Guest contribution by Manar Khalil
I kissed mama and baba and said my salams, an everyday routine for me.
I imagine everyday will be the last day I live.
Fear swells in my chest whenever I walk to school.
As I walk onto the street, I smell blood and gas.
I look around to make sure there are no soldiers or tanks passing through.
When I think no one is around, I walk down the narrow, steep, rocky road.
“Free Falasteen” is written on every building I see, but still there are Israeli flags on the rooftops.
I slip and fall onto my knees.
I get up and see that I’ve slipped on empty bullet shells.
I choose an empty shell and stuff it into my uniform jumper – a reminder, of sorts.
My hand is cut, but blood no longer bothers me.
Blood has become my country’s friend; we are used to it lingering around the neighborhoods.
A light breeze blows past me as I continue walking.
I hear muffled voices and footsteps in the distance, and there’s my epiphany.
I don’t see any children walking to school.
I don’t see any kids with their uniforms or backpacks.
I don’t hear anyone swearing about this treacherous struggle that has taken the lives of friends and family.
I walk closer to the sounds, not knowing what might lie ahead but having an idea of what might happen.
I peek around a sharp corner and see soldiers dressed in their usual camouflaged attire.
Their guns guard their chests like a mother trying to protect her son.
I gasp for air since my mouth is dry from the cookies I had with my morning tea.
Just as I turn back around, I hear a voice yell at me.
“Ta’alee hoon!” (Come here!).
My first impulse is to run as fast I can; maybe they will let me go without bothering me.
I look up and see a soldier gazing down at me with eyes as dark as the soil of this precious and sacred land.
He grabs my arm and shoves me against the building.
He smells of cigarettes and coffee.
Other soldiers huddle around him and laughter escapes from their throats almost as loud as the bombs I hear in the middle of the night.
The wind is kicked out of me by these heartless men.
Blood pools in my mouth and it becomes harder to breathe by the second.
I look into the eyes of my abusers and remember the soil of this country.
I remember the breathtaking sea as it crashes against big beige rocks on the shore.
I see the empty bullet shell that was once pocketed in my uniform jumper, but no, this is a different shell.
This is my shell.
I stare aimlessly at the blue cloudless sky not knowing that this would be the last time I breathe this air of occupation.
My blood and my soul have joined the others lost in this country forever known as Palestine.
Manar Khalil was born and raised in Chicago. Her family comes from Palestinian cities currently within the borders of Israel. She is a Journalism student with a concentration in News Reporting and Writing at Columbia College Chicago. Manar has been passionately involved in seeking justice for Palestine since she started learning about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.