Her less frequent dreams were those of their grey-and-white home with a garden, the animated laughter of the kids, her husband stoking the bonfire on a cold winter evening, and their neighbourhood lined with the burgeoning cherry blossoms in spring. They made her smile in her sleep – a wry smile hovering around the lower fringe of a tear-stained face. Pretty much like a lone flower sprouting in a dilapidated brick wall.

The more regular and compelling ones were those of an attempted escape through the inky night…the deafening rat-tat-tat of an automatic rifle…the bbrrrrt.t.t.t of enemy bullets ricocheting through the air. Utter mayhem and the smell of gunpowder, a loud thud and multiple screams, a spray of scarlet and three bodies slumping on the ground! Memories that hounded her relentlessly, and made her bolt up straight on the bed at midnight, perspiring profusely. Twelve-month-old visuals that refused to leave her alone. The war had ended, thanks to a humiliating truce. Rehabilitation measures were underway. Life was limping back to normal. But her mind refused to come to terms with her loss. Her family, her entire universe, had been wiped out in a single stroke, like so many others’ – the biggest fallout of a mindless, unprovoked conflict!

Since then, she had never been able to get a good night’s sleep. She tried everything – from coffee and alcohol to music, aromatherapy, even sleeping pills. Nothing worked. Her emotions were perennially on a boil. A mishmash of distant sights and voices eddied inside her brain, both in her sleep and in her waking hours. She felt like a hapless animal trapped amidst a blazing forest, desperately seeking an escape route!

How did I survive? And why did the others perish? I feel so guilty! Lord, what do I do?

She pondered hard and finally, decided to approach an NGO, especially directed to counsel war survivors and grieving families. With trepidation hammering against her rib cage, she sat facing the counsellor, a middle-aged man with kind eyes peering out of gold-rimmed glasses. He spoke to her in a reassuring tone; she found herself trusting him and bared her soul. She spoke, she sobbed, she finally let go of the baggage she had been lugging around for a year. He told her it was her destiny that she survived, not her fault. She was suffering from what was commonly known as ‘survivor’s guilt’.

On the counsellor’s insistence, she started visiting their child-care facility. It housed children from age zero to eight years who had been orphaned in the war. They were children of various temperaments and backgrounds, bound together by a common fibre of displacement, loss and suffering. She read them stories, cuddled them, nursed them in sickness, cracked jokes, solved riddles and played with them, as if she had suddenly found in them her raison d’etre. Her day often began with the gift of a wildflower or a freshly fallen russet leaf, scooped up by her eager bunch of friends. To them, she was the mother figure they were looking for. Someone they could run and cling to, and hug for no rhyme or reason. On her part, she gladly invested all her maternal love and attention in these innocent children, robbed of parental care at such a tender age. Her heart felt lighter, devoid of its crushing burden, like a swollen river which had finally emptied itself into the sea after a long, chequered course.

Gratitude flooded her heart, left moribund for the past one year. She felt glad she had regained her emotions. After what seemed aeons, she slept well. Without nightmares. Without pills and potions. The voices clamouring in her head had been quietened; the chase was over!

PC: Meir Levi Clancy on Unsplash




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