?Is There Anyone Who Hears Their Voices

Is there a hell for adults worse than the imminent death of any child on the surface of this earth? I remember those small bare feet maneuvering in space, playing with their movements, causing my heartbeats to tremble and urging them to beat faster and faster.

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I cannot explain why that incident remains deeply embedded in my memory despite forty years having passed. Even though it took no more than a minute, the sensation of time while watching it seemed much longer, as if it were an endless abyss.
I was visiting a friend who lived in the Al-Lawz neighbourhood. The city was Oran, where I lived and worked as a teacher in one of its schools for nine years. It was spring, and the time was in the afternoon. I was on my way back to my home in the city centre, while Al-Lawz neighbourhood was considered part of its outskirts at that time.
Rows of opposing buildings, each with eight apartments: four to its right and four to its left. So, there were four floors in each building. My hosting friend accompanied me from his apartment to the outside. We stood in that open space between the rows of buildings. The still air was filled with a light moisture, and clouds scattered in the sky to the extent that their edges covered the sun.
As if I were waiting for its reappearance, I lifted my head upwards and was shocked by a scene that made me doubt its reality. Am I really in Al-Lawz neighbourhood, or am I immersed in a never-ending nightmare with no beginning or end?
I turned to my friend with questioning eyes. His head was also suspended at the same point my eyes had just fallen upon. I looked around. There were more than ten scattered people in that courtyard, but their eyes remained fixed on the same spot.
Certainly, what brought us together at that moment was a fear that uttering a single word might hasten the disaster, or any movement could be enough to bring the victim down upon us all. We were, at that moment, a single entity permeated with sweat and panic. Our hearts beat at the same accelerated rhythm, as if all the tilted heads and eyes staring at that window on the top floor of the building were striving to prevent the catastrophe. But they were completely paralyzed.
The child, not more than three years old, sitting on the window lodge, observed indifferently what was happening below him. Surely, we all had the same questions in our minds: how did this little one manage to get out of the window like this? Where is his mother? Where is his father?
As if questions were spawning one after another like fungi: if one of us goes quickly and climbs the building’s stairs, will he succeed in knocking on the door of the apartment where the child lives before he decides to throw himself out of the window? Another question occurred to me, and I do not rule out that it may have crossed the minds of this growing crowd: is there enough time to bring several blankets, hold them by their edges and wait for the child to fall?
But who guarantees that he will fall onto one of those blankets? It was as if we were playing dice. The probability of success was less than twenty percent and the most likely outcome was the shattering of this child’s bones before our eyes.
Certainly, everyone felt in that moment what I felt: the death of this child would be a complete stripping of the meaning of their lives.
Holding on to hope through silent prayers echoed in our minds, and a hidden plea for that child: “Please stay in your place… We implore you: stay in your place,” while his eyes wandered in space, indifferent to what was happening beneath him on the ground.
Is there a hell for adults worse than the imminent death of any child on the surface of this earth? I remember those small bare feet maneuvering in space, playing with their movements, causing my heartbeats to tremble and urging them to beat faster and faster.
As if all these strangers present, shared with me the same fear of the unexpected: the death of a child before our eyes while we are completely helpless to protect him. How capable that child seemed to be in controlling the nerves of this group of men and women from his precarious position.
Here he is, moving us to the right or left, depending on the movement of one of his hands holding onto the window edge. He raises or lowers the beats of our hearts or the flutters of our breaths or the pressure of our blood. Absolute authority imposed on us from that critical point. Time slows down in its motion while we are caught between its rigid sharp jaws.
Suddenly relief came in a melodramatic manner: an arm appeared from behind the window, wrapped around the child’s chest, and pulled him inside. For a moment we caught a glimpse of a woman’s face emerging from the darkness, illuminated by the daylight. Was she his mother, his step mother, his aunt, or just a neighbour sent by unseen providence to rescue him?

* * *

Literary fiction has not often delved into the theme of the death of children. I only remember Anton Chekhov’s story, ‘Misery’, which revolves around a coachman who lost his son and needed someone to talk about his tragedy. However, he only encountered mockery, insults, or slapping on his back neck from his drunken passengers whenever he opened his mouth to remind any of them about his child’s death.

Under the weight of a need that chocked in his throat what happened to his little love, he found no one willing to listen except his horse. Perhaps those rough passengers did not want to hear anything that shook their convictions about the existence of guardian angels always safeguarding children from harm. Was their refusal to listen a hidden effort to preserve the lives of the young, even if through denial: a kind of instinct to preserve the species, shared by all living beings?

In a wildlife documentary, I once saw a herd of wild buffalo successfully saving a calf that was about to fall victim to a pack of lionesses. When the lionesses tried to retrieve it after soaking their claws in its blood, the buffalo herd lined up in front of them preventing them from reaching the wounded calf. In that instance they succeeded in saving the child.

Was the spilling of children’s blood permitted only once in our recent history when this instinct faltered in the minds of the Nazi Germans turning them into a machine exterminating minorities through deliberate genocide after stripping them of their human qualities? Of course, Jewish children were the most targeted for extermination with cold-blooded precision and extreme organisation.

Was this wide and rapid decay of children in Gaza deliberate by the Israeli army and its warplanes? Or is it just a collateral damage? Using basic arithmetic: if we divide the number of approximately 12,000 killed children by 90 days, we get a staggering result in both cases, whether intentional with premeditation or unintentional often occurring in wars: 133 children erased from existence every day.

Should we blame that pilot who blew up a residential building and turned it into rubble within seconds if it happens that among its residents were some children? Is it intentional or unintentional killing?

Can I say that all the massive protests, unprecedented in various parts of the world, are nothing more than a protest against this extermination? A reaction similar to my reaction when we observed that mischievous child 50 feet above the ground, in a remote coastal city far from Middle East and its troubles?

Are our reactions more than a sudden awakening of the survival instinct that motivates every living being, whether human, animal, bird or insect, to preserve their offspring, no matter the cost?

Have we reached a point where we are liberated from that instinct once and for all?

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