They huddled in the corner. It was late evening. The darkness was coming, but they were unafraid. For them, it was forever dark. The darkness was inside them, jammed down their throats, smeared on their skins, tied to their tongues, poked into their eyes.
Light meant nothing to them. They might as well have been blind, but they weren’t.
I had volunteered to teach them English. The language of hope, the vocabulary of dreams, their ticket to a better life in some distant land.
I was sure they wouldn’t go far. Only a few ever did.
They recited their names like tired parrots. I listened to each one, then my brain muddled them together. Not willing to request them for a repeat performance, I pointed, smiled, and ushered them into their chairs.
They sat with their heads bowed, not out of respect, but due to the weight of their miseries hanging from their necks. Agony and sorrow had shriveled them to skin and bones. It wasn’t blood but despair that flowed through their veins.
Ten? Twelve? Fourteen?
That’s how old they were. But my eyes saw gaunt faces, aged souls that had seen enough for one lifetime.
I began with the alphabet. Only twenty-six letters, but it didn’t matter after the eleventh one.
‘When did you last eat?’
My own question caught me off guard. Yet I had to know.
No one spoke. I asked again. My voice was louder, the urgency more apparent.
One of them looked up, his eyes were empty, devoid of feeling or emotion. I wish I had seen anger in them or a hint of madness, but there was nothing. His voice was shrill.
‘Yesterday evening, madam.’
I believed him but still looked at the others for confirmation.
Slowly, silently, wearily, heads rose, eyes zeroed in on me. I searched for life in them, yet not even death would dare reside in them. Cold, warm, happy, sad – no word could describe the look they contained.
Were there any tears left for them to cry?
The indifference was suffocating. I shuddered and looked away.
They were called the orphans of war.
But I would remember them as the children with no eyes.
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