hugged her 1-year-old brother tight. Amal crouched down in the back of the truck, her heart thumping like it would burst out from her chest. She reached out her trembling hand to grab her 5-year-old brother’s hands. But she couldn’t feel it. “Sahir?!” she called out. No answer. She could suddenly feel a lump of panic and worry rising in her chest. “Sahir? Sahir?! SAHIR! Where are you?!!”No answer. She stood up and looked around. No brother in sight. Panic filled her body. Her eyes teared up. She crouched down again and sobbed. Her brother’s laugh rang in her ears. She pictured how they would hold hands and run together in a park. Her heart wrenched, and tears spilled out. She blamed herself for losing him. She couldn’t believe she didn’t keep a closer eye on him. She hated herself more than anyone just then. Suddenly, everything got quiet. Very quiet. Amal barely held herself together and slowly stood up. The soldiers had completely surrounded them with their guns loaded, and the people who survived were clustered in the middle of the truck. The head soldier marched up in front of them, and commanded them to step off the truck. Amal’s heart thumped loud. Her legs felt limp. But with all her might, she managed to wrap her brother in her arms, and step off the truck. Her heart was pounding harder than ever. All the loaded guns were pointed toward them, ready to shoot if anything happened. When they all quietly formed a line in front of the soldiers, he looked each of them in the eyes, and said, “Any Syrian who shouts out ‘Heil Assad!’ will be spared his life and be permitted to stay in Syria for the rest of your lives. Others, this will be your final moment in your life.” Then, soldiers started to go down the line with their guns loaded and pointed at them. Amal put down her head and tried to calm herself. But before she could have time to think, the 2 soldiers came on either side of her and her brother. Amal sputtered, “H, h, heil Assad!” The soldiers nodded and turned toward her brother. But before she could stop him, he clearly stated, “That bitch Assad!” Amal’s heart dropped. Panic flowed through her. That was what her grandma said all the time! But that was all that was needed for the soldiers. They loaded the gun, and aimed at him. Amal knew what was coming. Before she could have second thoughts, she leaped in front of her brother. And with a bang, the world went black.
Her head ached. And excruciating pain was coming from her left arm. Sounds of people talking, ambulance sirens, and loud chaotic noise floated around her head. Amal felt terrible. She opened her eyes. She looked around. It was a some-sort-of hospital. There were beds lined up against the wall, and nurses hurrying in and out of the hospital. Pain from her left arm was excruciating. Amal looked and noticed that it was bandaged cleanly, and had a cast around it. She groaned. Just then, she noticed a clipboard on the far-side of her bed. It said her name, and all the information about her. She was surprised as she read it. It said that she had a broken arm, caused by passing bullet, and was found near the border of turkey. Her heart dropped as she read the last sentence. ‘There was also a severely injured boy next to her, who was assumed her brother. However, he could not survive.’ She was speechless. Stunned. But before she could do anything, a frantic nurse with a blue UN apron on saw her awake. Her eyes lit up, and exclaimed, “Great! You’re awake!” Then she pushed Amal off the bed. Amal stumbled. She was very confused. Then the nurse escorted an old man who was coughing and vomiting. When the nurse noticed Amal still standing there, she exclaimed, “Oh right! I almost forgot! Here!” She shoved a paper into Amal’s hands and shooed her off out of the hospital. What was in front of her was a refugee camp. Hundreds of brown tents lined up in front of it, with electrical fences around the camp. People wore rags, and their eyes were filled with misery and hopelessness. Babies wailed. There were more than 50 people in 1 tent, and children were staring of into space, instead of laughing and playing around like they are supposed to do. Misery and hopelessness filled the air. Some men were fighting in an alley, and a kid was stealing bread. He was extremely skinny. So skinny, that Amal could see his bones. Amal was speechless. She didn’t know what to do. How would she live here? What would she do? How long did she have to live here? Just then, someone tapped her on the shoulder. It was a girl her age, with old pink hello kitty shirt on, and ripped purple pants. Her sandals were half broken, and she had brown smudges on her face. But her eyes were sparkling. They were filled with hope. She asked, “Marhabaan! Do you speak Arabic?” Amal was so stunned. This girl was the only person in the camp whose eyes were sparkling. She barely managed to say, “Yes.” The girl squealed in delight and said, “My name is Lulu. It means pearl. What’s yours?” Amal instantly liked this girl. “Hi, my name is Amal. It means hopeful.”
From then on, they became instant best friends. Amal learned that Lulu wanted to become an artist when she grew up, and had come from Afghanistan. She lost both of her parents on the way here, but she plans on being a great artist and make them proud. She had also done several great paintings when she was in Afghanistan, and still kept a few in her room. Amal’s favorite one was a little girl with wings flying through the sky. It reminded her to keep being hopeful.
Soon, it was 12/24, Christmas Eve. Amal and Lulu had planned to steal some food from the food pantry, and have a little party by themselves. That night, they sang songs together and ate small cookies they had saved all year. Yet when Amal was singing songs together, she thought of her family. She suddenly felt a lump of sadness in her throat. Her eyes teared up, and it spilled out. When Lulu saw it, she started to cry, too. Soon, the night air was filled with sobbing singing voices of Amal and Lulu, on Christmas eve.
As days went by, Amal started to get hopeless. She had stayed at the camp for almost a year, and she didn’t have any hope. There wasn’t any signs of Syrian war ending. Lulu was sick, in the hospital. She couldn’t escape. She tried to write the word ‘Amal’ in her heart, but it blew away like sand. As more time passed by, she was getting hopeless every minute. One day, a letter had arrived for her in the mail. Her grandma was dead. Amal felt like the whole world had swallowed her. Her last hope, was gone like a flame. She wondered why she was living.
Just then, the camp director called her in the office. Panic rose high. But standing in the room was, her dad! She couldn’t believe it! She ran and hugged him tight. Smile spread across her face. Maybe this was why she was named Amal. Amal.