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Her name was Miriam and she was six years old. She had lustrous raven black hair and jet-black smiling and dancing eyes. Yet it was only when you looked deeply into those eyes that you realised there was something different about Miriam, something special. You see Miriam was mentally handicapped. She had suffered brain damage at birth. Her mother had had her by Caesarean operation and the doctor who delivered her was poorly trained, and so Miriam was doomed to live in a silent world for the rest of her life; she could neither speak nor hear she could only communicate in the most primitive forms of sign language.
Yet Miriam was happy, very happy, and smiled and laughed a lot. It was easy to see that those laughs and smiles came right from the depths of her perfect, unblemished soul.
Miriam loved life. She loved her Mother and Father, her younger sister, her Grandmother but most of all she loved her new baby brother, Issa, whom she cuddled with great tenderness and affection and in whose presence she would be whenever she could. She adored little Issa more than anything in the world.
She would often play all day with the other children in the village. Those children were also very kind to Miriam, they never taunted nor teased her because in their culture people who were mentally handicapped were said to be "Touched by the hand of God"; their place in Paradise was assured as they could not sin, they did not know how, so when they died their passage to Heaven was swift and without incumbencies.
So Miriam was happy, probably most of all because she was loved. Her Father, Youssef, her Mother Fatima, all her family, and everyone in the desert village of her birth loved her. When she was sick her mother would care and comfort her, when she had nightmares she would crawl into her Mother's and Father's bed and enjoy that comfort and protection from fear that can only be gained from the smell and warmth of your Mother and Father. She would then drift off into a deep blissful sleep and awake in the morning with no recall of the fear or demons that had driven her into her parent's bed the night before.
Miriam wore a small gold chain around her neck on which was a religious locket containing a miniaturised version of The Koran.
One of the things that Miriam liked to do best was to go with her Mother, Father, sister and baby brother into the mountains or the desert for a picnic. There she would play all day with her younger sister, skipping and dancing, and picking wild flowers. One she would give to her Mother, one to her Father, and for Issa she would make a garland and place it gently around his neck. Then as dusk approached she would be gathered into her Mother's arms where she would fall into a deep sleep, contented and secure with that maternal love instinctively felt by all children held close to the very essence of their mother.
She knew about Ramadan, the holy month in her religion, when people would turn their eyes away from the worldly things of life and pass one month of prayer and fasting in grateful thanks to the God who had provided them with all the joys of life.
She also knew that at the end of Ramadan there was a festive time, called Eid, similar to the Christian Christmas or Easter, a time for celebration and the giving of gifts. Miriam was so excited and looking forward to the coming Eid because she knew that at this time everyone got new clothes. In the local market she had seen this beautiful dress of gold stitch and turquoise silk; her Mother had signalled to Miriam that this would be her gift for Eid and that she would wear the dress on this special day, together with some fine new gold braided sandals.
How happy Miriam was. She could see herself, head held proudly, walking through the village hand in hand with her Mother and Father whilst her friends looked on in admiration at her new Eid dress in all its finery.
Yet in a short space of time her life grew worse. The village children were no longer playing in the streets; there was a constant ringing and buzzing in her ears. She saw great black shadows that eclipsed the Sun and The Moon. At first this did not happen too often and only at night, but as the time passed it happened more and more, and during the day too.
Although Miriam could not hear, she could feel terrible vibrations racking through her body. She had nightmares more frequently and more often she would seek the comfort and safety of her parents' bed.
You see, Miriam had never heard of fighter planes or bombing, in fact Miriam had never heard anything in her short life.
The vibrations that racked her body and the ringing in her ears grew with greater intensity as each day passed. She now never left the house and would never stray far from her Mother, more often than not clutching at her Mother's dress, refusing to release her grip lest she be swallowed up by the demons who were blacking out the sunlight and giving her terrible headaches. She was so afraid. She did not understand. What was happening?
No longer was she the happy smiling, laughing child of a few weeks ago. However she thought to herself, "Eid will be here soon and then everything will be alright. The Sun will shine again, the black demons will disappear. The village children will once again play in the streets and of course we will go on our picnics again."
Yet this was not to be. One night, when the entire village was celebrating a wedding, one of those demons dropped its lethal load on Miriam's village.
Through the sunrays in the light of the following morning the damage was revealed. Miriam lay limp and lifeless like a rag doll, her gold chain and precious religious locket glinting in the early morning sunlight. Her Mother lay but a few feet away with baby Issa in her arms wrapped in a shawl that was once white but now a crimson red, the blood of the mother and child mixed together in death as it had been at birth. The Madonna who gave life to her child and who was there when that life was taken.
Never again will Miriam skip and dance through the desert, picking wild flowers with the gentle desert wind blowing through her hair and softly kissing her cheeks. Never again will she hold and cuddle baby Issa. She will not dance through the dusty streets of her desert village on the holy day of Eid proudly wearing her dress of gold stitch and turquoise and her gold braided sandals. For you see Miriam is no longer with us. Let us hope that she is in Paradise with her Mother, Father, sister and Issa and all those that she loved from the village that no longer is.
Miriam was on the Nine o'clock News last night. She was not called by her own name. She was called by another. She was called a non-combatant.
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