It's early - the sun is still struggling to rise above the buildings to reach the narrow alleys below. The streets are quiet, there aren't many people left in the city to be walking. Those that had the means to leave this place left long ago - to somewhere safer. I walk past the remains of a small market. Not so long ago, I thought, I would have passed dozens of women and shopkeepers haggling over the price of fruits and eggs; children playing tag in the street and nagging their mothers to hurry up. But just last month an airplane made by tired Russian men in a tired Russian factory dropped a bomb that was made by other tired Russian men in another tired Russian factory on that market that was full of tired Syrian women and tired Syrian boys.
I heard that plane fly overhead and suddenly I was back in school in Boston. Jonathan Green shoots a thick yellow rubber-band from his thick fingers and it whizzes past my left ear with a fffzztt and I'm afraid. Mrs. Wilde turns around as she hears the rubber band smack against the wall and sees Jonathan Green scramble to look like he's been doing his times tables.
"You better behave yourself, John. You're going to fall behind."
John slouches in his seat over his pen and paper and whispers towards me. "Watch out, dipshit. She can't be here to save you all the time."
That plane rocketed low overhead the city of Aleppo with a fffzzt. The pilot moved his thumb a quarter inch to press a small round button and one second later 25 women and children died. When the bomb hit the ground just inside the market I felt it in my chest; a deep, groaning BOOM. As I walked past that place now, I could see the hole where the bomb struck. About 25 feet deep, but not quite as deep as the hole in the lives of the people it affected. Around the corner, a small group of boys fill plastic gardening containers from a blood-red tank filled with drinking water. I recognize one of the boys, Ahmad. I put 12 stitches in his arm after an air raid on a rebel-held market across the street from his school. His mother complained that he was not eating and could not sleep through the night without waking in cold sweat. There's nothing I can do about that, Basma. I am not a psychologist. What could I have done?
Across the rubble-strewn road stands what's left of Al-Quds Hospital. As I present my badge and go through its doors, another airplane passes overhead with a fffzzt, and I'm back in my small fifth-grade classroom in Boston.